BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino
If you are looking for a rangy, middle linebacker for a 4-3 defense who can stay on the field every down, the 2014 NFL draft’s senior class is not for you if you miss out on Alabama’s C.J. Mosley.
Mosley is in a class of his own and deserves consideration as a top-20 draft selection. After that, we see a solid group of run-stopping thumpers who could pair with a more athletic player inside in a 3-4 defensive scheme to create a formidable duo, but who project to be two-down players.
Overall, the senior class of inside linebackers is not a deep group. That is somewhat to be expected, however, considering that over the past five years, an average of only 10 inside linebackers have been drafted per year.
1. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama (6’2’’, 232 lbs)
Mosley has been a true playmaker in his time at Alabama on one of the nation’s best defenses. With more than 100 tackles each of the past two seasons, Mosley is a dominant, physical inside presence and an all-around talent.
Mosley is an instinctive run defender who trusts his eyes and makes tackles all over the field. Shedding blockers and shifting through traffic are concerns for most linebackers, but not for Mosley.
He looks very natural when dropping into pass coverage. He stays connected in man coverage and does a great job of reading quarterbacks’ eyes. There is no reason to take him off the field in nickel packages. He has had five career interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns, but has had his share of dropped interceptions that were right in his hands.
When he isn’t dropping into coverage, Mosley can also pressure the quarterback as an effective blitzer. He is a true every-down linebacker.
Inside linebackers rarely garner consideration as top-10 draft selections, but Mosley could be a player who ranks very high on draft boards this year.
2. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin (5’11’’, 246 lbs)
Borland has made a ton of plays in his career at Wisconsin. He has 47 career starts and has accumulated 408 career tackles, 50 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, eight fumble recoveries, three interceptions, 18 pass breakups and 14 forced fumbles.
Borland is a typical 3-4 thumper at inside linebacker. He is a downhill, physical player who functions well in small spaces and can excel when the play is in front of him.
He is best as a run defender but has flashed the ability to make plays against the pass as well. At Wisconsin, where he has been used as a blitzer both inside and off the edges, he has shown the ability to beat blocks with quickness against guards and with spin/rip moves against offensive tackles.
Borland can drop into pass coverage, but he is limited athletically and lacks sideline-to-sideline range. NFL teams will also be concerned about his lack of height.
Borland’s experience and prolific career production will catch NFL scouts’ attention. If you like giving prospects the “football player” label, Borland would be a classic example.
3. Max Bullough, Michigan State (6’3’’, 245 lbs)
In the middle of Michigan State’s stout defenses over the past three seasons has been standout linebacker Max Bullough. He is a two-time team captain who led the Spartans in tackles in both his sophomore and junior seasons.
Bullough is a downhill physical presence who excels in dominating run plays between the tackles. He meets blockers in the hole and stacks and sheds well. He has a natural feel for sniffing out inside run plays with excellent read-and-react skills.
He doesn’t have great range but is a very instinctive player. He takes good angles to the ball but does not display the athleticism to run sideline-to-sideline and make plays.
Bullough is not great in pass coverage. He doesn’t consistently get proper depth in his pass drops and has balls completed over his head frequently. He doesn’t locate receivers well in zone coverage either.
Despite his coverage shortcomings, he is an aggressive blitzer which may make him a usable player against the pass, though he projects moreso as a two-down run defender.
Bullough would pair nicely in the middle of a 3-4 defense with player that has more range. He projects as a third- to fourth-round pick.
4. Shayne Skov, Stanford (6’3’’, 245 lbs)
I was extremely critical of Shayne Skov’s play in his injury-riddled junior season, but he has proven to be one of the most improved players in college football and has emerged as a top-five senior inside linebacker.
Skov is a physical presence who plays downhill and is a very good run defender. He plays best when the game is in front of him; he operates fairly well in small spaces and is a great tackler.
He has been effective as an inside blitzer. He displays the ability to bring pressure up the middle with great timing and getting by guards. While he may project primarily as a two-down thumper against the run at the next level, his blitzing ability can keep him on the field in pass defense.
Skov is limited athletically, as he does not have great suddenness to his game and lacks ideal change-of-direction skills. I do not foresee him having good timed speed.
Skov projects a mid-Day 3 selection.
5. James Morris, Iowa (6’2’’, 240 lbs)
Morris started six games as a true freshman and has been a fixture starting in the middle of the Hawkeyes defense every since. With a bowl game against LSU still to go, Morris is nine tackles away from 400 for his career and just two away from his third consecutive 100-tackle season.
Morris has not only been a tackling machine but an overall playmaker during his senior season. He set new career highs in interceptions with four, sacks with five and tackles for loss with 14.5.
Morris plays with an aggressive demeanor. Morris consistently goes full speed with maximum effort when pursuing the ball, tackling or taking on blockers. He excels at finding ways to the ball to sniff out run plays.
A main concern with Morris is his lack of discipline in his reads, which results in him being out of position and missing plays. His athletic range is good but not great.
Morris projects as a mid-round draft selection.
See page 2 for the senior inside linebackers ranked 6-10.
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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Alabama, Andrew Jackson, C.J. Mosley, Chris Borland, Cincinnati, Greg Blair, Inside Linebackers, Iowa, Jack Tyler, James Morris, Jordan Zumwalt, Louisville, Max Bullough, Michigan State, Positional Rankings, Preston Brown, Prospect Rankings, Rankings, Senior Rankings, Seniors, Shayne Skov, Stanford, UCLA, Virginia Tech, Western Kentucky, Wisconsin