The Jaguars have some rebuilding to do defensively. Along the defensive line there is young talent to be developed, but the amount of developmental youth at linebacker is lacking. Daryl Smith is a fixture on the defense and deserves to remain as much, but Justin Durant and Kirk Morrison have proven to be underwhelming.
Durant has yet to develop into the talent that the Jaguars had in mind when they invested a 2nd round pick in him. Morrison was worth the small price it cost to acquire him from the Raiders, but he shouldn’t be considered the future for the franchise at the middle linebacker position.
Nate Irving offers the Jaguars a potential candidate to fill a linebacker spot for the future.
Irving was a two star recruit coming out of high school, but made an early impact at NC State. As a redshirt freshman, Irving tallied 52 tackles and started four games. His sophomore year was even better, when he earned an honorable mention for the All-ACC team with 136 tackles on the season.
In June of 2009, Irving was involved in a car accident that left him feeling “blessed” to be alive. According to the NC State athletics website, he “suffered a collapsed lung, broken rib, separated shoulder and a compound fracture in his leg.” Needless to say, he was unable to play for the Wolfpack in 2009.
He battled back and returned to top form in 2010, finishing his time at NC State as a third team AP All-American and a first team All-ACC performer. Irving also won the Brian Piccolo award with Mark Herzlich for the players that displayed the most courage in the nation.
As a draft prospect, Irving has been described by many as someone who needs to bulk up, is undersized and has average speed. However, comparing him to other Jaguars, and former Jaguars 4-3 linebackers. he has size that can be successful in the NFL. Irving is 6’1, 242 pounds. Justin Durant is 6’1, 230 pounds. Kirk Morrison is 6’1, 235 pounds. Mike Peterson was 6’1, 233 pounds. So why does Irving need to bulk up again?
What will be very important for Irving’s draft stock is the speed he displays while at the combine and his pro day. Speed is paramount in the NFL and for the four linebackers with all the same size, it appears that speed is the difference between their successes.
Peterson has found the most success out of the three current NFL linebackers listed prior and ran a 4.47 40 time at the 1999 combine. Durant ran a 4.51 40 time in the 2007 combine. Kirk Morrison didn’t run a 40 yard dash at the combine in 2005, but did run a 4.75 at his pro day. Irving’s 40 time will be very telling as to whether or not he has the speed to translate into a successful professional linebacker.
On the field, Irving displays everything you’d want from a linebacker. He’s a thumper who displays good tackling skills. He can rush the passer, stop the run and defend against the pass. Irving will be a high draft pick and a starter in the league if he can show that he has the athleticism required to keep up with NFL-quality talent.