Arthur Brown (younger brother of Eagles running back Bryce Brown) arrived at the University of Miami as one of the most heralded recruits in the country. He played outside linebacker for the Hurricanes' scout team during his first year, but wasn't comfortable there. In the last few weeks of the season, former Canes head coach Randy Shannon decided to move Brown from the outside to the middle, where it seemed the light clicked on - with Shannon noting the parallels of development between Brown and Shannon's former pupil, Ray Lewis. However, a move to the middle wasn't enough to help Brown crack Miami's starting lineup at linebacker. After his sophomore season, he transferred to Kansas State (Brown is from Wichita, KS), and has since been one of the most destructive defensive forces in the entire country.
Alec Ogletree was a highly rated safety recruit coming out of high school. A Georgia native, he decided to stay in-state and become a Bulldog. At 6'3 and 235 pounds, Georgia's defensive staff decided to move him from strong safety to inside linebacker in their 3-4 defense. As you'd expect for a former safety, he's an excellent athlete, possessing sideline to sideline range and cover ability. Over the past two years, he has been one of the most productive players for an incredibly talented Georgia defense.
Both of these linebackers figure to be highly coveted come April's NFL Draft. However, despite being athletic inside linebackers, they both offer teams very different things. Brown is a senior and has been playing linebacker his entire football life. From the way he reads his keys and diagnosis plays to his perfect form tackling shows the signs of a kid who has practiced his specific craft for many years and has been coached very well. Ogletree is an underclassman and a former safety, and it shows. He's still working out the nuances of the position - going through the growing pains and transition accompanied with going from playing an open space position like safety to one played compressed spaces like linebacker.
Short, Not Small
The only thing that NFL scouts will be able to hold against Brown also happens to be the one thing that he has no control over - his height. Listed at 6'1 and 230 pounds, he doesn't really have the size teams have coveted historically in inside linebackers. However, we've seen undersized linebackers have a lot of success in recent years, and their recent success should make NFL decision makers feel more comfortable about Brown's size.While Brown might be undersized in terms of stature, there's nothing "small" about his playing style. He's tenacious in his pursuit to the football. He reads and diagnoses plays incredibly quickly. He possesses heavy hands and explodes his hips through contact - making him one of the best stack and shed (and form tackling) linebackers in recent memory. He utilizes great speed and athleticism and is a disciplined player in coverage.
Brown is excellent at firing his hands to get inside placement on offensive linemen, keeping them off of his chest. He's explosive through his stack and shed. He fires up and under blocks, rolling his hips through contact. Combined with his hand placement, this allows him to totally control blockers and discard them quickly. He consistently beats the blocks of players much bigger than himself (on this particular play, Brown didn't just stuff this offensive tackle in the hole, he folded him in half and put him on his back.)
Brown perfectly diagnosis a Counter play, stuffing it at the line of scrimmage. Counter is an off-tackle misdirection running play, with the fullback and running back starting one direction and then cutting back the opposite way (with a puller in front of them to clear the way). If the linebackers are keying the backs' flow, they'll get caught going the wrong way and will get walled off, leaving a huge running lane.
Just like Manti Te'o, Brown shows great eye-discipline reading the Triangle. He sees the offensive linemen to his side down blocking and the backside guard pulling and fills right off tackle. Brown (red arrow) fills so quickly that he stuffs the fullback (yellow arrow) at the line of scrimmage, closing the bubble for the back to run through. Not only does Brown use the fullback to seal the gap, he defeats the block using the technique I showed above, and tackles the runner (blue arrow) for a short gain.
Stopping the run isn't the only thing Brown does well, either - he excels at everything Kansas State asks him to do. Last year, he was used as a spy against Robert Griffin III, chasing RG3 down in the open field with ease. Further, he was the first player to intercept Griffin and Geno Smith in their respective final seasons - both had been on absurdly long streaks without throwing a pick. His height might make teams hesitant with sticking him on a big tight end in man coverage, but there's not a running back in the league that he can't run with out of the backfield. Further, he's extremely disciplined in his zone coverages. He is the leader of a Kansas State defense that communicates very well. They don't run many coverages, but they pass receivers off to each other seamlessly, and they all really well to tackle, with Brown being the best form tackler of them all.
Getting Used to the Phone Booth
What Arthur Brown lacks in terms of physical stature, Alec Ogletree has in spades. A rangy 6'3, 235 pound athlete with long arms and the frame to add more weight, Ogletree has been one of the biggest playmakers on a defense loaded with NFL talent. On the instances where he has a clear run-through into the backfield, or when he can pursue from the weakside to the sideline without being impeded, he flashes elite range and closing speed. However, he can be hesitant in his run fits and doesn't always trust what he sees.
Oftentimes, Ogletree gets caught false-stepping in linebacker's "No Man's Land" - the area about 4 yards off the ball, where he's an easy target for offensive linemen and lead blockers to pick him off and open up huge running lanes. This is partly because (in my opinion) the Georgia defensive staff just asks him to read running back flow. They don't really ask him to read the offensive line, and when he loses sight of the back, he's prone to wandering and freelancing until he can find the ball again.
Also note the position of his hands - outside of the blocker's body. Ogletree is often slow getting his hands to protect his body. This tight end has position on Ogletree's chest and easily controls him for the rest of the play. The idea that linebackers have to physically take on and defeat blocks head on in the mold of Dick Butkus isn't really true anymore. The modern NFL linebacker can get by very well by trusting his eyes and reading the Triangle to key and diagnose plays quickly and beat blockers to their spot (in this notion Arthur Brown - even at his size - is a rare breed being a consistent stack-and-shed linebacker. He doesn't just beat blockers to their spot, he punishes them as well.). Linebacker is a very physical position played in close quarters, but being quick and slippery can be just as effective (if not more) as trying to beat up somebody twice your size. In order to do that, though, Ogletree is going to have to use his hands to protect his body and keep blockers out of his chest. Further, he'll need to clean his tackling up in the NFL. Too often he lunges or dives at his target, leaving his feet for no reason.
Will Ogletree be a liability against the run early in his career in the NFL? Probably. But the way that he can immediately contribute to a team is as a sub linebacker in pass situations or against pass-heavy teams. He's very fluid changing directions and can run with big tight ends and fast running backs with ease. This is where his true value lies. If you're playing a team like the Patriots or Saints - who like to run multiple formations from no-huddle with tight ends and running backs who can line up anywhere - he theoretically offers you a ton of coverage flexibility from base defensive sets. You don't have to sub in an extra safety or corner to match up with a detached tight end or running back, you can just match Ogletree up on him.
Other than a mild tendency to overrun plays and open the cutback (and that's nitpicking), there's not much to complain about in regards to Brown's game on the field. He's aggressive, yet plays under control. He looks like he has the frame to add more muscle and weight. When you add all these things up, you're looking at a linebacker who can play almost any (non-pass rushing) linebacker spot in almost any front. I wouldn't have any reservations about him continuing to be a 4-3 middle linebacker in the mold Jon Beason and Mike Peterson in their primes. I also think he could gain 10 pounds and be the next iteration of Navorro Bowman if a 3-4 team decided to take him.
Ogletree is bit harder to fit because there's still a bit of projection to his game. Even though he's been a 3-4 inside linebacker, I'm not quite sure I see him quite in the same mold as Lawrence Timmons - who he'll probably be compared to coming out. I'd feel much better about putting him as a run-and-chase linebacker in a spill defense, as opposed to putting him in the middle of a contain defense that funneled all the action back inside to him. With that in mind, he probably projects best as the weakside linebacker in a Tampa Two style defense, where he can use his speed to run-and-chase, and the 3-tech defensive tackle can be kept in front of him for disruption and protection.