NFL Draft

2018 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Ohio State LB Jerome Baker

From now until the 2018 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.

#17 Jerome Baker/LB/Ohio State 6’1”, 225 Lbs

The Good

-Athletic, rangy linebacker that flows well sideline-to-sideline
-Loose, explosive hips to allow him to run with backs and tight ends down the field
-Good ball skills for position
-Comfortable dropping into zone coverage, or carrying receivers down the field
-Speed and athleticism allows him to correct mistakes quickly
-Impressive change of direction skills
-Defensive chess piece;  able to make plays from a number of different positions on D

The Bad

-Skinny frame that gets overwhelmed at times by size of blockers
-Lacks physicality at point of attack
-Doesn’t use hands well and is slow to get off of blocks if he can’t slip around them
-Diagnoses plays slowly; noticeable hesitation on film at times
-Catches running backs when tackling in the hole, rather than trying to strike blow
-Can get caught sliding past his gap responsibilities against the run

Bio

-True junior
-Two-year starter for Buckeyes (25 starts); played in 33 career games
-Led the Buckeyes in tackles in 2017 with 72 total stops
-Recorded 158 career tackles during three seasons in Columbus, including 17.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions and two pass break-ups
-All-Big Ten Honorable Mention in 2016 and 2017

Tape Breakdown

If you’re looking for the prototype linebacker for today’s NFL, in terms of athleticism, range and coverage ability, Ohio State’s Jerome Baker might be your guy. He can flow sideline-to-sideline to make plays, will test extremely well at the Combine and can legitimately line up in the slot to cover receivers, running backs and tight ends in the passing game.

Just don’t ask him to be a physical, downhill linebacker against the run.

Weighing in at 225 pounds, Baker seems fine for today’s game on paper, at least coming out of college. But throw on the tape and it’s clear pretty quickly that he’s undersized for the position and could really struggle to hold up physically in the NFL against the run.

It’s a lite 225 for Baker, who looks more like a safety playing linebacker for the Buckeyes. While he’s not overly physical against the run, in terms of tackling, he sure does like to fly up into the hole to thump blocker, trying to blow up the play right in the hole.

Usually, it doesn’t work, but I appreciate the effort anyway.

Where Baker excels is in coverage. He can match up with a receiver in the slot, and seems very comfortable carrying a tight end or running back down the field. Where he struggles in coverage is with his hesitation in the middle of his coverage.

These next two clips you’ll see will go for touchdowns, but I think the problem for Baker on each play is very correctable with the right coaching.

In the first clip, Baker is assigned the Clemson back on the wheel route out of the backfield in the 2016. As soon as the Clemson back breaks up the field, you can see a slight hesitation by Baker, almost as if he’s a half second too late processing what the back is trying to do.

Once Baker flips his hips, he’s able to run and recover on the play, getting a hand in early to try and break up the score. The ball is underthrown a bit, but Baker closed ground before that.

Against Indiana this season, Baker gets caught peaking into the backfield for just a hair of a second while in coverage against tight end Ian Thomas, allowing the Hoosiers’ tight end to slip up the field, creating just enough separation to make an unreal touchdown catch.

If Baker can clean up the mental lapses in coverage, he has the athleticism, length and footwork to stay in the receiver’s hip pocket in coverage. That gives your defense a serious chess piece.

Playing the run, Baker flashes at times, but its too far and few between for my liking. That’s not to say I don’t like the play. I’m simply saying he’s definitely a long-term project in that area.

For one, he rarely uses his hands against blockers to try and create separation, which leads to him getting engulfed in the run game when he’s not able to stay clean and flow to the ball.

In a game against Illinois this past season, Baker actually looked pretty stout against the run, using his length to stay clean in traffic, allowing him to find the football to make stops.

I loved seeing the quick, efficient swim move to beat the first blocker here in the second level, and then the subtle hip turn to reduce his target area for the next blocker, allowing him to slip off easily to have a hand in the stop.

Against Michigan in the rivalry matchup to close the season, Baker struggled a lot against Michigan’s power run game. But when he had the opportunity to use his athleticism to make plays, he certainly did that.

Check out the way he beats the blockers to the designated hole, blowing up the play in the process. Sure, he doesn’t make the stop. But his speed and athleticism to get to the spot before the blockers helped back everything up for the Wolverines’ play.

Overall, he’s a freakish player, in terms of his athleticism for the position, but he’s going to need to develop some toughness against the run, and maybe even bulk up to around 240 pounds. His frame certainly has the room.

Based on his coverage skills alone, I’d take a chance on him in the late second, or early third round and hope that with the right coaching, he can develop into a solid starter on a winning defense.

Projection:  Mid Day 2

Games Watched:  vs. Michigan (’16), vs. Clemson (CFP semifinal, ’17), vs. Oklahoma (’17), at Indiana (’17), vs. Penn State (’17), at Iowa (’17), vs. Maryland (’17), at Illinois (’17), at Michigan (’17), vs. USC (Cotton Bowl, ’18)

 

Previous 2018 NFL Draft Player Profiles
Sam Darnold Garret Dooley Calvin Ridley Fred Warner Ronald Jones II
Maurice Hurst Mike McCray DeShon Elliott  Malik Jefferson Ogbo Okoronkwo
Trayvon Henderson Josh Rosen Ronnie Harrison Kallen Ballage Cedric Wilson Jr.
Micah Kiser Will Hernandez Leighton Vander Esch Josh Allen   Harold Landry
Marquis Haynes  Tremaine Edmunds Kerryon Johnson Lorenzo Carter  Sony Michael
Kyzir White  Rashaan Evans  Tegray Scales  Isaac Yiadom  Jeff Holland
 Rashaad Penny John Kelly Bo Scarbrough  Roquan Smith  Durham Smythe
 Mark Walton  Josey Jewell  PJ Hall  Dorian O’Daniel  Josh Adams
 Leon Jacobs  Marcus Davenport  Jack Cichy
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