Prospects

Prospects
Photo of Robert Ayers
Robert Ayers (LB)
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 272
College: Tennessee
Conference: SEC
Hometown: Clio, SC
High School: Marlboro County
Featured Prospects
Selected by: Denver Broncos
Round: 1
Pick (Overall): 18 (18)
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Pick Analysis: The former Vol is an athletic edge player with outstanding versatility. As a potential defensive end/outside linebacker, he's capable of stacking the run while also providing some pass-rushing skill off the edge. Though he has been pegged as a "one-year wonder," Ayers was playing the best football of his career at the end of his senior season, and he may continue his ascent as a rookie.
  1. Overview
  2. Analysis
Overview

Regarded as one of the nation's premier defensive players coming out of Marlboro County High School, Ayers struggled to earn his place with the Volunteers until his senior season.


Renewed dedication helped him emerge as one of the few bright spots during a troublesome season for the Vols. He would go on to earn All-Southeastern Conference honors and shared the Andy Spiva Award, given to the team's most improved defensive player.


For all of Ayers' physical ability, the coaches admit that he just recently emerged following a few inconsistent seasons.


"When Robert got here, he thought he was God's gift to football," former head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "He wouldn't listen to the upperclassmen -- not in a bad way, but he just didn't take to coaching very well. (As a senior) he's starving for coaching, and he's giving great effort. He's turned into a big-time SEC defensive end."


Ayers wanted to be a linebacker but agreed to slide to defensive tackle, where the Vols had serious depth concerns. It would have been easy for Ayers to fight even a situational role in his last chance to show NFL scouts his ability at end. However, he was more concerned with his last chance to win an SEC championship.


"Obviously, I feel like I'm better off the edge," he said. "But I'll do whatever the coaches ask me to do," Ayers stated prior to his banner senior season.


At Marlboro County High School, Ayers earned All-State honors as a linebacker and was selected to play in the 2003 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. He added All-South honors from Fox Sports Net and was a Top 100 Dream Team choice by Prep Star. Super Prep rated him the third-best linebacker prospect in the nation and the second-best overall prospect in the state of South Carolina. ESPN's Tom Lemming rated him the seventh-best linebacker in the country and he received a four-star ranking from Rivals.com.


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Super Southern 100 choice recorded 112 tackles and five interceptions, as he also returned kickoffs as a senior. His best performance was a 28-tackle effort vs. Clover High. He also recorded 94 tackles, including eight sacks, to go with three interceptions as junior. In addition to football he lettered in track, competing in the 100-meter dash and 4x100-meter relay.


Ayers redshirted as a 230-pound outside linebacker for Tennessee in 2004. Having bulked up to 250 pounds prior to the 2005 campaign, he shifted to left defensive end. He backed up All-SEC choice Parys Haralson, as he delivered five tackles (three solo) and a six-yard sack in nine games.


The redshirt sophomore shifted to right end the following season, playing behind Antonio Reynolds, but was hampered early in the 2006 season by a left hand fracture suffered in August camp. He would produce 25 tackles (17 solo) with one sack in 13 games, earning two late-season starting assignments.


In 2007, Ayers was a reserve behind Antonio Reynolds. Even though he was used off the bench, he led the team with four sacks and 12 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also collected 34 tackles (25 solo) with two pass breakups and four quarterback pressures.


As a senior, Ayers caught fire at midseason to deliver 49 tackles (34 solo) with three sacks, leading the team and league with 15.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also had six pressures and his first career interception.


High School

Attended Marlboro County (Clio, S.C.) High School, playing football for head coach Dean Boyd. Earned All-State honors as a linebacker and was selected to play in the 2003 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. Added All-South honors from Fox Sports Net and was a Top 100 Dream Team choice by Prep Star. Super Prep rated him the third-best linebacker prospect in the nation and the second-best overall prospect in the state of South Carolina. ESPN's Tom Lemming rated him the seventh-best linebacker in the country and he received a four-star ranking from Rivals.com. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Super Southern 100 choice recorded 112 tackles and five interceptions, as he also returned kickoffs as a senior. His best performance was a 28-tackle effort vs. Clover High. Also recorded 94 tackles, including eight sacks, to go with three interceptions as junior. In addition to football he lettered in track, competing in the 100-meter dash and 4x100-meter relay.


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Analysis

Positives: Powerfully built athlete. Good lower-body strength to hold up at the point of attack. Flashes the ability to anchor and split double-team blocks on the edge. Good initial hand punch to stun the offensive tackle. Flashes some upfield burst to challenge wide and has good lateral quickness to redirect inside. Good use of hands to slap away the tackle's hands. Varies his speed off the edge and can surprise a lackadaisical blocker with suddenness. Can close with authority, flashing explosiveness. Versatile defender with experience at tackle and end. Developed into a team leader as a senior. Could be an ascending player who is just beginning to scratch the surface of his vast potential.


Negatives: Lacks an elite first step or the straight-line speed to be true edge rusher. Relies more on varying his speed off the snap and his strength at the point of attack rather than pure athleticism. Moved around a lot in Tennessee's defense and was allowed to exploit mismatches. Likes to tackle high and stronger ballcarriers can escape his grasp. Stepped up his play significantly as a senior and could be a one-year wonder motivated by big NFL paycheck.


Compares To: MARK ANDERSON, Chicago -- Ayers might be the rising star at this position, or 2008 could have just been an aberration. He had three so-so years and even in 2008, it was not until the second half of the season that he started living up to his high school headlines. He might not have the suddenness to play the edge in NFL, but might be a decent fit as an under tackle.


Injury Report

2000: Did not play as a freshman in high school due to a shoulder injury.


2002/03: Played his last two high school seasons with a torn labrum in his shoulder.


2006: Suffered a left hand fracture in August camp (8/08).


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