Draft Analysis: Curtis Lofton, ILB, Oklahoma Sooners

by Bryce McRae on April 22, 2008 @ 17:45:16 PDT

 


With a great junior season in the books, University of Oklahoma linebacker Curtis Lofton decided to enter the 2008 NFL Draft, thus foregoing his senior year. He worked most of his career as a strong-side linebacker, before moving inside for the final four games of 2007. Still, it would be hard to fault him for leaving early as he finished the season with a career-high 157 tackles (94 solo), placing him third in the nation, and tying for seventh-most in the school's history. His stellar play also earned him a spot as a second-team Associated Press All-American while also being named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

Lofton's offseason workouts have not been as great as his regular season, but he is still ranked highly on most draft boards. At the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine, Lofton turned in poor workout numbers (4.79 40-yard dash), which led to some questions about his speed. However, he improved at Oklahoma's Pro Day (4.67 40-yard dash) and stands as one of the top prospects at his position.

Positives

If you are looking for an instinctive, explosive tackler in the draft, then look no farther than Lofton. He has a stocky frame, thick chest and well-developed muscles. He has the lateral quickness to reach the corner and contain the runner. He does an excellent job of avoiding and slipping blockers between him and the ball. His sideline-to-sideline speed makes it tough to runners to get away from him, especially with his good short-burst closing speed. His outstanding ability to diagnose plays allows him to make pre-snap adjustments and react almost immediately once the ball is snapped.

Once Lofton reaches the ball carrier, he is an explosive tackler that delivers good pop on his hits. He has the ability to hit straight through runners and is great at dragging them down. He may struggle to fight through double teams, but he is adept at stepping up and meeting blockers, especially when the run comes inside. In the passing game, Lofton has the ability to reroute tight ends and receivers due to good punch from his hands and solid upper-body strength. Has the ability to deliver punishment to would-be receivers over the middle and can separate players from the ball.

Lofton was able to play all 39 games of his college career without missing a game. He showed he was a durable linebacker and suffered no major or minor injuries. This was even more impressive when you consider Lofton often goes all-out on his tackles and is one of the more physical prospects at the position. As you could expect, he is a hard worker off the field and is a lead-by-example type on the field.

Negatives

As explosive as he is tackling, Lofton does not possess great size (6-foot-0, 246 pounds) or strength on the outside to take on offensive tackles. He does not have many moves that can be used to get around blockers if his initial push doesn't work. Lofton isn't a great tackler in space when it comes to wrapping up and is better when dragging down opposing ball carriers. He also needs to be more active with his hands, especially in avoiding cut blocks. With all that taken into account, Lofton is not a great blitzer and could struggle to reach players in the backfield.

Lofton looks good on game film; however, his speed does not translate well anywhere else. He is not the fastest linebacker in the draft, which could leave him as a liability in coverage. Stiff hips are another reason to worry about him chasing receivers even though he has a good nose for the ball. Agility is a weak point as he does not possess great stop-and-go speed to recover. If he over-pursues a receiver or back, he may find it tough to catch up.

It wasn't until his final four games in 2007 that Lofton took over the job of middle linebacker. Before that he worked primarily as a strong-side linebacker. There is a lack of experience at this position that could lower his stock in the eyes of some teams. He did finish his career with 39 games at OU, but he started only 19 of them.

Expected Draft Placement

While Lofton is among the top inside linebacker prospects in this year's draft, it isn't viewed as a strong position and Lofton will likely find himself as a second- or third-round selection. Teams are impressed by his talents, but his relatively brief track record could keep him some potential suitors at bay. The New York Giants could go after him at the tail end of the second round, while the New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions could both be interested with their own second- or third-round selections.

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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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