Projecting Top Linebackers in 2014 NFL Draft

Dan Tylicki@DanTylickiAnalyst IAugust 16, 2013

Projecting Top Linebackers in 2014 NFL Draft

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    The 2013 NFL season and the 2013 college football season are just a few short weeks away from starting, and for those playing college ball, that means an opportunity to get their names out there for the 2014 NFL draft.

    There are positions on the college football field that appear loaded with talent for this season, while others are currently under the radar. The position of linebacker seems to be the latter, with a couple of small-school prospects appearing high on the list.

    The current top college linebackers are not just from the small schools, but from the top NCAA Division I programs as well. That list contains one player at the top who has only been a linebacker for only a short time.

    Let's take a look.

7. Khalil Mack, Buffalo

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    Starting off the list is a virtual unknown on the national college scene who will probably remain under the radar all season long. Despite this, Khalil Mack may be the best NFL prospect to ever come out of the University of Buffalo.

    Mack led the MAC in tackles for losses last season with 13 and had eight sacks. He also has forced seven fumbles in his career.

    The lack of competition and visibility might hurt him, but he has been so dominant throughout his career at Buffalo that he has nowhere to go but up. That's what the NFL will provide.

6. Christian Jones, Florida State

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    Christian Jones is a Florida State linebacker who has already been heralded for his athleticism. Entering his senior year for the Seminoles, he could turn that into something big.

    Jones has played at both strong-side and weak-side linebacker and had 95 tackles last season. His production has not kept up with his athleticism, however, as he did not record a sack or interception in 2012.

    If his production can get to where his abilities are, then he will be someone to take note of in the first or second round of next year's NFL draft. Even if it does not stand out this season, he still has the upside to do well on draft day.

5. Adrian Hubbard, Alabama

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    Of the players on this list, Adrian Hubbard has the least experience. He played one full season last year for Alabama and saw a bit of playing time as a freshman.

    Nevertheless, Hubbard managed seven sacks and 11 tackles for losses in his sophomore year, so he has a lot of upside and will be a player to watch this coming season.

    At 6'5" and just over 250 pounds, Hubbard is the largest linebacker on the list. As such, he might be a bit oversized at the linebacker spot, but as long as he retains his speed and can keep getting to the quarterback, his size will not be an issue.

4. Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

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    Ryan Shazier has only been on the field for two seasons at Ohio State, but despite his youth, the junior has already been making waves with his explosive play.

    In his sophomore year—his first as a full-time starter, Shazier had five sacks and 115 tackles toeasily lead the Buckeyes in tackles.

    Shazier will be the leader of the Ohio State defense this year and if he continues to improve, particularly in his pass-coverage abilities, he will be a first-round selection in next year's draft.

3. Kyle Van Noy, BYU

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    Ezekiel Ansah burst on the scene last season and ended up being a top-five pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Ansah's mentor, Kyle Van Noy, could very well follow suit.

    Van Noy has gotten better every year at BYU. Last year, he had 22 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks and six forced fumbles.

    The only knock against Van Noy is the lack of tough competition that BYU has faced, but that didn't hurt Ansah's stock. As long as Van Noy continues to put up big numbers, he'll be a first-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft.

2. C.J. Mosley, Alabama

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    It should come as no surprise that one of the top linebackers in the country is from Alabama. The Crimson Tide always seem to have one premier linebacker go in the first round of the NFL draft.

    Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley became a full-time starter last year and had 66 solo tackles to go with four sacks and two interceptions. He was already one of the best inside linebackers in the SEC last year, and with Manti Te'o now in the pros, the top ranking is his to lose.

    If he can improve on his already well-rounded game and be a dominant leader for Alabama, he will have no problem being the first inside linebacker taken in the draft.

1. Anthony Barr, UCLA

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    Anthony Barr joined UCLA as a running back and wide receiver, but a crowded offense led by Johnathan Franklin meant that he wasn't going to get an opportunity to be used much. As a result, he was moved to linebacker before the 2012 season.

    The result? He had a nation-leading 13.5 sacks and probably could have been a first-round draft pick, given that it was the year of upside in the draft. Instead, he returned to UCLA his senior season.

    He has already shown a great deal of talent. If he improves even further and becomes a polished linebacker, a top five selection could be not only realistic, but a given.