Outside linebacker rankings are the most challenging to put together. You have a range of playing styles from a classic linebacker like Myles Jack of UCLA, to a 3-4 linebacker like Leonard Floyd to a hybrid safety/linebacker player like Su'a Cravens of USC. For our 2016 NFL Draft rankings, they're all mixed together with Jack leading the way.
If there weren't concerns over a knee injury he suffered last year, he could be considered as the best player in the draft. Linebackers usually don't have the athleticism and range that Jack does. He is as explosive of an athlete as you'll find at the position. He can drop in zone coverage, cover in the slot (and outside for that matter), shoot gaps against the run, knock blockers away and even get after the quarterback a little. Oh, and he could probably be a team's top running back if they needed it. Jack is a special talent as long as his knee holds up.
NFL teams looking for the next Ryan Shazier may have it in another Buckeye with Darron Lee. He's a very good athlete who can cover tight ends and running backs, and has the closing speed to cover a lot of ground. Most teams will see him as a weak-side linebacker in a 4-3, but like Shazier he could be really good in the middle of a 3-4. Shazier has a penchant for big plays, including key interceptions and devastating sacks.
Jaylon Smith of Notre Dame is the big unknown at this position. When evaluating Smith, you have to assume that he'll be healthy or he won't be. I assume he will be, but maybe not as a rookie following a devastating knee injury in Notre Dame's bowl game. When healthy, he's another linebacker who is comfortable dropping in coverage and playing zone. He's also comfortable blitzing the quarterback from the outside, even though he had just 4.5 career sacks. For teams that flip flop between using three and four linebackers, Smith is a good fit. He played both in college and acquainted himself just fine.
Another linebacker prospect who can play in multiple schemes is Ohio State's Joshua Perry. He lined up everywhere for the Buckeyes and used his size and power to be a strong run stopper. He is quick to read a play and react, a critical trait for a good linebacker. Perry isn't a superstar athlete for a linebacker, but he has enough quicks to cover and shows a good closing burst.
Floyd is unarguably the top pass-rushing outside linebacker in this year's draft. He has an impressive first step, and has much better counter moves than most college prospects. He can beat offensive tackles with speed around the corner, and showed up to the NFL Combine much bigger, so we'll see if he's better at shedding blocks. Georgia used him all over the place in 2015, including at inside linebacker. Some team in the top 20 is going to love his combination of athleticism, length and versatility. His teammate Jordan Jenkins mostly played on the outside during his career and can be used at linebacker or with his hand in the ground. He's a powerful player who will shed blocks and get into the backfield.
Boise State's Kamalei Correa is likely to move from predominantly college end to pro linebacker. He is a very aggressive player who utilizes his speed as a pass rusher. Correa is a high-effort player who closes as well as any pass rusher in this year's draft. One of his big issues is getting off blocks, so that's something he'll have to adjust in the NFL.
Day-Three Gem: The draft range for LSU's Deion Jones is a little bit all over the place. Some see him as a top-60 pick while others view him as a fourth-round selection. In an effort to fill this bit out, let's assume he goes in the fourth. He's a rangy linebacker who showed much better power than expected at the Senior Bowl. Teams looking for another Telvin Smith will have it in Jones.
Overall position grade: B
|1. Myles Jack, 6’1, 245 pounds, OLB, UCLA|
|2. Darron Lee, 6’2, 235 pounds, OLB, Ohio State|
|3. Jaylon Smith, 6’2 1/2, 240 pounds, OLB, Notre Dame|
|4. Leonard Floyd, 6’4, 231 pounds, OLB, Georgia|
|5. Joshua Perry, 6’4, 254 pounds, OLB, Ohio State|
|6. Su'a Cravens, 6’1, 225 pounds, OLB, Southern California|
|7. Jordan Jenkins, 6’3, 253 pounds, OLB, Georgia|
|8. Kamalei Correa, 6’3, 248 pounds, OLB/DE, Boise State|
|9. Kyler Fackrell, 6’5, 250 pounds, OLB, Utah State|
|10. Jatavis Brown, 5’11, 227 pounds, OLB, Akron|
|11. Deion Jones, 6’1, 227 pounds, OLB, LSU|
|12. Joe Schobert, 6’2, 236 pounds, OLB, Wisconsin|
|13. Travis Feeney, 6'4, 226 pounds, OLB, Washington|
|14. Stephen Weatherly, 6’5, 250 pounds, OLB, Vanderbilt|
|15. Yannick Ngakoue, 6’2, 250 pounds, OLB, Maryland|
|16. Beniquez Brown, 6’1, 238 pounds, OLB, Mississippi State|
|17. B.J. Goodson, 6’1, 242 pounds, OLB, Clemson|
|18. Terrance Smith, 6’4, 230 pounds, OLB, Florida State|
|19. Dadi Nicholas, 6’3, 223 pounds, OLB, Virginia Tech|
|20. Eric Striker, 6’0, 222 pounds, OLB, Oklahoma|
|21. Curt Maggitt, 6’4, 252 pounds, OLB/DE, Tennessee|
|22. Devondre Bond, 6’1 1/8, 235 pounds, OLB, Oklahoma|
|23. Montese Overton, 6’1 3/4, 223 pounds, OLB, East Carolina|
|24. Travis Blanks, 6’1, 212 pounds, OLB, Clemson|
|25. Gionni Paul, 5’10 1/8, 231 pounds, OLB, Nebraska|
|26. Aaron Wallace, 6’3, 240 pounds, OLB, UCLA|
|27. Steve Longa, 6’1, 225 pounds, OLB, Rutgers|
|28. Kris Frost, 6’2, 240 pounds, OLB, Auburn|
|29. Ian Seau, 6’3, 250 pounds, DE/OLB, Nevada|
|30. De’Vondre Campbell, 6’3 5/8, 232 pounds, OLB, Minnesota|