Former Missouri linebacker James Kinney may see his four years away from home end soon.
Kinney, 22 from Kankakee, Ill., might be returning home if everything falls into place at the NFL Draft this weekend. Kinney, who grew up about 60 miles south of Chicago, wouldn’t mind if the Bears drafted him.
“That would definitely be awesome,” Kinney said. “I was born in Chicago and have a lot of family and friends there.”
It’s a realistic possibility. The Bears are in need of depth at the outside linebacker position. When a hamstring injury sidelinedfour-time Pro Bowler Brian Urlacher for much of 2004, the Bears were forced to play the unproven Hunter Hillenmeyer and Joe Odom.
The consensus among many Web sites and publications, including AsktheCommish.com and the “Great Blue North Draft Report,” an annual book breaking down the draft, places Kinney as a seventh-round pick.
They say distinct possibilities for include the Tennessee Titans picking him at No. 218 overall or the Chicago Bears at No. 220.
Kinney, a Butkus Award candidate for the nation’s top linebacker in 2003 and 2004, leaves Missouri as its all-time leader in tackles (434) and was named to the Associated Press All-Big 12 second team. But it’s his other intangibles that have scouts drooling.
Kinney is an amazing physical specimen. Built like a fireplug at six feet and 243 pounds, he opened some eyes at his pro day March 3, when he displayed a 36-inch vertical leap and did 30 bench presses of 225 pounds.
He puts it all to good use.
“The thing that impressed me the most about him is that he is aggressive to support the run and he can slip and avoid blocks despite being undersized,” Pro Football Weekly draft personnel analyst Nolan Nawrocki said.
“At the same time, he shows awareness in pass coverage and reacts well to whatever is in front of him.”
Scott Wright of NFL Draft Countdown said he is most impressed with Kinney’s football instincts and his motor that never seems to stop.
“He has excellent speed and great athletic ability,” Wright said.
A terrific vocal leader and a three-year captain at Missouri, Kinney also covered a lot of ground. Throughout his tenure with the Tigers, Kinney made plays from sideline to sideline.
“I’ve always prided myself on being a good leader,” Kinney said. “I’ve also worked on improving my speed. I like getting physical, but at the same time I know it’s important to play smart.”
Although Kinney is productive with tackling and leading a defense, he lacks the big play capabilities of Texas’ Derrick Johnson or Maryland’s Shawne Merriman.
Nonetheless, the Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals have all expressed interest in Kinney and had him do individual workouts for them.
“I just want to play professional football, regardless of where that might be,” Kinney said. “I’m excited to start the next chapter of my life and prove that I can play in the NFL.”
Should Kinney get drafted, he might not find his time in the NFL as productive as his college days. The consensus among many scouts is that he will serve as a terrific backup linebacker or special teams player.
“He has the instincts, enough athletic ability and determination to continue fighting his way onto the field,” Nawrocki said.
Nothing could keep Kinney off the field at Missouri either. Kinney played in 46 games without missing one because of injury.
“I have mixed emotions about my time at Mizzou,” Kinney said. “Overall it was great, but last season left a sour taste in my mouth. When I look back, I know I did everything I could do, but unfortunately things just didn’t turn out the way I would have liked.”
Despite his frustration over the Tigers 5-6 season in 2004, which included a five-game losing streak, Kinney credits the Missouri coaching staff for doing an excellent job of preparing their players for the possibility of playing at the next level.
“It’s pretty intimidating to have a bunch of NFL scouts and coaches watching every little thing you do,” Kinney said. “But after everything got going, I was able to relax.”