Hybrids At a Premium

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When the Ravens first designated Terrell Suggs as their franchise player last year, they created a new designation for the multi-talented athlete, calling him a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker.

This year, there are multiple prospects entering the NFL Draft deserving of that same title.

Brian Orakpo of Texas, Florida State's Everette Brown and Penn State's Aaron Maybin are among the standouts in this new breed of edge player, talented defensive ends at the collegiate level who could potentially convert to linebacker in the pros.

The Ravens' multi-faceted defense has historically valued such players for their ability to pressure the quarterback with a hand in the dirt on one snap, and then drop in coverage to mark tight ends and receivers the next.

And Baltimore is not alone. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins all run the attacking 3-4 scheme that takes full advantage of these hybrids' abilities.

The Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers are also expected to convert to the 3-4 next year.

The players have noticed, as well. They know that the more they can do, the higher they rise on draft boards.

"I'm not a guy that projects, I've played both positions," said Orakpo, whom most project to be selected within the first five picks. "I fit well in both schemes. I played this last season and I'm very effective in both, so we'll see.

"A lot of teams are going to a 3-4 scheme and you still have the teams that are 4-3. A versatile guy is a guy who can be very versatile and can play any position.''

After totaling 19 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 2008, Orakpo, 6-foot-3, 263 pounds, needed to demonstrate that he possessed the agility to play in space.

The Combine was incredibly important for him because he participated in both defensive end and linebacker drills, as did Brown and Maybin, among other prospects.

Orakpo was a shining star, running a 4.70 40-yard dash (third-best among defensive linemen) and posting a 39.5-inch vertical (second-best).

Brown was also impressive, even after measuring in at a disappointing 6-foot-1 instead of his listed 6-foot-4.

He ran a 4.73-second 40 and his offseason training showed during an impressive workout with the linebackers.

"I know with my athletic ability and knowledge of the game, the transition to [become] a 3-4 outside linebacker wouldn't be a problem," said Brown, who bench-pressed 225 pounds 26 times at the combine. "The biggest challenge [is] just repetition, getting comfortable dropping into space, and learning the language of the secondary and being able to translate it to defensive end."

Maybin, however, has even more to prove leading up to April's draft.

Maybin, a first-team All-Big Ten honoree last year as a redshsirt sophomore, weighed in at 250 pounds, but said he had put on 20 since his 2008 campaign ended. He was quick to diffuse any questions whether he could maintain his weight and overcome a lack of experience.

"I'm at about 250 and I feel really comfortable at this weight. I feel as though I can either go up or I can go down," Maybin said. "I feel this weight is a functional weight for me. All of the scouts and GMs out here can basically see how I move, they can see what my athletic abilities are.

"I'll pretty much stay at this weight until the draft. Based on the system I'm in I can move up or down based on what it is that they want."

Still, Maybin showed enough athleticism in coverage, something with which he claimed to have experience at Penn State, to solidify a first-round status.

With more teams seeking the next great hybrid player who is a Suggs-like terror off the edge, finding these agile ends has presented more of a challenge for general managers across the league.

According to Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, that trend makes due diligence in the later rounds imperative.

"Pass rushers are at a premium in this draft, therefore you have to take a look at some other things," Newsome said. "But one thing that we've found out in a study is that if you're a good pass rusher in college and had double-digit sacks, you're probably going to have that on our level, too."

Such a philosophy has worked recently for the Ravens, with 2007 fourth-round draft pick Antwan Barnes, or rookie free agents Jameel McClain and Edgar Jones. All three had impressive sack numbers at their respective schools, but were largely overlooked until Newsome snapped them up.

"You may not have the notoriety of some of those other guys," Newsome continued, "but coming into this league, when they have sack production, they're going to have sack production in the National Football League."

Suggs definitely boasted a higher value coming out of Arizona State in 2003, but he has delivered, moving into second on the Ravens' all-time sack list after only six seasons.

Evidently, as that success has shown, being listed as a 'tweener isn't such a bad thing anymore.

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