Pros: Has good straight-line speed and has nice closing burst on the ball. Has good space and capable working in space. Is a good tackler that rarely misses in the open ﬁeld. Tough and aggressive. Does a good job taking on blockers and will beat the fullback at the point of attack. Sheds well. Has nice instincts. Shows good potential in coverage with nice burst and ball skills. Has a good ﬁrst step coming off the edge as a pass rusher.
Cons: Doesn't have great hips or quickness and at times has trouble matching up in coverage. Will have some troubles against some tight ends. Not as effective when he plays on the line and can get struck in traffic. Sometimes struggles getting off blocks. Doesn't play as aggressive when he plays inside. Durability is a concern.
Overview: Cushing is a solid all-around linebacker that has the versatility to play multiple positions. He plays better off the line than on it, but could do both at the NFL. He's had issues with injuries throughout his career. Dislocated shoulder as a freshman, missing half the year. Had knee surgery before his junior year and missed 4 games due to an ankle injury that year. Managed to play every game this past year, but had to wear a cast on his hand for a month and also suffered a bruised shoulder. Known for his ethic in the weight room, which is why it's not surprising that he allegedly tested positive for steroids at the Combine, although that's unconfirmed.
NFL Forecast: I think Cushing could make it at any linebacker position at the next level. He projects best as a weakside linebacker in the 4-3. He can be stiff hipped at times in coverage, and will have some troubles matching up with backs and tight ends, but he's not a liability in coverage. And he usually makes up for with his burst, speed, and ball skills. More than likely, teams will play Cushing on the strongside since that's where he played at USC. He can also play middle linebacker, having spelled Maualuga brieﬂy this past year and performing well there. He can also work in the 3-4 as an outside pass rusher. Would probably ﬁt better as an inside linebacker in that scheme.
ATL Forecast: Cushing would likely play the strongside for the Falcons and is capable of coming in and playing right away, but again I think his future is brighter at weakside linebacker. He could have an immediate impact on the team, particularly as a pass rusher coming off the edge. He'll probably need some work in coverage and may give up a few plays to tight ends and backs. He'll probably never be great there, but with time he won't be liability there. He could have some issues with covering guys like Reggie Bush and Kellen Winlsow, but other than that he should be fine. He'd be a ﬁxture for the Falcons if he can stay healthy, which is a legitimate concern. If the steroid allegations are true, then it makes sense considering the durability issues. And if he did test positive, then that would be a major red ﬂag. But otherwise, he has Pro Bowl with the Falcons, although I'm not sure he would reach it as consistently on the strongside as he would if he played on the weakside. He's a guy that can consistently put up similar production that Boley did here at his peak in Atlanta: 90+ tackles, 3+ sacks, 3+ interceptions.
Value: Cushing is deﬁnitely worth a Top 15 pick talent-wise, but the steroid and durability issues knock him a bit down the board.
1-poor, 2-weak, 3-above average, 4-very good, 5-elite
POINT OF ATTACK: 4.0
PASS RUSH: 3.5
Scouting Reports of inside and outside linebackers in the 2009 NFL Draft
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