This year’s class of linebackers is stacked with value picks that will be starters in the league. The biggest deficiency is in true 4-3 middle linebacker, but there is an abundance of nickel linebackers and, particularly at the top of the draft, 3-4 outside linebackers. Look for a significant amount of players from this selection to be off by the board by the conclusion of Round 2.
I have included comparisons to other NFL linebackers, but keep in mind these are based on style and not necessarily skill level.
1. Dion Jordan, OLB Oregon (6-6, 248)
86 tackles, 23.5 TFL, 12.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles between 2011-12
Jordan is a very intriguing prospect. He arrived at Oregon as a tight end, but eventually shifted over to the defensive side of the ball. His role for the Ducks was as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker and I envision him in a similar scenario in the pros. He dropped into coverage a lot in college, but he’s at his best chasing down quarterbacks with his 4.60 speed and wreaking havoc in the backfield. He gets around the edge and turns horizontally down the line quickly, utilizing his excellent flexibility and bend to get underneath offensive tackles. He has a tendency to tackle too high, but of all the defenders in this class, Jordan has the freakish speed and athleticism to be star who annually piles up double-digit sack totals. He won’t make it out of the top 5.
NFL Comparison: Julian Peterson
2. Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU (6-4, 241)
Mingo is built very much like Jordan, except a bit lower to the ground. He’s a lean, speed athlete who flies off the edge and will be a sack specialist in the NFL. Also like Jordan, he doesn’t have the bulk to play in-line, so he’ll be best suited going to a team that plays the 3-4 and can put him outside. He did play with his hand in the dirt at LSU and he could be used in that role in nickel and dime packages, but he’ll be a liability against the run there unless he adds significant weight. He has excellent change-of-direction agility and he reacts to the play quickly. He shows good effort and he made a lot of chase-down tackles. Mingo’s production dipped in 2012, but the skills and physical gifts are present for him to be a Pro Bowl-type player in time.
NFL Comparison: Jason Taylor
3. Alec Ogletree, OLB, Georgia (6-2, 242)
111 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 interception in 2012
Ogletree is an elite athlete. He originally played safety at Georgia before shifting up to play middle linebacker. His incredible speed moving sideline-to-sideline and his ability to drop in coverage make him an ideal weak-side linebacker in a 4-3. He’s a big hitter, an effective blitzer, and he moves well in space. He’s a tough kid who will fill the hole and help against the run, but he had trouble holding up in traffic in the middle of the field at Georgia. There are significant character concerns here, as Ogletree was suspended for a failed drug test in school and was charged with a DUI before the Combine, but on the field he has star talent.
NFL Comparison: Thomas Davis
4. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (6-2, 245)
155 tackles, 44.0 TFL, 28.0 sacks, 9 forced fumbles between 2011-12
If college production is what you seek, then this is your guy. Jones killed it the last two years for the ‘Dogs and last year he led the nation in sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles. He’s falling like a rock down draft boards because he didn’t test well at his pro day and he has spinal stenosis, a condition that could have him off limits to some teams. That said, the medical didn’t keep him off the field in college after Georgia gave him clearance (USC advised him to retire, on the other hand), and he plays way beyond what he can do on a track in shorts and a tee shirt. He gives relentless effort, has great balance coming off the edge, and enough power to hold the point of attack against the run. He’s also a team captain and leader. Jones will struggle some in space, particularly if he has to cover shifty backs, and he isn’t the biggest or fastest guy on the field, but he’s a sack-master that will thrive in the right scheme.
NFL Comparison: James Harrison
5. Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame (6-1, 241)
241 tackles, 19.0 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 7 interceptions between 2011-12
Te’o is similar to Jones. He’s had issues that stretch beyond his on-field skills and he’s had his athleticism and ability to translate to the NFL questioned due to poor measurables. When you watch him on film, however, his talent flashes all over the screen. He’s a tackling machine who plays aggressive and relies on superior instincts and effort. He’s a strong dude who hits extremely hard and runs all the way through the tackle. His lack of speed means he won’t chase down as many plays from behind at the next level and his lateral stiffness will hurt him in coverage, but Te’o is a proven leader who brings plenty to the table to be a solid pro.
NFL Comparison: David Harris
6. Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Mississippi (6-3, 250)
190 tackles, 39.5 TFL, 16.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 1 interception between 2011-12
I love this guy. If there’s one player in the linebacker category that casual fans probably have never heard of who’ll become a star in the NFL, this would be my bet. He has a tall, athletic frame and he’s a strong player who comes off the edge with a lot of speed and power. He’ll fit like a glove as an outside backer in a 3-4 scheme. He will struggle if asked to cover quick receivers and backs man-to-man, but he has the lateral quickness to handle zone duties. He sheds blocks well and is a fantastic blitzer. Collins has the look of today’s elite pass-rush linebackers and if he ends up in the right situation he’ll be a steal of a pick, probably in the second round.
NFL Comparison: Justin Houston
7. Sio Moore, OLB, Connecticut (6-1, 245)
158 tackles, 31.5 TFL, 14.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions between 2011-12
Moore is a versatile linebacker who does a lot of things well. He has a good power rush off the edge and is at his best moving forward, but he displayed solid cover skills at UConn as well. He has a strong, thick build to hold the point of attack and can shed and scrape down the line to make tackles. He blitzed a lot in college and was very good at it so he probably would be best suited as a 3-4 outside guy, but he has the skill set to play in a 4-3 as well. Moore is a disciplined, sound tackler, with skills that can be employed as an asset in the pass rush, run defense, and in coverage. He’s not the biggest guy in this year’s class, but he should be a starter in the NFL.
NFL Comparison: Sean Weatherspoon
8. Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU (6-0, 246)
130 tackles, 15.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception in 2012
Minter is solid. There’s nothing about his look or his game that is flashy or explosive – he just gets the job done. He’s a bit on the shorter side, but he’s a powerful player who uses his leverage well. He’s a sound wrap-up tackler who’s quick off the ball and has great lateral movement to find the ball and fill the hole. He takes great angles and plays downhill with a good motor. He’ll be a run-stuffer at the next level as his coverage skills are somewhat lacking, though he is an instinctive blitzer up the middle. Minter is ticketed for a spot as some team’s middle linebacker and while he isn’t going to turn a defense around or be a standout star, that team won’t have to worry about his position. He’ll be a productive player in the NFL.
NFL Comparison: Curtis Lofton
9. Arthur Brown, OLB, Kansas State (6-0, 241)
201 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 3 interceptions between 2011-12
Brown has NFL bloodlines. His brother Bryce is a running back on the Eagles. He is an impressive athlete who relies on his speed to make plays, though he shows good instincts. He scrapes down the line of scrimmage well and is quick to fill running lanes. He often slips blockers using his quickness to make plays to compensate for his smaller build. He drops well into coverage and closes quickly on the play in front of him and displayed good ball skills at Kansas State. Though a bit undersized, Brown’s aggressiveness, agility and speed should be enough to make him a solid outside backer in a 4-3 scheme or inside in a 3-4.
NFL Comparison: Lawrence Timmons
10. Kevin Reddick, ILB, North Carolina (6-1, 243)
156 tackles, 24.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles between 2011-12
Reddick is another versatile specimen. He played in the middle, on the outside, and was used as a pass rusher at UNC. He’s a solid tackler who tracks the ballcarrier well, breaks down in his stance and takes good angles. He’s not a huge hitter and isn’t overly large so he probably fits best on the inside of a 3-4. He’s not especially fast or quick either, but he’s smart and patient. He’ll have to get better at taking on blockers and shedding at the next level, but Reddick is simply a good football player who will be a plug-and-play starter.
NFL Comparison: Mason Foster
Best of the Rest
Jon Bostic, ILB, Florida
Kiko Alonso, ILB/OLB, Oregon
Trevardo Williams, OLB/DE, Connecticut
DeVonte Holloman, ILB/OLB, South Carolina
Zaviar Gooden, OLB, Missouri
Khaseem Greene, OLB, Rutgers
Gerald Hodges, OLB, Penn State
Michael Mauti, ILB/OLB, Penn State
Lerentee McCray, OLB/DE, Florida
Brandon Jenkins, OLB/DE, Florida State
Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford