Draft Spotlight: Bobby Wagner, ILB, Utah St.

April 1st, 2012 | Written by Kip Earlywine

Written by Kip Earlywine

Rundown: Bobby Wagner (not to be confused with Robert Wagner) is the star “middle” linebacker in Utah State’s 3-4 defense.  After improving each season, Wagner was named WAC defensive player of the year last season.

Age:  21 (June 27, 1990)

Height: 6’0″ (6003)

Weight: 241

40 time: 4.45 (pro-day)

10 yard split: n/a

3 cone: 7.03 (pro-day)

Vertical Jump: 39.5″ (pro-day)

Compilation Videos:

vs. Auburn

vs. Nevada

vs. San Jose St.

vs. LA tech.

Positives:

  • Fast
  • Nose for the football, tackle machine
  • Can slip off blocks when pass rushing from the line
  • Scheme diverse experience
  • Effective in man coverage
  • Intelligent
  • Pursues well
  • No major, glaring flaws

Negatives:

  • Small school competition
  • Boring tape- would struggle to fill a highlight reel
  • Could be more aggressive / he lets the play come to him too much
  • Finesse player, not very physical
  • Very slightly undersized / struggles to get off blocks

On paper, Robert Wagner sounds like a can’t miss prospect, which in combination with his blazing fast pro day forty time has vaulted him into fringe 1st round consideration.  A lot of people are penciling Wagner in as a “top 40″ pick, which would obviously put him right in Seattle’s cross hairs at #43.  Seattle is close to a deal that would bring back David Hawthorne for a time, but the long term plan is to get faster in the second level, and middle linebacker is no exception.

Wagner attended the combine but sat out for the workout portion, as he had a case of pneumonia.  He performed instead at his pro day, and posted some very impressive numbers including a forty time on par with Mychal Kendricks’.  That said, I’m generally a bit wary of pro-day numbers.  It seems like athletes almost always post better performances at their pro-days than at the combine.  Maybe its the extra time to get in shape?  Maybe its the lack of jet lag?  Maybe the track in Indy is slightly more harsh than most other places?  I don’t know the exact reason, but athletes almost always seem to improve their numbers at their pro-days.  Another thing is that pro-day numbers tend to be somewhat less scientific than combine numbers, and can lead to a variety of reported times, which Rob pointed out the other day.  So for a lot of reasons, I think Wagner’s numbers should have a bit of an asterisk next to them, at least when compared to other players who’s numbers were taken at the combine.

Additionally, track speed and field are not the same thing.  Kendricks official forty time was 4.47, which is “slower” than Wagner’s 4.45 (reported as 4.46 some places), but as soon as you put on the tape, you can clearly see that Kendicks is noticeably faster and more explosive than Wagner looks (at least in my opinion).  So take Wagner’s forty time for what you will.  I get the feeling that this front office cares more about how fast a player runs in pads than how fast he can run in shorts.  Bottom line, Wagner has above average speed which will appeal to the Seahawks, but after scouting him for four games, I’m not buying into the hype about his speed.

Wagner’s height and weight are both very slightly undersized, and in terms of style, he plays like an undersized linebacker.  He doesn’t deliver very many hard hits and seems to prefer making tackles at an angle rather than squaring for a bone jarring hit.  Some scouts may view that as a good thing, as avoiding big hits would mean fewer injuries and greater longevity.  I’m not a scout nor have I been trained as one.  I have no idea if its a good thing or not, but I generally have a bias strongly in favor of mean or nasty linebackers in the mold of Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis.  Hawthorne and Hill may not possess sub 4.5 speed, but there is an impact from the physical nature of their play, and if possible I’d like to see Seattle get faster at linebacker without sacrificing that chip on the shoulder.  Wagner is a bit too finesse for my tastes, with most of his tackles being of the assist variety, a product of his pursuit ability but also his lack of aggression.

Wow, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself by stating conclusions before I’ve even finished explaining my appraisal, so I’ll back things up a bit.

Bobby Wagner is a good football player, at least for a WAC defender.  He had 114 tackles in his first season as a full time starter at 4-3 middle linebacker in 2009.  He had 133 tackles in the same 4-3 role the next season.  During those two 4-3 scheme seasons combined, he amassed only 0.5 sacks and only 15 tackles for loss total.  Wagner is a consistent performer game to game, and that includes him consistently not making plays in the backfield.  Wagner saw a big spike his in his 2011 statistics, jumping to the following all-star level stat line:  147 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 INT, 11.5 TFL.  Those numbers are deceptive though, as that season Utah St. switched to a 3-4 defense and played Wagner at outside linebacker for many of his snaps.  From the four game sample above, he was lined up at the line of scrimmage on roughly half his snaps, and nearly all of his tackles for loss and sacks that I witnessed came from his use in a 3-4 outside linebacker role, which doesn’t really help Seattle as they will presumably already have a 3-4 outside linebacker type on the team in either Upshaw or Ingram by the 2nd round.  Having that diversity is nice for helping Wagner get drafted high, but its not especially useful to Seattle.

In conclusion:

When Wagner is lined up at inside linebacker, he doesn’t blitz inside well.  He doesn’t shoot gaps to rack up tackles for loss.  He almost seems to fear contact (though not as skittish as Zach Brown) and relies heavily on assisted tackles.   If Seattle drafts Wagner to play middle linebacker in their 4-3, he’ll be good in man coverage, decent (but not great) against the run, and nearly non-existent in the pass rush (barring further improvement).  Wagner may have ran a 4.45 forty time at his pro-day, but on the field he looks closer to a 4.60, which is still pretty fast but not amazing.  I don’t always see things eye to eye with this front office and prospects, so I can’t predict if they will share this evaluation, but I’d personally grade Wagner as a 4th round guy, especially considering how severely 4-3 linebackers have been devalued recently.  Wagner will very likely be a top 63 pick though- his well rounded game, excellent underwear athleticism, consistent play, knack for staying healthy and scheme diversity will put him somewhere on the radar of every NFL team.  Especially after running a 4.45 forty.

Still, Wagner is a possibility for the Seahawks, because even though linebackers with Wagner’s skills can be found much later in the draft, linebackers with his speed cannot, even if you are as pessimistic about his speed as I am.  I wouldn’t hate the pick, but there are plenty of other names in the 2nd round discussion who excite me more.  Wagner won’t transform a defense, but he’s a safe, if boring, bet.

12 Responses to “Draft Spotlight: Bobby Wagner, ILB, Utah St.”

  1. YDB says:

    Thanks for the breakdown Kip. Wagner is one prospect I have refrained from researching so far mostly due to the fact that he attended Utah State. So, it is nice to get an opinion on a LB that possesses–at least in workouts–the speed that Pete covets for the position.

    Until recently, I have been in favor of blowing up the LB corps and starting with a clean slate of guys hand picked by the current front office (KJ, Smith, and so on). But, since hearing the latest Clayton rumor that Heater may be back on a two to three year deal, I’ve had a small change of heart. Heater has been not so much a liability as much as simply just a solid, if inexciting, pro.

    Re-signing Hawthorne seemingly provides the Seahawks with the opportunity to draft BPA or trade back from the second round on, assuming Upshaw/Ingram is taken at #12. That would allow the FO to allow value to come to them in addressing the position group, as opposed to possibly reaching for a prospect in R2-3.

    Maybe Wagner is their guy in the third. At least with more flexibility going into the draft, we will know that if he is selected by the Seahawks, it would be due more to analysis than by a forced hand. And I feel very comfortable trusting Pete, John, and Men’s ability to spot LBs.

    Great writeup. Keep’em coming!

  2. Jim says:

    Wagner would seem to be a long shot for the Seahawks, probably he’d have to be there in the 4-th round with minimal alternatives for the Seahawks to pick him IMO.

    On another, slightly similar topic, I recently went through my lists of players I’m tracking for the draft to update them with combine information. It sure looks like RB’s are getting shorter and WR’s are getting taller. The vast majority of players information that I updated were shorter than advertised. It looks like a common practice to round up to the next inch AND add an inch OR MORE to get to those inflated heights. It can be disappointing to see a good player listed at 6-0 who is actually 5-9. I guess it really is important to “read labels”.

    Regarding LB height, I found the following players that the Seahawks MAY have interest in to have at least questionable height to play the position in the NFL. The element of pass coverage, pass rush from the LB unit could have problems with a few of these guys because 5’9″ and change is pretty darn short for LB’s.

    Mychal Kendricks, ILB, 5.92-239, 4.47/40, California
    Sean Spence, OLB, 5-094, 231, 4.71/40, Miami

    A few other LB’s the Seahawks might look at are also on the shorter side, guys like:
    Danny Trevathan, OLB, 6-002, 237, 4.xx/40, Kentucky
    LaVonte David, OLB, 6-005, 233, 4.65/40, Nebraska
    Courtney Upshaw, OLB, 6.13, 281, 4.77/40

    link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?key=0AotIVo4gpWF8dFZUQzdITWZfWGNOZU93TEhGQTJtbGc&gid=0

  3. Justin says:

    Great review, never seen this guy before, I would not have him as a round two option except maybe a trade down, but seeing Pete Carroll and Ken Norton Jr. (linebacking coach) at USC and now Seattle I have confidence in their evaluations of linebackers, our FO will be able to pick their guy and I am getting more and more excited this year because I believe we will get 10+ wins and a playoff birth (a little early I know).

  4. CFR says:

    http://rotoworld.com/player/nfl/7509/mychal-kendricks

    Looks like we may need to trade up to get him. I say we do it if we need to. What would we have to give up to move from 43 to a bottom 5 pick in the first round? A 4th rounder? If so, I say we pull the trigger if he’s still there at that range

  5. Tom T. says:

    @Justin: I totally agree with you about Carroll (and Norton) being able to evaluate linebackers so well. I don’t think KJ Wright was a fluke, and I believe our front office could easily repeat that in a few weeks.

  6. They aren’t 5’9″, they are 5.9 feet tall, aka 5’11″. Its a pretty retarded system of measuring height- if they are going to measure in decimals then might as well convert to metric to avoid confusion.

  7. Michael (CLT) says:

    Kip – Love your work. Please explain your love for Kendricks/Spence as compared to Wagner, and do express your opinion on what satiates your “track” star bust on Wagner as compared to track guys like Brown, Kendricks, Spence.

    Love ya, but not a fan of this one :).

    Michael

  8. Kyle says:

    I don’t think Wagner is as much of a track-star bust, as that he doesn’t play as fast as he is officially recorded. That is, his recorded speed would suggest him as a physical freak, when in game situations he appears fast, just not amazing. So he’s not really a bust, just perhaps not the game-changer that a 4.45 time would suggest.

    As I saw most of the USU games last year, Wagner seemed to always be in the right position and had few lapses, and he did well against bigger competition (USU did play Auburn, Wyoming, and BYU). He’s an intelligent player and will be unlikely to bust unless injuries intervene. But that said, such analysis actually makes him comparable to Heater, not an upgrade.

  9. Trudy Beekman says:

    Not a fan of Bobby Wagner and maybe it’s because, like you said, his tape is boring. Wagner to me seems like the poor-man’s Kuechly. David and Kendricks I like much more as round 2 linebackers that could play WILL. Zach Brown … meh, maybe.

  10. @CLT: His speed just doesn’t “pop” off the screen like Kendricks does. I haven’t scouted Spence yet.

    @Trudy: A Poor-man’s Kuelchy is something that occurred to me as well. There is an “it factor” for Kuelchy that Wagner doesn’t have which is why he had ~50% more solo tackles than Wagner last year. But you take that special intangible away from Kuelchy and they are incredibly similar players.

  11. FWBrodie says:

    Kip I think you’re spot on here.

    Wagner is like the anti-Sean Spence. He almost looks like he’s coasting half the time, slow-playing and being indecisive. Not a sure tackler. Football speed does not line up with combine speed. He’s a project at best.

  12. Leonard says:

    I agree with Kip too. The only difference I see between Wagner and Kuechly is size. Neither play to timed speed, make many plays behind the line of scrimmage or really just stand out on tape at all. Both seem like solid second round prospects. I really don’t understand the talk of Kuechly going high in round one. Top 15 LBers need to be way more aggressive. People get way too caught up in track speed. It really doesn’t mean anything when scouting. It should only be a an indicator to look at tape again to see if the speed translates to football. Now that Al Davis is gone I hope the hype around the 40 will be gone too.