2013 NFL Draft: Most Versatile Linebackers in This Year's Class
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No position requires versatility like linebacker, so scouts around the league will be searching for the most well-rounded prospect for the 2013 NFL draft.
While the middle linebacker class features just one first-round lock in Manti Te'o, the outside linebacker group offers a bunch of intriguing options. From Florida's Jelani Jenkins to Rutgers' Khaseem Greene, teams in need of a complete linebacker should be pleased with the 2013 class.
As postseason All-Star games, the NFL Scouting Combine and pro days take over, let's take a look at the most versatile linebackers in this year's class.
5. Chase Thomas, Stanford
Chase Thomas lives behind the line of scrimmage.
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NFL teams covet linebackers with size and length, so it should come as no surprise that Stanford's Chase Thomas is a highly rated prospect in scouting circles.
The four-year starter checked in at 6'3", 241 pounds at the Senior Bowl, making him the second biggest 'backer at the event (via DraftInsider.net).
NFL Draft Scout's No. 6 outside linebacker maximized his physical talents by wreaking havoc on quarterbacks and running backs with the Cardinal. Thomas' production—229 tackles (50.5 for loss), 27.5 sacks, nine forced fumbles—speaks to his ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Due to his combination of strength, length and hustle, Thomas would be an excellent 3-4 outside linebacker, or he could fit on the strong side in a 4-3.
4. Alec Ogletree, Georgia
Alec Ogletree is a superb athlete for the position.
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Built in the same mode as Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons, former Georgia Bulldog Alec Ogletree is an elite athlete whose game is still growing.
A former safety, the 6'3", 234-pounder shifted to inside linebacker in Georgia's 3-4 defense and thrived the past two seasons. After posting 52 tackles (7.5 for loss) as a sophomore, Ogletree exploded for 111 total tackles (11.5 for loss) and three sacks this season. That tremendous performance led him to declare for the 2013 NFL draft and immediately made him one of the best linebacker prospects available.
Ogletree's explosive speed allows him to not only track down any running back, but also gives him the ability to make plays in the passing game. He's not much of a blitzer, but his coverage skills—which developed through his experience as a defensive back—should make him a coveted three-down linebacker at the next level.
3. Sean Porter, Texas A&M
Sean Porter has experience as a hybrid pass-rusher and traditional 4-3 outside linebacker.
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When Von Miller moved on to the NFL, many expected Texas A&M's Sean Porter to become the Aggies' next great pass-rusher.
However, after recording 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss as a junior in a hybrid linebacker role, the 6'1", 231-pounder shifted to a more traditional 4-3 outside linebacker role as a senior. As a result, Porter's numbers dropped to just 66 total tackles (6.5 for loss) and 3.5 sacks.
Despite the statistical slide, Porter's game still has plenty of upside.
Like Miller, Porter has tremendous wheels for a linebacker, which allows him to track down ball-carriers from sideline to sideline. His pass-rushing skills certainly aren't on the level of Miller's, but he does have plenty of experience in pass coverage.
That overall package of speed and coverage skills would make him an ideal 4-3 weak-side linebacker, but his success as a 3-4 OLB should also intrigue scouts.
2. Jelani Jenkins, Florida
Jelani Jenkins doesn't have many holes in his game.
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Jelani Jenkins' decision to enter the 2013 NFL draft was questionable after an injury-plagued season, but there's no doubting the redshirt junior's incredible array of skills.
Despite his shorter stature (6'0", 237 pounds), the former 5-star recruit can fly around the field due to his 4.5 wheels. He may lack the traditional size for most NFL linebackers, but the kid can lay the wood (see picture above).
What makes Jenkins such a versatile prospect, and one of the more underrated mid-round value picks, is his adept pass-coverage skills. During his tenure at Florida, Jenkins would often be asked to line up on tight ends and cover running backs—a responsibility that many college linebackers simply can't handle.
When the Gators sent him after the quarterback, Jenkins made it count. With 182 tackles (16.5 for loss), six sacks, three interceptions and 10 passes defended in 31 career starts, it's clear Jenkins can fill many roles for an NFL team.
1. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
There isn't much Khaseem Green can't do.
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He isn't the biggest. He isn't the fastest. He isn't the strongest.
But Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene is the most versatile linebacker prospect of the 2013 class.
Measuring in at a shade under 6'1" and weighing just 236 pounds, the former safety turned out to be the best linebacker in the Big East after Greg Schiano moved him there in 2011.
Since settling in at weak-side linebacker, Greene posted 141 tackles as a junior and 136 as a senior. However, he's more than just a tackling machine. Because of his rare athleticism, instincts and speed, Rutgers' best defensive player also racked up 26.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, two interceptions, eight passes defended and eight forced fumbles over the past two years.
As Rob Rang of CBS Draft puts it, "[Greene] possesses the agility and straight-line speed to elude blockers and beat backs to the edge. Showed improved patience and awareness in his second season at linebacker, rarely taking false steps and exploding towards the ball."
While he probably will have to stick at 4-3 weak-side linebacker at the next level, a good defensive coordinator will be able to feature Greene as a lights-out playmaker.