In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller astutely stated, “you don’t even know what type of football player you’re going to be in two or three years.” When one considers the professional instruction and weight rooms of the NFL, Miller’s statement makes a lot of sense, especially when it comes to draft prospects. Young players come out of the draft and are very raw, still learning the finer points of their craft, thus not really looking like an NFL player until a couple of years into their career. It’s why the word “potential” is thrown around so often with prospects and in the case of Texas A&M outside linebacker Sean Porter, it most certainly applies.
Porter is not your typical collegiate linebacker. He plays outside linebacker in the Aggies’ 3-4 defense but spends many of his snaps detached from the edge, instead lined up across slot receivers and tight ends, or lined up in between defensive tackles in the interior gaps. He operates more like a traditional 4-3 strongside linebacker opposed to a 3-4 rusher and like Miller was at A&M, he’s a raw athlete.
The Aggies linebacker is roughly 6’2” and 230 pounds soaking wet. He possesses very good straight line speed, range to successfully pursue ball-carriers and underrated overall quickness that enables him to beat blockers twice his size. However, he’s still learning how to play, as high pad level and poor hand use issues persist. He also has a tendency to play with questionable technique in pass defense but that has improved tremendously since the 2011 season and is no longer a grave concern.
Sean Porter’s greatest talents are his speed and motor. He is a very active defender as he’s constantly around the ball and working toward a ball-carrier if the play is away from him. He’s improved in the latter area of his game since last season, showing more ability in locating the ball and overall more awareness of his responsibilities. He’s also willing to shoot the near gap from the backside of a play and hunt down running backs as witnessed against Mississippi State this season. His quickness is far too overwhelming for interior blockers as they simply cannot keep up with his sudden movements. This quickness combined with his newfound discipline as a run defender was one of the areas of his game that stood out the most while watching him.
As noted earlier, he has spent time lined up between his interior defensive linemen and rushing against offensive guards. It’s one of the things that former teammate Von Miller has also done in the NFL with great success, and I believe it is something that we will see more of over the course of the next few years with all linebackers. Pass rushing linebackers that can line up in traditional alignments, such as SAM or WILL, and rush the quarterback through the interior of the pocket by beating slow offensive guards are significant assets that defensive coordinators should consider adding to their side of the ball. Porter offers this talent to teams as he showed against the Alabama Crimson Tide earlier this season.
Lined up over offensive guard Chance Warmack in a two point stance, Porter exploded forward at the snap. He was the first of the two to make contact, bending at his knees and forcing Warmack to move in reverse after a jarring blow to the breast plates. The blocker tried to keep his balance after the shock, reaching for the chest of Porter with his right arm, but Porter quickly slapped it away, accelerated forward and brought down quarterback A.J. McCarron for the sack. The play illustrated the potential of Porter if used correctly and given proper coaching.
He’d made a similar move earlier in the season against Mississippi State but coming from the outside and going up against the left tackle. He took a couple quick steps outside, forcing the blocker to kick slide wide to account for the speed rush, and then stopped on a dime before cutting back to the inside and blowing past the blocker. It was another flash of his potential that had yet to be realized, partly because he spends so much time dropping back in coverage.
Sean Porter has played linebacker for many years now, dating back to his high school days at least, but watching him in 2011 was admittedly somewhat unappealing. He didn’t appear to be fully in sync defensively, seemingly second guessing his responsibility and the speed of the game sometimes simply looking to be too fast to comprehend. However, in 2012, he has looked much better and improved on his technique.
There were noticeable improvements in his patience as a pass defender, allowing routes to develop in front of him opposed to last season when he’d open his hips up too early and fall behind the receiver.
Porter also did a better job of mirroring routes, which helps explain why his total pass breakups (four) doubled from the previous year. Porter was also used in many different ways, sometimes seeing his responsibilities change from a mere curl-flat defender to a deep third, middle of the field defender as witnessed against Mississippi State. This responsibility was very similar to the one that the New York Giants gave to athletic and rangy linebacker Jacquian Williams in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.
The ability to execute various coverage duties open up an entirely new debate about Sean Porter: Where does one play him? Is he a strongside linebacker or a weakside linebacker? Is he a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 linebacker? Is there a difference between the two?
All important questions that need answering, and it’s my belief that his best fit is as a strongside linebacker in either defense because of his athleticism, range, potential in coverage and upside as a speed rusher.
With the use of 1-gap 3-4 defenses, especially with the Under front, there is very little difference between 3-4 and 4-3 defenses because they ask for similar jobs from the linebackers.
The aforementioned Von Miller is listed as a traditional outside linebacker in the Broncos’ 4-3 defense but operates as both a rusher and dropper because of his athleticism. He rushes from the outside against offensive tackles and on the inside against interior blockers. He also drops in coverage quite a bit and lines up both on the line and off of it. Sean Porter is able to do all of this as well, although he’s not as quality of a pass rusher as Miller is, and it will be down to one NFL team in April to give him the proper coaching in order to see him blossom.