Top Five 2015 NFL Draft Prospects- Middle Linebacker
These guys will be drafted to become the future leaders of an NFL defense. Today I rank the top five middle linebacker prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft.
1. Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
Bio: After playing quarterback in high school, Benardrick McKinney switched to middle linebacker at Mississippi State. In the past three years, he led the Bulldogs in tackles each year.
Strengths: Tall and proportionally built inside linebacker with ability to play outside. Has thick, powerful legs giving him good straight line speed to chase. True linebacker who can meet linemen head on or beat them to the spot and leverage his gap with above average play strength. Scrapes and stalks while using length and powerful hands to keep himself free and clear of blockers. Steps into hole and fires into running back finishing with wrap up tackle. Able to run downfield in seam with tight ends. Aware of cutback lanes and rarely runs himself out of the play. Shows very good attention to assignment. Good football IQ.
Weaknesses: Plays high and is lacking suddenness. High center of gravity causes clunky change of direction in space. Foot quickness in tight quarters is below average. Instincts against run are there, but tends to fight his feet and marginal agility. Has trouble clearing the trash near his feet and labors against cut blocks losing lateral momentum. Looks stiff when asked to cover in space and gives away too much separation to routes in his area in zone coverage.
Projected Round: 1
2. Eric Kendricks, UCLA
Bio: With a family legacy in football, Eric Kendricks was a force on the UCLA defense. In 2012, he led the PAC 12 in tackles and has been the Bruins leading tackler the last three years.
Strengths: Confident with a downhill, attacking mindset. Good feet to slide which allows him to follow and burst to developing run plays. Can turn and chase sideline to sideline. Diagnoses quickly and attacks run fits while avoiding blockers. Is always around the play. One of the most productive tacklers in college football over the last three years. Outstanding at sinking hips and changing direction. Exhibits good play speed and is able to cover man to man in space. Good zone awareness and makes plays on the ball.
Weaknesses: Undersized. Despite the high tackle numbers, doesn't meet ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage as much as he could. Could use more weight on his frame. Will drop his head at times when meeting ball carrier in the hole. Wasn't much of a factor as a pass rusher.
Projected Round: 1-2
3. Denzel Perryman, Miami
Bio: Denzel Perryman proved to be a versatile defender at Miami. In his college career, he played all across the linebacker corps racking up tackles.
Strengths: Stout, old school linebacker build. Wants to hit and brings his pads with him when he delivers a blow. Delivers a jarring punch into oncoming offensive linemen on second level. Defends his area of turf and sees past blockers keeping his eye trained on the play. Is able to disengage and shed blockers. Plays low and with leverage. Once he diagnoses he can trigger into gaps and disrupt.
Weaknesses: 5'11". Takes time to gear up after changing directions and can struggle to tackle jitterbug runners in space. Heavy legged mover in space and struggles to make plays outside of his assigned area. Lacks coverage traits and is a liability in man coverage. Short levers won't allow him to leverage blockers as a pass rusher. Slow to get off his spot and burst laterally which causes him to miss some tackles.
Projected Round: 2-3
4. Ramik Wilson, Georgia
Bio: As a junior, Ramik Wilson led the SEC in tackles. In 2014, he was second team ALL- SEC.
Strengths: Productive and shows downhill traits to make impact tackles. Linear build with limbs to push his way around second level linemen. Mirrors play and slides laterally with ease. Finished 2014 with the SEC's highest tackle grade amongst starting linebackers. Has the potential to play SAM or WILL linebacker spots in a 4-3. Can get sideline to sideline and isn't easily taken off his feet.
Weaknesses: Questionable abilities to play coverage. Doesn't play with consistent physicality. Zone awareness needs work and instincts are below average. Questionable strength to play inside on the next level. Allows himself to get mauled when linemen square him up. Tends to coast his way through some plays. Poor tackling technique.
Projected Round: 3-4
5. Mike Hull, Penn State
Bio: Mike Hull continued the legacy of great Penn State linebackers. He fought injuries for much of his time in college but still put up big production.
Strengths: Gives strong effort chasing to sideline. Breaks down in space and is reliable form tackler. Adequate with hands to discard and doesn't charge downhill without a play and won't often run himself out of his run fit. Reads play action well and will turn and run, finding consistent depth in Tampa 2. Shows route awareness in zone coverage. Shows consistent effort and competitiveness.
Weaknesses: Small frame for an inside linebacker. Lacks bulk and has extremely short arms. Gets engulfed and smothered by wide bodies. Must improve on reacting to second level blocks before they get into him. Marginal play strength and sits and waits for running back to get to him and absorbs blows allowing runner to land first punch. Not an athlete. Limited range to make plays and is a liability in man coverage against running backs.
Projected Round: 4