The Cleveland Browns continued their pursuit of overall roster improvement with the selection of linebacker Christian Kirksey in the third-round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Kirksey – from the University of Iowa – brings an intriguing blend of skill, intelligence and incredible athleticism to the Browns defense. However, it is likely his pass-coverage skills that will allow him to make an immediate impact in the NFL.
Kirksey was far-and-away the most athletic of Iowa’s explosive trio of linebackers last season. Lining up predominantly at strong-side linebacker, Kirksey posted 104 tackles, five tackles for loss and two and a half sacks. Additionally, he added a pass breakup, an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble returned for a touchdown in what turned out to be a spectacular season for the Iowa linebacker.
Yet, this wasn’t exactly a “breakout” season for Kirksey. These numbers had actually become standard throughout his tenure with the Hawkeyes. In Kirksey’s debut season – 2011 – he exploded onto the national scene with an impressive 110 tackles, five tackles for loss and a sack. He also added two pass breakups and a forced fumble, further solidifying his playmaker status.
Following his spectacular debut campaign, Kirksey continued his dominating play posting 95 tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks in 2012. Yet, it was his ability to score from the defensive side of the ball that garnered the attention of media outlets nationwide. After the aforementioned fumble, he recovered for a touchdown in 2011. Kirksey returned two interceptions for touchdowns in 2012 displaying a spectacular variety of speed, vision and raw athleticism.
Obviously, those are the plays Cleveland Head Coach Mike Pettine believes Kirksey will bring with him to Cleveland. Though he has experience at multiple positions in Iowa’s 4-3 defense, the overall impression is that Kirksey will initially be given a try at middle linebacker in Cleveland’s 3-4 defense. This move makes sense, given his strengths in pass-coverage.
Of course, like most rookie linebackers, Kirksey will first need to make his bones on special teams. After all, the 6-foot-2, 235 pound Kirksey will have a great deal of competition on defense from fellow interior linebackers Karlos Dansby, Craig Robertson and Tank Carder.
Additionally, should the Brown’s decide to move Kirksey to either outside linebacker position, he will have incumbents Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard to compete with, as well as last year’s first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo waiting in the wings.
Therefore, it seems that regardless of where Cleveland envisions playing their third-round draft pick, Kirksey will need to fully display his incredible athleticism and football I.Q. if he wants a chance to start. Given his abilities as a playmaker in coverage – as well as his Cleveland-appropriate blue-collar mentality – Christian Kirksey is a name the infamous Dawg Pound will soon become quite familiar with.
Jarrod Patterson is an NFL writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @J_M_Patterson or on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.