After spending four years with C.J. Mosley, Alabama coach Nick Saban can’t imagine an NFL team not wanting his inside linebacker.
“He doesn’t have any flaws,” Saban told The Chronicle-Telegram. “Unless you don’t like his size or haircut, there’s no reason not to take him.”
Mosley (6-foot-2, 234 pounds) was a three-year starter for the Crimson Tide. As a senior, he totaled 108 tackles, nine tackles for loss and a forced fumble. He finished fourth in Alabama history with 319 tackles and returned three interceptions for touchdowns.
“He’s got to be one of the best football players in the draft,” Saban said. “He’s one of the best football players we’ve ever had.
“He’s a guy who’s extremely athletic, really has great quickness, can really run, plays fast. He’s extremely instinctive and is quick to diagnose a play. He’s a good blitzer and can cover.”
Coverage skills are more important than ever in the pass-first NFL. As offenses continue to spread the field, the linebacker that’s athletic enough to play three downs is a rare commodity because he must be able to stay with lightning-quick running backs and fast tight ends.
“You have to have more speed on defense because nowadays, with all the little fast offensive guys and the way more teams play up-tempo, hurry-up offense, you need linebackers who are faster and good in coverage,” Mosley told USA Today. “The more diverse you are, the more chance to be on the field every down.”
Mosley would be an intriguing option for the Browns if they are looking for an upgrade to Craig Robertson, who struggled last year in a starting role. The Browns replaced veteran leader D’Qwell Jackson with veteran leader Karlos Dansby at the other inside spot, but could use an infusion of young talent, especially for defensive-minded coach Mike Pettine.
No. 4 would be too high to draft Mosley, but he might be gone when the Browns pick again at No. 26. He won the Butkus Award in 2013 as the nation’s best linebacker and is the consensus top inside linebacker available, which places him in the middle or bottom of the first round.
Saban and draft analysts believe Mosley is skilled enough to play the middle in a 4-3 scheme or one of the inside spots in a 3-4. Even with the versatility, inside linebacker isn’t on the list of premium positions sought in the draft.
“First of all, if a guy can play on every down, he then has value,” Saban said. “There are some positions that can make a bigger impact on the game than others, there’s no debate. And if the players are the same quality, the same caliber, you have to consider them first.
“It’s a good year for quarterbacks. If somebody can be a shutdown corner, he has great value. Pass rushers have great value. Guys who can score points fast, they have great value. Then you look at the next positions.”
NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former Browns scout, described Mosley as a “clean player.”
“C.J. Mosley is somebody I think that doesn’t get talked enough about,” Jeremiah said on a conference call. “I don’t have a lot of negatives when I watch him. I thought he could take on blocks better than he gets credit for.
“I think he’s very good in coverage. I think he’s an excellent blitzer. But the most impressive aspect of his game is his instincts.”
Mosley was a team captain, and Saban said he does well in school.
“You cannot find a better person,” Saban said. “The guy’s unbelievable.
“He’s never been in my office in four years for missing class, doing the wrong thing, making bad decisions, getting into a confrontation with anybody. It’s really important for him to do the right things. He has a lot of self-discipline. He doesn’t play for the attention he gets. He loves to play and wants to be good.”
Mosley dealt with a few injuries during his time in Tuscaloosa, and some teams may consider him a bit undersized. But playmaking and the ability to run ease those concerns.
“I don’t think we’re as worried about size as much anymore because you don’t have as many teams that are just so heavy run that you’re worried about all that downhill stuff coming at your Mike linebacker,” NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said. “His ability to run, his ability to diagnose, his ability to hit supersedes everything else. I really like him a bunch.”
Another thing Saban loves about Mosley is his lack of self-promotion.
“Everybody who sees my tape, they know what type of football player I am,” Mosley told USA Today. “I do all my talking on the field.”
SCOTT PETRAK'S TOP OF THE CLASS
- Khalil Mack, Buffalo: He earned a place in the top 10 by dominating vs. Ohio State. The feared pass rusher is an ideal 3-4 outside linebacker.
- C.J. Mosley, Alabama: Athletic enough to play all three downs and a fit for any scheme.
- Anthony Barr, UCLA: Switched from offense in 2012 and totaled 23½ sacks in two years. Gifted physically and athletically.
- Other notables: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State; Chris Borland, Wisconsin; Christian Jones, Florida State; Michael Sam, Missouri.
- How the Browns fit: They seem set outside with Barkevious Mingo, Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard and Quentin Groves, but Mack would be hard to resist if he’s around at No. 4. On the inside Cleveland replaced D’Qwell Jackson with Karlos Dansby in free agency, but an upgrade of Craig Robertson at the other spot would be desirable, possibly in the first round.