Intro: As polarizing a topic of discussion as he's been on this site, especially after his recent less than impressive Pro Day results, now seems like as good a time as any to take a closer look at ILB Brandon Spikes. Spikes was the leader and quarterback of the Gator defense, a nasty, physical unit that ranked near the top of Division I in most statistical categories over the past few years. Spikes is a big, aggressive, instinctive, and boisterous presence on the field... always seeming to find himself on the giving end of a strong hit on the running back between the hash marks. There's no doubt he's not a guy any running back in the NFL would want to meet head on through the A gap. Question is.... does he have the tools to carry out the duties of an inside backer in the Buccaneers' defensive scheme?
Here's a look at his stats from UF:
For a look at Spikes in action, check out some video highlights here.
Check out MockingtheDraft's report on Spikes here.
Pros: Great size for an inside linebacker at 6-3, 249 pounds. Hits like a mack truck. Takes good angles to the ballcarrier on outside runs; is rarely out of position. A great fundamental tackler; once he wraps his arms around the ballcarrier, the play is usually over. Smart, instinctive player. He always seems to put himself in the right position to disrupt passes in the 5-10 yard range in the middle of the field.....which tends to compensate to some degree for his perceived lack of straightline speed. His grasp of the Gator defense and ability to read quarterbacks and make plays shows he has an aptitude for learning complex NFL defensive systems.
Cons: Put up a 5.0 40-yard dash time that scouts and teams just can't ignore. Could have big problems covering tailbacks and skill position players in man coverage. Hasn't shown the ability of elite inside linebackers to consistently slip blocks, which could limit his effectiveness in a 3-4 defense.......which ironically is the system Spikes is best suited to play in.
Overall: I happen to be in the camp with those who don't see Spikes as a middle linebacker in our system. The Tampa 2 scheme requires an athletic, greasy-fast specimen for a middle linebacker that can fly all over the field. As we know, a Tampa 2 middle linebacker is asked to do even that much more than an outside backer, as he is responsible for the middle of the field in what is almost a Cover 3 scheme. Namely, he's responsible for the 5-15 yard zone between the hash marks and has to be very rangy with impressive closing speed. Also, he has to be able to stay step-for-step with a tailback coming out of the backfield on an angle route or on a tight end running free down the seam. I don't see Spikes as being able to do that effectively and may need safety help deep, which would reactively create yet another opportunity deep in the passing game. Spikes might be better on the outside in the Tampa 2, which limits the range of responsibility of the OLBs from the line of scrimmage to the 10-yard area off the line outside the hash marks. Spikes seemed like a fish in water in limited-range zone responsibility at Florida. However, in run support, I'm not sure Spikes is fast enough to play the weak side backer position (where we already have a good one, in my opinion) and consistently chase down fast NFL running backs going away from him to the strong side, and he could struggle on the strong side if he can't get off blocks.
That being said, I'm not at all saying he's going to be a bust. I actually think Spikes is going to be a solid football player......in the right defensive system. As noted above, slotting Spikes in one of the middle linebacker slots of a 3-4 system with a big, effective two-gap nose tackle could really help Spikes shine. Spikes could be a perfect fit with a team like Pittsburgh behind NT Casey Hampton.