Alex Hoffman-Ellis, the outside linebacker from Washington State is pro-ready, making the NFL.com Draft Sleepers list after a terrific pro-day showing. AHE accounted for a team leading 88 tackles (11 for loss), 2 sacks and a pick 6 during his senior season while displaying good sideline-to-sideline speed and a knack for making the tackle when he had the chance. But how pro-ready is he?
First of all, let’s keep in mind that this guy didn’t start playing football till halfway through high school, so he is still not fully developed in the learning arena of a linebacker. If you watched AHE in college you realize that he has not fully grasped the concepts of the position but also has tremendous upside because he has incredible down-the-line speed, grasps the concept of football angles and possesses the tremendous ability to tackle in space. When I say he hasn’t fully grasped the position yet it’s not a slight so much as to say that he’s still developing into a full fledged linebacker. It doesn’t help that he was on a defense that was constantly out of position from play to play, and it also doesn’t help that the defensive coaching staff just simply didn’t know how to use his strengths to get even more out of him. But the kid still made plays all over the field.
AHE’s aggressiveness reminds me of a poor man’s Lance Briggs, although he is clearly not nearly as strong as Briggs is or was, even coming out of Arizona. He might be an even better comparison to Barrett Ruud, who makes the same type of plays. Ruud however struggles in coverage because he’s not that quick, at least not as quick as Hoffman-Ellis. Going back to the Briggs comparison, AHE is 20 or so pounds lighter, but has the same height at 6-1 and will probably put 10 to 15 more lbs on his frame in the next year or two, putting him anywhere from 235-245. AHE is an attacking, instinctive player and likes to go downhill at people, but has the speed to catch someone from behind as well. He doesn’t seem like much rushing the passer when you look at only 1 sack his senior year in college, but again if you saw him play you’d realize that he actually did a fair job getting to the qb. The problem was that the d-line at WSU could not ever get up the field and so AHE could never get a clean shot, so sacks turned into pressures and pressures turned into the qb stepping up or away from him. For this reason I think a d-coordinator might try to turn him loose into an opposing backfield from time to time.
Obviously, he doesn’t project to a starter in the immediate or even near future for anyone. However, I do think his appeal, and quite frankly his skill set, fits above average in this draft for special teams play and pretty decently into weak side pass coverage in a 2nd and 3rd down zone scheme (regardless of the fact that he was not at all strong in this area in college). With his speed (4.56 40 at the combine) he can cover a large amount of ground in a small time frame and with his size he is tough to see from the qb position, while also being strong enough to bring down ball carriers in draw situations. The biggest issues for AHE are straight man-to-man coverage and then understanding patience in zone coverage. A lot of times young sideline-to-sideline players feel like they can make every play and that clearly isn’t the case in the NFL. In college you might get away with being out of position from time to time, at least enough to still make a play, but in the big leagues players will bludgeon the weakest link to death in that situation. Qb’s in the NFL are masters of deception and will look you off constantly. I mean Wazzu had the most horrific time covering the TE against any offense that had a decent enough qb to look off his receivers and come back. This is simply because the LB’s at Wazzu were not disciplined and couldn’t stay on assignment, so this is something that AHE has to learn if he wants to play.
While the NFL Draft starts tonight we obviously don’t expect his name until hopefully mid afternoon or early Saturday evening. I think Hoffman-Ellis will thrive on special teams, but I also think he could be a decent NFL backer if developed in the right scheme. Time will tell but we hope to see him flyin’ around, making plays and representing Cougar Nation soon!