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Top Five 2015 NFL Draft Prospects- Outside Linebacker

Updated on February 21, 2015

These guys will be asked to blitz the quarterback and cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. Today I rank the top five outside linebacker prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft.

1. Dante Fowler Jr., Florida

Bio: In three years at Florida, Dante Fowler played all over the field for the Gators. He amassed 14.5 sacks over his college career.

Strengths: Strong athletic frame with very long arms. Good first step quickness using improved spin move to counter when rush stalls high side. Can dip and turn corner against upright tackles. Slants inside with devastating quickness. Well timed arm over to whip lunges. large pursuit range and has hips and feet to change direction seamlessly. Can chase play side running back to sideline and terminate with very little angle. Length to stifle cut blocks. Strong hands and arm extension to set edge and maintain.

Weaknesses: Raw talent. Still learning basics of the position. Needs more coordination between hands and feet. Pass rush approach lacks efficiency and includes too much wasted motion. Inconsistent speed to owner ratio. Tackles with length can lock him out and run him over the top. Average lower-body strength with limited window to fend off power. Limited recovery talent when beaten early in snap. Inconsistency against downhill running game is concerning.

Projected Round: 1

2. Vic Beasley, Clemson

Bio: After seeing limited time as a freshman, Vic Beasley stepped up big as a sophomore leading the team in sacks. He would go on to become Clemson's all time sack leader with 29.

Strengths: Explosive athlete and is always first off the snap. True edge bender who can torque hips and shoulders to turn corner. Has ankle flexibility to dip and come around corner at difficult angles to block. Former running back with quick feet and fluid hips. Able to change directions and burst to target. Possesses potentially lethal spin move but doesn't use it enough. Primarily a hand-in dirt rusher but has played standing, too. Able to drop into space. Solid instincts and outstanding closing burst. Quick hands to swat initial punch and they will get even better and could become a major weapon with more coaching. Can embarrass tackles who lunge and miss.

Weaknesses: High cut with narrow waist, thin legs and needs to add more bulk. Unlikely to convert speed to power against NFL tackles. Wins with athleticism on majority of his sacks. Rarely transitions from speed rush to spin as an instinctual pass rush counter. Lacks ideal arm length. Too often content to stay blocked if pass rush stalls out. Needs to shed blocks more consistently against run. Good football character but doesn't show an alpha mentality.

Projected Round: 1

3. Shaq Thompson, Washington

Bio: In 2014, Shaq Thompson won the Paul Hornung award as the nations most versatile player. That year he scored four defensive touchdowns at linebacker.

Strengths: Versatile position player. Played outside and inside as a linebacker and took snaps at safety. Long with athleticism and movement of running back playing linebacker. Like a magnet to the ball while pursuing in space. Can sink and search for cutback lanes as back side defender against stretch plays. Reads the quarterback's eyes and shades the throwing lane as zone defender. Transitions easily from pursuit to coverage against play action. Can cover running backs out of backfield. Instinctive with plus vision and twitch to make the big play. Fluid enough in space that safety could be a position consideration for the right team. Football intelligence to process offensive and defensive playbooks. Strong work ethic and team-oriented player.

Weaknesses: Needs more mass on his frame. Aggressive but lacks the play strength to back up his intentions near the line of scrimmage. Fails to consistently leverage his gap when forced inside box. Too easily redirected as pass rusher and gets blasted out of gaps by pulling guards. Must develop hands to keep linemen off of him and improve at slipping blocks. Fails to fire downhill and attack on the other side of the line. Ducks head into contact and will lose sight of the ball. Shoulder hitter in space rather than wrap up tackler. Motor lets up at times when pace quickens.

Projected Round: 1

4. Nate Orchard, Utah

Bio: After being recruited by Utah to play wide receiver, Nate Orchard became the teams starting defensive end in 2012. That year he recorded 8.5 sacks.

Strengths: Great foot quickness making tackles struggle to handle his inside move. Explodes out of a track stance on passing downs. At his best as a squared up rusher with a two way go. Utilizes unique stutter step combined with burst to beat tackles inside. Seamless coordination of hands and feet as a rusher. Smooth hips to backpedal into space or turn and run laterally. Stronger at the point of attack than given credit for and offers scheme versatility. Shows juice up field out of stand up position and still improving and learning his craft. Has ability to discard and make plays against the run and has upper body flexibility to beat blocker with shoulder turn.

Weaknesses: Not a factor against the run. Will get engulfed at the point of attack. Not consistent enough as edge setter and rarely looks to lay a shoulder into fullbacks and tight ends coming across to block him. Wins with foot quickness and effort over skill and counter moves. Short strider who doesn't gain as much ground around the edge as expected. A little tight in hips and rounds the corner rather than turns it. One year star.

Projected Round: 1-2

5. Eli Harold, Virginia

Bio: in two years as a starter, Eli Harold played at defensive end and linebacker for Virginia. He amassed 17.5 sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss in his Cavalier career.

Strengths: Angular with muscular arms and surprising strength. Rushed with hand in ground and standing up. Fires out of stance with forward lean gaining ground quickly with his first two steps. Edge rusher who torques upper body around edge giving tackles limited area to punch. Sinks hips, dips shoulders, and trims the edge when he gains advantage around corner. Accurate hand usage with little wasted motion as pass rusher and uses hands to snatch and shed against run. Potential to be outstanding edge setter against tight ends. Skinny and slippery through creases on twists and blitzes. Changes direction easily and will pursue like a wild man in space.

Weaknesses: Thin waist and lower body lacks mass. Play strength is below average as pass rusher. Can be jostled and redirected by a quality punch. Has to work overtime to disengage from tackles with strong hands. Needs to get a little better at keeping offensive linemen off of him. Gets too many more plays than he is converting. Will need to improve feel for the outside linebacker spot and become a more consistent finisher. Needs more experience in space and in coverage.

Projected Round: 2

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