As the 2012 draft class comes into focus, the buzz on the defensive side of the ball has, justifiably, focused on the plentiful supply of top-flight cornerbacks. The linebacker position, though, has some serious talent of its own that will make its presence felt in the draft’s opening round.
This trio of linebackers will be the cream of a strong crop:
Luke Kuechly, Boston College
Like most inside linebackers, Luke Kuechly doesn’t put up eye-catching sack or interception totals (zero and three, respectively). The numbers he does put up, though, defy description.
Kuechly led the nation with 183 tackles in 2010, then actually managed to do better, recording 191 stops this season. That kind of productivity might make him a top-10 pick, and will almost certainly make him a terrific NFL linebacker.
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
For any teams that missed out on the 2011 bounty of pass-rushing linebackers converting to DEs or 3-4 OLBs, the 2012 draft offers Courtney Upshaw as an excellent consolation prize. The 6’2”, 265-pound senior had 9.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss this season.
Obviously, Upshaw had plenty of help on a historically-brilliant defense that could produce four first-round picks. Even so, his performance as a playmaker can’t be ignored.
Zach Brown, North Carolina
A rare OLB prospect with monster tackle numbers, Zach Brown made 105 stops to lead the Tar Heels in 2011. He did his best work in opposing backfields, notching 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks on the season.
Brown’s versatility—he also had three interceptions and four passes defensed—will be a major draw for NFL teams. If any non-CB wins Defensive Rookie of the Year next season, Brown is the best bet.