As a young scout for the Seattle Seahawks, I learned from wily defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes that playmakers are valued at a premium on defense. He repeatedly told me defenders with a proven track record of delivering game-changing plays should be held in high regard because the NFL is about creating disruption and turnovers on defense.
When I cast my eyes to college looking for a defender capable of living up to that standard, I keep coming back to BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
Now, I know some diehard SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 fans will take offense to my selection of Van Noy, but he definitely has a penchant for playmaking. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound linebacker registered 13 sacks, 22 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles, two interceptions, two blocked kicks and a fumble recovery last season as a junior. Those numbers speak volumes about his ability to impact the game in every way.
Breaking down the All-22 coaches tape of Van Noy, I believe he is an athletic playmaker with exceptional instincts and awareness. He has a tremendous feel for the game, which is why he is always around the ball against the run or pass. He is an explosive "run-and-chase" defender against the run with a closing burst that allows him to track down runners from the backside. With a game built on finesse and athleticism instead of brute strength and physicality, Van Noy fails to consistently set the edge against powerful blockers.
Although he yields some ground at the point of attack, he eventually works free and fights to get in on the play late.
Van Noy is at his best rushing the passer on blitzes from the second level. He uses his quickness and agility to slip past running backs in the hole on the way to the quarterback. He also displays a natural "bend and burst" maneuver when collapsing the pocket from the outside on speed rushes. Although he lacks the hand skills and strength to overwhelm offensive tackles on bull-rush moves or other power-based techniques, Van Noy has a knack for getting to the quarterback off the edge. Most importantly, he has habit for knocking the ball out when he arrives, as evidenced by his 11 forced fumbles.
In coverage, he is a ball hawk with superb awareness and instincts. He deciphers route concepts quickly, while maintaining vision on the quarterback prior to the throw. This not only results in quick breaks, but it is one of the reasons he always appears to be around the ball as a zone defender.
When Van Noy flirted with the possibility of entering the draft, I did a quick study of his game and believed he was a borderline Day 1 prospect based on his physical dimensions, production and potential. I thought his brilliant performance at the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl (3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two touchdowns, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery) showcased his talent and potential as disruptive playmaker at the next level. While Van Noy must continue to make strides as a run defender and show more physicality in his game, particularly at the point of attack, I believe scouts will give him rave reviews as a potential 4-3 SAM or WILL linebacker when they examine his game this fall.
Word on the street
Of the 32 projected NFL starting quarterbacks this season, only six -- Colin Kaepernick, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Alex Smith and Andy Dalton -- hail from conferences outside of the "Power Six" college football conferences. I had an NFC South scout point out that three of the aforementioned quarterbacks possessed superior physical dimensions (Kaepernick, Roethlisberger and Flacco each measure at least 6-foot-4) with off-the-chart arm strength. Additionally, Flacco originally enrolled at Pittsburgh before transferring to Delaware, so it's not fair to label him as a small-school standout.
The long-time evaluator went on to suggest that weekly competition in the "Power Six" conferences is closer to NFL conditions, which makes quarterbacks participating in those games better prepared for the rigors of the pro game. Although this perception will not prevent scouts from taking a long look at San Jose State's David Fales, Fresno State's Derek Carr and Cornell's Jeff Mathews, the odds are certainly against their emergence as viable franchise quarterback candidates.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.