BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino
The senior outside linebacker class rivals offensive tackle in terms of having the most potential for first-round draft picks. Any of the top four would be valid first-round picks, while there are plenty of guys who are solid Day 2 selections.
There are several unique skill sets among the class. Whether a 3-4 defense is looking for a pass-rusher off the edge, or a 4-3 defense is looking for a rangy player, there are players who can help in this group.
1. Khalil Mack, Buffalo (6’3’’, 248 lbs)
Mack is the NCAA’s all-time leader with 16 career forced fumbles and tied for the all-time lead with 75 career tackles for loss. Mack is a dynamic playmaker who is excellent as a pass-rusher, run defender and in coverage.
Mack displays a wide repertoire of pass-rush moves. He primarily wins with a powerful bull-rush and by winning with quickness, utilizing a subtle counter move to burst past blockers. With 28.5 career sacks, Mack has his ability to consistently pressure the quarterback. His collegiate opponents have consistently had two or three blockers dedicated to controlling Mack on passing downs.
As a run defender, Mack is extremely physical at the point of attack and holds his ground. Mack can easily shed blockers and pursue the ball in both small areas and in space. Mack is an aggressive player who displays consistent effort on every down, which leads to his incredible production.
Mack is extremely powerful and athletic. He utilizes his long arms well, and consistently gets the hand placement he wants on blockers to control them. His hands are quick, powerful and extremely active. He has top-end closing speed and burst.
Mack’s biggest weakness is that he doesn’t read and react as well as he can. His eyes are often in the backfield, and he relies too much on his ability to see and chase.
Mack is one of the most productive defenders in college football history, and his skill set translates very well to the next level. I think he is the best outside linebacker of this year’s crop.
2. Anthony Barr, UCLA (6’4’’, 248 lbs)
Barr switched to outside linebacker from running back for his junior season. His production since has been incredible. In 25 games since making the switch, Barr has posted 149 tackles, 41.5 tackles for loss, 23.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles.
Barr’s best trait is his ability to speed rush off the edge. Barr can blow past linemen with speed and consistently pressure the quarterback. He has an excellent first step and ability to anticipate the snap.
Barr still has not developed a wide range of pass-rush moves. I would really like to see him develop a counter move to use when he doesn’t win with speed. He goes body-to-body with linemen too frequently and has no chance in those situations due to the size he gives up.
Barr has held up considerably better at the point of attack than he did in his junior season. His hand usage is far better and his overall physicality with which he plays the game has improved.
Barr’s instincts when playing against the run have developed somewhat. It was obvious last year he hadn’t figured out all the nuances of the position, but he has improved slightly. He is still frequently driven off the ball and out of position as a run defender, but his senior tape brings optimism that this could improve.
His ability to tackle is still very much a work in progress. He still “whiffs” frequently on plays because he doesn’t break down and tackle well in space.
While Barr looks extremely fluid in coverage, his understanding of zone concepts are still lacking. That gets him in trouble when dropping back, but he has the work ethic to improve in this area.
Barr should be a high selection in next May’s Draft. He has all the production, athletic ability and upside NFL scouts want in an edge player.
3. Kyle Van Noy, BYU (6’3’’, 245 lbs)
Van Noy has made his share of “splash plays” during his career as a Cougar. With 60 tackles for loss, 26 sacks, seven interceptions, 21 passes defensed and 11 forced fumbles, Van Noy has been one of the top playmaking linebackers in all of college football over the past three seasons.
Van Noy has the best instincts as a run defender of any of the senior outside linebacker prospects. He reads and reacts extremely well and has a true nose for the football. Van Noy has a very physical and aggressive playing style and “finds his way” to the football incredibly well. He is excellent at setting the edge.
Van Noy is also an excellent pass rusher. He has a nice range of pass-rush moves and excellent burst to the quarterback when he beats his man. His combination of quickness and hand usage allow him to win as a pass rusher.
Van Noy’s game should translate to either a 3-4 or 4-3 defensive scheme. He displays the ability to function in space and in tight areas. He is a sure tackler.
Van Noy is not quite the athlete Mack and Barr are, but he is extremely quick and has great functional strength. He is a complete player who can come in and be an every-down linebacker right away. I value him as a mid-to-late first-round talent.
4. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech (6’3’’, 242 lbs)
Attaochu is one of the premier pass-rushers available in the 2014 NFL Draft. He has been incredibly productive for the Yellow Jackets over the past three seasons with 43 tackles for loss and 28 sacks.
Attaochu has the most ability to bend and turn the corner — my most coveted trait of an edge rusher — of any pass-rusher I have studied for the 2014 NFL Draft. This, combined with his incredible first-step quickness, makes him a dynamic pass rusher who can apply consistent pressure on the quarterback. He displays a good inside rip move and a strong swim move. Attaochu has quick, violent, active hands which he utilizes extremely well to set up his rush moves.
Attaochu is strong and physical at the point of attack, but his instincts when playing the run leave a lot to be desired. In pass coverage, Attaochu lacks overall awareness, fluidity and the change-of-direction skills to be a factor when dropping back.
Nonetheless, if an NFL team wants a pure pass-rusher in the late first round or early second round, Attaochu would be an excellent choice.
5. Telvin Smith, Florida State (6’3’’, 218 lbs)
Smith has appeared in every game Florida State has played since his true freshman season. Despite being a very productive player off the bench in his first three seasons, his senior year is his first as a full-time starter.
Smith is an excellent football player who stands out on a talent-laden Florida State defense. He has tremendous instincts and makes plays all over the field. He is a downhill, physical linebacker and a great tackler. He appears to be extremely quick with good athleticism and great range.
The biggest concern with Smith is that he is listed at only 218 pounds. This shows up primarily when he is dealing with blockers. Even though he is extremely physical taking on blocks, he doesn’t have the weight to firmly hold his ground.
Fortunately for Smith, his 6’3’’ frame does not appear maxed out, which should enable him to add 12-15 pounds. That said, I don’t foresee any NFL linebacker having success at such a light weight. If he stays at 218 pounds, he will be limited to a nickel linebacker or safety role, and unable to play downhill where he most succeeds.
Smith also has some wasted movement as he dissects plays. He needs to eliminate a brief “hop” that tends to show up in his movements before fulfilling assignments. He can capitalize fully on his already solid instincts by correcting this.
If Smith were 230 pounds, he would be worthy of a second-round selection. His official measurements will be vital in determining his draft stock.
See page 2 for the senior outside linebackers ranked 6-15.
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