WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Wake Forest's all-everything linebacker Aaron Curry was up to speed on his NFL history, at least enough to know that a linebacker hasn't been selected first overall in more than 20 years. He didn't know much about Aundray Bruce, who the Falcons selected No. 1 in 1988.
That's probably a good thing since Bruce, kindly put, didn't live up to his draft position, although he did last for 11 seasons. While Curry wasn't precise on the particulars, he knows he wants to rewrite history and be the No. 1 pick next month.
"To go No. 1 is a crazy feeling," Curry said Monday at Wake Forest's pro day.. "I've been working hard for a long time to go No. 1."
Curry might be working against a lot more than the ghost of Bruce's career. Linebackers aren't valued as highly as quarterbacks, defensive ends and offensive tackles when it comes to the top draft spot. Last season's Defensive Player of the Year, linebacker James Harrison, wasn’t even drafted.
The ways of the NFL can be maddening.
There are very good offensive tackles, defensive ends and quarterbacks in the 2009 draft. But Curry, the 2008 Butkus Award winner as the nation's top linebacker, is viewed as the most well-rounded prospect. He's not only a safe pick but someone who can provide an immediate identity to a defense.
"He's the best of everyone out there," an NFC scout said at Monday's workout. "You know what you are getting with him. He plays hard every day. He doesn't have bad games. He doesn't make many mistakes."
The best player might not always be the right player.
The Detroit Lions, whose tissue-paper defense played a huge factor in their 0-16 season, sure could use someone like Curry (6-foot-2, 250). They just traded for outside linebacker Julian Peterson and they have Ernie Sims, but Curry, an outside linebacker at Wake Forest, can also play middle linebacker. He's got the build, the smarts and the toughness to be the cog.
He just might not be what the Lions want.
|Ben Liebenberg / NFL.com|
|LB Aaron Curry, shown here at the combine, faces an uphill battle to go No. 1 overall.|
Detroit has already had Curry in for a private interview. While he is on the team's short list of potential picks, the Lions are also exploring quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez and offensive tackles Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe. As badly as Detroit needs defensive players, offense could be the path it takes with the first pick.
How would Curry deal with not going No. 1?
"I would take the Adrian Peterson approach," he said about the Vikings' Pro Bowl running back, who was selected seventh overall in 2007. "When he was picked, any team that passed him up he was going to punish them. That's the mindset I have."
Curry has already met privately with the Lions and said he has personal interviews/workouts set up with St. Louis (No. 2 pick), Kansas City (No. 3), Seattle (No. 4) and Cincinnati (No. 6). Representatives from each of those teams also made sure to touch base with Curry at least once during his pro day.
Using high draft picks on linebackers might not bear as much risk as using one on a quarterback, because linebackers might be easier to replace or hide with schemes. Still, when a player is selected to be the next L.T. (Lawrence Taylor) but goes missing like E.T., it's not good.
Of the three linebackers taken in the first round of last year's draft, New England's Jerod Mayo (No. 10 overall) was the only impact player. The Jets aren't hoping anymore that Vernon Gholston lives up to his No. 6 selection value, but that he simply develops into an NFL starter. Outside linebacker Keith Rivers, taken at No. 9 by the Bengals, had his jaw broken in Week 7 and was placed on injured reserve.
Four linebackers were taken in the first round in 2007: Patrick Willis (No. 11, San Francisco), Lawrence Timmons (No. 15, Pittsburgh), Jon Beason (No. 25, Carolina) and Anthony Spencer (No. 26, Dallas). In 2006, six first-round picks were used on linebackers: A.J. Hawk (No. 5, Green Bay), Ernie Sims (No. 9, Detroit), Kamerion Wimbley (No. 13, Cleveland), Chad Greenway (No. 17, Minnesota), Bobby Carpenter (No. 18, Dallas) and Manny Lawson (No. 22, San Francisco).
Willis and Beason are both Pro Bowl players and two of the best linebackers in the NFC. Most of the others have been solid players whose overall impact could be debated.
Even though linebackers aren't considered as valuable as some other positions, this draft is stocked with plenty of good ones. There is a chance more linebackers -- some as hybrid defensive ends -- could be taken in the first round than have gone that early in a long time.
Curry, Rey Maualuga, James Laurinaitis, Brian Cushing, Brian Orakpo, Aaron Maybin, Everette Brown, Clay Matthews and Larry English are among the potential linebackers that could be snatched up early by teams in need.
Curry is considered the best of the group.
The one knock on Curry -- especially when it comes to using the top pick on him -- is his lack of sacks, or even pass pressures. He had nine sacks in his four-year career at Wake Forest, including two last season. However, he wasn't used as a pass rusher in college; he was more of a coverage linebacker, which in the NFL is not nearly as coveted as someone who can get in a quarterback's face and force an errant throw.
One high-ranking personnel director said if a guy can get you 10 sacks in a season, you'll have him on your team and you won't mind paying him. There is no certainty Curry can be that type of player, since he hasn't been put in that position.
"You really don't know how good he will be" as a pass rusher, an AFC team representative said at Curry's pro day. "He will really have to work on developing some pass moves. You just don't know if using that high of a pick on a guy with just two sacks last season is justifiable."
Curry counters that by bringing up his 44.5 career tackles for loss, including 15 last season. He also has six career interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns.
"In our scheme we didn't rush the passer a lot, but I always took pride in being in the backfield a lot," Curry said. "You can see that every year, my (tackles for loss) went up every year. Those plays are just as key as a sack. When I get drafted, my first plan is to get with the defensive ends coach or even veteran players to have them take me through pass-rushing stuff. I'm a fast learner. Just teach the techniques, the small things to be a great pass rusher and I'll do it.