Draft Analysis: Dan Connor, LB, Penn State Nittany Lions

by Bryce McRae on April 15, 2008 @ 15:45:56 PDT

 


Last year it was Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny (Buffalo Bills) getting poked and prodded before the NFL draft. This year it was his former teammate, linebacker Dan Connor's turn. Connor will be entering the draft after one of the best careers for a linebacker in Penn State history. He finished the '07 season with a team-high 145 tackles (69 solo), which was enough to easily overtake Posluszny (372) for the school record in career tackles with 419. His 145 tackles also placed him seventh in the nation. For that Connor was named to the Associated Press' All-American First Team, making him the 17th All-American linebacker from Penn State during head coach Joe Paterno's 41 years as the coach of the Nittany Lions. Combine that with being named the winner of the Chuck Bednarik Award (given to the nation's top defensive player), and Connor enters the 2008 NFL Draft as one of the top linebacker prospects.

However, Connor hasn't let his college numbers stand on their own as he has been one of the top performers in pre-draft workouts. He was one of the standout players at the 2008 Senior Bowl, where he finished with a game-high nine tackles and an interception. His strong play earned him MVP honors for the North team and had him in consideration for the overall MVP award. He did not work out at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine due to the flu, but he ran a 4.67 40-yard dash, bench pressed 225 pounds 21 times and had a vertical jump of 35 inches at Penn State's Pro Day workout. The workout solidified his status as a possible first-round draft pick.

Positives

As you would expect from an inside linebacker, Connor is solid against the run. One of his best abilities comes in recognizing the blocking patterns of opposing offenses and following those to the ball. It is one of the reasons why he picked up so many tackles in college; he was always around the ball. This football intelligence helps him avoid blockers and gets him in good position to contain the run.

Connor has great upper-body strength, which makes him a sure tackler. He wraps up opposing players well and does not let many plays go by him. His agility is also above-average, which helps him shed blockers before they can lock on. He might not have great closing speed, but he is quick enough at the beginning of the play to almost never need to close down on backs. Overall, he is one of the best combinations of speed, strength and intelligence at this position in the draft.

A tireless worker on the field with a non-stop motor, Connor plays with a nasty streak on the field. He gets good depth when dropping back into zone coverage and shows solid range. He times his blitzes well and is adept as disguising his intentions. Once he comes he can close quickly on opposing quarterbacks.

Negatives

While he has great upper-body strength, Connor could stand to add some bulk on his lower body. Too often in games he was unable to work through blockers or double teams. When things got crowded on the interior of the line, Connor sometimes found it hard to establish his position. Opposing blockers were able to move him around too easily at times last year, especially if Connor did not keep his pad level low. Strengthening his lower half would give him a better anchor when dealing with blockers, be it running backs, tight ends or linemen.

In addition to strengthening his lower body, Connor needs work on varying his pass rushing moves. He has good instincts when blitzing, but if his initial move doesn’t work he has trouble shedding blockers. He relies too heavily on a straight-ahead rush, which won't work consistently at the NFL level.

Connor has good quickness from side to side but does not have great closing speed and backs can run away from him if they get by him. He holds up better against runs between the tackles as he lacks the speed to consistently force outside runs back inside. Concerns about his speed also carry over to man coverage where he is a bit slow when turning and running, which could be a detriment against quicker backs and tight ends.

There was also an incident at Penn State in 2005 where Connor was suspended three games for making harassing prank calls, though character is not considered a major issue.

Expected Draft Placement

Connor's skill set works in either a 3-4 or 4-3 base defense so it should not play a role in which team drafts him. His success at the next level may depend a lot on how he is utilized. He is considered one of the top linebacker prospects in the draft but is not expected to come off the board until the tail end of the first round at the earliest. Connor is a possibility for the San Diego Chargers (No. 27) but seems to be a better fit for the New York Giants (No. 31), who lost both their starting outside linebackers from a season ago. If the Super Bowl champs don't scoop him up, look for Connor to go early in the second round.

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About Bryce McRae

Bryce McRae is a Managing Editor with KFFL and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1999. He joined KFFL as a volunteer writer in March 2005 before becoming a Hot off the Wire Analyst in March 2006. He began working in his current capacity in September 2008. His work has appeared on fantasy sports sites such as Yahoo! and CBS Sportsline as well as in print. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2008 with a B.A. in History and U.S. Studies.

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