The linebacker position isn’t traditionally a premier position, but one has landed in the top ten in each of the past five drafts. This year looks to be a similar situation, with more than one a possibility.
Georgia’s Jarvis Jones will rate as the top overall defender on many teams boards. He is a true impact defender off the edge, and the type of guy you have to account for on every snap. Jones has become a standout because of his ability to get up the field and make plays in the backfield. He is a very good athlete, with the quickness and change of direction ability to give blockers fits, and the closing speed to get to quarterback and bring him down. Those same traits also allow him to drop back into coverage and make plays as well. Jones is physical and will make plays in the running game as well. He isn’t afraid to take on blocks and will battle through the action to make the play. Jones’ size, athletic ability, speed, and toughness will allow him to be a force in any defensive set. The only potential issue regarding Jones may be his medical evaluations. He originally began his career at USC, but transferred because school doctors would not clear him after a neck injury as a freshman. Georgia doctors felt he was fine, and his play on the field suggests there is no concern. If everything checks out well, Jones should be a top ten selection, possibly landing in the top five.
- Jarvis Jones, Georgia
- Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
- Arthur Brown, Kansas St.
- Jamie Collins, Southern Mississippi
- Kiko Alonso, Oregon
- Gerald Hodges, Penn St.
- Chase Thomas, Stanford
- Sean Porter, Texas AM
- Zaviar Gooden, Missouri
- Brandon Jenkins, Florida St.
Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o is the drafts top inside linebacker, and may be the safest pick in the entire draft. He is the complete package in the middle and should emerge as a team leader, and the type of player that can elevate the play of his teammates with his presence. Te’o is a good athlete for a 245lber and moves very well. He can make plays sideline to sideline and even drop back into coverage. As a run defender, he has the thick frame, strength, and toughness to make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. He is quick to read the play and attacks the action. Te’o also shows tremendous instincts in space and coverage for a mike linebacker. His seven interceptions this year attest to that, and this trait sets him apart from many other true middle linebackers. As talented as he is, what makes Te’o special is his leadership qualities. He works hard and plays with aggression and intensity that Is infectious. He is a fiery defender that can up the level of effort and play from his teammates. Te’o should hear his name called in the top half of the first round, and be counted on to lead his defense from day one.
Georgia’s Alec Ogletree is one of the more versatile and exciting linebacker prospects available this year. He is a great athlete, with excellent quickness and speed. His movement skills will allow him to make plays at any linebacker position and any role asked of him. He can cover ground in a hurry and can deliver big hits when he meets the ball carrier. Ogletree can run sideline to sideline with ease and once he has a ball carrier in his sights, he flies to the football. His natural athleticism gives him the ability to match up well in man to man coverage, but also close quickly and break up the action even when in zone. Ogletree has the frame to get even bigger than his current 6’3 230lb frame, and that added bulk will aid him in taking on blocks and in run support. Ogletree should hear his name called in the first round at some point, and could play inside or out, depending on what team drafts him and where their need lies.
Anthony Barr of UCLA could be as physically gifted as any defender in this draft. He’s is a legitimate 6’4 235lbs and made a smooth transition to defense after previously playing wide receiver. Barr is a tremendous athlete that can really fly around the football field. The impact he had this season despite being completely new to the defensive side of the ball speaks volumes about his natural tools and upside. Barr had 13.5 sacks this season, and should only get better. He can just blow by blockers with his burst, agility, and closing speed. Barr is also a tough kid and won’t back down from anyone on the field. The sky is the limit for Barr, but he is a raw prospect. He is only a junior and could elect to return to school to polish off his skills, which could turn him into a premier pick in April, 2014. If he declares this year, he may only be a situational pass rusher to start out, but the upside is there to be a standout in every phase of the game with experience.
Arthur Brown of Kansas State is a completely different type of outside linebacker than Jones and Barr. He profiles as the prototypical weak side linebacker at the next level. He is on the smaller side at 6’ 230lbs and can have trouble taking on and shedding blocks as a result, but he is a tackling machine that can fly to the football. Brown has sideline to sideline range, and can really chase down plays and close on the ball carrier. He has the athleticism and agility to match up and drop back into coverage and make plays. He is physical for a player his size, but he will need some protection in front of him to keep blockers away from him. Brown should test out well athletically and could hear his name called at some point in the second round.
Stanford’s Chase Thomas isn’t going to blow anyone away physically, but he is always around the football making plays. He projects well in a 3-4 defense, but may not have enough athleticism or speed to make plays in space as a 4-3 linebacker. Thomas is a tough, physical, instinctive football player. He is a very active defender that attacks the ball carrier once he reads the action. There aren’t many wasted steps and he gets to the ball faster than his actual speed would suggest. Thomas is strong, physical, and sheds blocks well to make plays in the running game. As a pass rusher, he isn’t going to blow by anyone on sheer speed, but he is relentless. Thomas’ lack of exceptional speed and athleticism will likely keep him out of round one, but he’s the type of player that outperforms his physical tools. He would add a physical presence to a teams linebacking core in a 3-4 defense, and should hear his name called on day two.
- Alec Ogletree, Georgia
- Manti TeŐo, Notre Dame
- Kevin Minter, LSU
- Kevin Reddick, North Carolina
- Jon Bostic, Florida
- Vince Williams, Florida St.
- Nico Johnson, Alabama
- Michael Mauti, Penn St.
- Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers
- Tom Wort, Oklahoma
Khaseem Greene of Rutgers is a former safety, and it shows in his game at linebacker. He moves very well and makes plays all over the field. He excels in pass coverage, as you would expect. Greene’s natural athleticism, agility, and speed allow him to match up well in coverage on backs and tight ends. He can run sideline to sideline and make plays in the running game, and isn’t afraid to mix it up at the line of scrimmage. Greene has trouble getting off blocks, and will need to get stronger to help in this area. He’s another player that profiles as a weakside linebacker that can make plays in space and in coverage, but still come up and make plays as a run defender. Greene appears to have moved into day two territory, and solid workouts will only solidify that grade.
North Carolina’s Kevin Reddick is a clear notch below Te’o and Ogletree as an inside linebacker, but is a solid day two prospect.
He is an athletic playmaker in the middle. Reddick has excellent instincts and quickly diagnoses the play. His speed and athleticism, combined with his ability to quickly read the play, allow him to get to the ball carrier before blockers get a chance to get their hands on him. He isn’t afraid of taking on blocks, but Reddick does struggle to disengage. He relies on his speed and instincts to get to the ball. He will need to learn to shed blocks better at the next level. Reddick has shown some ability to blitz as well. He just has a knack for getting into the backfield and making plays. He may not fit every scheme because he will need some protection in front of him but In the right defense, Reddick could be a steal if he falls out of the first two rounds.
In addition to these linebacker prospects, there are some defensive ends that could project to linebacker in 3-4 defenses. Barkevious Mingo(LSU), Damontre Moore(Texas AM), Dion Jordan(Oregon) , Corey Lemonier(Auburn) and Brandon Jenkins(Florida St) should have no problem making the transition because of their natural athleticism. Bjoern Werner(Florida St), Sam Montgomery(LSU), and Ezekial Ansah(BYU) could be potential fits, but definitely project to DE in a 4-3 scheme better.
OLB names to remember: Jamie Collins(Southern Miss), Sean Porter(Texas AM), Jelani Jenkins(Florida), and Jonathan Brown(Illinois).
ILB names to remember: Shayne Skov(Stanford), Gerald Hodges(Penn St), Nico Johnson(Alabama), Kiko Alonso(Oregon), and Michael Mauti(Penn St).
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