NFL Draft Preview: The Deepest Linebacker Class Ever

russ autinCorrespondent IApril 7, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 23:  Linebacker Marcus Freeman of Ohio State runs the 40 yard dash during the NFL Scouting Combine presented by Under Armour at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 23, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

Inside, outside, 4-3, 3-4, Sam, Will, or Mike. The 2009 National Football League draft class is hip deep in quality linebackers.

For teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, and New Orleans Saints, who are attempting to improve this area, it may the best draft class in years.

It seems Aaron Curry is the pick of the litter. If he's not gone by the third pick, someone should— and probably will— be fired. But the pool is deep, so there's plenty to go around.

Any story about linebackers should start at the University of Southern California, where there's a triad of potential first-rounders.

Rey Maualuga , Brian Cushing, and Clay Mathews have become media favorites, stealing the thunder of some of the other talented prospects.

No one can deny Larry English is a player with outstanding potential, and his great speed and athleticism should have coaches salivating.

He projects as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, and with a little work in the weight room and proper coaching, he could be a force for years to come.

Talking about Everette Brown, well 13.5 sacks last year says it all. For any team playing a 3-4 scheme, this guy is a dream come true. He's a three-down backer, able to play the run and the pass.

On passing plays, Brown has a tremendous first step and a number of polished moves. This guy has impact-player written all over him.

Perhaps Arron Maybin should have stayed in school; the talent level in this year's draft, combined with his lack of experience, will hurt his chances of being drafted in the top 10.

Don't get me wrong, he has potential. But of the elite linebackers in this draft, he is the least NFL ready, although he may have the most upside.

James Laurinaitis, unlike Maybin, should have come out early.

Last year he could have been a top 10 pick. This year, he could slide to the second round. However, he is still an elite talent and would be a steal in the second round.

This year's class is deeper still, with a number of solid players left after those named above are gone.

Here are two of my picks for the most underrated players of the bunch, one outside, one inside, just for symmetry.

On the outside, I have Marcus Freeman.

He really wowed scouts by running a 4.51 at Ohio State's pro-day. He is a sideline-to-sideline player with a nose for the football and excels in coverage, displaying the ability to run with any tight end or back in the league.

He could be the best value of the entire class if he slips to the third round. After all, he is the fastest of the lot.

On the inside, look for Jason Phillips.

If they where to make a movie of the children's book The Little Engine That Could, Phillips would be perfect for the leading part.

He reminds me of Sam Mills, and as a life-long Saints fan, that's about the highest honor I can bestow upon a young linebacker.

Phillips' inability to perform at his pro-day due to a knee injury will hurt his draft status, but don't underestimate this kid—He will take someone's job in the NFL next year.

Five years from now, we could be talking about this being one of the best linebacker classes ever.