Top Five 2018 NFL Draft Prospects- Linebacker
These guys will be drafted to become the future leaders of NFL defenses as they will blitz the quarterback, cover tight ends, and stuff running backs in the backfield. Today I rank the top five linebacker prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft.
1. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
Bio: As a true freshman, Tremaine Edmunds played in 13 games and flashed big play potential. In 2017, he led Virginia Tech in tackles with 109 and also recording 14 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles.
Strengths: One of a kind frame with long limbs and a rangy build. Carries his weight easily. Frame is capable of becoming even more intimidating with additional time in the weight room. Feet in constant motion. Excellent lateral quickness to attack the line and spy on the backfield. Uses his size and speed to cast a wide, playmaking area and cover a lot of ground. Always ready to make a play. Spins out of blocks to find his way back into the ball carrier. Combines length with rare reactive athleticism to get tackles from unconventional angles. Captures and finishes as a tackler efficiently. Elite traits help to create top level production wherever he's needed. Disruptive in all phases. Electric as an edge rusher. Has length and burst to affect the pocket. Effective in man coverage with the talent to match shifty running backs and bigger tight ends. Comes from a football family. His father, Ferrell was a two time Pro Bowl tight end for the Dolphins and his brothers Trey and Terrell played with him at Virginia Tech.
Weaknesses: Relies more on athleticism than actual instincts. Can be a step slow to diagnose the play. Fooled by misdirection plays. Will take random downhill paths that trap him in quicksand. Not very patient. Races ahead of plays and losses his leverage and run fits at times. Needs to add more upper and lower body strength. Average base strength and high center of gravity create issues holding up at first contact. Needs to be quicker to punch in order to get separation. Struggles mentally in man coverage. Takes time to process shifts and motions.
Projected Round: 1
Compares to: ???
Possible landing spot: San Francisco 49ers
2. Roquan Smith, Georgia
Bio: The second ranked linebacker coming out of high school, Roquan Smith decided to stay in his home state and play for the Bulldogs. By 2016, he was the leader of the defense and led Georgia in tackles with 95.
Strengths: Former high school wide receiver with elite athletic ability. Speed freak who easily catches running backs trying to beat him to the corner. Fluid and explosive in the open field. Squeezes through blocks. Praised by head coach Kirby Smart as being a "tremendous leader" who holds himself accountable. Has great instincts and high football IQ. Sharp focus to find the football when going through zone reads and jet sweeps. Extremely disciplined in his play. Senses when running backs are prepping for screen and speeds to close it off. Heads up tackler who sticks his nose in pile. Rare stop-start and change of direction quickness. Flips pursuit from one target to the next effortlessly. Gets early bail into coverage against play-action fakes. Able to mirror and match against the most athletic running backs in coverage. Gets early jumps to merge on crossing routes. Searches out and wraps up receivers when playing zone.
Weaknesses: Slightly undersized. Has to stay one step ahead of the blocking scheme or he can be eliminated from the play. Will need to diagnose and react a hair faster at the pro level. Occasionally comes in too hot rather than hitting the brakes in space as a tackler. Will need more schooling on hand work when taking on blockers. Needs to do a better job of recognizing oncoming blockers. Gets touched up by second level traffic and needs to continue to improve finding more effective lanes to the ball.
Projected Round: 1
Compares to: Deion Jones
Possible landing spot: Oakland Raiders
3. Rashaan Evans, Alabama
Bio: Despite growing in up in Auburn, Rashaan Evans signed with the hated Crimson Tide. After playing behind Reuben Foster, he came into his own in 2017 tying for the team lead with 74 tackles, leading the team with 13 tackles for loss, and making six sacks.
Strengths: Build like new age NFL linebackers. Possesses good length and great speed. Elite athlete with plus agility, range, and explosiveness. Quick to read offenses. Works around offensive linemen when rushing. Able to get to the edge with the jet sweepers and speed backs. Patient against misdirection and isn't easily fooled. Quietly side-steps blocks without giving away his gap responsibility. Has athletic ability to dance from gap to gap and attack athletic running backs. Learned from tough guys ahead of him and adapted their demeanor and style. Explosive, wrap-up tackler. Sub package rusher with upfield burst to threaten the edge. Can unleash impressive spin counter move in either direction. Burst as delayed rusher from inside linebacker spot is too much for most offensive linemen to stop.
Weaknesses: Slightly slow in reacting. Lacks instincts of players who have extended history at the linebacker position. Can improve leverage in his pursuit. Fast flow ahead of blockers can allow for running backs to cutback. Can get trapped by climbing blockers. Needs to improve his first punch to gain separation when taking on blockers. Benefitted from playing behind elite talent along the defensive line. Will wait rather than attack when downhill shots are available. Will need to trust his athletic ability to squeeze routes tighter. Durability concerns. Nagging groin injury plagued him in 2017.
Projected Round: 1-2
Compares to: Lawrence Timmons
Possible landing spot: Philadelphia Eagles
4. Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
Bio: As a junior, Leighton Vander Esch came into his own at Boise State. That year he was named the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year after recording 141 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and four forced fumbles.
Strengths: Big, long, and athletic. History of athletic achievement with dominant performances and state titles in football and basketball in high school. Former basketball standout with fluid hips and smooth movement in the open field. Almost no delay in his change of direction speed. Has agility and quick reactions for sudden lateral bursts in his slides to close out. Triggers with acceleration to the ball. Works under climbing blockers to stay clean. Easy range as tackler. Has athletic ability to recover and tackle when over pursuing. Widens frame and opens arms to cover ground as a tackler. Wrap up tackler. Very talented in coverage. Quick yet smooth when dropping. Reads quarterback's eyes with ability to redirect from side to side as he follows. Uses active, catch-ready hands to breakup the pass or intercept. Real rush talent and instincts as a blitzer. May have enough ability to beat a tackle as edge rusher occasionally.
Weaknesses: Only one year as a starter. Still filling out his frame. Needs to improve his overall play strength. Has some struggles in taking on blocks and will get washed away by larger linemen. Hasn't learned to use hands effectively to punch and get separation. Takes himself out of tackle opportunities by attacking blocks with his shoulder. At times, will over pursue or run himself out of the play in attempt to work fast and avoid having to confront blockers.
Projected Round: 2
Compares to: Craig Robertson
Possible landing spot: Miami Dolphins
5. Jerome Baker, Ohio State
Bio: The Ohio Division IV Co-Defensive Player of the Year, Jerome Baker played as a reserve at Ohio State before getting to start in 2016. In two seasons as a starter, her recorded 175 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, and two interceptions while being named an All-Big Ten honorable mention both years.
Strengths: Moves smoothly and fast. Loose hips and footwork to move around the field. Has the acceleration to flash from backside and close down running lanes. Tremendously rangy as tackler. Change of direction is quick. Capable of eluding blockers with quick lateral movement. Takes smart paths to the ball. Sifts and works through traffic, bouncing in and out of gaps. Athletic ability to handle top tier athletes in space. Kept Penn State running back Saquon Barkley mostly in check during Ohio State's upset victory in 2017. Talented in the open field with footwork to match receivers in space and hands to force turnovers. Can follow vertical receivers down the field. Able to outrun mistakes and slow reads.
Weaknesses: Skinny frame. Taken out of plays by strong offensive linemen. Looks small, plays small. Lacks functional play strength and base to withstand power blockers. Must improve hand work to keep himself clean. Gets stuck to blocks. Slow to diagnose plays and instincts are below average. Lingers on second level rather than bringing the heat to running backs. Lack of size and mean streak could be a concern against heavy run packages. Loses gap leverage and gets knocked around the field. Lowers head into contact. Has too many whiff tackle attempts. Gets caught flowing past his run assignments. Motor can be inconsistent and will get lazy at times in space.
Projected Round: 2
Compares to: Darron Lee
Possible landing spot: New Orleans Saints