Having a great defense is almost a must these days to win a championship. Just look at the past year’s Super Bowl for an example of how crucial defense and schemes factor into winning. You don’t have to be the best but the unit needs to be able to stop the new high-powered offenses taking over the NFL. CBs have to be able to cover better and fit within schemes, defensive ends have to be able to stop the run and rush the passer with multiple moves, and defensive tackles have to be multi-faceted to take the defensive front to another level.
What gets lost in this is the importance of having good linebackers. Linebackers have to do it all. They have to be fast in order to cover RBs out of the back field and the ever so popular athletic tight ends running over the middle. They have to be able to get in the backfield and shoot gaps on run plays and blitz while also taking on blockers, clogging running lanes, and ripping through pulling guards to make a play on the ball carrier.
They have to do all these things while also being able to fundamentally wrap up and complete the tackle.
LB is one of the toughest positions to draft for because of the multi-faceted nature needed to defend in the new NFL. So when looking at the position before the draft you have to look at speed, size, lateral quickness, and strength.
Speed = being able to cover and shoot gaps. Size = being able to take on blockers and get off of them. Lateral quickness when determining the play and getting to the right spot while also being able to change directions for pass breakups and INTs. Strength = being able to hold position and not get blocked 10 yards downfield or simply being able to execute a tackle on the bigger RBs, QBs, TEs, and WRs.
Here’s a look at some of the guys who I like at the Linebacker position.
Devin White and Devin Bush are both projected as top 15 linebackers in the draft and serve as the bench mark for comparison purposes. I obviously like both of these guys and it shouldn’t be a surprise if they both go top 10. Here’s a look at their combine numbers (courtesy of NFL.com):
- Devin White: 4.42 40, 22 Bench Reps, 39.5 Vertical, 118 Broad Jump, 7.07 3-Cone Drill, 4.17 20 Yard Shuttle
- Devin Bush: 4.43 40, 21 BR, 40.5 Vert, 124 Broad Jump, 6.93 3-Cone Drill, 4.23 20 Yard Shuttle
So when sifting through the prospects we’ll only look at guys who ran faster than a 4.7 40 yard dash because it is extremely rare for a guy to run a 4.9 or 4.8 and become a 3 down quality starter in today’s NFL.
White and Bush are projected 1st round picks and you can read up on them elsewhere. I’m going to give you some guys who are pure Linebackers, NOT DE/OLB hybrid pass rushers, who could be good picks in the later rounds depending on team and scheme.
Drue Tranquill(Notre Dame) – coming in a 6’2” and 234 lbs he’s bigger than both White and Bush. His straight line speed is slower than both with a 4.57 40 yards dash however his 20-yard shuttle is faster than both 1st rounders at 4.14 sec. His 3 cone drill bests White’s at 6.94 sec while also posting a better broad jump also at 122 inches. He played on one of the nation’s top defenses last year as a fulltime starter. He has an injury past but also a past playing in the secondary. If he can stay healthy he could be a good late round pick if the scheme fits.
Bobby Okerke (Stanford)- He’s bigger than Bush and White at 6’1” 239 lbs. Ran a 4.58 40 with similar numbers in the Broad Jump (122 inches) and 20 yd shuttle (4.26 seconds) as the top guys. Stanford has put multiple linebackers in the NFL over the years and with the size
2 Guys who didn’t participate at the combine but will be good additions are David Long Jr (West Virginia)and Vosean Joseph (Florida). Both guys have displayed a knack to get the ball, leading both their teams in tackles. They displayed skill and intuition to recognize the play and know what to do and how to get to where they need to go. Like everyone drafted, they’ll benefit more from a good situation.
Cole Holcomb (UNC)led UNC in tackling 3 years in a row while leading all ACC linebackers in Solo Tackles (59). He has good size and clearly knows how to finish tackles. A late round pick could end up being money well spent for the right team.
Cody Barton (Utah State) – Has good size (6’2”, 237), displayed good speed (4.64 40, 6.9 cone, 4.03 20 yd shuttle), and repped out 30 on the bench press, he’s every thing a team could want out of a middle round draft pick? He looks to be the steal of the draft if taken in the right round.
Gary Johnson (Texas) – Gary Johnson tied Devin Bush for the 2nd fastest time at the combine at 4.43. He led his team in tackles and truthfully that’s all some team is going to need to know to draft him late and at the very least will contribute on special teams with an opportunity to play on passing downs.
The top end of the Linebacking group this year isn’t as deep for the 1st and 2nd round if you’re looking for every down contributors. However, there are a lot of guys who have a solid foundations that an NFL staff can build on and mold to become high level contributors. Every player drafted benefits from being drafted into a good situation that best fits their skills and abilities while allowing them room to grow and develop. The guys above are no different.
With so much focus on the top couple of guys, the guys listed above represent the other side. The guys who have to grind and earn everything they get. I’ll be interested to see where they end up and follow their careers. Which is what makes the NFL draft a remarkable event.
See you on the other side.
- Devin White – Tampa Bay Buccanears – 1st round
- Devin Bush – Pittsburgh Steelers – 1st round
- Cody Barton – Seattle Seahawks – 3rd round
- Bobby Okerke – Indianapolis Colts – 3rd round
- Drue Tranquill – Los Angeles Chargers – 4th round
- Vosean Joseph – Buffalo Bills – 5th round
- Cole Holcomb – Washington Redskins – 5th round
- David Long Jr – Tennessee Titans – 6th round
- Gary Johnson – Kansas City Chiefs – URFA Signing