Ranking outside linebackers really requires a two-pronged approach. There are two groups of outside linebackers in the NFL, however the gap between the players that fit into these groups is closing.
Many of the players on this list are defensive ends in college, however, due to size, project to become linebackers in the NFL. These are the players in particular that are able to transition to a rush outside linebacker in a 3-4 base defense.
Obviously, a group of players this diverse means that giving them rank and order is challenging. A 4-3 team is going to rank a player who fits their defense differently than a player who projects to a 3-4. The same can be said for those players on this list that could be viewed by a 4-3 team to transition to play defensive end.
The top end of this class is so very talented. Don't be shocked if as many as six linebackers are drafted in the first round, and as many as 15 in the top-100 picks overall.
Determining consensus at the top of this group is challenging, however it is hard to go wrong with Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. Mosley played primarily on the inside of that Alabama 3-4 defense on the weak side. Do not worry about all that at the next level.
Mosley was able to move all over the field during his tenure with the Crimson Tide, and there is no reason to believe he won't be able to excel in multiple roles in the NFL also. This sort of versatility sets him apart from his peers in this group.
As many experts try to pick apart the games of the hybrid players, Mosley's game stands on its own merit. He is strong and fast, able to chase down running backs all over the field. His football IQ is high and it shows as he diagnoses plays quickly. Mosley has shown the ability to rush the passer both as a blitzer or from the edge, and the list of his accolades goes on and on.
If your favorite team misses on Mosley and instead opts for a late day two selection at outside linebacker, Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith might be more to your liking. Smith is a little bit undersized at 218 pounds, but he packs a wallop.
There are several spots where a player with the speed and explosion of Smith could fit. As a coverage linebacker inside in a 3-4 defense or on the weak side of a 4-3, Smith's athleticism and ability to finish would be coveted.
It is not out of the realm of possibility that Smith couldn't start his career in a big strong safety role and eventually growing into a more traditional outside linebacker body.
Moving later into the draft, USC linebacker Morgan Breslin is a fascinating case study. Whereas Smith is an undersized and athletic linebacker, Breslin is more of a brute. Breslin, when healthy, was highly productive in college.
Unfortunately, most of Breslin's production came more off effort and energy than any tangible athletic ability. Some teams covet blue-collar guys like Breslin and look for ways to work them into their defense. His draft value is low, meaning he's a low-risk selection.
And should he develop into that physical two-down outside linebacker who can clean up the occasional sack, all the better. At worst, you are getting a kid who'll anchor your special teams for a long time.
At this point, there won't be much change with these rankings. Someone comes out with some off-the-field stuff or a significant injury risk. They could drop. Or if one of these players has a combine that is so noteworthy it demands it, they could move up.
|5||Kyle Van Noy||BYU||6'3"||245lbs||1st|
|6||Ryan Shazier||Ohio State||6'2"||230lbs||1st|
|7||Jeremiah Attaochu||Georgia Tech||6'3"||242lbs||2nd|
|9||Telvin Smith||Florida State||6'2"||218lbs||2nd|
|10||Carl Bradford||Arizona State||6'1"||243lbs||3rd|
|13||James Gayle||VIrginia Tech||6'4"||255lbs||4th|
|14||Demarcus Lawrence||Boise State||6'3"||245lbs||4th|
|20||Prince Shembo||Notre Dame||6'2"||258lbs||5th|