There were 256 players drafted during the three-day NFL draft event a week ago and, unfortunately, none of those players selected wore the red, black and white on Saturdays for the Cincinnati Bearcats, but I'm here to tell you that doesn't mean an undrafted Bearcat won't stick to an NFL team by the time the NFL regular season kicks off in September. In fact, I anticipate that Cincinnati's top NFL prospect from last season will find a spot on an NFL team and could very well be earning significant playing time by season's end.
Former Bearcat and star inside linebacker, Jeff Luc, was quickly plucked from the undrafted free agency pile following the NFL draft when Cincinnati Enquirer sports reporter Tom Groeschen reported that Luc was planning to sign with the Miami Dolphins.
Luc entered the draft as a likely late-pick, but there is a lot to like about his game, and as Cincinnati fans know, he can really play. Luc was recruited out of high school as the top high school prospect at the inside linebacker position in 2010. He signed with Florida State where he found himself buried on the depth chart, so he transferred to Cincinnati where he proceeded to terrorize opposing offenses with his instincts and playmaking ability. It also didn't hurt that he was - and still is - built like a wrecking ball and he plays like one at 6'1", 256 pounds.
As a redshirt senior last season, Luc posted 133 combined tackles (64 solo), 6.5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles in 13 games. He displayed NFL power at the point of attack and was a nightmare to block when blitzing the interior offensive line. He has a knack for playing the game, which is something that is so essential when taking the next step to the NFL.
Throughout the draft process, NFL scouts were enamored with his size and strength, but many think he may last longer at the NFL level if he moves to fullback. While Luc as a fullback is plenty terrifying, I believe Luc is an old-school inside linebacker who can pressure opposing offenses when blitzing, but also can use his size to play a key role in the run game by taking on and shedding blocks. There are questions about his quickness, lateral agility, and by extension, his coverage skills, but there is a lot to like about Luc as a player and, perhaps more importantly, there is a lot to like about where he signed.
The Miami Dolphins finished last season with a defense that, somehow, ranked in the bottom half of the league, despite a solid defensive line and solid secondary. Now, as they move towards the 2015-16 regular season, there aren't many linebackers on the Miami roster to keep Luc from making the team. The current starters for Miami, if the season began today, would be Koa Misi, Jelani Jenkins and Spencer Paysinger. Jenkins is the only "sure-thing" of that group (if there is such a thing in the NFL anymore) meaning Luc is likely fighting for at least one spot on Miami's roster with fellow undrafted rookies, Mike Hull, Zach Vigil and Neville Hewitt from Penn State, Utah State and Marshall, respectively. Not to take anything away from those players, but Luc has the talent to win that position battle.
If you are still not convinced that Luc will make the Dolphins roster and could easily push for starter playing time, I would like to refer you to the very game film that exemplifies what NFL scouts see as negatives in Luc's game. His performance against Ohio State is an interesting gauge of Luc's ability to play at the next level because Ohio State's offensive style is what you could consider Luc's kryptonite at this point in his career. Ohio State loves to put their talented skill players out in open space and let them win mismatches. It is a quick offensive tempo that wants to reach the edges before the defense and, frankly, it is quite an effective plan.
There are times in this game where Luc looks slightly out of his element, lacks fluidity and lacks quickness as he tracks across the field in pursuit or in coverage. He looks stiff (for the overachievers out there, here is Eric Kendricks for comparison). That said, we need to consider the entire story here. If you follow each play, you are bound to notice that Ohio State's offensive lineman are reaching him at the next level (five-yards downfield) with relative ease in the run game. This is early in the year, before Cincinnati's defensive line was really controlling the line of scrimmage, which means Luc was already stuck in "clean-up duty". While he did show some stiffness in coverage, his pass defense wasn't nearly as bad as you would assume listening to NFL pundits.
The point is, even in a game where Luc is exposed and his weaknesses are on display, he racked up a combined 18 tackles (career-high 11 solo tackles) and forced a fumble against the eventual National Champions. If that's his "worst", then I can't wait to see how he plays with more experience at inside linebacker and NFL coaching. Luc could very well find himself playing key downs as a rookie where his on-field strengths earn him significant playing time in a weak linebacking core.
With the recently acquired Ndamukong Suh already setting up shop in Miami this offseason, Miami linebackers will be relatively clean moving along the line of scrimmage with Suh eating up double-teams in the interior of the line. This caters to Luc's skill set as a disrupter and a game-changer because of his instincts and ability to make impact plays. Cincinnati's defense struggled plenty at times last season, putting more pressure on Luc and exposing some of his weaknesses, but we can't be caught thinking that means Luc isn't still a high-quality player with room to develop. With Miami we should see a talented player who plays with power and speed when attacking the line of scrimmage and someone who benefits greatly from not having to be a key lynchpin holding things together.
Let's keep in mind that going undrafted doesn't mean a player won't have a long, successful NFL career. Players who stick as undrafted free agents possess some quality in their game that allows them to contribute right away. Luc's tenacity and old-school playing style, I believe, are enough to keep him with the Dolphins into the regular season and he could easily find himself playing significant time as a rookie this season.
Keep an eye out for Luc.