You can find the rest of our 2016 NFL draft coverage here.
The linebacker position, along with strong safety, is the one most in transition in today’s NFL. As offenses pass more and run less, linebackers’ ability to provide pass coverage and close in space has become more a priority than the hard-hitting stereotype. And as more teams experiment with the 3-4, pass rushing, both on the edge and as a blitzer, the position’s evolving will continue to move toward faster, stand-up players with more speed and less size.
1. Myles Jack, OLB, UCLA
Not the biggest linebacker at only 6’1″, Jack outplays that size with incomparable athleticism. A two-way player for UCLA, Jack’s best position may actually be running back, but he’d rather be the hammer than the nail. Teams will covet his ability to close distances and his perfect tackling technique. The big question surrounding Jack is his season-ending knee injury and how well he has recovered, but if those questions are answered, expect Jack to be the first linebacker taken.
2. Jaylon Smith, OLB/ILB, Notre Dame
Ideal size for the position, Jaylon Smith could be an inside linebacker in 3-4 or an outside linebacker in a 4-3. His speed will let him cover ground quickly and his ability to shed blocks will make him valuable on all three downs. Jaylon Smith tore his ACL and MCL in the the Irish’s Fiesta Bowl lose to the Buckeyes, and this may cause him to miss some of the 2016 season. How much this will hurt his draft stock remains to be seen.
3. Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama
Huge, at 260 pounds, Ragland has a really high football IQ, and really gets caught over-committing or taking bad angles. Ragland has great burst and finishing, but the question is how much ground can he cover. Ragland was the SEC defensive player of the year in 2015.
4. Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
Floyd has a great frame (6’4″) and a length, and can cover a lot of ground. His burst speed combined with arm length means he can get to players and make a tackles quickly, but one concern may be his lack of size at only 229 pounds. The questions will be a) can he put on some weight? and b) if he does put on weight, will that cuase him to lose some of his speed athleticism?
5. Joshua Perry, OLB, Ohio State
A very high-character guy on and off the field (Perry already has already graduated tOSU with a degree in Consumer and Family Financial Services), Perry’s size (6’3″, 250lbs) combined with his intelligence and leadership abilities will give teams a reason to look at him. With great length and strength, teams will prize his tackling ability. His weaknesses are his range and speed in pass coverage.
6. Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State
Perry’s counterpart on the other side for the Buckeyes, Darron Lee will be prized in the NFL for his pass coverage. Small for the position at 6’1″, 230lbs, Lee has the range and speed to make it in the NFL as a WILL linebacker.
7. Dominique Alexander, ILB, Oklahoma
While very small (6’0″, 225″) for the position, Alexander fits into that Shaq Thompson mold of a player who can make huge impact on passing downs while still being a plus-player on passing downs. His agility and speed will get him a lot of looks, especially with his closing speed and range. Alexander (along with Thompson) may represent the new style of linebackers we’ll see in the future.
8. Scooby Wright III, OLB/ILB, Arizona
Wright put up ridiculous numbers for Arizona in 2014, and earned awards to match, including becoming unanimous All-American and being named Pac-12 Defensive player of the year. Several foot and knee injuries slowed down his final year with the Wildcats, but by the bowl game he was back to his 2014 self. Wright has tremendous timing and explosion, and a preternatural nose for the ball. He has great hip work and lateral movements. Teams will definitely question whether his production in college can translate to the pros, especially against the pass.
9. Kyler Fackrell, OLB, Utah State
Prototypical size (6’4″, 240) for the position, Fackrell has the capability to be productive on both passing and running downs. Has great speed and coverage ability, but lacks hitting ability and there are questions on his ability to shed blocks. His pass coverage abilities will help him find a spot in the first first few rounds.
10. Kentrell Brothers, ILB/OLB, Missouri
Brothers possesses great speed and coverage ability, and is able to hit the gap on blitzes with real explosiveness. Brothers is a bit small (6’1″) for an inside linebacker, but his special teams ability (he blocked three kicks in 2015) will allow him to find a place on an NFL roster.