McGinn on NFL draft: LBs | Temple's Reddick rises fast

Bob McGinn
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Temple defensive lineman Haason Reddick participates in a drill during the 2017 NFL Combine in Indianapolis in February.

Sixth in position-by-position series previewing the 2017 NFL draft.

GREEN BAY - Twelve months ago it’s entirely possible not a single general manager in the NFL knew anything substantial about Haason Reddick of Temple.

The 21 member teams of National scouting received full reports and grades on the senior draft class of 2017 from the combine’s staff of evaluators in May. A report was written on Reddick, but he received a grade so low (seventh-round to priority free agent) that no GM would have paid much attention.

On Thursday, Reddick’s rise from nowhere should culminate with his selection in the first round when the draft is held in Philadelphia, home of Temple and not far from his hometown of Camden, N.J.

“He’s kind of the Clay Matthews story,” said an executive in personnel for an NFC team. “He was a walk-on, too.”

Matthews, the Green Bay Packers’ first-round pick in 2009, entered his fifth season at Southern California as a backup. At least Reddick had become a starter as an undersized defensive end in 2015, the fourth of his five collegiate seasons.

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But Temple isn’t quite USC. The Owls had 18 straight losing seasons from 1991-’08, posting a 40-163 record under four coaches that got them expelled from the Big East Conference.

Last fall, Temple claimed its first league title since 1967 by capturing the American Athletic Conference.

“Temple actually was fun to watch,” one personnel man said. “You used to laugh when people talked about Temple. They play hard. They had a good team.”

Reddick, a walk-on cornerback in 2012, moved to safety and eventually to defensive line, where his height (6 feet 1 ½ inches) wasn’t ideal but fit his game. His 4 ½-sack junior season caused hardly a ripple in the NFL wave or the 12-team American Athletic Conference, which accorded him honorable mention.

Some GMs probably didn’t learn about Reddick until reports from their East Coast scouts began trickling in. His 10 ½-sack season put him on the map, but skeptics didn’t think much of the opposition in the AAC.

“Those offensive linemen in the American Athletic Conference that Reddick went against are not worth a (expletive),” one personnel man said. “No offensive lineman ever gets drafted out of there. Well, very seldom, especially at tackle. It’s degree of difficulty.”

So Reddick accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl, where the decision was made for him to play middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense. For someone who had played outside with his hand down and standing up, it was a radical change.

After four practices and the game, the league-wide view was that Reddick would be able to play just fine in the middle.

“You didn’t know if he could play off the ball after playing DE in Temple’s scheme,” an NFC executive said. “He answered it. He’s got everything you want. Speed, motor, doesn’t stay blocked, can drop.”

Of seven teams canvassed, three have Reddick ranked as an outside player, two have him ranked inside and two others think he can play both.

“For his size I could see somebody taking him and saying, ‘On run downs we’re going to get you off the ball, and then on third down move you outside and let you rush,’” an AFC evaluator said. “Who’s been able to do that? I can’t think of any.”

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Actually, Matthews did that extensively in the second half of 2014 and most of ’15 when his base position was inside linebacker but often on passing downs he’d change position and rush off the edge.

Temple has had a mere three first-round choices in the first 80 years of the NFL draft. They were guard John Rienstra in 1986, running back Paul Palmer in 1987 and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson in 2011.

“Reddick is a rare athlete,” one scout said. “He’ll be really good. Could go mid-first round.”

Several scouts urged caution, pointing out that one week in Mobile doesn’t mean the often-thorny transition from outside to inside won’t claim another victim.

“There’s a lot of hypothesizing going on with him,” said one evaluator. “I don’t like to do that with kids. The Senior Bowl put him where he is now in the first round but I never saw that on tape. He’s the real enigma in the draft.”

In the Journal Sentinel polls at linebacker, seven scouts for 3-4 teams and eight for 4-3 teams were asked scheme-specific questions on the five best outside and inside players to fit their defenses. The only proviso was that a player couldn’t be named in each linebacker poll or in the defensive line polls.

A first-place vote was worth five points, a second was worth four and so on.

Here were the results:

Inside linebacker in a 3-4: Reuben Foster, 33 points (five firsts); Jarrad Davis, 28 (two); Zach Cunningham, 15; Haason Reddick, 12; Kendell Beckwith, nine; Raekwon McMillan, four; Alex Anzalone, three, and Duke Riley, one.

Outside linebacker in a 3-4: Myles Garrett, 35 (seven firsts, unanimous); Charles Harris, 19; Takk McKinley, 12 ½; Tim Williams, eight; T.J. Watt, 7 ½; Derek Barnett, six; Tyus Bowser and Solomon Thomas, four; Jordan Willis, three; Taco Charlton and Reddick, two, and Ryan Anderson and Dawuane Smoot, one.

Middle linebacker in a 4-3: Foster, 39 (seven firsts); McMillan, 20 ½ (one); Davis, 17; Beckwith, 16; Anzalone, 11 ½; Cunningham, nine; Anthony Walker, three, and Blair Brown, Ben Gedeon, Keith Kelsey and Calvin Munson, one.

Outside linebacker in a 4-3: Reddick, 31 (four firsts); Anderson, 15; Davis, 14 (two); Williams, 13; Watt, 11 ½ (one); Cunningham, 10; McKinley, eight (one); Bowser, seven; Riley, three; Harris, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Derek Rivers, two; Jayon Brown, one, and Vince Biegel, one-half.

COMING NEXT: Defensive backs

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