BBD Assistant Editor: Joe Marino
The 2014 draft class of inside linebackers looks to be about par for the course. A variety of skill sets with an overall lack of quality at the bottom of the rankings is what I have come to expect from the position, and this year appears to be no different.
Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is far and away the premier talent of this group and will be on everyone’s early list for 2014 defensive rookie of the year. Depending on what teams are looking for, players with starter upside could be had throughout the first four rounds.
An average of 11 inside linebackers have been drafted each year over the past five drafts. I have graded 16 prospects as draftable this year.
First Round Grades
1. C.J. Mosley, Alabama: A team could find the face of its defense by selecting Mosley in the middle of the first round. Mosley is a balanced and instinctive player who trusts his eyes and makes tackles all over the field.
2. Telvin Smith, Florida State: Smith is an excellent football player who stood 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.
3. Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut: Smallwood is a player that looks really good on tape. He flows well to the football, operates well in small spaces and has good overall football instincts. He could be a nice consolation for a team that misses out on C.J. Mosley in the first round.
4. Chris Borland, Wisconsin: Borland is one of the most instinctive playmaking linebackers in this year’s class. He makes solid football play after solid football play. Borland makes up for what he lacks athletically with his ability to diagnose plays and react to what he sees. He is hard-nosed, tough, physical and the emotional leader of his defense.
5. Shayne Skov, Stanford: Skov projects as a two-down, run-stopping linebacker in the mold of Brandon Spikes. His instincts and recognition is outstanding. He appeared fully recovered from his ACL tear during a terrific senior season.
6. Preston Brown, Louisville: Brown is a physical, downhill player who operates well in small spaces. He plays best when plays are in front of him. He takes on blockers well and runs through windows making plays. He is a sure tackler who positions himself well to make plays and has good run-stopping instincts. His coverage skills and range are limited.
7. Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA: Zumwalt is an unheralded player on the UCLA defense who developed into a steady starter over the past two seasons. Zumwalt wins with strength and good play-recognition skills while attacking and making plays around the line of scrimmage. At a minimum, he has the demeanor to become a terrific special teams player.
8. Brock Coyle, Montana: Coyle shows up with play after play on Montana’s defensive film. Although he played against small-school competition, Coyle is a fiery, attacking linebacker who coaches will love and teammates will rally around due to his playing style.
9. Avery Williamson, Kentucky: Williamson is a functional linebacker with good athletic ability. He is likely suited to play inside a 3-4 where he can operate between the tackles. A cerebral player, Williamson needs to develop a higher level of physicality but has the skills needed to stick in the NFL.
10. James Morris, Iowa: Morris plays with an aggressive demeanor and 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. He needs to become more disciplined with his reads but I envision him being a solid short-yardage linebacker who excels on special teams.
11. Max Bullough, Michigan State: 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. Despite his stellar career as a Spartan, his suspension from the team for the 2014 Rose Bowl leaves many question marks heading into the draft.
12. Greg Blair, Cincinnati: A junior college transfer, Blair emerged as a playmaker in his final two seasons for the Bearcats. Not a great athlete, Blair projects best to playing inside in a 3-4 defense. For a team looking to add quality depth at linebacker in the late rounds of the draft, Blair could be a good selection with starting upside.
13. Uani Unga, BYU: Unga had a terrific senior season that put him on the draft radar. He diagnoses plays and reacts well against the run and pass. He will be 26 years old as a rookie but has the skills needed to become a reserve linebacker and core special teamer.
14. Tavarius Wilson, North Alabama: Wilson is a highly productive and athletic Division II standout. He locates the football well and is a good tackler with closing burst. He is a late-round sleeper.
15. Glenn Carson, Penn State: A productive three-year starter for Penn State, Carson had an excellent college career. His tackling, pursuit and block-shedding technique all need work, but he is worth a look in the seventh round as a developmental prospect.
16. Lamin Barrow, LSU: Barrow is a terrific athlete who can fly around the field, but his play is more chase-and-see than read-and-react. He projects as a nickel linebacker and core special teamer.
Top Undrafted Free Agents
17. Steele Divitto, Boston College
18. Jack Tyler, Virginia Tech
19. Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky
20. Jeremiah George, Iowa State
21. DeDe Lattimore, South Florida
22. Stephon Robertson, James Madison
23. Spencer Shuey, Clemson
Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Andrew Jackson, Avery Williamson, Brock Coyle, C.J. Mosley, Chris Borland, DeDe Lattimore, Glenn Carson, Greg Blair, Inside Linebackers, Jack Tyler, James Morris, Jeremiah George, Jordan Zumwalt, Lamin Barrow, Linebackers, Max Bullough, NFL Draft, Positional Breakdowns, Positional Rankings, Preston Brown, Rankings, Shayne Skov, Spencer Shuey, Steele Divitto, Stephon Robertson, Tavarius Wilson, Telvin Smith, Uani Unga, Yawin Smallwood