North Carolina Senior
Has good speed and range to make plays in space and pursuit, able to get to the sideline. Is physical and does a nice job filling vs. the run. Is able to take on the fullback in the hole, and will deliver the blow. Does a good job getting upfield and is able to shoot gaps to make stops in the backfield. Flashes potential as an inside blitzer. Is good when he can get downhill with good closing burst and can deliver hit to the ballcarrier. Breaks down in space and can make the open field tackle. Shows ability to set the edge. Comfortable on shorter zones when he can keep things in front of him. Shows decent ball skills and ability to read the quarterback and break up the pass.
Gets caught out of position a bit too much both vs. the run and in coverage. Needs to take better angles when coming free off the edge. Needs to show better instincts and recognition and not as effective when you ask him to read and diagnose plays. Doesn't always break down at the point of attack when attacking the ballcarrier in the hole. Can look undersized at times. At times will get caught in the trash at the point of attack. Doesn't have great hips to match up in man coverage. Lacks burst out of his breaks. Doesn't always get great depth in zone and will get turned around in coverage.
Sturdivant at times plays with the reckless abandon you like to see in a linebacker. When you can get him to play on his heels however, he's not as effective. Has the speed and athleticism you like to see in a linebacker prospect, giving him versatility to play in multiple schemes. But it doesn't always translate to him making plays, particularly in the pass. He's at his best when playing in space, attacking downhill, and getting upfield. He played both inside and outside at North Carolina. This past year, he started 7 of 8 games on the weakside, finishing with 61 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 3 sacks, 1 interception, 2 pass breakups, and a fumble recovery. He missed 5 games due to a hamstring injury. As a junior, he began the year as the starting MLB, but moved to WLB in the second half of the season, and saw his production improve. He finished the year with 79 tackles, 12 for loss, 1 sack, 3 breakups, 1 forced fumble, and 1 recovery. As a sophomore, he started every game at WLB and had 122 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 2 sacks, 2 picks, 4 breakups, and 1 forced fumble. As a true freshman, he started 5 games, splitting time on the strongside and in the middle with 47 tackles, 1.5 for loss, 1 sack, 1 pick, and 1 fumble recovery. He played predominantly quarterback and some safety when he was in high school.
Sturdivant's limited experience playing on defense is probably a reason for why he doesn't have the best natural instincts. Despite his playing all three positions in college, he projects best as a WILL linebacker at the next level. He has the speed, toughness, and range to play in the middle, but he's not as instinctual as I think teams would like there, and doesn't make as many plays at that position as he does on the weakside. He also would fit as a 3-4 inside linebacker, because of his ability to get upfield. He reminds me of a poor man's Jerod Mayo. They have very similar size and speed, both play tough, and have the versatility to play multiple positions in multiple schemes. But Mayo is probably more instinctual than Sturdivant, and thus more capable of making plays on his own. Instead, Sturdivant is a guy that probably needs to play off another good MLB to free him up to make plays. I think he'll be a solid starter at the next level, but alone he's probably not an impact starter, especially if he doesn't have talent around. A good comparison would be someone like Justin Durant in Jacksonville, who is a capable starter when he's playing beside someone like Mike Peterson or Daryl Smith, but isn't the type of guy you would build your defense around because he's a complementary starter more than anything. He's coachable, versatile, and does a lot of things well, just doesn't do anything to a degree where he'll make a huge difference for a defense. He has the athleticism and speed to be a factor in coverage, but he's probably not a guy that will ever be trusted to lock down a good back or tight end in that role. But with added experience, he'll probably have less mental breakdowns.
Sturdivant can be an effective starter for the Falcons. He best fits on the weakside in the Falcons scheme, but has enough ability to play on the strongside in the Falcons scheme. While he has greater potential in coverage than someone like Lofton, he's probably not going to supplant him in the nickel anytime soon. Like Weatherspoon, Sturdivant is a nice run and hit linebacker that is best playing in space. I don't think Sturdivant would win the job as the third starter if he went up against Nicholas as a rookie, but if the team didn't re-sign either him or Peterson to return in 2011, he would be an acceptable starter right off the bat. He'll make his share of mistakes, but as he gets more comfortable down the road he can fill a niche and role similar to MIke Peterson. He won't ever be as good as Peterson was in his prime, but can offer a similar and improved skillset over what Peterson was towards the end in Atlanta.
Sturdivant is probably closer to third round value because he's probably not going to be an impact defender at the next level. But his athleticism and versatility probably could push him into the latter half of the second, and not be considered a reach.
1-poor, 2-weak, 3-above average, 4-very good, 5-elite
Point of Attack: 3.5
Pass Rush: 3.0
Scouting reports of the linebackers in the 2011 Draft.
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