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Niners Nation Scouting Report: Zack Follett, OLB California

The draft is two days away and one of our final scouting reports had to be on a popular local guy, the man they call Pain Train, Zach Follett.  Follett is beloved by Cal fans for his aggressiveness and the fact that he gives 100% all the time.

The folks at California Golden Blogs (our Cal blog) have been putting together recaps of all the seniors and had plenty of comments about Follett.  One "intangible" area that I liked was their comments on his leadership skills as the emotional leader of the team.  It's certainly not the only reason to draft him, but it would seem to give Coach Singletary a reason to like him:

Zack was definitely a big time leader on the field in 2008 and I can't help but think that the meltdown of 2007 encouraged him to step up and be that emotional leader for the team.  Remember after the 2007 when he vowed that he wouldn't let the team lose, meltdown, and get emotionally down again?  He was right.  He sure didn't let the team lose its swagger.

Next, let's take a quick look at his career numbers at Cal:

2005 12-0 25-7-32 3-16 2-11 2/1 3 0-0
2006 13-1 34-28-62 12.5-53 5.5-28 4/0 2 1-0
2007 11-10 39-25-64 12.5-59 5.5-36 2/1 6 0-0
2008 13-13 58-29-87 23.0-138 10.5-99 5/1 4 0-0
Totals 49-24 156-89-245 51.0-266 23.5-174 13/3 15 1-0

These numbers say a lot about his development.  In most categories he showed improvement each year, culminating in a beast of senior year.  The sacks and fumbles are great, but what I love seeing is 23 tackles for a loss.  It shows he can identify the ball carrier and make the play.  The Pac-10 has some athletic running backs so that's certainly a quality skill heading into the NFL.  Equally important is that it shows he's not just a one-dimensional pass rusher.

After the jump, we take a more specific look at his strengths and weaknesses and we've got some YouTube videos for you.

As we said, Follett has the high motor and intensity that you like to see from anybody on your football team.  Just as important though is that he brings great strength, even though he's not the biggest guy in the world.  Even though he is not as big as some might want, he clearly can shed tacklers and make plays.  Those tackles for loss show that ability.

The general consensus (and again that's seen in the tackles for a loss) is that he can close on ball carriers and has a nose for the football.  Fumbles are a tough category since a lot of luck can be involved, but he clearly likes to go after the player and strip them of the ball whenever possible (Captain Obvious speaking here).

Size is an issue, but he seems to have great strength for a guy his size.  He' certainly not tiny, but I'm curious to see if his strength can carry him against NFL offensive linemen on a weekly basis.

Beyond that, his primary weakness seems to be in pass coverage.  He's not awful at it but his movements are a bit stiff and not fluid like those with more natural pass coverage skills.  As the folks at Mocking The Draft indicated in their scouting report:

Where Follett struggles the most is moving laterally, especially in pass coverage. When he's asked to drop, he stands straight up and isn't fluid in his movements. Will have trouble making open field tackles when he doesn't have help. Has an odd tackling motion where he lowers his head. That may have led to a neck stinger in 2007, which knocked him out of three games. Needs to do better sinking his hips and driving through the ball carrier. Overruns the play against the run because he almost always goes after the quarterback. Struggles with play action.

I can definitely see the over-running issue being a problem.  When you've got a guy who is super-aggressive and plays with a high motor, you're going to get some overplaying.  It's just something he has to learn to control.

This weekend
Follett is being projected in the 4th to 5th round in many mocks.  Scouts Inc projected him in the 5th round (20th pick of the round) going to the Cowboys.  That's the round the 49ers grab James Davis, the running back from Clemson.  Given that the mock has the 49ers drafting NO linebackers, I'd much rather grab Follett in the 5th than Davis.