This years group of linebackers have been all over the place and while there’s some great talent on the outside teams looking for an interior backer may have a harder time finding a true impact player. The best defensive athletes this year are the corners and DE’s but the linebacker group has great instincts and although it’s not deep the premiere talents have great upside
5. Ben Boulware, Clemson: Boulware won’t impress anyone with testing numbers or coverage skills but he’s a high motor player that invites physicality and attacks the run. I like his pro outlook more than most, but in the wrong defense he’ll get exposed. He’s a two down player that can be utilized effectively on blitzes and will recognize plays quickly. Any team using him needs him off the field during passing situations, but he can line up against tight ends that aren’t primary receiving threats. He could develop into a good all around player but for now he’s a run defender that could earn some decent time during his rookie year.
4. Kendell Beckwith, LSU: Beckwith played great during his time for Tigers and if it wasn’t for a knee injury I’d have him higher on list. He’s not a great athlete but he makes up for it with recognition and technique. He’s also very quick in short space and keeps runners in front him. His worst skill is pass coverage but he showed great flashes of his potential there. He’ll struggle with 1 on 1 matchups to start because of inexperience with it but he’ll be more than capable of picking up backs and tight ends crossing his zone. If healthy Beckwith should compete for a starting gig early
3. Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State: McMillan is an extremely quick decision maker that attacks almost on the snap of the ball. He struggles with technique at times and can get on the wrong side of blocks but he has a high motor and doesn’t give up on plays. Another player that struggles in coverage he looks like a project to start. He has the tools and instincts but a team will need to build up his knowledge on pass coverage and make him a little more physical. He could see some time as a rookie but he still needs development before he becomes a consistent contributor,
2. Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt: Cunningham has a slighter frame than most linebackers and doesn’t possess ideal strength but he’s extremely rangy, has a nose for making plays, and has a great understanding on attacking angles and rushing lanes. He can get taken out of plays at times by bigger blockers but he has great hand positioning and knows how to engage. He projects as a great coverage backer thanks to speed and intelligence and will be a sideline to sideline player day 1. He could sneak into the late first round but is projected mostly as an early second round pick.
1. Reuben Foster, Alabama: Foster was sent home from the combine and has started to see a small due to that but he’s still the best inside backer in the draft. Foster does it all whether it’s leading the defense, attacking the rush, or dropping back into coverage. He doesn’t have the same speed as cunningham but he’s still a great all around athlete. Foster knows how to take charge and has a great understanding for full defensive schemes. Foster is a bona fide star prospect that will be a day 1 starter and as long as his dismissal from the combine and small injury concerns don’t hurt his outlook he should be taken in the top half of the first round.
5. T.J. Watt, Wisconsin: Watt is a quality player and some impressive tape from Wisconsin but I think he’s getting a draft boost because of his last name. Watt only has one full season as a starter, past injury history and his technique isn’t great. He has good strength and has no problem defending the run but outside of that his strengths are lacking. He doesn’t have great size and despite good strength he can get pushed around if he doesn’t get good leverage and there are concerns on how he’ll be in coverage when he gets to the NFL level. Watt will be a high motor player and could be a decent starter but don’t look for him to have a JJ type impact.
4. Tim Williams, Alabama: Williams biggest problems have zero to do with his talent level. He’s a great athlete that’s lightning quick off the ball and has immense potential as a pass rusher. Teams no how talented he is and the type pro bowl player he could develop into but there are a number of off field concerns. He was arrested early in the season for carrying a pistol without a permit and repeatedly failed drug tests while playing for the Crimson Tide. Teams are not confident in his off field decision making and that coupled with a slight frame could cause a slide for the productive alabama product. He’s in a very similar situation as Randy Gregory when he was entering the draft.
3. Jarrad Davis, Florida: Davis is another linebacker who is a little slight in frame but unlike other prospects with his build he is not just a pass rush specialist. Davis is just as good attacking the run and is more than willing to drop back in coverage. Davis isn’t too different from an in the box safety but he takes on blocks better and attacks the ball a little quicker. He’s a true three down player that will will compete for a starting job right away.
2. Takkarist Mckinley, UCLA: Mckinley is a dream come true for teams looking to generate a pass rush from the edge. He has phenomenal feet, speed, and lean all to go along with a nonstop motor. He needs better hand placement and a couple more go to moves off the ball but he’s already extremely close to realizing his full potential. Mckinley should get into the first round and at the least he should be used during passing downs as a rookie
1. Haason Reddick, Temple: Reddick is a small school prospect, but his stats and combine results scream first round pick. He tormented opposing quarterbacks and running backs, and was consistently one of the first players to the ball. Although he excelled as an edge rusher at Temple teams think he would best be suited playing a more all around game that take full advantage of his athletic skills and playmaking abilities. Reddick is also great at forcing turnovers, with three forced fumbles during his last season with the Owls.