The more I watch of Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene, the more convinced I am he’s going to be a first or early second round pick. Possibly to Seattle at #25.
Credit to Derek Stephens for being the first to make this projection, but after some initial scepticism I’ve become increasingly confident Greene will be a higher pick than most people expect.
So what’s so special about him?
There’s a reason he’s been named Big East defensive player of the year for the last two seasons. In 2011 and 2012 combined, Green recorded 276 tackles, 26 tackles for a loss, a couple of interceptions and 9.5 sacks. Oh yeah, he also had nine forced fumbles and thirteen quarterback hurries. Not bad for a player who began his college career as a safety.
Pete Carroll wants his linebackers to make plays. The structure of the defense appears to be to create pressure up front allowing the back seven to improvise. The linebackers have to be instinctive, athletic and opportunistic. Greene ticks all of those boxes and could actually be the ideal WILL in this scheme. He’s stocky but mobile, can cover at the second level but more than anything he appears to constantly be a step ahead of the offense.
Apart from the impressive numbers, I’m sure the Seahawks will also pay close attention to the respect he earned from his peers. This front office seems to like guys who do things better than anybody else. As ESPN’s Matt Fortuna notes:
“Greene is the first Scarlet Knights player to become an AP All-American since wide receiver Kenny Britt attained the honor in 2008, and Greene is the first Rutgers linebacker ever to make the team. Greene was named an ESPN.com first-team All-American on Monday, and he has also earned All-America status earlier from the Walter Camp Foundation (first team) and CBSSports.com (third team), in addition to being named the Big East’s defensive player of the year for the second year in a row.
“No other Big East player earned AP All-America honors.”
Going from safety to linebacker is a tough enough assignment at the best of times. Making a rapid transition and becoming the best defensive player in the Big East in back-to-back seasons is even more impressive. It also shows he’s a quick learner so there’s no reason why he won’t have an early impact at the next level. He’s almost the anti-Aaron Curry (remember him?). Greene is controlled, calculated and opportunistic. Curry was reckless, sloppy and didn’t make the most of his supreme athletic skills.
It’s very difficult to judge character and leadership without sitting down and speaking to a player, his team mates and coaches. When you’re relying on other people’s opinions and interview clips, it’s a long way from an exact science. However, I don’t think I’ve been quite this impressed with a defensive prospect’s mental make-up before. Not just this year, but ever.
Take a look at this interview with Emory Hunt. It’s nearly five minutes in length, yet Hunt only has to ask four questions. Four questions. That’s how good the answers were. The detail — particularly when discussing the pro’s and con’s of his game — is thorough, honest and to the point. Nobody playing in yesterday’s Super Bowl got there because they knew how to conduct a detailed interview at the Senior Bowl, but teams are going to fall in love with this guy when they meet him.
I suspect the Seahawks will see a little of that Russell Wilson attitude within Khareem Greene…
Still not convinced? Take a look at this two part feature on the player…
If you’re not impressed after watching those videos, I don’t believe you.
I’ve gone back and watched three Rutgers games again over the weekend — Virginia Tech, Connecticut and Syracuse from 2012. This time I really studied Greene, particularly trying to note his instinct to see how he acted when simply asked to read and react. The first thing that stands out is his ability to guess the snap count and time his blitzes to perfection. When he brings the heat, he often shows flawless timing. While the Seahawks will undoubtedly look to defensive line improvement to ramp up their pass rush, Greene could add a new dimension if they want to be a little more creative in base.
As Greene himself notes, he can do a better job with his hands when taking on blockers. At the same time he has enough pure speed to challenge the edge on certain calls, a knack for identifying and sniffing out screens before sifting through traffic to make the tackle and a dynamic ability to make plays in the backfield versus the run. Against Syracuse he had two identical forced fumbles — ripping out the football as the ball carrier dropped to the turf — and a big interception/return. Rutgers won the game by eight points — so those three turnovers were crucial. In the 13-10 defeat to Virginia Tech he scored Rutgers only touchdown (on a forced fumble recovery) in a squalid affair — and without that score, there was no chance of the game getting as far as overtime. The Scarlet Knights offense was horrendous that night.
With eleven turnovers in two seasons, you know that’s going to appeal to Pete Carroll.
People are going to talk about his height (6-1) and while he’s a long way off Alec Ogletree in terms of upside, size really doesn’t matter here. He’s got a thick 230-235lbs frame — he’s not small — but maintains some of that safety speed. He’s physical, fast and finds ways to have an impact. Someone is going to draft Arthur Brown to play either the weakside or the MIKE, so there’s no reason why teams will be put off by Greene’s size. Brown is also listed at 6-1 but looks small on tape in comparison. Even if he was 6-3 like Ogletree, he’s still going to get absorbed by bigger lineman when attacking the interior. In fact Ogletree’s lean, tall frame often creates a big target for blockers and has proven to be detrimental when trying to attack inside. Green’s stouter frame could actually be an advantage, especially if he improves his hand use and lateral agility.
As you’d expect from a converted defensive back he’s pretty good when asked to cover. He’s most adept at monitoring the underneath layer and keeping an eye on developing screens or running backs breaking out of the backfield. At the same time he’s shown a decent ability to cover tight ends or slot receivers at the second level — although there are times when he tries too hard to read the quarterbacks eyes and gets caught in no man’s land. I’ve not seen any evidence of him biting badly on play action and even when he’s caught out of position he generally flashes good enough change of direction speed to recover. His two interceptions in 2012 were not easy grabs, so he also has some ball skills.
Greene’s range against the run is solid. He goes sideline to sideline well enough for it to be a positive, even if Arthur Brown has the edge here. One area he’s better at though is his ability to make up quick ground. If he’s moving to the right but notices a slow developing play, he’s comfortable changing direction and breaking to the ball carrier, catching target or quarterback to impact the play. I think this skill more than any other will probably interest Pete Carroll when he sits down to watch the tape. I think it’s all about instinct and execution with Seattle’s linebackers.
Like most college players these days there are times when he goes for the big hit and misses the tackle. I’d be more concerned about that if it wasn’t coachable and if most of the time he wasn’t solid in this area. He’s a good ankle tackler, he can be pretty violent at times when he executes and he puts his body on the line in pursuit.
I’m not sure if a player like this would push the Seahawks to change their scheme on third downs. Last year they seemed to use a lot of nickel, taking the WILL off the field for an extra defensive back. Greene’s blitz timing, cover skills (particularly underneath) and ability to shadow/chase tight ends and running backs would make him an asset for any third down call. If something is obviously broken it should be changed — and Seattle’s play against third and long in 2012 was pretty frustrating throughout the year.
Drafting Khaseem Greene won’t be a flashy, exciting pick in the eyes of most Seahawks fans. If this happens in April, most people are going to chalk this down to another quirky move by John Schneider. In reality, Greene has pretty much been the most consistent, impacting linebacker in college football the last two years. Leroy Hill’s latest arrest might be strike three in terms of his career in Seattle. If the Seahawks can improve their front four in free agency, then adding a guy like Greene to play the WILL could be another move towards building an elite unit (and I cannot refer to it as elite until the pass rush is improved).
A lot of people have asked whether he’ll be available in round two. I don’t think he will be. Not any more. Khaseem Greene could be a first round pick whether he lands in Seattle or not. But it’s probably wishful thinking to hope he’ll last all the way to #55. He’s the real deal. Of course, improving the defensive line has to be the biggest priority. But you could be looking at the eighth, ninth or tenth defensive lineman at #25… or the ideal WILL linebacker for this scheme. You can’t force the situation too much.
Below you’ll find game tape vs Syracuse, Connecticut and Virginia Tech: