NFL Combine Edition: Top 10 Linebacker Prospects for 2013 NFL Draft

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Jarvis Jones, Manti Te'o Headline Deep Linebacker Class

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This year’s linebacker class has star power at the top and a lot of depth and versatility in the middle rounds.

Georgia’s Jarvis Jones is a candidate to be the top pick to the Kansas City Chiefs and should be a lock to be picked inside the top five with his relentless pass rushing ability, but may be limited to playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.

The other headliner in this class is Heisman finalist Manti Te’o from the national title runner-ups Notre Dame. Te’o had a remarkable regular season and essentially willed his team into the Discover BCS Championship Game vs. Alabama. However, he struggled mightily in the game and was seen out of position and missing tackles as Alabama ran up and down the field on his defense and now will likely fall out of the top five picks. He will have a good combine and ace all his interviews to stop the negative momentum that stems from his lone bad game of the season, but the shine on his coat is not as bright as it was prior to the white-washing vs. Alabama.

After the top two names are called you can expect to hear some familiar names from the SEC conference which boasts a number of athletic and versatile linebackers that will hear their names called early and often in April’s draft.

This draft features a loaded group of middle linebackers that could play right away and have an instant impact as a rookie, but that position doesn’t get drafted high, and should provide solid value on day two. After Jones, there is a significant drop-off in talent for 3-4 outside linebackers where the position is little thin compared to the last few years, but an injured star from Florida State could be a steal in the middle rounds.

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10. Chase Thomas-Stanford

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Thomas lined up all over for Stanford during his standout career, but is likely to be a strongside linebacker in the NFL due to his perceived lack of elite athleticism. He could also line up as a defensive end in some situations and his versatility should help his draft stock. Thomas will be a coach’s dream and the proverbial coach on the field, because of his high football intelligence. Thomas is a competitive player with a strong work ethic that allows him to make up for his lack of elite speed and agility. His tackling and instincts will be a fit for many teams that run a zone scheme.

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9. Kevin Reddick-North Carolina

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With excellent production, character, intangibles and the frame to be an every-down linebacker at the next level, Reddick will be one of the more underrated prospects at any position this year. He reads and locates the ball quickly and makes plays sideline-to-sideline rarely letting a ball carrier or receiver out of his grasp. Can improve in his ability to shed blocks from fullbacks and offensive lineman who have been able to lock out and engulf Reddick, effectively taking him out of the play. Reddick could be a perfect fit for teams that run a cover-2 scheme.

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8. Khaseem Greene-Rutgers

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Greene was the best defender in the Big East this year and leaves Rutgers after productive junior and senior seasons after making the move from safety. Greene has average linebacking skills in the ground game and needs to improve at the point of attack and his instincts and play recognition need further development. However, he makes up for that with above-average ability in the pass game as you would expect from a former safety and displays sure tackling making plays sideline-to-sideline. Has the potential to develop into a good pass rusher and has great leadership skills and strong work ethic that rubbed off on his Rutgers teammates.

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7. Jelani Jenkins-Florida

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At 6-0 and 230-pounds Jenkins needs to add weight and strength to be an every down linebacker at the next level. Currently, Jenkins projects as a good nickel and weakside linebacker. He possesses great intangibles and has been a great student at Florida, but has had some problems with minor injuries. Despite his size limitations, Jenkins has shown toughness and an aggressive nature that is sure to impress teams looking to add depth to their linebacking core. If he lands with a team with a stout defensive line in front of him to keep offensive linemen off him, he could display his speed, range, and first-rate recognition skills and make a number of impact plays.

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6. Arthur Brown-Kansas State

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The Miami transfer has found a home in the Wildcats defense and is the leader of a defense that is the unsung hero for the undefeated team. Brown is a consistent tackler who exhibits some of the best range of any linebacker in this class, and is comparable to some safeties with his ability to run sideline-to-sideline. At 224 pounds though, he will need to bulk up to the 240-pound range to be anything more than a nickel or special teams linebacker.

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5. Brandon Jenkins-Florida State

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Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Jenkins was hurt this season and elected to declare for the draft instead of taking a redshirt could line up as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or as an end in a 4-3 defense. At 6-3 and 257-pounds he is best suited as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense where he can rush the quarterback as he did so often while at Florida State. He won’t be great dropping back into coverage, but playing a role similar to that of Terrell Suggs or Lamarr Woodley where he attacks the quarterback will allow Jenkins to make an impact right away as a rookie. If he proves healthy in the pre-draft process, then he could be a fast riser and move up the rankings for teams seeing pass rushers.

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4. Kevin Minter-LSU

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Minter could be hurt because of his position as inside linebackers are not viewed as a premium position in the draft and thus have seen their draft position slide in recent years, but should be one of the first players taken in the second round based on his ability to make plays from sideline-to-sideline and lead a defense. Stood out on an incredibly loaded college defense and could be a better pro than he was in college.

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3. Alec Ogletree-Georgia

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Has serious character and durability concerns, but his talent is not that far behind Te’o as an inside linebacker. Has elite physical tools and will fly to the football in the run and pass game. Has potential to be a supreme pass rusher and can cover tight ends, but does not have great instincts or ball hawking skills. Not much of a difference between him and the number two spot on my rankings. Could be an outstanding pro if he gets a head coach that can harness his potential and could be a bust if his character concerns get the best of him.

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2. Manti Te'o-Notre Dame

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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Surprised many when he returned to South Bend for his senior year, but the folks at Notre Dame are counting their blessings he returned. He lifted his team to the top ranked scoring defense and an undefeated regular season that ended in the BCS Championship Game. Te’o is a complete linebacker that can make plays sideline-to-sideline and displays great instincts in the pass game as his seven interceptions as a senior suggest. Is a passionate and vocal leader that displays maturity and resolve well beyond his years and will be a starter from day one in the NFL. After a dismal performance in the title game could see his stock dip out of the top 10.

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1. Jarvis Jones-Georgia

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Jones is a natural leader on the field and the 6’2’’ 242-pounder is a nightmare for offensive lineman to try and block. Is the ideal 3-4 OLB and will be compared to former Texas A&M LB, Von Miller, but is not in his class, but still a very elite prospect. Single-handedly won the game for Georgia vs. Florida with 13 tackles, three sacks, and 2 fumbles forced and recovered. He is a candidate to be the first overall selection and has a promising NFL future in front of him provided he stays healthy.