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NFL Combine Profile: Christian Kirksey

BY CODY GOODWIN | FEBRUARY 18, 2014 5:00 AM

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Before the 2014 Senior Bowl, Christian Kirksey was virtually an unknown on most NFL draft boards. The majority of experts saw the negatives in his game: That he was used in pass coverage more often than run defense, that he over-pursued on occasion, that he struggled with closing speed. It didn’t help that his position in Phil Parker’s defense wasn’t really a spot that allowed Kirksey to consistently flash his athleticism on film.

And really, those comments baffled people who routinely saw Kirksey play the last few years. A product of Hazelwood East High in St. Louis, Kirksey spent his entire senior campaign making plays for Iowa’s defense, which ranked among the top 10 in the country. He tallied 104 stops, made 5 tackles for loss, recorded 2.5 sacks, picked off a pass, and scooped up two fumbles, returning one for a touchdown. Let’s also not forget Kirksey also sniffed out the fake punt during the Iowa’s defensive demolition of Nebraska on Black Friday.

So in the week leading up to the Senior Bowl, when the invitees were down in Mobile, Ala., practicing and working to impress draft pundits, it came as no surprise to the Hawkeye faithful when experts and writers from around the country fell in love with Kirksey and his playmaking abilities. They were impressed with his athleticism and football instincts. USA Today Sports’ “Draft Geek” came away so impressed that he took to Twitter and asked, “What’s not to love about Christian Kirksey?”

NFL draft scout Dane Brugler echoed the praise, writing that Kirksey “doesn’t appear that big on the football field, but he plays bigger than he looks with the play speed and intensity needed for the position. Kirksey uses his eyes well to diagnose with an accurate first step and the range to make plays at all levels of the field.”

Even more, CBSSports.com’s Rob Rang listed Kirksey as one of his “Risers” after his performance in the Senior Bowl. He wrote, “The Big Ten remains one of college football’s most consistent producers of pro-ready linebackers, and Kirksey turned heads this week with his athleticism and instincts.”

Iowa has contributed to that linebacker lineage. As of last season, two former Hawkeye linebackers — Pat Angerer and Chad Greenway — had solidified spots on NFL rosters. Greenway paced the Vikings with 134 tackles, 83 of which were solo stops. Angerer played in just 11 games during the 2013-14 season but still managed 63 total tackles.

With that in mind, it’s easy to imagine Kirksey’s name being called in Radio City Music Hall in May, be it on day two or three of the NFL draft. As it stands right now, Kirksey is the ninth-rated outside linebacker. He’s listed alongside other big-time playmakers, such as Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier and Florida State’s Telvin Smith. He’s projected to land in the third round by CBS Sports.

So, what will the NFL combine do for Kirksey? It’s hard to say exactly, especially at a position such as linebacker, where it’s more important to make plays than it is to have a solid 40-time or crank out reps on the bench. And if there’s one thing Kirksey has taught us over the last few years, it’s that he has the skill and football intelligence to get the job done.


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