Sports Outside the Beltway

NFL Draft 2008 – Round 1 #9 – Cincinnati Bengals – LB Keith Rivers

NFL Draft 2008 Logo The Bengals are on the clock and somebody is talking to USC linebacker Keith Rivers on the phone. He’s the best LB on the board and this move makes sense.

They did it: Rivers is a Bengal.

Scouts, Inc.: 8th

Strengths: Possesses outstanding size; is well built for his taller frame. Also has long arms (33), huge hands (11) and a strong upper body (24 reps). Not an elite athlete, but he does have good speed and athleticism for his size. Makes up for what he lack in terms of elite athleticism with great recognition skills. He is smart, tough and instinctive. Shows very good awareness. Rarely takes false steps. Is a striker as a tackler. Will make some big hits due to his short area explosiveness. Uses hands well to keep off of blocks. He refuses to stay blocked. Takes excellent angles in pursuit. Displays good range in zone coverage. Also is an underrated pass rusher. Has developed a better array of pass rush moves, hugs the rail as he turns the corner as an outside rusher and displays surprising closing burst to the QB. Knows how to jar the ball loose and generates more than his share of forced fumbles. Plays with a very good motor and will wear blockers down. Never gives up on a play and will show tremendous effort when pursuing from the backside. He’s always flying around the field. Leads by example.

Weaknesses: Plays too high at times and loses his power when he does. Does a great job of sifting through traffic but needs to learn to anchor better when he’s forced to take on blocks in the phone booth. Shows a bit of stiffness in his hips. Will struggle to keep with elite pass-catching RB’s in the NFL on double moves and when forced to turn and run. Not an established playmaker in coverage. Good range in coverage but lacks ideal ball skills. Durability is a minor concern.

Overall: Rivers appeared in 37 games in his first three seasons at USC (2004-’06), recording 162 tackles (13.5 for losses), 5.5 sacks and two interceptions. As a senior in 2007, he played 12 games (11 starts) at weak-side linebacker, turning in 78 tackles (five for losses), three fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and four pass breakups. He missed a game (Arizona State) in 2007 after spraining his left ankle, which had required arthroscopic surgery to remove bone spurs earlier in the spring. He also missed two games in 2005 and was limited in others because of a hamstring strain. Rivers possesses very good  but not exceptional  overall physical tools. His outstanding combination of instincts, work ethic and experience is what separates him from other linebackers with similar skill sets. While he is the top rated linebacker on our 2008 board, Rivers is a notch below elite talents such as A.J. Hawk (Packers) and Patrick Willis (49ers) from recent NFL drafts. Some teams could consider him at inside linebacker but Rivers seems best suited to play the WILL in a 4-3 scheme. He should be selected in the middle portion of the first round.

Rick Gosselin:7th

Mel Kiper: 16th

Kiper is the outlier here. It certainly looks like a good value.

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