Entering the NFL combine in Indianapolis, former Texas defensive end Sam Acho had something to prove in his preparations for the 2011 NFL Draft. Not about his character, as anyone who has been paying even a bit of attention knows that Acho is one of the smartest and finest people off the field, anywhere. No, Acho had to prove that he could effectively transition to playing OLB in a 3-4, where his NFL upside lies.
Measuring at just under 6-2 at the combine, generally considered at the far end of the height spectrum to play a 4-3 defensive end position in the NFL, put increased pressure on Acho to perform well running his 40 and in the agility drills.
Some teams, like the Steelers, worry less about height, but a recruiting axiom told to me by a high school coach handed down from Hal Mumme applies to drafting in the NFL -- if a kid with prototypical measurables and skills fails in college, it's on the kid for not maximizing his potential. If an undersized kid fails in college? The coaches get the blame for taking a chance on him in the first place.
But back to Acho. Suffice it to say, he did everything he could at the combine to satisfy teams that he can go from playing with his hand on the ground to playing in a stand-up role at the next level, running a 4.63 40, cracking off a 37.5-inch vertical leap, and performing well in the L-cone drill, a measure of short-area quickness. Later, at the Texas Pro Day, Acho performed well in position drills at linebacker, once again showing NFL teams that he has the tools to play in space.
Those performances prompted ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay to tell the USA Today that Acho has "maximized his draft value" this spring and there's little doubt that Acho is firmly on the radar of teams running the 3-4, interviewing with the Jets and Ravens following the Texas Pro Day, which Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin viewed in person. In fact, Tomlin also spent several minutes talking with Acho after the workout.
Click through the jump for Acho's draft projections...
Here's a look at some draft projections for Acho:
- Russ Lande of the Sporting News takes draft nerdery to the extreme by mocking the entire draft. He has Acho going in the third round to the Buffalo Bills, as the fourth pick of that round. The Bills play a 3-4 and have a need for an OLB.
- Todd McShay's 2011 NFL mock draft has Acho going early in the third round as well to another 3-4 team, the New Orleans Saints with the 72nd overall pick.
- In an early April edition, Mel Kiper's 2011 NFL mock draft didn't have Acho going in the first three rounds, the outlier in this small sample.
- Over at Draft Countdown, their mock draft has the Kansas City Chiefs snapping up the former 'Horn with the 86th overall pick late in the round.
Sam Acho NFL Draft projection
The consensus seems to be that Acho likely won't last past the third round and note as well that every mock draft including Acho had him going to a team that will view him as a 3-4 OLB. Given the prevalence of the 3-4 defense and the fact that virtually every one of those teams playing that defense needs an OLB, a team that values Acho highly could take him near the end of the second round.
With six teams in the 10 first picks of the third round having a need at that position, the take here is that one of those six teams early in the third round drafts Sam Acho. Those teams are the Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans, and New England Patriots.
But keep an eye on the Steelers, who will draft late in the second round. The team is widely considered ready to use a first or second-round pick on a cornerback and both Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown have been in the discussion for those two picks. If Pittsburgh does pick Williams in the first round and has Acho high on their draft boards, it's possible Acho could go earlier than projected to Mike Tomlin's club.
Even in a worst-case scenario, it's hard to see Acho falling past the 92nd and 93rd picks late in the first round, held by the New York Jets and the Steelers, respectively. Mel Kiper may disagree, but all it takes is one team to fall in love with Acho, who has helped himself as much as possible throughout the draft process.