Texas A&M's Sean Porter has had some big shoes to fill. signed with Texas A&M as a relatively lightly recruited prospect but quickly made his impact on the Aggies, starting two games and recording 43 tackles and four tackles for loss in 2009. As a full-time starter in 2010, Porter ranked No. 3 on the team with 74 tackles, including 35 solo stops, seven TFLs and six pass breakups. The following season, his All-Universe teammate, Von Miller, was picked second overall in the draft, and A&M's pass-rusher mantle was passed to Porter. He picked up where Miller left off, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors after posting 79 tackles (17 for loss) and leading the team with 9.5 sacks. Demonstrating similar athleticism and fluidity, Porter began to receive favorable comparisons to his former teammate and was characterized by some as "the next Miller." Big shoes, indeed.
In the subsequent offseason, Mike Sherman was fired and replace by Kevin Sumlin, who, as Houston's head coach, had heavily recruited Porter. Now he was able to play him where he had always envisioned: as a 4-3 OLB. In Porter's senior year he played both the strong side and weakside linebacker spots in a new 4-3 scheme. As might be imagined, he experienced some transitional difficulties and a resultant dip in dip in production (66 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 1 interception), but developed in many key areas, particularly in pass coverage, that will help him succeed as a multi-purpose NFL linebacker.
Although he's no Von Miller, Porter is no athletic slouch. At the Senior Bowl, scouts noted that he appeared to be the most athletic linebacker of the bunch, excelling in edge rush and pass-coverage drills. He backed this up with a solid performance at the Combine (4.69 forty; 35-inch vertical; 9'11" broad jump) and at A&M's pro day, where he cut some time off of his forty (4.63) and added 4.40-second short shuttle and 7.29-second three-cone drill times. On the field, he uses this speed and change of direction to make plays. He has the burst to explode past blockers and was often lined up over slot receivers when opponents went three-wide.
Don't believe me? See for yourself. Here's Porter in SEC action against Auburn, eventual national champion Alabama and Arkansas, and versus non-conference foe Northwestern in 2011. Hit the links and watch Porter do his thing.
What do our esteemed panelists think of Porter? Check out what they have to say:
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 9th-rated OLB; not in top 100
Instincts/ Recognition: Does nice job of maintaining outside contain when it's his assignment. Diagnostic skills improved as a senior. Lined up more at the second level as a senior than on the line of scrimmage. Takes proper run fits. Better instincts and recognition skills in passing game than as run defender.
Take-on Skills: Has longer arms and does a nice job of keeping blockers off his body when he's getting up the field as perimeter run defender. Has very quick hands. Displays upper body explosiveness and does a nice job of shocking blockers initially and keeping on the move. He's not a naturally physical player. High cut and plays high. Gets legs cut out too often. Narrow based defender and can be engulfed in a phone booth.
Range vs. Run: Light on his feet and can stick foot in the ground to quickly transition changing directions. Can be disruptive at times and can make plays in the backfield. Builds speed as he goes and shows good closing burst to the ball carrier. But not a sideline-to-sideline run defender.
Tackling: Flashes initial pop. Closes quickly. Flashes ability to uncoil with his hips to jar ball carriers on occasion. Does a nice job of wrapping up upon contact. A bit inconsistent in space and will leave his feet.
Third Down Capabilities: Pass rush production dipped as a senior but lined up significantly more at linebacker level than in 2011. Undersized for 3-4 OLB in NFL. Flashes a quick first step coming off the edge. Flashes some savvy setting up blockers with double moves and speed/power moves. Can bend the edge. Motor runs hot and cold. Gives up too easily at times when bigger blockers reach him and get into his pads. Has improved in coverage. Shows more awareness and possesses good range in underneath zone coverage. Will have limitations when match up with more quicker and more athletic RBs or TEs in man coverage.
Intangibles: Durable, consistent player. Good football character. Plays with an edge. Has developed into a team leader. Son of LeRoy and Natalie Porter.
CBSSports.com (Rob Rang): 12th-rated OLB; 114th overall
Strengths: Possesses an athletic, well-defined frame, looking the part of an NFL linebacker. Versatile defender who can line up in multiple roles. Has the burst to beat tackles off the edge as a rusher and is particularly adept at timing the snap as a walk-up blitzer, showing the burst and ability to "get skinny" to slip through interior gaps. Porter, however, is at his best in pursuit of ballcarriers on the flanks and operating in coverage due to his athleticism, including impressive straight-line speed. He shows good strength to set the edge and the agility to avoid blocks and make tackles in the running game. He's fluid and fast enough that he's often asked to line up over the slot and handle quick coverage responsibilities; traits that could earn him a spot as a weak-side linebacker in a predominantly 4-3 aligned team in the NFL.
Weaknesses: Scouts would like to see him play with greater physicality as he too often relies on his athleticism to beat blockers to the action rather than taking them on physically. His speed and flexibility allow him to slip under pass blockers and get to the quarterback but too often once he's locked up, he is unable to separate. Generally reliable open-field tackler but this lack of ideal physicality shows up as a hitter, as well. He has a tendency to grab and pull down ball-carriers, rather than exploding into his opponents. Porter's long legs and aggression also make him a bit prone to over-running plays, allowing cut-back lanes for patient ball-carriers.
Compares to: Nick Barnett, OLB, Buffalo Bills -- Like the former Oregon State standout, Porter is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, master of none type. His size and athleticism, however, is sure to draw plenty of admirers on draft day and he should prove to be a capable starter early in his NFL career.
National Football Post (Russ Lande): 14th-rated OLB; 141 overall
Strengths: Porter has excellent length and demonstrates good athleticism and COD when playing with proper base and leverage. He possesses the speed needed to make plays on the boundary as well as close in front from off and zone coverage. He gets good depth on his drops and does a nice job of jamming receivers through his area.
Weaknesses: Porter needs to add bulk to his frame, especially to his lower body. He tends to let blockers get on top of him and does not show good instincts or aggressiveness at the POA, particularly on run plays. He is a one-dimensional pass rusher that relies on speed to hit the edge and lacks refinement with his hands. He generally plays too upright which hurts his ability to change directions effectively and limits his agility in space.
Summary: Sean Porter was a disappointing prospect to evaluate because he does not consistently play up to his athletic capability. When playing with proper knee bend and leverage he demonstrates good explosiveness and speed, but his bad habit of getting upright at the snap often renders him stiff and ineffective in space. At this stage he is a liability against the run as he struggled to read and react to runs at him before blockers can lock on and he does not give consistent effort in pursuit on plays to the boundary. He needs to improve his hand usage not only against blockers in the run game but also to set up a variety of moves on the pass rush. If he can learn to translate his physicality in man coverage to the rest of his game he clearly has the natural athleticism to start in the NFL, but as a rookie he will need to prove his value as a special teams player in order to see the field.
Ourlads (Dan Shonka): 10th-rated OLB; 104th overall
Three-year starter who has added value because of his versatility. Has experience in both the 3-4 and 4-3 defensive schemes. In 2011 he played on the line and in the 4-3 he played off the line of scrimmage. Good athletic ability. Good recognition, react, and drop into zone coverage. Can turn and get depth quickly. A playmaker as a three-year starter. Not real physical with his hands. Not always hell bent for leather chasing the ball away. Shorter arms than ideal to ward off blocks.
Senior Bowl notes: Plays at him show good initial read and react. Quick downhill reactions, tracking well on the move. Will miss a fit occasionally and get out leveraged. Shows some wasted movement which will get him out of position. He hustles in pursuit and gives a good effort. Does not always locate the ball and is vulnerable to cutbacks at times. Takes good angles in pursuit. Improved in reactions from one practice to the next. Unfamiliarity with the scheme may have contributed to some hesitancy. Can be physical. He showed well in contact drills taking on blocks and shedding. Can change direction and redirect off a block. For the most part, solid in coverage taking good drops and showing zone awareness. Injured and left the team on Wednesday.
Will need pro physical development, but should be an immediate special teams contributor.
Our panel of scouts are fairly consistent in their evaluations of Porter, placing him roughly between picks 100-150, which places him firmly in the fourth round. His build and playing style makes him a bit of a "tweener" (which explains their grades), but Porter's athleticism and production (he was favorably compared to Von Miller, for goodness' sake) are probably strong enough to boost him up 4-3 teams' boards a round or so. Given that one of these teams is the Cowboys, that's what I'm a-gonna do: I've placed him in the third round on my 2013 "little board."
By now, I think we've established that the Cowboys will come away from the 2013 draft with an OLB. The question is simply one of who, and when. If they draft a guard and a safety in the first two rounds, and think that they can still get a good running back in rounds 4-5, then Dallas may well pull the trigger on Porter in the third. I like his game and think, given the recent vintage of his position switch, that he's still learning the position and therefore has has a lot of upside. If the draft breaks that way, I'd be quite content.
Next up: Penn State outside linebacker Gerald Hodges