The linebacker position in this NFL Draft may be hit or miss with some amazing prospects and some prospects that may fall short. Some of the linebacker prospects listed may also appear as defensive ends. Most of the ends will be converted to the linebacker position in the NFL due to the popularity of the 3-4 defense. The following ten linebackers will be the ten best of this years crop in the NFL Draft.
No.10. Mark Herzlich: Boston College Golden Eagles
Mark Herzlich is known lately as a cancer survivor but those NFL scouts that are discouraged from taking him in the NFL Draft will be making a mistake. Herzlich is back in shape after a year off dealing with Ewing’s sarcoma, a form of bone cancer.
Before his battle with cancer Herzlich was ranked highly among senior linebackers at the time but now he has fallen on many draft boards as they wrestle with obvious long term health concerns. Herzlich is impressing many scouts at the Senior Bowl and he will climb the charts based on the Senior Bowl and his performance at the NFL Combine. Herzlich will be drafted in later rounds of the NFL Draft but he will play his way onto an NFL roster.
No.9. Casey Mathews: Oregon Ducks
Casey Mathews has the pedigree to become a difference maker on defense for an NFL team. Instincts on defense are half the battle and Mathews is younger brother to Green Bay Packers standout Clay Mathews and son former NFL linebacker Clay Mathews Sr.
Mathews has a nose for the ball but he over pursues at times. He plays with an aggressive no holds barred attitude that can cause him to make crucial mistakes. Mathews defining moment came in the BCS Championship when he stuffed Cam Newton an a crucial play. Mathews is impressing NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl this week. Mathews will be drafted in fourth or fifth round of the NFL Draft and will make an NFL roster in a special teams capacity.
No.8. Brian Rolle: Ohio State Buckeyes
Brian Rolle is considered a disruptive linebacker. A linebacker that may not stand out on the stat sheet but one that will make a major contribution to any team he plays the linebacker position or special teams. Rolle’s size will be a reason for him dropping in the NFL Draft but a good showing at the NFL Combine will bring him into the spotlight as a possible backup at weak side linebacker. Rolle will be drafted late in the NFL Draft.
No.7. Aldon Smith: Missouri Tigers
Aldon Smith is the hot linebacker of the moment in the NFL Draft. Smith is showing as a possible pick by the St Louis Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs. This could be the Missouri connection bleeding through reality. Smith is good but a top five projection may be getting caught up in the hype machine that is in full gear at the moment.
Smith will look to impress at the NFL Combine in a month and his talent will be under scrutiny of the best talent evaluators for a week. Smith is comfortable moving up to rush the passer and he is also good enough to drop back into coverage and stay with tight ends and running backs. Smith will be drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft.
No.6. Justin Houston: Georgia Bulldogs
Justin Houston will be a hot commodity with teams incorporating the 3-4 defense. Houston is versatile and thinks fast with smart football instincts that will carry over to the next level. Houston made his way onto most draft boards with a three sack performance against the South Carolina Gamecocks. Houston will be drafted in the second round of the NFL Draft.
No.5. Bruce Carter: North Carolina Tar Heels
Bruce Carter may have fallen on some NFL Draft boards due to his surgery to reconstruct his knee after an ACL injury in December. General managers that disregard or downgrade Carter in this draft will be kicking themselves in a few years.
Carter needs to push himself to participate in the NFL Combine this year. If he skips the NFL Combine it could knock him out of the top ten. Carter is one of the best pure athletes in the NFL Draft which compensates for his average instincts for the ball. Carter’s speed helps him make up for his bad reads but it will be tough for him to compensate when he goes to the next level. Carter will be drafted in the second round but it will not be a surprise if he drops down in the draft.
No.4. Ryan Kerrigan: Purdue Boilermakers
Ryan Kerrigan would be good enough to be the top linebacker in some NFL Drafts but in this defense heavy draft he ranks fourth before the NFL Combine. Kerrigan has been impressive at the Senior Bowl this week. He has been taking on first round NFL Draft pick quality blockers such as Gabe Carimi and Anthony Castanzo in practice every day leading up the Senior Bowl.
Kerrigan played defensive end at Purdue but spent time at linebacker also. Kerrigan’s attitude in practice for the Senior Bowl has been simple. Show his versatility and ability to play either from the three point stance or off the line as a linebacker. Kerrigan is late first round or early second round NFL Draft pick.
No.3. Akeem Ayers: UCLA Bruins
Akeem Ayers may end up being the steal of this years NFL Draft. Ayers is fast and this can be his downfall on occasion. Ayers is a capable pass rusher when called upon and his speed allows him to adjust and cover tight ends and wide receivers in the open field.
Ayers is best when coming off the line from a standing position when rushing the passer but his speed does cause him to miss tackles and sacks by over pursuing. Ayers has plenty to work with for any NFL defensive coordinator and he will be molded into an impressive linebacker by the right D.O. Ayers will be drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft.
No.2. Robert Quinn: North Carolina Tar Heels
Although Robert Quinn played as a defensive lineman at North Carolina he will be drafted to fill the needs at linebacker for an NFL team. Robert Quinn is another defensive end that will converted into a new style hybrid linebacker that will be used out of a three point stance on occasion.
Quinn is fresh after missing the 2010 collegiate season after being declared ineligible in the North Carolina mess that led to many suspensions and expulsions from the team. Quinn has dropped on some NFL Draft boards but the smart general managers in the NFL have been waiting to swoop in on this prospect since he was ruled ineligible. Robert Quinn will be drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft.
No.1. Von Miller: Texas A&M Aggies
Von Miller is another player that is increasing his stock at the Senior Bowl. In my own first NFL mock draft i had Miller falling behind Akeem Ayers but after hearing reports and watching updates from the Senior Bowl it is obvious Miller is making his mark and impressing hardened NFL scouts and coaches.
Miller has the total package. He has the speed combined with the uncanny instincts to know what a receiver or runner will do before they know. Miller is equally good against the run and the pass but he is very impressive at coming up and attacking the run. A team looking to beef up their run defense will be hot for Miller. Miller will drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft and I will not be surprised if he goes in the top ten.
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