Has good speed and athleticism. Does a good job on the backside pursuit, and shows the range to make plays in pursuit on the opposite field. Closes quickly on the ball. A capable tackler that does a nice job wrapping up and delivering hit to ballcarrier. Shows ability to filter through traffic in pursuit and makes the stop at the point of attack. Comfortable on the line of scrimmage, and able to set the edge. Shows ability to shed the fullback on the edge. Also able to line up inside and defend against the inside run. Flashes good awareness to not bite of play fakes and misdirection. Has a quick first step when he is rushing the passer, capable of putting his hand in the dirt. Will use a spin move, and flashes good hand placement to get better as a bull rusher. Has the speed to match up with backs in the flat and can run with tight ends over the middle. Shows a decent feel for zone, able to read the quarterback and gets decent depth on his drops.
Doesn't play with great intensity and not aggressive snap to snap. Not as effective when he's playing on his heels and gets stuck in traffic. Not consistently able to defeat blocks against tight ends on the edge. Occasionally will lose outside contain when playing against the zone read or misdirection. Overpursues at times and will miss stops in the open field against shiftier backs. Can get caught looking in the backfield in coverage. Needs to improve his footwork there and doesn't have great hips to match up in man coverage. Has a tendency to want to grab tight end or receiver when trying to get the jam at the line of scrimmage. Not as effective when asked to play in the middle of the defense because his instincts aren't great.
Ayers is a talented prospect that flashes the ability to do whatever you ask him, whether it's play the run, rush the quarterback, or work in coverage. But he never really seemed to put together a good four quarters of football when I watched him this past year. He would either start strong and then sort of fade, or he would start slow and then pick up later on. He does his best work playing near the line of scrimmage. Came on strong at the end of his sophomore year with 30 tackles, 9.5 for loss, 4 sack, 3 picks, and 2 defensive touchdowns in the final 4 games of that year. He totaled 75 tackles, 14.5 for loss, 6 sacks, 4 picks, 3 breakups, 4 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, and 3 touchdowns for the year. He didn't have as strong a junior campaign, but still had a solid year with 68 tackles, 10 for loss, 4 sacks, 2 picks, 4 breakups, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 recoveries in 12 games.
Ayers has the ability to play in a variety of schemes, although he projects best as a SAM linebacker in the 4-3 or 3-4. He has potential as a pass rusher, but he's still pretty raw there. But he does offer at least the potential and flashes the ability to be a productive sack artist at the next level. But he needs some work. He is a very good athlete that is big and physical and makes a lot of plays. The problem is that there have been times where he doesn't seem engaged and he's a bit too inconsistent to really love him as a prospect. He's a bit of a boom/bust guy. If that lack of engagement is an indicator of a questionable work ethic, he could wind up being an underachiever at the next level. The fact that he ran a much slower 40 time at the Combine than expected doesn't help dispelling this notion. But he reminds me of Brian Cushing in that he's a guy that can make plays all over the field and comfortable playing inside and outside. Although I think Cushing was a bit more natural as an inside linebacker and I could have easily seen him playing MLB in the pros. Ayers doesn't have the ideal instincts to make him project well there long-term, but I do think that a creative, enterprising coach can try to use him all over the defense as a unique weapon. But if he's not engaged and not wiling to work, then that's just a waste of talent. He's another prospect where a good character evaluation can make or break him at the next level. If he just needs a fire lit under him, then he can be a good dynamic playmaker at the next level that can be a perennial Pro Bowler. Besides that, his biggest obstacle is going to be in coverage. UCLA had a good pair of safeties, and coupled with the fact that he was their best pass rusher, he wasn't asked to do a lot in coverage. He has the athleticism to be a factor there and flashes enough awareness that he shouldn't be totally lost, but it may take some transition time. And that's probably why he might be a better fit in a 3-4 in a scheme that will use him mainly as a pass rusher and run defender to limit his exposure there. I think he has the sort of potential to be the type of impact rookie and defender a la Clay Matthews or he could just as likely be just decent and be the next Larry English.
Ayers would play the strongside in Atlanta, and be a good fit there. While he wouldn't take over in the nickel situations as a rookie, if he develops quickly, he could supplant Lofton in that role by his second season. But his main value in nickel situations is going to be as a pass rusher going forward. He is the type of player that has the size and speed to put his hand in the dirt and rotate as an end. I don't know how much he'll contribute as a pass rusher initially, but he has the potential to be a 3-5 sack guy in the Falcons scheme fairly early on. He's a guy that can contribute in all three phases for the Falcons defense, and potentially make them better in all three. And I don't think the Falcons have to worry about his being engaged because he'll be playing beside two very tough-minded and hard-nosed linebackers in Lofton and Weatherspoon, and one can't help but think that is going to rub off on him.
Ayers has Top 15 potential, but there are some question marks about his intensity, and thus he's a better value in the latter half of the first.
1-poor, 2-weak, 3-above average, 4-very good, 5-elite
Point of Attack: 4.0
Pass Rush: 4.0
"Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis" -- Maharbal, 216 B.C.E.