Joe Marino’s Senior Outside Linebacker Rankings for the 2014 NFL Draft

Keith Smith, a tackling machine for San Jose State, is a sleeper talent in a strong class of outside linebackers. (Photo: Jesse Johnson — USA Today Sports)

6. Keith Smith, San Jose State (6’1’’, 229 lbs)

Smith is an absolute tackling machine. He has 476 career tackles, including a whopping 159 in his senior year.

Smith is one of the best read-and-react outside linebackers in the class. He is best suited to play in a 4-3 defense.

He diagnoses plays extremely well and positions himself to make plays. He can cover ground in a hurry and is willing to throw his body on the line to finish plays. He has a nose for the football and flies around the field. Overall, he is a very physical and aggressive player.

Sound in his coverage drops, Smith can be an every down player.

A pleasant surprise on film, Smith could be a nice Day 2 pick with the upside to start right away as a 4-3 outside linebacker.

7. Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State (6’2’’, 250 lbs)

In 2013, Barrett has been one of the most productive defensive players in college football. He has turned in 74 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, three forced fumbles and three blocked kicks. As of Dec. 6, he ranked third nationally in tackles for loss and sacks.

Although he has garnered attention for his sacks, Barrett is best at defending the run. He is physical at the point of attack and can set the edge. He has excellent awareness and instincts when defending the run and effectively finds his way to the football. He is an excellent tackler and finisher.

When pass-rushing, Barrett is a good blitzer who pursues the quarterback relentlessly. Many of his sacks have come when he has lined up as a defensive tackle, shot the gap and won with quickness. I do not project Barrett to be a double digit sack guy in the NFL, but he shows the ability to get to the quarterback.

Barrett has not received a great deal of publicity coming from a Colorado State program that has struggled recently, but it appears at a minimum, he can provide depth and contribute on special teams.

8. Chris Young, Arizona State (6’1’’, 230 lbs)

Young has been a solid starter for the Sun Devils defense since transferring to Arizona State from the junior college ranks. He has compiled 95 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks in his senior season heading into the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Young is a downhill, physical player who projects as a solid two-down player in the NFL. He takes very good angles to the football and tackles well. He is a heavy hitter who drives his hips through contact.

Young has some wasted movement to clean up after the snap that shows up primarily when he drops into coverage. That is not his strength, however, as he is not fluid in his coverage drops.

Young is not a great athlete, but he overcomes that with solid instincts and a consistent motor. Young has the makings of a mid-round pick with the upside to develop.

Christian Jones is an exceptional athlete, but that does not mask all of his game’s flaws. (Photo: Kim Klement — USA Today Sports)

9. Christian Jones, Florida State (6’4’’, 235 lbs)

Christian Jones is one of the most athletic players in all of college football. This athleticism has had him on the field for Florida State since he was a true freshman and as a starter since his sophomore season.

Jones is tremendous is pass coverage. He has extremely fluid hips, can run with backs and receivers and is long enough to cover tight ends. He has excellent awareness in zone coverage and can blanket players in man coverage. He has great ability to track the ball in the air and make plays on it.

Jones has above average instincts and is always around the ball. He is rarely fooled and has good awareness. He flies around the field from sideline-to-sideline and has terrific range. From an athletic standpoint, he should test well at the NFL Scouting Combine.

One area of concern with Jones is he does not take on blockers well. He does not get enough separation from them and can easily be blocked out of plays. He is not physical. He is great when he is able to run freely, but he struggles when there is traffic in his way.

He regularly takes poor angles to ballcarriers and rarely takes the best course to get them down. Even his tremendous athleticism does not mask his bad pursuit angles.

Jones is neither a great tackler nor a very physical player. He doesn’t drive his hips to bring down ballcarriers, but is rather a grab-and-attempt-to-drag-down type tackler.

Jones has upside in many ways and at a minimum, he should be an amazingly athletic player who can cover tremendously well from the linebacker position. He projects as a core special teams player, and that should keep him on an NFL roster until he develops the ability to be an every-down player.

10. Trevor Reilly, Utah (6’5’’, 255 lbs)

Reilly has played his best football as a senior for Utah as he has turned in 100 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He has arguably been Utah’s best defensive player this season.

Reilly is a physical player with excellent size and length for the outside linebacker position. He is not an overly flashy or athletic player, but he makes up for that with great instincts and always being in position to make plays.

Reily pursues and tackles the ballcarrier well as he can shift through traffic and make plays against the run. He can set the edge and displays very good awareness.

Reilly is better as a blitzing pass-rusher than putting his hand in the dirt and rushing off the edge. He relentlessly pursues the quarterback, which allows him to generate pass-rush. He doesn’t have a wide range of moves but times his blitzes well.

Reilly is decent when dropping back into pass coverage and he understands coverage concepts. His instincts help overcome his athletic deficiencies.

Overall, Reilly is a smart player who is always in position and plays well within Utah’s scheme. He does everything well but does not stand out in any one area.

11. Prince Shembo, Notre Dame (6’1’’, 258 lbs)

With 24 tackles for loss and 19 sacks on his career resume, Shembo has flashed playmaking potential throughout his career at Notre Dame, but inconsistency has plagued his career.

Shembo is strong enough to hold up and set the edge on run plays while he flashes the ability to shed blockers and make plays. Shembo is a good wrap-up tackler who finishes plays nicely.

As a pass-rusher, Shembo can be overwhelming for blockers with his quickness off the ball and ability to turn the corner and pressure off the edge.

Those positives are evident when Shembo’s motor is running, but it seems to run inconsistently. He is a playmaker off the edge at times, but his play is boring and underwhelming at other times.

If the right staff can get Shembo motivated to play with consistent energy, I like his pro potential, but his inconsistency forces me to have a cautious approach.

Denicos Allen has been a key player for the Michigan State defense, but his draft stock is hurt by a lack of size. (Photo: Mike Carter — USA Today Sports)

12. Denicos Allen, Michigan State (5’11’’, 218 lbs)

Allen has been a solid starter for excellent Michigan State defenses over the past three seasons. Allen has 263 tackles, 44.5 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks for his career.

Allen plays the game with an aggressive, physical demeanor. He takes on blocks and sheds them, allowing him to run and make plays. Despite being undersized, he is a downhill player with good range.

Allen is a good blitzer who uses excellent timing and effort to pressure the quarterback. He is far from a sack artist but has flashed the ability to get to the passer. He has great closing burst when he gets free.

Allen occasionally takes very poor angles to ballcarriers, some of which take him completely out of the play.

He has been a key contributor on a great defense, but his size deficiencies will push him down rankings.

13. Boseko Lokombo, Oregon (6’3’’, 239 lbs)

Lokombo has been an unsung hero on the Oregon defense over the past few seasons. He has turned in career highs in tackles, sacks and tackles for loss as a senior.

Lokombo is a solid athlete who excels most in coverage. He gives his team a viable option on third-down who can drop into coverage and have enough size and strength to contribute against the run. He has good coverage instincts and awareness while displaying the ability to play the ball with 15 career pass defenses, including five interceptions.

Lokombo is not an every-down player yet, but he has the upside to develop and can be an immediate contributor in pass coverage.

14. Jonathan Brown, Illinois (6’1’’, 230 lbs)

Brown has totaled over 300 tackles for his career while putting together his most productive season as a senior with 119 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and five sacks.

When he is free to run, Brown can make an impact and run through windows to make plays, but he has to be covered up by solid players in front of him. He is best suited to play outside in a 4-3 alignment.

Overall, Brown is not instinctive or aggressive enough to be worthy of more than a late-round selection or priority free agent. Being undersized and tackling issues don’t help his case either.

15. Marcus Whitfield, Maryland (6’3’’, 250 lbs)

Whitfield’s senior year has been his only productive season for the Maryland defense. He was a non-factor previously but had 50 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and 9 sacks as a senior.

Whitfield projects as a developmental pass rusher in the NFL. He utilizes his hands well and flashes the ability to win with quickness and get to the quarterback and make run stops in the backfield. He lacks variety in his pass-rush moves, but he has some potential that a team can try and tap into late in the draft.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Anthony Barr, Arizona State, Boseko Lokombo, Buffalo, BYU, Chris Young, Christian Jones, Colorado State, Denicos Allen, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Jeremiah Attaochu, Jonathan Brown, Keith Smith, Khalil Mack, Kyle Van Noy, Marcus Whitfield, Maryland, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oregon, Outside Linebackers, Positional Rankings, Prince Shembo, Prospect Rankings, Rankings, San Jose State, Seniors, Shaquil Barrett, Telvin Smith, Trevor Reilly, UCLA, Utah

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