The ascension of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack has been one of the better storylines of the 2014 NFL Draft process. At the start of the season, there was intrigue with Mack as a possible first-round pick. Then, the Ohio State game happened. Mack's play against Ohio State was arguably the single most dominant defensive effort of the season. From there, Mack took off, showing off a complete and nearly flawless game.
There are a few outside linebackers like Mack in this year's draft. While they're not quite as good as Mack, there are some good all-around linebackers like Ohio State's Ryan Shazier, BYU's Kyle Van Noy and Florida State's Christian Jones.
If teams are looking for a pure pass rushing threat, UCLA's Anthony Barr is going to be hard to ignore. While raw, Barr has speed and size that some team will want to develop.
1. Khalil Mack | 6'2 5/8, 251 pounds | Outside linebacker | Buffalo
There is arguably no more versatile defensive player in the draft this year than Mack. At Buffalo, that came as a necessity. Mack was required to line up at the line of scrimmage, as a traditional linebacker and in coverage. In each of the three roles, Mack had varying degrees of success. He's at his best when he's in open space, allowing him to rely on his athleticism and closing speed. Many of Mack's splash plays came as a pass rusher at the line of scrimmage. But in this role, often got held up on blocks. His ability to shed blockers is an area where he'll have to improve.
2. Anthony Barr | 6'4 7/8, 255 pounds | Outside Linebacker | UCLA
Barr is an exceptional physical specimen. His combination of length, first-step quickness and straight-line speed gives him the tools to be an impact player off the edge in the NFL. As should be expected from a player with his lack of experience, he also has a lot he needs to work on. Few players have as much room for growth as Barr. That's the plus side to drafting him earlier. The downside is he may not make much of an impact early and banking on his development is risky.
3. Ryan Shazier | 6'1, 237 pounds | Outside linebacker | Ohio State *
There is a lot to like about Shazier. He was a captain at Ohio State. He led the team in tackles two straight seasons. He was an All-American and semifinalist or finalist for all the big defensive awards. He's a good athlete for the position, capable of dropping into coverage or blitzing the quarterback. Shazier isn't the most physical of players, and he'll struggle to shed blockers. But if he stays free, the Lavonte David comparisons are legitimate.
4. Kyle Van Noy | 6'3 1/8, 243 pounds | Outside linebacker | BYU
Kyle Van Noy won't be a fit for every team. He is a strong athlete, showing the ability to change direction in a hurry and chase down ball carriers in the open field. However, he's not particularly strong and will need to address that early in his NFL career in order to shed blocks a bit easier. Van Noy is more of a blitzer than he is a pass rusher, but he finds his way into the backfield by taking smart angles to the football and tracking the football through traffic. He has the skill set to play multiple linebacker spots but would make the most sense as a WILL in a 4-3 defense.
5. Jeremiah Attaochu | 6'3, 252 pounds | Outside linebacker | Georgia Tech
Attaochu is a player who can line up at both defensive end and outside linebacker. That's what he did at Georgia Tech and led him to the Senior Bowl. While Attaochu is limited some as a pure linebacker, he fits fine at the position as a pass rusher. As an end in nickel situations, he can put his hand in the dirt and use his quickness to get past offensive linemen. If there's a Leo, wide-9 type of pass rusher in this year's draft, it's Attaochu.
6. Christian Jones | 6'3 1/8, 240 pounds | Outside linebacker | Florida State
Jones is one of the more versatile defenders in this year's draft. At Florida State he lined up a middle and outside linebacker as well as defensive end. The rub is that he was never really a superstar at any of them despite having the type of size and athleticism coveted. Jones' best spot is mostly playing outside linebacker but putting his hand down on occasion. He shows a good first to beat offensive linemen to the edge. He also has enough take on strength to shed and disrupt the pocket. As a pass rusher you'd like to see Jones vary up his moves more and develop a counter to his initial speed move. Solid in coverage. Isn't going to intercept a lot of passes, but knows how to disrupt a receiver's timing.
7. Trent Murphy | 6'5, 250 pounds | Outside linebacker | Stanford
Trent Murphy could play multiple spots across multiple schemes in the NFL. He's listed at outside linebacker here because of his ability to make plays away from the line of scrimmage. He's excellent in pursuit and has some experience playing in a two-point stance. Murphy, who posses a long frame with room to grow, was a productive college player with 31.5 career sacks. He needs to improve his ability to disengage from blocks and he isn't the most quick-twitch athlete, but he should find a home in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft.
8. Telvin Smith | 6'3, 218 pounds | Outside linebacker | Florida State
Smith is arguably the most athletic linebacker in this year’s draft. Considering the class, that’s saying something. He can fly around the field and plays much faster than he timed at the combine. Can stick with tight ends in man coverage. Doesn’t have the type of strength and bulk you typically see with an NFL linebacker. Plays good angles against the run. Can get overpowered by blockers and ball carriers. Won’t be a fit in every system as a weak-side linebacker.Was the leader of Florida State’s ferocious defense.
9. Carl Bradford | 6'0 3/4, 250 pounds | Outside linebacker | Arizona State *
It's tough to say which position Carl Bradford will play in the NFL. He spent time as an edge rusher at Arizona State, but he may be a bit undersized for that role in the NFL. Bradford definitely has the athleticism to be an off-the-ball linebacker at the next level, though. He finds his way through traffic effectively and takes proper angles to the football. Bradford was a productive college player, and if utilized properly, he could continue to be effective in the NFL.
10. Kevin Pierre-Louis | 6'1, 225 pounds | Outside linebacker | Boston College
If teams are looking for an incredibly athletic linebacker and miss out on the top players, Pierre-Louis should be the guy in the middle rounds. He's unbelievably fast for the position and will always be around the ball. How he gets there is less than ideal sometimes. Pierre-Louis is a class run around linebacker, in that he prefers to avoid blocks instead of taking them on. He can make up for it, though, with a high motor and the athleticism.
11. Christian Kirksey | 6'2, 233 pounds | Outside linebacker | Iowa
In a draft weak at 4-3 outside linebackers, Kirksey should benefit. Of Iowa's three linebackers in this year's draft, Kirksey is the best. Kirksey moves effortlessly on the field, a trait he really showed off at the Senior Bowl. He has a good burst and will close in a hurry in the open field. He has some issues getting off blocks, however. Kirksey is good enough in pass coverage situations that he won't have to come off the field on third downs. He has the athleticism to stick with tight ends or backs and shows good anticipation to break up a throw.
12. Trevor Reilly | 6'5, 245 pounds | Outside linebacker | Utah
13. Devon Kennard | 6'3, 249 pounds | Outside linebacker | Southern California
14. Adrian Hubbard | 6'6, 257 pounds | Outside linebacker | Alabama
15. Morgan Breslin | 6'2, 250 pounds | Outside linebacker | Southern California
16. Ronald Powell | 6'3 1/8, 237 pounds | Outside linebacker | Florida *
17. Shaquil Barrett | 6'2, 250 pounds | Outside linebacker | Colorado State
18. Jordan Tripp | 6'2 3/4, 234 pounds | Outside linebacker | Montana
19. Denicos Allen | 5'11, 215 pounds | Outside linebacker | Michigan State
20. Anthony Hitchens | 6'0 3/8, 240 pounds | Outside linebacker | Iowa
21. Boseko Lokombo | 6'2 1/8, 225 pounds | Outside linebacker | Oregon
22. Tyler Starr | 6'4 1/8, 250 pounds | Outside linebacker | South Dakota
23. Derrell Johnson | 6'2, 264 pounds | Outside linebacker | East Carolina
24. Prince Shembo | 6'1 3/8, 253 pounds | Outside linebacker | Notre Dame
25. Jonathan Brown | 6'0 3/8, 238 pounds | Outside linebacker | Illinois