BBD Assistant Editor: Joe Marino
This year’s crop of outside linebackers offers exactly what the NFL wants: Versatile edge defenders who can be moved around and contribute in a variety of roles within a multi-front defensive scheme. The value is diminishing for prospects that lack versatility.
Talent should be found throughout at the position, but the sweet spot is in the second to fourth rounds, where I have 12 players graded.
Topping the outside linebacker board is Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, who is worthy of a top 10 selection. He is a piece a team can build its defense around and a player offenses will want to avoid. Just behind him is BYU’s Kyle Van Noy who is one of the most complete, instinctive defensive players in the class as a whole. Ryan Shazier is an exciting talent with incredible athletic ability who will fit 4-3 schemes perfectly.
First Round Grades
1. Khalil Mack, Buffalo: The NCAA’s all-time leader with 16 career forced fumbles, Mack also finished his collegiate career 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.
2. Kyle Van Noy, BYU: Van Noy has a physical and aggressive playing style and “finds his way” to the football incredibly well. He can rush the passer but also drop into coverage. He can be a pillar on a stout defense for years to come.
3. Ryan Shazier, Ohio State: Shazier is a rangy and athletic outside linebacker. He has a great ability to read and react, can quickly dissect plays and gets there with great speed and quickness.
4. Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State: Lawrence displays great burst and bend off the edge as a pass-rusher. He is underrated in his ability to hold up and set the edge against the run. Upside surrounds Lawrence, who could be a steal at the top of the second round.
5. Anthony Barr, UCLA: Barr is a dynamic speed rusher off the edge. The rest of his game needs further development, but he has the athletic ability to suggest it can come together.
6. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech: Attaochu has the most ability to bend and turn the corner—my most coveted trait of an edge rusher—of any pass-rusher in 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. His lack of ability defending the run keeps him from a higher ranking.
7. Marcus Smith, Louisville: Louisville did a terrific job moving Smith around and creating opportunities for him to make plays, and he took full advantage. Many of his splash plays were schemed so that he went unblocked, but his playmaking ability is obvious.
8. Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State:: Barrett made plays in a variety of ways for Colorado State en route to being named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. He somehow missed out on a combine invitation, but is an excellent football player with four-down ability.
9. Christian Kirksey, Iowa: Kirksey is an instinctive linebacker with a balanced skill set. He is physical, aggressive and underrated. His best fit would be as a 4-3 strong side linebacker.
10. Derrell Johnson, East Carolina: Johnson shows the ability to get after the passer and physically set the edge. His skill set is very strong and reminiscent of top-five talent Khalil Mack, without the polish.
11. Jordan Tripp, Montana: A tough and physical player, Tripp made a name for himself with a strong showing at the Scouting Combine. He diagnoses plays quickly and is always around the football.
12. Christian Jones, Florida State: Jones moved around Florida State’s defensive front seven throughout his collegiate career but failed to carve out a niche. Jones is at his best in coverage and has a ton of athletic ability, making 4-3 weakside linebacker his best NFL fit. He is a better athlete than football player.
13. Carl Bradford, Arizona State: Bradford has been a dominant edge defender for the Sun Devils, but he will have to overcome a lack of length to excel in the NFL. His best fit might come inside, but he is a relentless player.
14. Prince Shembo, Notre Dame: Shembo is strong enough to hold up and set the edge on run plays while he flashes the ability to shed blockers and get into the backfield. As a pass-rusher, Shembo can be overwhelming for blockers with his quickness off the ball and ability to turn the corner and bring pressure off the edge. His overall game still needs consistency.
15. Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College: Pierre-Louis is extremely athletic with terrific range. He flashes good coverage ability and projects nicely to a 4-3 scheme.
16. Denicos Allen, Michigan State: 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. He has been a key contributor on a great defense, but his size deficiencies will push him down rankings.
17. Adrian Hubbard, Alabama: Hubbard has been a flashy player but inconsistent overall. He has the length and athleticism to intrigue but he needs more development.
18. Ronald Powell, Florida: Powell is another player with clear talent who flashes on film but whose overall game lacks consistency. A great athlete, Powell needs to add bulk to hold up on the edge in the NFL.
19. Boseko Lokombo, Oregon: Lokombo is a solid athlete who excels most in coverage. He gives his team a viable option on who can drop into coverage on passing downs and has enough size and strength to contribute against the run. He has good coverage instincts and awareness while displaying the ability to make plays on the ball.
20. Chris Young, Arizona State: Young has a myriad of technique issues but is a highly productive, downhill, physical player who projects as 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.
21. Keith Smith, San Jose State: Smith is an absolute tackling machine who has solid read-and-react skills and every-down ability. His lack of size and athletic ability hurt his ranking but he is a solid football player suited for a 4-3 defense.
22. Jonathan Brown, Illinois: Brown has totaled more than 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. Lack of size and athletic ability hurt his draft stock.
23. Howard Jones, Shepherd: An explosive, athletic edge defender, Jones dominated at the Division II level, primarily as a defensive end. Jones was overwhelmed at times at the NFLPA Bowl due to his lack of functional strength, but he is an intriguing developmental talent.
24. Anthony Hitchens, Iowa: Hitchens is an active and aggressive pursuer of the football who has had success as a weakside linebacker in college. His instincts are lacking but he can be a solid backup and special teams contributor.
25. Trevor Reilly, Utah: Reilly is a smart player who is always in position and plays well within Utah’s scheme. He can contribute in a variety of ways but does not stand out in any one area.
Top Undrafted Free Agents
26. Roosevelt Nix, Kent State
27. Brandon Watts, Georgia Tech
28. Jayrone Elliott, Toledo
29. Chris McCain, California
30. Tyler Starr, South Dakota
31. Khairi Fortt, California
32. Marcus Whitfield, Maryland
33. Marquis Flowers, Arizona
34. Jacques Smith, Tennessee
35. Brad Daly, Montana State
36. Aaron Hill, Minnesota
37. Jamal Merrell, Rutgers
38. Jonathan Newsome, Ball State
39. Spencer Hadley, BYU
40. Terrance Bullitt, Texas Tech
41. Randell Johnson, Florida Atlantic
42. Xavius Boyd, Western Kentucky
43. Carlos Fields, Winston-Salem State
Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Aaron Hill, Adrian Hubbard, Anthony Barr, Anthony Hitchens, Boseko Lokombo, Brad Daly, Brandon Watts, Carl Bradford, Carlos Fields, Chris McCain, Chris Young, Christian Jones, Christian Kirksey, Demarcus Lawrence, Denicos Allen, Derrell Johnson, Edge Defender, Howard Jones, Jacques Smith, Jamal Merrell, Jayrone Elliott, Jeremiah Attaochu, Jonathan Brown, Jonathan Newsome, Jordan Tripp, Keith Smith, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Khairi Fortt, Khalil Mack, Kyle Van Noy, Linebackers, Marcus Smith, Marcus Whitfield, Marquis Flowers, Outside Linebackers, Positional Breakdowns, Positional Rankings, Prince Shembo, Randell Johnson, Rankings, Ronald Powell, Roosevelt Nix, Ryan Shazier, Shaquil Barrett, Spencer Hadley, Terrance Bullitt, Trevor Reilly, Tyler Starr, Xavius Boyd