This OLB class isn’t on the same level as last season’s class, but it’s still solid. Texas A&M’s Sean Porter is as good as it gets and of the better senior prospects in this draft. You can find all types on LB’s in this group – 3-4 edge rushers, WLB and SLB in the 4-3, and prospects who can play inside in a “30” front.
Expect guys like Stanford’s Chase Thomas, Iowa States Jake Knott, and Alabama’s Nico Johnson to end up higher on the board than where they are currently listed.
These rankings are extremely fluid, especially this early in the season and will change constantly throughout the process. Juniors will be added as they begin to declare for the draft.
1. Sean Porter, Texas A&M, 6’2 230: 1st Round
-Porter is very similar to former Aggie, and current Broncos star Von Miller. Porter will get drafted high due to his ability to get to the QB and cause havoc at the L.O.S. Porter finished with 9.5 sacks last season, but he could see the number decline with the move to the SEC and the change to a WLB in the Aggies 4-3. Porter is extremely explosive and his closing speed is second to none. He knows how to get around blockers, and shows great football IQ. But what makes him appealing to NFL teams is his versatility. He won’t hurt you in pass coverage and can fit into any scheme in any position.
2. Gerald Hodges, Penn State, 6’2 234: 2nd Round
-Hodge is a former safety recruit who is still developing as a LB. Last season was his first year to start and earn significant playing time and he didn’t disappoint. He finished with 106 tackles and 4.5 sacks and looks to be the next guy from “Linebacker U’ to get drafted. Hodge as ideal size and speed to be a solid WLB for a 4-3 team. He attacks at the line of scrimmage and is very physical at the point of attack. One of the hardest hitters of the OLB’s, If Hodge continues his development he could become an early day 2 pick and has the look of a potential starter in his rookie season.
3. Jamie Collins, Southern Miss, 6’2 240: 2nd Round
-I probably have Collins ranked higher than most, but I see tons of potential in him. He plays a lot with his hand in the dirt for the Eagles, and looks the part of a 3-4 OLB at the next level. In three seasons he as accounted for 222 tackles, including 98 last season with 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He runs like a wide receiver and his quick first step makes it hard for OTs to get a hold of him on the edge. Southern Miss also likes to drop him in coverage evident by his 8 pass breakups last season. He looks just as comfortable in space and in pass coverage as he does rushing the passer. If he can add more weight and maintain his speed, Collins should be an early day two selection in April.
4. Chase Thomas, Stanford, 6’4 240: 2nd-3rd Round
-Thomas is listed as an OLB in Stanford’s 3-4, but that fact is he can play anywhere in any formation. The Cardinal coaching staff put him in the middle of the field, on the outside, and even with his hand in the dirt, and Thomas produced. He led Stanford in sacks and tackles for loss last season. He shows great quickness and instincts on a consistent basis. He knows how to disengage from blockers and plays with good leverage. I would like to see him keep plays in front him more often. He’s so aggressive that he will tend to overrun the play, and has to play catch-up, which in turn shows off his motor and how well he hustles.
5. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers, 6’1 220: 3rd Round
-The former safety became one of the better OLB in the nation last season and won the Big East Co-defensive Player of the Year. He finished with 141 tackles and 10.5 for a loss last season. What makes him so special is speed and ability to tackle. He can run with TEs and RBs and knows how to play the pass. His plus athleticism is also a positive when he runs downhill to attack the line of scrimmage. Keep an eye out to see how he is coming of a gruesome ankle injury. If he doesn’t regain his speed that put him on NFL team’s radars, than his draft stock will be affected.
6. Zaviar Gooden, Missouri, 6’2 230: 3rd Round
-Not as athletic as you would like, but he’s very productive. 2012 will be his third season as a Tigers starter and is a true leader of the Missouri defense. What I like about Gooden is that he’s not a liability on coverage. Even though he’s not the fastest LB, he does a great job staying with his man in pass coverage and works well in space. It will be interesting to see how Gooden does against tougher competition in the SEC.
7. Jake Knott, Iowa State, 6’3 229: 4th Round
-Jake Knott is as solid of a LB as you will see. He doesn’t do anything great, but he also doesn’t do anything bad. The past two seasons he has accounted for 244 total tackles and gives 100% on every play. Knott isn’t an elite athlete, but he has plus instincts and football IQ, and his technically sound. Is one of the better defenders at diagnosing plays in all of football. His ability to play inside or outside will appeal to all 32 teams this April.
8. Nico Johnson, Alabama, 6’2 245: 4th Round
-Versatile LB who can play inside and outside. Is draft stock is low right now because I want to see him become a playmaker and leader on defense. His first several years he’s been overshadowed by some great LB’s for the Crimson Tide. Johnson will make his money as a run defender in the NFL. He’s a hardnosed and very physical defender at the line of scrimmage. Johnson is a sure tackler and from what I’ve seen doesn’t get outmuscled. However, scouts will worry about his fluidness in space and if he can turn and run with TE’s and RB’s. Should be higher on the rankings once the season goes on.
9. Keith Pough, Howard, 6’2 235: 5th Round
-Pough has a great blend of size, strength, and speed. Over the last two seasons he’s been responsible for 49.5 tackles for loss. There is no hesitation in his game and he flys around the field. Pough is very disruptive at the line of scrimmage and is a great attacking LB. Like many small school standouts, he will face a learning curve at the next level. Would really like to see him improve in pass coverage to earn a higher draft grade by seasons end.
10. Sio Moore, UConn, 6’2 229: 5th Round
-Moore is a downhill attacking LB who embraced the leadership role last season. After losing several key LBs, the Huskie coaching staff needed Moore to step his game up, and he did. He finished with 86 tackles,6.5 sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss. Moore needs to improve is strength, but is solid in pass coverage and is an ideal weakside defender in a 4-3.
11. Cornelius Washington, Georgia, 6’4 268: 5th-6th Round
12. Kenny Tate, Maryland, 6’4 230: 6th Round
13. Alonzo Highsmith, Arkansas, 6’0 234: 6th Round
14. DeVonte Holloman, South Carolina, 6’2 240: 6th-7th Round
15. Mike Taylor, Wisconsin, 6’2 222: 7th Round
16. Terrance Garvin, West Virginia, 6’2 222: 7th Round
17. Cameron Lawrence, Mississippi State, 6’2 230: PFA
18. Etienne Sabino, Ohio State, 6’3 237: PFA
19. Travis Long, Washington State, 6’4 256: PFA
20. Ramon Buchanan, Miami(FL), 6’1 228: PFA
21. Brandon Magee, Arizona State, 5’11 233: PFA
22. Herman Lathers, Tennessee, 6’0 220: PFA
Jarvis Jones, Georgia, 6’2 242
CJ Mosley, Alabama, 6’2 232
Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech, 6’2 240
Jonathan Brown, Illinois, 6’1 235
Jelani Jenkins, Florida, 6’0 237
Jeremy Cabler covers the NFL Draft and College Football for Rant Sports. Check out his Scouting Reports