Eric Norwood, South Carolina
Weaknesses: Pass Defense, Straight-line Speed, Position, Athletic Ability
Gamecock OLB Eric Norwood might be the SEC’s most dangerous pass rusher but has arguably been the least talked about and the most underrated. Given a late round grade before the 2009 draft, Norwood returned to South Carolina and has racked up some outstanding stats and big performances.
Incredibly productive since his 2006 freshman year, Norwood racked up 22 sacks and 43.5 TFL in his first three years and has 8.5 TFL and 6 sacks so far this year (8 games). He’s garnered more and more attention as the year has gone on. After posting 6 sacks in the first 4 games, he’s gone 4 straight without a sack. His piece de resistance came during the September 24 win over Ole Miss when he posted 10 tackles, 2.5 TFL and 2 sacks. Norwood has also notched 2 INT, returning 1 for a TD, this year.
His size likely will keep him from playing DE in the pros but he appears to possess the necessary tools for a move to OLB. Gets decent pop to shed as a LB and will make plays in space.
Instinctive in locating the ball and diagnosing plays and generally takes good angles. Protects his legs and flows through the trash to get in on the action. Shows an explosive burst of the snap and closes quickly. Regularly puts pressure on the QB and must always be accounted for. Effective tackler who can break down and dole out explosive hits, Norwood is athletic enough to handle standing up. He’s a very consistent tackler with excellent form and a knack for knocking the ball loose.
Simply deadly attacking the pocket and possesses a good sampling of moves. His burst and surprising strength make him a headache for tackles. Has 40 games under his belt and very much fully developed physically and mentally.
Norwood is a tweener who has struggles in coverage. His straight line speed can be lacking against faster players and he gets by more on instincts and intensity in pass coverage. Norwood is not considered an elite athlete and his position is still murky. If he struggles in coverage, he may struggle to become more than a situational rusher and backup. This is a huge question and will determine whether he goes in the first round or the third.
Despite his question marks, Norwood is simply too good of a pass rusher to write off. Opponents are keying on him and without anyone else stepping up to provide consistent pressure, teams have been able to shut him down. His instincts, physicality and leadership give him the look of a special teams demon at minimum but I expect him to have a successful NFL career along the lines of Steelers OLB LaMarr Woodley.