Audie Cole’s first NFL start began with a sack on the very first play of the game against the Greenbay Packers in week 12 of 2013. Cole finished the game with 13 total tackles earning him three more starts before a high ankle sprain sidelined him for the season finale versus the Detroit Lions.

Cole is a difficult player to evaluate because his production can be very good, but his overall athleticism and disruptive impact or “wow factor” is often underwhelming. Nonchalant, ho-hum, vanilla, old-school, tough nosed, instinctive and fundamentally sound are just a few of the adjectives that come to mind when watching Cole’s style of play.

 Audie Cole is a 6’4” 245 pound middle linebacker that the Vikings selected in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. Cole had a productive 4 year career at North Carolina State recording 276 total career tackles, 14 sacks, 7 forced fumbles and 1 interception.

 Unfortunately for Cole, his good production on the football field will get deluted in today’s measurement hungry and workout centered talent evaluation process. Athleticism, explosive burst, and big play potential are some intangible factors that can help tip the scale favorably for certain players… Cole is not one of those players.

           

Cole’s lack of speed and athleticism probably played a minor role in the Vikings’ decision to cut him on November 7, 2013. And certainly it was his instinctive play and consistent production that got him resigned two days later.

 Viking Nation was in a trivial state of dismay when the Vikings waived Cole from the team just before the Washington game. It was “not cool” according to Cole, but he understood that the Vikings had a reason and a plan. Luckily for the Vikings, it turned out just fine as Cole cleared waivers and a week later was thrust into the starting lineup against the Packers.

 Cole was an instant sensation at Lambeau Field in his first NFL start. One sack, three quarterback hurries, and double digital total tackles had some writers claiming Cole’s performance was the best by a Vikings linebacker all season.

 After rewatching the Greenbay and Chicago games from week 12 and 13, here’s my evaluation on Audie Cole.

 Pass Defense

Some evaluators say Cole’s lack of straight line speed might means he isn’t an ideal three down linebacker in the NFL. However, he does show good instinct when attacking the quarterback in pass rush situations, and Cole also has enough hip movement to quickly drop into coverage. When in zone coverage, the second-year linebacker seems to have an excellent understanding of where the quarterback wants to throw the ball.

As a pass rusher, Cole can quickly finding holes up the middle to put pressure on quarterbacks. Cole doesn’t earn beauty or style points as a pass rusher, but he is suprisingly effective none-the-less. Cole sack

In shallow zone coverage, Cole is very good at reading a quarterbacks eyes and sneaking into the passing lane.

GB zone

Against the Bears, Cole was not fooled by the initial underneath crossing route, instead showed great instinct by reading the play and almost grabbing a pick 6.

AC Bears

Cole can be an effective defender in pass rush situations and also when dropping back into shallow zone coverage. However, in man to man assignments, Cole can be a liability. In the clip below you can see that Cole knows his assignment, gets a good jam, turns and runs with his man, but he just doesn’t have the foot speed to stay in tight enough man coverage.

GB Man

Run Support

 Audie Cole might be underrated as an athlete, but he does have “some” natural movement skills and a great nose for the football. Cole shows good awareness, agility and a non-stop motor when pursuing ball carriers. His ability to shed blocks is OK but not great. Cole is an aggressive linebacker willing to take on blockers, but he is most effective finding holes and quickly sneaking past blockers to get to the ball carrier. His long arms, good wrap-up technique, and his ability to stay low (for a tall guy) helps him be a consistent and effective tackler. Cole is a good tackler, but I wouldn’t necessarily classify him as a hard hitter.

In the clips below, Greenbay’s backup quarterback Scott Tolzien escapes the pocket and takes off running. Cole does a great job pursing and making the tackle. The negative; Cole had the QB in his cross hairs, but couldn’t deliver a punishing hit.

tolzien hit

This clip shows Cole’s strong awareness to read and react by getting  into good position to make a play at the line of scrimmage, however, Cole’s arm tackle is broken and the runner picks up a few extra yards. After the game when reporters were praising his performance, Cole owned up to missing a couple tackles. Anyway, be sure to take notice of Cole’s knack for being able to sneak past the pulling guard. eating turf

In the below goal line situation, Cole shows enough recognition and movement skills to be in great position to shed a block and make a hit… but a lack of strength and finishing ability limited his chance to make the play. Yeah I know, #71 completely mugged him.GB goal line

In the following two plays versus the Bears, Cole once again demonstrates his good instinct and agility by skating inside and making a couple plays behind the line of scrimmage. I realize I’m being nit-picky here, but you should also notice that Cole was unable to drive the ball carriers backward when he had the opportunity. The point I’m trying to making is, the best and the worst of Audie Cole sometimes show up together in the same good play.

Bears backfield hit

Forte tackle

Audie Cole was a quarterback in high school, so it’s not like he has absolutely zero athletic ability. There’s some talent, versitility and a lot to like when watching Cole play. However, before I can anoint him as the starter, I would need to see Mike Zimmer coach him up or fix these three areas.

 * Improve on man to man pass coverage skills.

* Build more strength technique when shedding blocks.

* Add some finishing fundamentals and explosion to his tackling. Cole could be a very good player in the NFL if Zimmer can develop him into a physical nasty thumper.

Cole is not going to standout as a beast in the Vikings’ weight room, nor is he going to impress as an athlete when running 40 yard sprints on the practice field. To Cole’s advantage though, Zimmer doesn’t seem like the type of coach that gets wrapped up in the hype and potential surrounding players. He makes guys earn their jobs on the practice field. Zimmer demands that certain concepts and assignments translate onto the football field… and that just might be Audie Cole’s comfort zone.

 

12 COMMENTS

  1. I have talked about my desire to move up and grab Khalil Mack in the top 5, but I also feel pretty good about staying at 8 and taking Bridgewater if he falls (and I’m beginning to believe that that might happen).

    The 40th pick could then be used on an athletic linebacker. With 3 linebackers probablly going in the top 30 picks… I think Ryan Shazier could drop a bit.

    A speedy high impact violent hitter like Shazier lined up next to Brinkley, Cole or Mauti will hide some athletic imperfections we currently have in the middle.

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  2. Bridgewater NO NO NO NO NO!!! Same with Johnny football, NO NO NO NO NO!!! Jaws had a great break down of Bridgewater the other day. Bridegwater didn’t look good at all. He threw a lot of ducks in the videos Jaws was showing. Jaws said not one of these qb’s should be drafted before the second round at the earliest. He said that he gives the top qbs round 3 talent. Now way I want the Vikings wasting there first round pick on third round talented qb’s(Bridgewater, Manzel, Bortels, Carr). Draft defense the first two rounds, then draft Mettenberger or Garoppolo in the 3rd round.

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  3. Carl, very impressive article. Thanks for putting the work in to provide some excellent analysis for hacks like me!

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    • Thanks for the comment, and glad you enjoyed it.
      Arif posted a great article on “upside” and “potential” that relates well with this evaluation.
      Cole is a smart and fundamentally sound player. Most of the time he is doing what he is asked to do. Certainly a good football player on the field.

      But once you look at his workout number you go back to the tape and try to find those flaws. Yes, I’m guilty of doing that too.

      If workout numbers are good… you go to the tape to find those traits.

      I can honestly say I was really wrestling with how much clout to put into workouts, upside and athletic potential when writing this article on Cole.

      Anyway Fozz, don’t be fooled… I’m just a hack with a capital H.

      Thanks again!

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  4. This extended draft process has provided too many flavor of the days.

    All I want is a trade down in the first. Mack, Watkins and Clowney will be gone.. We just have to hope someone really wants somebody. Bridgewater could get drafted in the top 5, but at this point it looks more like he’ll drop to 20. Why take him at 8 instead of 15 with an extra 3rd+?

    I know others have said the same thing, but we need a QB next year. This would be the perfect class to drop to the bottom of the first looking to secure extra picks and add 5-6 defensive guys an o-lineman and a TE. We could have a top prospect at every level of the defense and on the line, still end up with upside projects at RB and tight end. Throw in a long shot QB if you want.. Maybe get Brady lucky with the ten guys everybody thinks could have what it takes. But you have to trade down.

    I’m done. Can’t wait to see what happens.

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      • I think highly of Arif… so I will take that as a nice complement.
        Just don’t expect me to write longer blogs or use nice graphs or charts.
        And forget about me showcasing a highly educated vocabulary and thought process.

        Anyway, thanks for making my day guys!

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  5. I was happy to see Cole get the start because he’s one of those underdog players I just find myself rooting for, like Marcus Sherels. They are remarkably similar. Each player plays smart and is very productive. Neither will wow you with their athleticism, but neither will get caught out of position or beat mentally. Sherels for example, was ridiculed heavily for getting burned on some deep passes. Well, you can’t play defense without that happening from time to time, and I didn’t feel the criticism of him was overly fair. The same is true (more so) for Cole. Unlike Erin Henderson who would regularly get fooled into being out of position, Cole just doesn’t let that happen. Sure, Henderson can lay a bigger hit and looks flashier, but as a position coach, if I had to choose between them, I’d take a reliable unflashy guy like Cole, every time. Why? Because half of football is reliability. Your teammates and defensive scheme need to be able to count on you doing your job and doing it right. Flashy speed doesn’t mean squat if the other team can get you out of position… and usually they can’t do that to Cole.

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  6. Nice job, Carl. I believe Arif is more critical of Cole; would it be possible for you to get Arif to give you a quote or post a comment here?

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    • CK2ND,
      Thanks for the comment. I have seen Arif say that he thinks the Vikings are quietly confident in Mauti and Hodges.

      But it was Greenway, Brinkley, and Cole that were taking 1st team snaps in mini camp today. Cole was at weakside.

      I will send Arif a tweet regarding your question, and try to get back with you. Also feel free to ask him questions on his next blog in the comment section.

      I’m sure Arif will have plenty of linebacker talk after the draft.

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  7. CK,
    You are correct, Arif is not as high on Cole.
    “Slow off the snap, and slow reaction time in zone coverage”
    Just a depth player.

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