INDIANAPOLIS — Pro scouts who watched tape on the Michigan defense play last season probably followed the same sequence: insert tape, avert eyes.
That is, until No. 8 flashed across the screen and senior linebacker Jonas Mouton had his nose in the middle of a play.
“I was impressed with him,” said Todd McShay, the director of college football scouting for ESPN Scouts Inc. “I thought he played on a defense that was hard to watch this year. He played well and didn’t get a lot of help around him.”
Lost amongst the record-breaking poor performances by the Wolverines throughout the season was how Mouton’s 117 tackles last year led the Big Ten. And he added 8.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two interceptions to his resume.
That earned him an invite to the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, where NFL teams told him they also liked what they saw of him on tape.
“(NFL teams) really like my game film and the way I played throughout my college career,” Mouton said. “A lot of teams seem interested.”
The list of teams interested in the 6-foot-1, 239 pound linebacker includes the Bills, Eagles, Saints, Chiefs and Chargers, among others — interestingly enough, that includes teams that run a 4-3 defense and teams that run 3-4 defenses.
Mouton fits the mold of a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 defense and teams have told him that they’d like him at one of the inside linebacker positions in a 3-4 scheme. He also had to answer questions about playing in a 4-3 after playing in Rich Rodriguez’s 3-3-5 for the past three seasons — Mouton points to his early years in Lloyd Carr’s pro-style 4-3 defensive scheme.
At the combine, teams watched Mouton finish near the top in several of the workout categories — he had a time of 7.08 seconds in the 3-cone drill (11th among linebackers), 4.34 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle (14th) and his broad jump was nine feet and seven inches (12th).
All three drills show the quick burst and explosion an athlete has in tight spaces — obviously important for a linebacker.
Last year there were 26 linebackers selected in the NFL Draft, so Mouton’s chances of being selected this April seem pretty high.
Where he’ll be picked is another question.
“He’s tough, he’s instinctive,” McShay said. “He’ll probably come off the board in (rounds four to seven). But I think he has a really good chance to stay in this league for a while with special teams and as a backup.”
NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt, who was the vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys for 28 years, had a higher grade on Mouton.
“I think he’s a pretty good player,” Brandt said. “I think he’s a bottom of the second (round), top of the third (round) kind of guy because he’s also a good special teams player.”
Brandt also included Mouton in his list of top 100 players available in the draft.
The reason McShay doesn’t have Mouton near the top of this year’s linebacker class is because he doesn’t think Mouton is as physically gifted as others playing the position, even though he’s a converted safety.
“If you’re going to play in space, then you’ve got to be an elite athlete,” McShay said. There’s only 16 weak-side linebackers that start in a 4-3 in the NFL. They’re all really good at what they do.
“He’s a notch below that and will certainly have to overcome. (But) I ‘ve seen less talented guys become starters in this league.”
Another issue is whether or not Mouton is strong enough to play linebacker in the NFL. He declined to participate in the bench press at the Combine, saying he’ll lift at Michigan’s pro day.
He’s trying to be one of the salvageable pieces, in the NFL’s eyes, of a unit that allowed 35 points and 450 yards per game last season.
“It didn’t turn out exactly the way I wanted it to turn out, but I enjoyed my time at Michigan,” said Mouton, who notched more than 250 tackles in his career as a Wolverine. “I had great experiences, met a lot of great people.”