2012 NFL Draft breakout candidates: USC DE/OLB Devon Kennard

LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 11: Linebacker Devon Kennard #42 of the USC Trojans tackles running back Perry Jones #33 of the Virginia Cavaliers at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 11 2010 in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The first round of every NFL Draft is spotted with players who break out for a season before going pro. Whether it was Nick Fairley this year or Mark Sanchez in the 2009 draft, some players need just a single season to become draft superstars. We're going to preview some break out candidates before the season starts.

Devon Kennard
6'3, 244 pounds | Defensive end | Southern California

Why he's poised to break out:

Finally, after two middling seasons as a linebacker – both outside and inside – Kennard is being placed in his natural spot at defensive end. Southern California initially tried Kennard at outside linebacker as a freshman, starting the last four games of the season on the strong side. For his sophomore season, USC moved Kennard to middle linebacker, where he started the first eight games of the season. He played decent but was clearly out of place, finishing the year with 72, 7 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.

He was a five-star recruit as a defensive end and has the power to hold up at the position in pass rush situations. The hope for USC is that Kennard can play both in a two- and three-point stance, much like Clay Matthews did for the Trojans.

A comparison to Matthews, though, is premature. While Kennard has a good burst, it's not at the level of the Packers star. Kennard just hasn't been able to show it on a consistent basis because he's been moved around so much. Obviously this will seem like a cop out since he plays for USC, but Kennard is the perfect fit to play the Leo position with the Seattle Seahawks.

Where he needs to improve:

From a technical standpoint, Kennard has a long way to go. He needs to show as a junior that he has the agility to bend around the corner to get into the back field.

Although he holds up well against the run as a linebacker, Kennard will need to get bigger and stronger to play the run at end. In June Kennard told reporters that he was going to be at 238 pounds to play middle linebacker, but was up to 244. To maintain the edge, he may have to continuing bulking up to more than 260 pounds.

This isn't really an area where Kennard can really improve, but it's worth noting he has a history of injuries. Going back to knee surgery in high school, Kennard has also had surgery for torn hip cartilage and thumb surgery before 2010 spring practice.
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