Any time a player has to transition to a new position when jumping up a level in competition, there are no guarantees of success. That's the challenge that faces former Texas defensive Sam Acho, as he attempts to move to outside linebacker after being selected by the Arizona Cardinals with the sixth pick in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Projected as a third rounder in most mock drafts, Acho proved during the NFL combine and the Texas Pro Day that he has the agility to play in space, running a 4.63 40, leading defensive ends in the three-cone drill, and looking sharp in linebacker drills in late March at the aforementioned Pro Day.
Beyond that, Acho will bring a ton of intangibles to the table for the Cardinals. A three-time Academic All-Big 12 and recipient of the Draddy Award as a senior, known as the academic Heisman, there's no doubt that the former Longhorn and son of a doctor will work hard to maximize his talents in the NFL and be a positive presence in the locker room.
Though he doesn't project as a major difference-maker in the NFL, if Acho can successfully make the move to outside linebacker after playing a similar position at times for Texas at the Buck, he looks like someone who can be a solid contributor.
The production was certainly there as a senior, as Acho was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season for Texas. In his final year in burnt orange, Acho recoded 58 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, and eight sacks.
Most importantly, Acho showed off his ability as a playmaker, recording five forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. Turnover margin is one of the most telling stats for success in football, so having an edge rusher with the ability to be around the football and force and recover fumbles can be extremely valuable. Of course, as Texas found out in 2010, recovering fumbles can be a fickle thing, so it's not a given that Acho will have the chance to land on as many loose balls as he did last season.
Even though Acho doesn't have a great deal of upside in the NFL, he's also a low-risk pick because of his strong character and work ethic -- it would be a major surprise if he isn't able to help make the Arizona Cardinals a better football team.