Just a little more than one week ago, Roger Goodell waltzed up to the podium with the renowned “Pick Is In” text below him and a Baltimore Ravens logo to the side.
All of the safeties were still on the board, including Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and the Ravens still needed a right tackle; which route would they choose?
Wait, inside linebacker?!
Spurning the expectations to fill a need, the Ravens instead chose for Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley’s name to echo throughout Radio City Music Hall.
Mosley to Baltimore was a rumored possibility throughout the draft process (and no, not because he’s an Alabama player; remember, he’s the Ravens’ first ever first round pick from Ozzie’s Alma Mater), but with the safeties still available, it seemed like a sure bet that might have been the route.
Instead, the Ravens employed their best player available tactic, making Mosley the newest addition to Baltimore’s defense.
So, just how good is Mosley?
While Mosley didn’t necessarily fulfill a need, it’s not as if the Ravens overlooked team needs to take a marginal player; they drafted a near-elite prospect. When it comes to linebacker prospects, few are as complete as Mosley, who is a three-down linebacker in every sense of the term.
In the middle of Alabama’s second line of defense, Mosley was regularly on the field for all four seasons of his career. His most successful season came in 2012, when he amassed 107 total tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks and two interceptions to aid Alabama’s national title run.
He enters the NFL with no shortage of experience, which should make the transition process easier and allow him to make an impact as a rookie.
Mosley’s also just a flat out good, well-rounded, hardly flawed player, which also helps his cause as he makes the jump to the NFL.
One of the biggest assets he’ll bring to Baltimore’s defense is his ability to effortlessly shed blocks, which should lead to making an impact in run defense, allowing fellow linebackers Daryl Smith and Arthur Brown to utilize their coverage skills more when applicable.
Even when going up against offensive linemen, no blocker is too big for Mosley, who sheds the opposition with more ease than (probably) any defender currently on Baltimore’s roster.
Though Mosley is dynamic in every aspect, run defense is his forte, in the sense that typical plays that would wash out a normal linebacker don’t faze him, and his combination of inherent functional strength and ability to constantly keep his eyes on the ball carrier even with a defender on him allow him to make run-stopping plays without exerting much energy.
He sheds blocks in textbook style, and his constant downhill playing style up the middle of the offensive line bodes well for a defense that needs that added dynamic.
Even if he doesn’t make a play on the ball carrier, Mosley’s violent presence in the backfield is still a pleasant sight.
Mosley’s innate feel for the run game allows him to stay true to his lanes, rarely being out of place in run defense.
He’s a patient defender who lets the play come to him when necessary, and once he gets his hands on a ball carrier, good luck trying to shed the tackle.
Having a strong cover linebacker in Smith, a diverse but mainly coverage linebacker in Brown and a complete package with sometimes unblockable run-defending ability in Mosley gives Baltimore a trio to brag about.
While Mosley’s run defending prowess may be his most notable asset as a rookie, his coverage skills shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Playing primarily as a zone defender in the middle of Alabama’s defense, Mosley’s displayed a feel for the game that should translate to the NFL. Especially on plays in front of him, his instincts and closing speed make it near impossible to successfully execute underneath passes in his vicinity.
The rare combination of closing speed and sure tackling he possesses allows him to prevent any short passes from developing into long plays.
His man coverage experience is limited, and his one-on-one coverage fluidity is so-so, which will ideally allow Smith or Brown to take on those coverage responsibilities when paired with Mosley on the field.
In a 2013 game against LSU, a one-on-one coverage situation provided an opportunity to see Mosley’s one glaring weakness.
Mosley’s hands are bad (read: REALLY bad).
This isn’t just a case of nitpicking to find a flaw in Mosley’s incredibly talented skill set. While inside linebackers don’t exactly need elite hands to be playmakers in coverage, don’t be surprised to see Mosley miss out on easy interceptions during his career.
In the LSU game alone, his inability to capitalize on easy interceptions was evident more than once. It was a common trend during his collegiate career.
The good thing for Mosley is that his hands are his only glaring problem, with a few other weaknesses mixed in. But if you’re on the search for the total package in a linebacker prospect, odds are Mosley is what you’re looking for.
One other issue is his injury history, which isn’t pretty. However, those injuries didn’t keep him off the field in college, and he made it through the medical portion of the scouting combine without any reported issues, so it’s more of something to just keep an eye on until any injuries actually prevent him from playing.
Did the Ravens make the popular or desirable choice with their first round pick? Depending on who you ask, maybe not.
But did they draft a player with the potential to be one of the best at his position in the NFL? Absolutely.
The crowded situation at inside linebacker provides uncertainty as to just how much playing time Smith, Mosley and Brown will each get. Ideally, the rotation will be similar to the Brown-Smith-Jameel McClain rotation from 2013, with the snap distribution being a bit more even.
Mosley’s playing style is best suited for the strong side as a 3-4 inside linebacker, and Brown and Smith are both ‘backers suited for the weak side by nature, so perhaps the Smith-Brown snap distribution may be the one to follow.
If the Ravens are willing to switch things up, running a hybrid 4-3 front with all three on the field in passing situations would be a pleasant sight.
Bottom line: the situation the Ravens have at inside linebacker is a good problem to have. Expect Mosley to be a building block of Baltimore’s defense, with the Mosley-Brown long term duo being Baltimore’s version of San Francisco’s duo of Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman.