Brandon Spikes, ILB, Florida
Weight: 249 pounds
40 time: 5.05
For how talented he is and how productive he was at Florida, Brandon Spikes may have hurt himself more than any other player in the draft when he ran a 5.05 40-yard dash at his Pro Day workout. After deciding not to workout at the Combine, all eyes were on Spikes to see what type of straight-line speed he would produce at his workout in Gainesville. Most scouts assumed that Brandon wouldn’t produce a great time, but no one expected him to run the time that you’d expect to see from an offensive lineman.
A three-year starter and two-time National Champion at Florida, Spikes leaves the Gators having produced 307 tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 14 pass breakups, and six interceptions (four of which were returned for touchdowns, the most ever at Florida); his best statistical season came in 2007 when he put himself on the national map after recording 131 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and seven pass breakups.
A very competitive player who plays the game with the passion and intensity that I love to see from a player, Spikes was a team leader at Florida, having been named a team captain for both the 2008 and 2009 season; as much as Tim Tebow was a leader on offense for the Gators, Brandon Spikes was nearly as much of a leader on the defensive side of the ball for the team.
Brandon has an ideal combination of size, strength, and athleticism for an inside linebacker prospect. He’s a very instinctive player on the field who simply understands the game of football and knows the nuances of playing the linebacker position. Spikes reads and diagnoses plays very well and is a very good contributor in the run game; he aggressively comes downhill from his linebacker position as a reliable tackler for his team and he’s more than capable of producing a big hit when he gets the chance. He has the strength to fight through blockers to get to the ball carrier and he moves through traffic well.
One of Brandon’s most underrated assets is his ability to rush the passer; with how aggressive he is as a defender, he has a knack for getting into the backfield to make a play behind the line of scrimmage, which is shown in his 31.5 career tackles for loss. His most effective way of getting into the backfield is to either bull-rush the blocker or to use his lateral agility to get around him. In coverage, Spikes has shown the ability to gain depth in his drops, and while he was productive doing it in college, this isn’t going to be one of his strengths at the next level. Brandon is more quick than he is fast and he’s stiff when attempting to change directions in the open field; these are two reasons why his best fit is at inside linebacker.
Spikes’ lack of great straight-line speed is a big concern for teams at the next level; with a time that low, it makes you wonder if he was injured this offseason or if his work ethic had been poor leading up the workout. He pursues the ball well, but with his lack of speed, he doesn’t make as many plays down the field as you’d hope to see. With his high-tempo, aggressive style of play, there are times when he will actually take himself out of the play by over-running a play or taking a poor angle; I have no problem with his emotional play and I’d rather embrace it from a scouting perspective rather than saying it’s a concern. Spikes’ intelligence has been questioned and he’ll likely have to answer questions for teams about an incident in 2009 when he attempted to gouge the eyes of Georgia running back Washaun Ealy; he was suspended for the first half of the following game, but Brandon decided to extend the suspension to a full game so that he wouldn’t be a distraction to his team. While this was a nice move on his part, he’s going to have to tell teams at the next level what prompted him to do that to the player. Brandon was a late-first to second round pick before his Pro Day, however after his poor workout. I project that Spikes will be drafted in the third-to-fourth round.
Brandon is the type of player who had a fantastic college career but his skills don’t project as well to the NFL. He will likely be limited schematically with his lack of speed and his best fit at the next level will come as an inside linebacker in the 3-4. Brandon has the tools to be a nice starter for a team as well as a leader on defense, however his upside is limited and he doesn’t offer as much potential as some of the other linebacker prospects in this year’s draft.
Notes: Brandon was named first-team All-American in 2008 and 2009 and first-team All-SEC in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Brandon has great bloodlines with his cousin being NFL linebacker Takeo Spikes. One of the top players in the country coming out of high school, Brandon was rated as the No. 1 player in the state of Florida as well as the No. 2 outside linebacker and No. 13 overall player in the country by Rivals.com. Between his junior and senior seasons in high school, he recorded 172 tackles, seven sacks, and 11 interceptions; he also added five forced fumbles as a junior.
If you want to talk about potential and upside, Spikes has both. He’s a physical freak that will make big plays. He’s a big hitter with great vision and will rack up tackles against the run.
Scouts feel he’s a bit weak dropping back into zone pass coverage, but with proper tutelage, he can improve. Like McClain, he’s probably best suited to play one of the middle spots in the 3-4, but I’m convinced that he could grow into a true MLB, regardless of scheme.