Draft Daily: Close-Up On Alabama LB C.J. Mosley

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Alabama vs Oklahoma

When asked about Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, draft analyst and former scout Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com referenced a current member of the Eagles’ defense.

“I think he’s very good in coverage. I think he’s an excellent blitzer. But the most impressive aspect of his game is his instincts,” Jeremiah said. “I remember scouting DeMeco Ryans at Alabama, and that’s what set him apart was his instincts. I personally think he’s a better player than DeMeco was coming out, and DeMeco has had a nice career. I think he’s one of those guys that could play in either defense; ideally for me I’d like to see him as a Mike in a 4-3.”

Mosley (6-2, 234) is considered by many to be the top inside linebacker prospect in this year’s class. In 2013, he won the Butkus Award (given to the nation’s top linebacker) and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

The reasons for the comparison to Ryans are obvious. Both are Alabama products; both have been described as film junkies; and both appear to be coaches’ dreams from a character standpoint.

“I trust C.J. to do anything — watch my kids, take care of my house. So a [punt] fake is not much,” Nick Saban told reporters last year. “C.J. is just so conscientious about everything he does that you know he’s going to execute and do it exactly like you told him to do it. He did a good job.”

From a measurables standpoint, Mosley does not jump off the page:

He has long arms (33 3/8 inches), huge hands (10 3/4 inches) and a good vertical. Mosley did not perform all the tests at the combine because of a shoulder injury.

The Eagles face some decisions at linebacker in the next couple years. Ryans turns 30 in July, and the sense here is that they’d like to spell him in obvious passing situations going forward. Mychal Kendricks took a nice leap in 2013 and is signed through 2015.

But there’s not a lot of depth at this spot, and at some point the Eagles will have to find Ryans’ replacement. He’s signed through 2015 and is due $6.9 million in his final season, but none of that is guaranteed.

Mosley’s college performance suggests strongly that he has the skill set to be an effective three-down player at the next level. In 2012, he played a lot in sub packages. And in 2013, he saw his role expand.

Mosley was an inside linebacker in Alabama’s 3-4. Here are some examples of what he brings to the table against the run.

Mosley takes on the Auburn fullback, sheds the block, gets to the ball-carrier and wraps up for the tackle.

This play against LSU reminded me of Ryans:

Mosley reads the play, and that allows him to go untouched as he swarms to the ball-carrier and delivers a big hit.

Here’s one where he knifes into the backfield to bring down the back:

Mosley is a fantastic tackler. And he can get around offensive linemen too:

Again, there’s a lot to like. Mosley is a very natural linebacker. He’s got the “I know exactly what I’m doing on every snap” trait that is so important at that position.

But what might draw a team to take him in the first round is his ability in coverage. This is more important now than it’s ever been. Offensive coordinators are constantly trying to create mismatches with running backs and tight ends against linebackers. And if you can’t stay on the field for three downs as an LB, your value is greatly diminished.

It’s obviously tough to properly assess cover skills without the All-22, but most analysts feel that is a strength for Mosley. And there are some hand-picked examples that indicate as much:

Against LSU, Mosley drops into zone and makes the tackle in front of him, limiting YAC.

Here’s another example. Mosley drops back, finds the receiver, closes quickly and limits YAC.

And this was one of my favorite Mosley plays. He does a good job picking up the back in coverage so that Zach Mettenberger can’t dump it off. Then when he sees Mettenberger scramble, he attacks and crushes the QB.

So the question is: If Mosley falls to No. 22, will the Eagles strongly consider him?

In recent years, not a lot of inside linebackers have gone in the first round. Last year, only one was taken on the first day, and that was at pick No. 30. In 2012, two were taken and only one in the top-20.

Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I think Mosley should be on the Eagles’ list if he falls. To say that they don’t value the position seems off-base. Only seven inside LBs are making more money than Ryans. And the team spent a second-round pick on Kendricks.

In the Eagles’ two-gap 3-4, the inside backers are expected to be tackling machines against the run. And last year, they gave up too many plays in coverage.

Mosley had the shoulder injury, but he started all 13 games last year. He doesn’t have “freakish” size or speed, but there’s so much to like about his game. He seems to have the intangibles the Eagles value so much in Ryans. Plus, he can play the run, direct the defense and cover.

I’d have Mosley as a name to keep in mind for the Eagles at No. 22 if he gets that far.

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