KCCD Contributor: Dalton Barker
Sitting around the TV on a Saturday discussing the finer points of your Friday night escapades and the intricacies of the 3-4 interior tackle gap control(O, wait, that’s probably just me and my friends), inevitably the word best spills over into the conversation. Who is the best? Who is best quarterback, receiver, tackle etc.
But this year with players like Manti Te’o, Alec Ogletree and CJ Mosley single-handily dominating opposing offenses, a renaissance of “best” linebacker talk has spilled over into living-rooms, churches and bars (The last two are not mutually-exclusive for ND fans). ND fans are championing their Hawaiian Messiah Manti Te’o as the best thing since Charlie Weis decided to leave the Golden Corral and South Bend altogether. Even Alabama fans are proclaiming that one of their defensive players might be one of the best in the country.
I know! A Tide fan propping up a player is like Stephen A. Smith using a racial epitaph; they all just talk really fast. But seriously, Mosley, Te’o and Ogletree, with his blinding speed and athleticism, have been center stage all season and their on-field production warrants praise. However, while each one possess great strengths, none of them are a complete package of skills. That player would be Kevin Minter
Te’o might have 7 interceptions this year, but go back and watch those interceptions and you would think the flight of the ball had divine intervention. But when you watch Te’o I see a player that is a two-down thumper who doesn’t make many splash plays. Let me be clear, I like Te’o and all these linebackers, but Te’o doesn’t have natural loose hips and if he runs lower than a 4.6 I will be incredulous.
Mosley and Ogletree are similar players, sans Mosley isn’t near the pure athlete Ogletree is, both use angles and athleticism to make plays. Mosley coordinates Nick Saban’s complex 3-4 scheme, so you know he must possess a high football-IQ and he seemingly always ends up in the right place; no doubt through his intelligence and understanding of what teams are trying to do to him specifically. Mosley can cover, tackle and blitz when necessary, but I don’t think he is the same type of impact player as Hightower or Rolando McClain coming out.
Ogletree is just an athlete, plain-and-simple. Not extremely physical at the point-of-attack and does overrun angles, but he makes plays that no other linebacker in America can make with his sideline-to-sideline range and overall blend of size, speed and God-given athleticism. I really like Ogletree, but I question his maturity (He was suspended the first four games of the season) and he needs to become more physical to be an effective A-B gap player in the NFL.
Finally, we have Kevin Minter. Does he have Mosley’s hips and experience controlling a former NFL head coach’s defense? No. Does he have Manti’s bulk, power and bursting charisma? Nope, Minter is known to be extremely quiet, only encouraging his fellow tigers with the occasional “Let’s go!” And does he have the size, speed and athleticism of Ogletree? No, but he is 6’2” 240 and I expect him to run sub-4.6.
So what exactly does Minter have that makes him the best inside linebacker in college football? Simple, he has no discernible weaknesses in his game. He is the complete package at linebacker, and even though he might not have the physical attributes or intangibles as some of the other linebackers, he is still the leader of an LSU defense that showed dominance all season.
Need Minter to blitz or play against quick running-backs? No problem, check his tape against Florida where he was the best player on the field. The same gridiron that was shared by Shariff Floyd and Matt Elam from Florida and Bennie Logan, Eric Reid, Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery from LSU. Minter can be physical and attack downhill as he did versus Mississippi St. And if you need him to just run around, cover and chase down a Heisman winner like Johnny Football, watch him as he consistently confused and terrorized the Aggie QB.
Minter reminds me a lot of Navarro Bowman from Penn St and currently an All-Pro linebacker for the San Francisco 49er’s. Fast, physical, violent striker, size and adequate range to chase plays down from the backside. I think he would excel in 4-3 or 3-4, but I would love to watch him get drafted in the 3-4 where he could run around and punish running-backs and use his Troy Polamalu-like anticipation on 3rd down to create immediate inside blitz pressure. The best part about Minter is he was surrounded by great players at LSU who are more athletic and flashier, so he was naturally hidden by their respective penumbras and is currently projected as a late 1st or early 2nd.
The Chiefs have a good linebacker core with Houston, Tali and Johnson. But Siler could be upgraded and Johnson is 30. Minter could immediately be an upgrade over Siler and be a protege under Johnson, while aiding Houston and Tali on third down with his blitzing ability. Obviously, the Chiefs will be considering a franchise quarterback with their 1st pick, but with their 2nd round pick they could add a franchise defensive player in Minter. Geno Smith and Minter for 10 years would provide a great foundation for a team that needs young playmakers.
-Dalton Barker is a journalism student at the University of Missouri. Follow him on twitter @Dalton_Barker.