There are plenty of well-known linebacker prospects who will be taken early at the 2013 NFL draft, but it’s the guys who you might not have heard of that will turn into NFL impact players.
Whether it’s because of their size, who they play for or who they’ve played against, some prospects just don’t project as highly as they should. But those “flaws” are what teams sometimes like—a low-risk, high-reward situation.
Even those who teams select with a coveted first-round pick exceed initial expectations once they hit the field with their new teams.
Here’s a glance at a few linebacker prospects who are underrated heading into the draft.
Trevardo Williams, Outside Linebacker, Connecticut
Defensive prospects coming from the Big East don’t always get the attention they deserve, and that seems to be the case with Trevardo Williams.
The 6’1’’ outside linebacker finished the season with 11.5 sacks—the most of any player in the Big East—while also averaging a conference-best 0.96 sacks per game. Last year, he sacked opposing quarterbacks 12.5 times.
It’s a toss-up as to where Williams will land in the draft—possibly as early as late first round or as late as fourth or fifth round—but whomever takes a chance on him will be rewarded quickly. He’s small, but is still one of the top pass rushers available.
Chase Thomas, Outside Linebacker, Stanford
Chase Thomas is the type of player that every head coach should want on his team. He has extremely good leadership skills and is one of the better defensive prospects coming out of the Pac-12.
Thomas ended his senior season with 71 tackles—second on Stanford behind Shayne Skov—to go along with 14.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. That’s a pretty successful campaign if you ask me.
Thomas should go early in the second round of the draft in April to a team looking for a versatile linebacker. He’s not an easy guy for the offensive line to contain as he frequently breaks through to attack the opposing quarterback or running back.
Sean Porter, Outside Linebacker, Texas A&M
Another small outside linebacker, Sean Porter brings great speed to the table. He has the potential to match up up with slot receivers and not get beat down the field.
Porter finished the second-most sacks on the Texas A&M defense behind Damontre Moore with 3.5. He made 66 tackles, had 6.5 tackles for loss and one interception.
It’s expected that Porter hears his name called somewhere between the second and fourth rounds. The senior is sure to make a big impact wherever he goes, getting to the quarterback quickly and making plays in the open field. He’s definitely better at attacking the pass over the run, which could alter which packages he’ll be on the field for.
A.J. Klein, Inside Linebacker, Iowa State
The Big 12 is not an easy conference to play defense in, especially with such powerful offenses taking the field each and every day. But somehow, A.J. Klein had quite the senior season—and career—for himself.
Klein isn’t going to get the quarterback or running back as quickly as many other defensive prospects, but he’s a great tackler. Klein leads Iowa State in tackles this season with 117. He’s definitely a guy who’s great at stopping the run game through the middle and outside the tackles.
You won’t hear Klein’s name until late on Day 2 or sometime during Day 3 as he’s not projected to be one of the top linebackers available, but will make his mark in training camp and early on in the preseason. He has average size compared to others available and will turn out to be one of the best late-round picks this upcoming draft.