Despite questions about his size and ideal position, University of Miami (Fla.) junior linebacker Jon Beason projects to be one of the first five linebackers selected in the 2007 National Football League Draft.
Beason's track record in high school and college demonstrates an ability to switch positions. That bodes well for Beason's NFL transition, because not every team believes he can continue playing weak-side linebacker, as he did at Miami during his sophomore and junior seasons. Some NFL teams foresee him playing middle linebacker, while others envision deploying him at multiple spots in their 3-4 setups. Others think Beason can remain on the weak side in a 4-3 scheme.
In high school, at Chaminade-Madonna Prep High School in Miramar, Fla., Beason excelled at inside linebacker and strong safety. He finished his senior season with 75 tackles and five interceptions in 2002. One prep publication ranked him as the No. 6 linebacker in the nation; another rated him as the No. 35 defensive back.
On offense, Beason played fullback, and he scored 12 touchdowns while rushing for 811 yards. He began his Miami career as a fullback too, mainly because the 2003 Hurricanes were loaded at linebacker, with future pros Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams and Darrell McClover.
However, Beason suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in his second game. He returned in 2004 as a redshirt freshman. With Vilma, Williams and McClover in the NFL, Beason received playing time at linebacker. As a backup he played all three linebacker spots: in the middle, on the strong side and on the weak side. He took over as the strong-side starter in the season's ninth game against Virginia. For the season, Beason amassed 29 tackles and one sack, while Miami finished 9-3.
Beason became a starter at weak-side linebacker as a sophomore in 2005. He had 64 tackles. His best statistical effort came in the season's final game: a 40-3 defeat to Louisiana State University in the Peach Bowl. Beason amassed 10 tackles in the blowout loss. Miami finished 9-3 again.
Beason led Miami in tackles with 76 during his senior season, in which Miami finished 7-6. In the sixth game, against Florida International, he had a mild tear in the medial collateral ligament of his right knee. He missed the next game, against Duke, and played sparingly the following week against Georgia Tech. He sprained his left thumb in the season's 11th game against Virginia and played with a cast the following week against Boston College.
All told, in 38 games, Beason accumulated 171 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. Though he had a respectable career at Miami, he never earned high honors in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In fact, during his sophomore and junior seasons, he did not even earn an all-ACC honorable mention.
Beason - who measures 6-foot and weighs 237 pounds - runs in the 4.6-range in the 40-yard dash; he complements his straight-line speed with superb lateral quickness. His agility permits him to range from sideline to sideline. Just as important, Beason has a burst, an extra gear: He accelerates right when he's closing in on a ball carrier, so his hits pack a wallop. In addition, Beason is adept at diagnosing the play and finding the quickest angle to the ball. He knows how to wrap up a man and bring him down.
Beason has also displayed leadership and football smarts. He lines up his teammates in the proper places and tends to be in the proper spot himself, rarely confused by assignments despite his history of playing multiple positions. He plays hard for 60 minutes - he's one of those players with a nonstop "motor" - and he is superb in special-teams coverage.
There are real concerns about whether Beason is simply too small to shed blockers at the NFL level, where the offensive linemen will tower over him and outweigh him by 100 pounds. In today's NFL, Beason is built more like a strong safety than a linebacker.
Furthermore, one of Beason's greatest strengths - his motor - gets him into trouble when it causes him to over-pursue. As speedy as Beason is, he does not change directions particularly well. That would get him into trouble at the NFL level, especially when covering running backs out of the backfield.
All teams favor players that can contribute on special teams and in the locker room. That Beason does both well only helps his cause. Beason will be particularly enticing to teams whose schemes can check his overzealous pursuits and limit his contact with larger offensive linemen. The Indianapolis Colts, with their Cover 2, employ such a scheme. The Colts also lost linebacker Cato June in free agency, so it is hard to see Beason falling any further than Indianapolis's first-round pick, which is 32nd overall. Beason also makes sense for the Bears, who select 31st overall. Chicago also employs a form of the Cover 2, and its management has questions about whether linebacker Lance Briggs will play for them in 2007. There's still a very good possibility that Beason lasts until the early second, when any number of teams could pick him.
The choice might depend on whether these squads favor Beason over Penn State's Paul Posluszny and Florida State's Lawrence Timmons, both of whom are contending with Beason to be one of the top outside linebackers chosen.