Top Five 2016 NFL Draft Prospects- Outside Linebacker
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. Myles Jack, UCLA
Bio: Over the last three seasons, Myles Jack has been one of the most versatile players in the country. As a freshman, he was named both the PAC-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year. Over the next two years, he developed into one of the most dominant players in the conference.
Strengths: Crazy athletic and can get to the ball from any position on the field. Former running back with speed to run down crossing routes and head off running backs exploding around the corner. Adequate instincts with above average reaction off the snap. Races downhill after the snap and can weave from gap to gap with blazing lateral quickness. Able to weave through and around traffic with relentless pursuit. Plays with ideal pad level and leverage. Uses hip explosion to strike on the rise with a deafening blow at the point of attack. Can jar offensive linemen off-balance with his strikes. Comes off of blocks quickly. Stepped in and was "The man" from day one at UCLA. Physical and active with leader qualities on the field. Offers tremendous versatility for creative defensive coordinators. Has the juice to be an edge rusher in sub-packages and can fit into any 4-3 linebacker spot at any time. Has played safety and running back at UCLA. Has the strength, speed and athleticism to cover tight ends, running backs, and the occasional slot receiver. Plays with frantic energy and is always looking to get a hit on the ball carrier.
Weaknesses: Doesn't have prototypical linebacker frame. Lower body build is more like a running back and doesn't have ideal length for the position. Will take some challenging routes to the football at times. His excitable brand of play will need more control in the pros. A knee injury limited his junior to just three games.
Projected Round: 1
Possible landing spot: Miami Dolphins
2. Darron Lee, Ohio State
Bio: A former high school quarterback and cornerback, Darron Lee declared he would be the one to take over for Ryan Shazier after he left for the NFL. In his two seasons playing for the Buckeyes, he amassed 147 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss, and 12 sacks.
Strengths: Quick to diagnose and flow to the ball. Has unusual ability to find the most efficient routes to the ball carrier. Has athleticism and flexibility to contort his body and succeed through difficult tackle angles. Plays with loose hips, quick feet, and desired agility of an NFL weak side linebacker. Former high school quarterback with the change of direction and speed to be a playmaker all over the field. Does his best work in space. Has plus man coverage skills. Willing to stand in and take on blockers with a leveraged strike if his gap is being threatened. Capable gap blitzer with ability to get small in the holes.
Weaknesses: Small for a linebacker. Play strength doesn't come close to matching his listed weight. Balance issues at point of attack could plague him over his pro career. Has the body type of an oversized safety. Tape shows few authoritative tackles. Involved in too many arm and shoestring tackles. Comes flying in and fails to come to gain balance at times. Charged with 21 missed and five broken tackles over the last two seasons. Always at size disadvantage and will have to learn to slip more blocks. Can get better at finding targets in zone coverage.
Projected Round: 1
Possible landing spot: San Francisco 49ers
3. Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
Bio: Since stepping on the field for the Fighting Irish three years ago, Jaylon Smith has been a dominant playmaker on defense. As a junior, He led Notre Dame in tackles and tackles for loss all while being named the Butkus Award winner as the nation's top linebacker.
Strengths: Athletic build with next to no body fat. Checks every size, weight, speed, and athleticism box there is. Can sink hips and change direction with suddenness in space. Has length and quickness for extended playmaking radius. Racked up 225 tackles over his last two seasons as a starter. Lightning quick lateral scrapes from gap to gap following track of the ball. Has a the speed to race running backs to the corner. Tries to meet oncoming blocks with a physical punch and desired arm extension to stay clean. Quick enough to diagnose and respond. Play speed is elite for the position. Very talented in man coverage. Asked to take on challenging man coverage responsibilities and delivered. Has tools to become an excellent blitzer.
Weaknesses: Tackles for loss production doesn't match up with his traits. Too passive in his approach preferring to wait on plays to come to him rather than racing downhill to own it. Not strong enough at point of attack to maintain balance and positioning when blockers get into his frame. Understands angles to the ball, but still learning shortcuts through the gaps. Flies after the ball with reckless abandon failing to gain balance as a tackler. Has habit of lunging into arm tackles rather than using feet to work into better tackling position. Missed 11 tackles in 2015. Tore ACL and MCL in Notre Dame's Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State and his rookie season could be in jeopardy because of it.
Projected Round: 1
Possible landing spot: New York Giants
4. Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Bio: After spending his first year at a military academy, Leonard Floyd joined the Bulldogs in 2013. In his three years at Georgia, he led the team in sacks each year.
Strengths: Interesting combination of length and athleticism. Large range with great chase speed from sideline to sideline. Good change of direction for taller linebacker. Long limbs and twitch to spring into a tackle from far away. If unblocked, will chase down line of scrimmage from backside and make the play. Elusive in open space dodging blockers and sifting through traffic in pursuit of the ball. Has the traits to be highly effective in man coverage. As an edge rusher, able to shoot out of the starting blocks and cover substantial ground with long strides. Not a great bender, but has ankle flexion necessary to buzz inside the rush arc. Substantial pass rush potential with a variety of options to the quarterback. Go to move is upfield burst followed by jump-cut inside tied with inside punch. Able to dip and rip around the corner. Dangerous on blitzes underneath. Able to worm his way through gaps as standup blitzer.
Weaknesses: Thin throughout. Skinny frame produces average play strength. Built like a wide receiver and needs to live in a team cafeteria and weight room for a year. Won't set the edge. Gets long arms into defender effectively, but struggles to get extension. Loses fight for neutral zone at point of attack. Issues shedding blocks forces him into downfield tackler rather than backfield playmaker. Drag down tackler with little pop behind pads as a hitter. Must work to keep pad level lower on inside rush moves.
Projected Round: 1
Possible landing spot: Buffalo Bills
5. Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
Bio: After being banned from the Big Ten, Noah Spence transferred to Eastern Kentucky to prove he could mature. In his one season, he racked up 22.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks for the Colonels to become a FCS All-American.
Strengths: Plays with a big motor and tremendous endurance. Had an eight sack season as a sophomore at Ohio State. Plays at same speed throughout the game. Good up field burst. Has played with hand in the ground and standing. Won't give away leverage by engaging too early in pass rush. Has solid speed to the edge with a strong rip move at the top of his rush to turn the corner. Takes good angles around the edge. Quick lateral slide down the line to restrict running lanes. Plays with a sense of desperation when the ball is in his area. Eludes lead blockers and cut blocks. Pursues around the field looking to scoop up tackles. Scouts see him as an intelligent person and player. Has had success fighting through adversity and has renewed sense of urgency on and off the field as well as a sense of accountability. Former head coach Urban Meyer helped get Spence a second chance because he believes Spence is high character but made mistakes.
Weaknesses: Not as long or tall as teams like at defensive end. Needs to develop more strength at point of attack. Can be bumped of his stance and widened out against run. Average handwork against the run. Doesn't play with violent punch and control at point of attack. Didn't vary pass rush approach much and just average at converting sped to power. Ability to win on high side won't work against NFL tackles. Will have to develop a counter underneath. Good athlete, but not great at changing of direction. At times is too easy to find for blockers. Treated for drug addiction to Ecstasy and banned for life from Big Ten after failed drug tests in 2013 and 2014. Arrested in May of 2015 for alcohol intoxication and second-degree disorderly conduct, but incident was removed from record after community service.
Projected Round: 1-2
Possible landing spot: Cincinnati Bengals