Is Luke Kuechly the best LB in this year's NFL Draft?
Here is a list of the top 25 linebackers in this year's 2012 NFL Draft.
I have included both ILB and OLB that can play in both a 3-4 and 4-3 defense.
I have broken down and analyzed the best prospects in the draft and compared them to current or past NFL linebackers.
Take a look and see who are the best of the best in this year's crop of linebackers.
Player: Tyler Nielsen
Pro Comparison: Scott Fujita
Nielsen is a smart player that quickly recognizes plays and attacks the ball carrier. He is a sure tackler and excels in coverage. Nielsen could use some more bulk and improve his strength to fight through blocks as a pro.
Player: Jerry Franklin
Pro Comparison: Joe Mays
Franklin is strong against the run because he uses his burst to attack gaps. However, he lacks the speed needed to cover faster NFL tight ends and struggles at shedding blockers. Franklin will need to get stronger and improve his coverage skills if he wants to be more than a special teams player.
Player: Luke Kuechly
School: Boston College
Pro Comparison: Paul Posluszny
Kuechly has good instincts and takes good angles when pursuing ball carriers. His athleticism was put on display at the combine. After having a record-setting college career, Kuechly has the ability to step in and be an impact starter from Day 1.
Player: Bruce Irvin
School: West Virginia
Pro Comparison: Manny Lawson
Irvin bulked up, but that didn’t stop him from showing off excellent speed at the combine. Irvin moves well in coverage and has above average pass-rush ability. Irvin’s biggest concern moving forward is whether he can add more weight and be effective in running downs.
Player: Melvin Ingram
School: South Carolina
Pro Comparison: Lamarr Woodley
Ingram ran fast at both the combine and at his pro day, all but cementing his place as the draft’s top pass-rusher. Ingram dominated in college because of a combination of outstanding strength and speed topped off by excellent pass-rush moves.
Player: Shea McClellin
School: Boise State
Pro Comparison: Brian Cushing
McClellin has a high motor and is a versatile pass-rusher. The only question is will he translate to the NFL after playing against lesser competition than other top pass-rushers in the draft. He showed that he had the speed needed to play OLB in a 3-4 defense even after bulking up and that will help in his transition to the NFL.
Player: Dont’a Hightower
Pro Comparison: Navorro Bowman
Hightower showed off his versatility while playing against some of the best competition at Alabama. He is big for an ILB, but has the speed needed to move laterally and to shoot gaps. Hightower is an above average tackler who can blitz and play in coverage.
Player: Courtney Upshaw
Pro Comparison: James Harrison
Upshaw performed well in the Senior Bowl, but didn’t perform at the combine or at Alabama’s pro day. He plays very fast for a player of his size and that will help in his transition to the next level. Upshaw is a great edge rusher and is stout enough against the run to play OLB in a 3-4 defense.
Player: Mychal Kendricks
Pro Comparison: David Harris
Kenricks led all linebackers in the 40-yard dash, broad jump and vertical jump at the combine. He is an interesting prospect as he played both inside and outside in college and had success at both positions. Kendricks’ versatility will catch the eye of teams and will allow him to get playing time early on as a pro.
Player: Bobby Wagner
School: Utah State
Pro Comparison: Antwan Barnes
As a four-year starter, Wagner showed he can produce consistently in college. Wagner missed the combine, but showed off his speed at Utah State’s his pro-day. Wagner has long arms and quick hands allowing him to fight through blockers and attack the ball carrier.
Player: Zach Brown
School: North Carolina
Pro Comparison: Daryl Smith
Brown excels in coverage due to average instincts, but excellent speed. He is athletic and explosive, but he has underachieved. If Brown commits, he has the physical tools to make an impact in the NFL.
Player Demario Davis
School: Arkansas State
Pro Comparison: Sean Lee
Davis has good speed and a first-class motor to go along with a solid track record. He performed well at the Senior Bowl against better competition and that bodes well for his ability to succeed moving forward. Davis needs to improve his instincts and become more consistent in his transition to the NFL.
Player: Lavonte David
Pro Comparison: Sean Weatherspoon
David is a bit undersized coming out of college, but he has a high motor and possesses above-average closing speed. David’s intensity will serve him well in the NFL if he can add bulk.
Player: Sean Spence
School: Miami (Fla.)
Pro Comparison: Kam Chancellor
Spence showed off his speed at the combine, but there are concerns that his poor performance in the bench-press workout is an indicator of his overall strength. He is a good tackler, but a bit undersized for an OLB and fighting off blockers could be an issue in the NFL. Spence does have great instincts and covers the field well for an OLB.
Player: Nigel Bradham
School: Florida State
Pro Comparison: Ernie Sims
Bradham has good coverage ability combined with excellent speed and the necessary size to play inside or outside. In order to have success as a pro, Bradham needs to add bulk and improve his instincts.
Player: Kyle Wilber
School: Wake Forest
Pro Comparison: Travis Laboy
Wilber started off as a DE before transitioning to OLB while at Wake Forest. He has the pass-rush skills needed to rush off the edge and can cover TEs in pass coverage. He will need to improve against the run or turn good pass-rusher moves into great ones if he is going to succeed as a 3-4 OLB.
Player: Keenan Robinson
Pro Comparison: Chad Greenway
Robinson produced in the Big 12 due to a combination of speed and athleticism. With decent coverage skills and the size to stand up at the point of attack in the NFL, Robinson can develop into a solid starter. But he will need to improve on his technique and instincts if he is going to excel as a pro.
Player: James-Michael Johnson
Pro Comparison: Dan Connor
Johnson had a good career at Nevada where he showed the ability to play both ILB and OLB. Better suited to play inside, Johnson is a run-stuffer who excels when playing downhill. Biggest concern moving forward is whether he can improve his pass-coverage ability.
Player: Ronnell Lewis
Pro Comparison: Sam Acho
Lewis is an explosive player with good strength and speed. He played DE in college, but is better suited as an OLB in a 3-4 defense. Lewis plays with a mean streak and will be a potent pass-rusher coming off the edge.
Player: Josh Kaddu
Pro Comparison: Michael Boley
Kaddu consistently makes big plays. Whether he is making a tackle for a loss or sacking the QB, he is constantly in the backfield. He has the measurables needed to succeed in the NFL, but he needs to improve his technique as a pro.
Player: Terrell Manning
School: North Carolina State
Pro Comparison: Jonathan Casillas
Manning left school early and still has room to grow and develop. He hits hard and sheds off blockers well. Manning is good athlete, but needs to develop either as a tackler or as a pass-rusher, if not, he will be a rotational linebacker and a special teams player.
Player: Jonathan Massaquoi
Pro Comparison: Parys Haralson
Troy has produced a number of under-the-radar OLB's and DE’s and Massaquoi has the ability to be next in line. After bulking up, Massaquoi is more capable of defending the run and setting the edge. He is a quick and explosive player who can drop into coverage and rush the passer.
Player: Emmanuel Acho
Pro Comparison: Jameel McClain
Acho is a strong, consistent player who has room to develop into a solid starter in the NFL. The younger brother of Arizona Cardinals LB, Sam Acho, Emmanuel doesn’t have the same pass-rush skills of his brother, but is good in coverage and against the run. Acho would make a good 4-3 OLB.
Player: Travis Lewis
Pro Comparison: Will Witherspoon
Lewis has good instincts and is an above-average tackler. He shoots gaps well, but needs to add bulk in order to fight off lineman and fullbacks in the NFL. As a four-year starter and a two-time captain, Lewis has good closing speed and decent pass-rush ability.
Player: Audie Cole
School: North Carolina State
Pro Comparison: Scott Fujita
Despite a poor showing at the combine, Cole had a solid career at North Carolina State. The track record in the ACC and the ability to play inside in both a 4-3 and 3-4 defense make Cole an intriguing prospect. He has the size to stand up against blockers in the running game, but he needs to show he can cover faster NFL tight ends if he is going to have success as a pro.