B/R NFL 1000: Ranking the Top 50 3-4 Outside Linebackers from 2015

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterMarch 28, 2016

B/R NFL 1000: Ranking the Top 50 3-4 Outside Linebackers from 2015

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    At the end of the 2015 NFL season, who was the best 3-4 outside linebacker in the game? We're not talking about who made the Pro Bowl or even who got the All-Pro votes. Who was really, truly the best? Forget reputation and how much money each player makes. We want cold, hard analysis that comes from watching the games and grading the players. 

    That's what the B/R NFL 1000 is for, and it's back for another year. 

    The B/R 1000 metric is based heavily on scouting each player and grading the key criteria for each position. The criteria are weighted according to importance for a possible best score of 100.

    Potential and career accomplishments are not taken into consideration.

    We've judged 3-4 outside linebackers on pass rush (50 points), run defense (30), coverage (10) and the overall value of the position relative to the other spots on the field (10 points). The maximum score for this position is 100.

    In the case of ties, our team asked, "Which player would I rather have on my team?" and set the rankings accordingly.

    Subjective? Yes, but ties are no fun.

    A team of experienced evaluators (Dan Bazal, Luke Easterling, Cian Fahey, Adam Heisler, Duke Manyweather, Matt Miller and Marshal Miller) scouted each player with these key criteria in mind. The following scouting reports and grades are the work of months of film study from our team. 

     

    Players' heights, weights, seasons played and sack totals from NFL.comAll other statistics from Pro Football Focus.

50. Barkevious Mingo, Cleveland Browns

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    34/50

    It looked like Barkevious Mingo had his breakout season in 2014, but the former No. 6 overall pick failed to record a sack in 2015. He has not developed as a pass-rusher and looks overmatched when trying to get past tackles. Mingo lacks strength to play the position and gets too caught up hand-fighting his blockers.

    Run Defense

    18/30

    Once again, too much hand-fighting. Mingo needs to worry less about his blocker and get his head into the backfield. Plays get to his outside because he is too worried about his matchup with the tackle. He needs to disengage from blockers and use his quickness to get by them and into running lanes. While he only recorded four missed tackles in 2015, he only played 263 snaps. Mingo doesn’t attack ball-carriers and relies too much on his arm length rather than overpowering them.

    Coverage

    3/10

    With his lack of a pass rush, the Cleveland Browns actually use Mingo in coverage. Even though they love to use their linebackers as rushers, Mingo is able to do more damage in coverage than he is as a rusher. His length lets him match up against tight ends, and he has enough change-of-direction ability to plant and work back to underneath routes.

    Position Value

    10/10 

    Overall

    65/100

49. Bud Dupree, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    36/50

    Bud Dupree made a few splash plays early in his rookie season—largely uncontested—and the hype train started rolling. That ended as he struggled more down the stretch, but the encouraging news for Pittsburgh Steelers fans is that he flashed that potential and is still a very talented athlete.

    The issues for Smith came when blockers learned his moves and started taking away his first step, which in turn made him go to a countermove that he hasn’t developed yet. Given his special speed and size (6’4”, 269 lbs), Dupree has all of the tools to develop with good coaching.

    Run Defense

    15/30

    The best way to describe Dupree against the run—or in general—is raw. He’s powerful, explosive and long, but often lets himself get blocked and struggles to break free. He has to learn to use his hands and his leverage to win in the run game instead of doing what he did in college, running through every blocker or making an athletic play to get by him.

    Coverage

    4/10

    Something we liked a lot from Dupree at Kentucky was that he could drop into space and make plays. He did that some in his first season, but needs to be much more consistent in his body control and timing. Getting caught up to the speed of the game and the diversity of NFL routes was a noticeable weakness for him early on.

    Position Value

    10/10 

    Overall

    65/100

48. Za'Darius Smith, Baltimore Ravens

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    Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    35/50

    A rookie out of Kentucky, Za’Darius Smith saw action in around 40 percent of the Baltimore Ravens’ snaps in 2015, and he produced well in that time. As a fourth-round draft pick, little is generally expected, but Smith brought 5.5 sacks, nine hurries and two quarterback hits to the table in his first year of action. He’s long and tall (6’4”) and has the power in his 275 pounds to jack tackles and get them shuffling their feet backward in a bull rush.

    Run Defense

    18/30

    Smith has the length and power to hold up well in one-on-one situations against moving blockers. Where he’ll improve over time is with his hand use and positioning. For now, Smith tries to run around or through blockers, and he’s not able to do that against NFL-caliber talent. Learning to stack and control the blocker will be a huge benefit to his all-around game.

    Coverage

    3/10

    Smith was rarely asked to cover at Kentucky, and he didn’t bring many coverage skills to the NFL. He’s long and a bit unnatural in his movements when asked to make a zone drop or even jam a tight end at the line of scrimmage. For Smith to see more action in 2016, he has to become a better option in coverage.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    66/100

47. LaMarr Woodley, Arizona Cardinals

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    37/50

    LaMarr Woodley returned for a ninth season in 2015, his first with the Arizona Cardinals, and saw seven starts in his 10 games. As a pure pass-rusher, Woodley no longer has the hip snap or explosive first step he did coming out of Michigan, so he instead relies on timing and power to beat offensive tackles. With just one sack and six hurries on the year, Woodley’s play in 2015 may be the last of what’s been a very good NFL career.

    Run Defense

    16/30

    Stacking up against the run is something Woodley can do well in spurts, but he doesn’t do it consistently enough to be used as a run defender on first and second downs. He’s a sub-package player with the lower-body power to grapple with blockers, but he lacks the quickness or length to shed blocks and make plays.

    Coverage

    4/10

    Awareness is crucial for a player in coverage once his speed and quickness start to fade, and Woodley has plenty of it. He sees the ball and can still cut and run to get in position to challenge it. But his flexibility and body control are that of a 31-year-old football player, so speedier offensive players can blow by him.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    67/100

46. Jonathan Newsome, Indianapolis Colts

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    35/50

    A two-game starter who appeared in 14 games, Jonathan Newsome saw his production drop in his second season, largely because of a dip in snaps and a smaller role in the Indianapolis Colts defense. Newsome logged just one sack, six hurries and one quarterback hit after posting 6.5 sacks as a rookie. Playing roughly 180 fewer snaps definitely factored in, but in 2015, he was asked to roam and never got set at left or right side ‘backer. Newsome’s quickness and leverage skills translate to the NFL, though, and he could be in for a bigger role in 2016.

    Run Defense

    17/30

    Coming out of Ball State, Newsome was seen as a long, agile pass-rusher with limited strength to stop the run. That’s still the profile on him today. He doesn’t stack up well when a lineman gets his hands on him, and until he learns to disengage and keep his arms free, he’ll be limited in the run game.

    Coverage

    5/10

    Newsome is a fine zone-coverage linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He understands depth and has the hips to sink and then plant to drive up on a receiver or tight end. He can get lost going through transitions in route trees, but he knows how to use a subtle pull or jersey grab to help his cause.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    67/100

45. Ahmad Brooks, San Francisco 49ers

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    34/50

    Ahmad Brooks has seen it all in his career, and as the right outside linebacker in the San Francisco 49ers’ 3-4 scheme, he’s asked to stuff the run, drop into coverage and, most importantly, get after the quarterback. Given that his snap count has dropped over the last two seasons—down around 75 percent after he routinely played around 90 percent during the preceding three years—Brooks’ production has dropped, too. In 2015, he logged 6.5 sacks, three quarterback hits and 26 hurries. Those numbers are solid, but a lack of first-step quickness from Brooks has the 49ers replacing him with younger, faster pass-rushers for spells.

    Run Defense

    20/30

    Brooks remains a stout defender against the run, and playing on the right side of the defense, he sees his fair share of action. Brooks’ 27 stops in 2015 were well-noticed on film, but his 11 missed tackles also came up in our discussion of his impact and talent.

    Coverage

    3/10

    The days of Brooks locking up a tight end down the seam are gone. He’s still able to play aggressively at the line of scrimmage, but he’s not a turn-and-run linebacker and will likely be phased out in coverage situations more often in 2016.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    67/100

44. David Bass, Tennessee Titans

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    35/50

    A former seventh-rounder from tiny Missouri Western State, David Bass contributed on 52 percent of the Tennessee Titans' snaps in his third season. As a pass-rusher, Bass is still raw with his hand use and has to work on finding a secondary pass-rush move outside of a speed move, but he was able to collect 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hits and 12 hurries as a part-time player. Continuing to add strength and learning to redirect from punches will help Bass continue to climb the list.

    Run Defense

    15/30

    Bass can look lost against the run, and while he has good size at 6’4” and 256 pounds, he doesn’t stand up well when confronted at the point of attack. Bass is still learning to use his size and power to stack up blockers.

    Coverage

    7/10

    One area where Bass’ athleticism was able to shine in his seven starts was in coverage. He logged one interception and only allowed one touchdown on 10 targets. Bass didn’t often play in pass coverage, but when he did, he was able to limit targets and show the agility and footwork to merit a bigger role there.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    67/100

43. Erik Walden, Indianapolis Colts

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    36/50

    Erik Walden doesn’t have the speed to come off the edge and get to the passer, but he is strong and can generate good pressure and disrupt the pocket. Playing alongside Robert Mathis has helped him be more creative with his pass rush, but he is still limited and lacks burst.

    Run Defense

    17/30

    As mentioned before, Walden is strong and can set the edge. He struggles with angles and taking on blockers. Too many blockers get into his frame, and he has to work to get past them. He needs to keep himself free of blockers to meet his run-stopping potential. When he was in the right position, he was a sure tackler, missing only four tackles in 2015. He attacks ball-carriers and drives them back for negative plays with his strength and solid technique.

    Coverage

    4/10

    If Walden isn’t being used at the line to jam tight ends off their routes, he isn’t being useful in coverage. He lacks quickness and isn’t able to recover from too many mistakes.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    67/100

42. Mike Neal, Green Bay Packers

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    33/50

    The 2015 season was Mike Neal’s most productive—right in time for free agency. On the year, he posted four sacks, six quarterback hits and 25 hurries while playing close to 70 percent of the Green Bay Packers’ snaps. Neal is a stout, physical rusher, and at 6’3” and 262 pounds, he’s able to line up in multiple spots, generate pressure and move the line of scrimmage. Neal, a 15-game starter in 2015, could line up as a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker with success.

    Run Defense

    22/30

    Neal’s power and size came in handy on rushing downs. He’s able to fight a pulling guard or a reaching tackle and gain position to take on the back. And while his technique can get a little stiff at times, Neal understands timing and does well reading and reacting on the fly.

    Coverage

    3/10

    As a bigger linebacker, Neal is predictably weak in coverage. He’ll handle jamming tight ends at the line of scrimmage, but if you ask him to take a zone drop and read the play, he’s average when compared to the quicker, more agile ‘backers in the league today.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    68/100

41. Calvin Pace, New York Jets

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    35/50

    A 13-year veteran, Calvin Pace does not have the foot speed or quickness to be an elite pass-rusher anymore. He is able to utilize a variety of pass-rush moves to make up for his lost step and struggles with quick blockers. At this stage in his career, Pace is best served as a situational pass-rusher and should look for a role where he can play with his hand in the dirt rather than standing up outside the tackle.

    Run Defense

    19/30

    Pace has exceptional strength and sets the edge against the most talented blockers while also anchoring well. His strength allows him to keep blockers out of his frame and doesn’t allow runners to get to his outside. In over 500 snaps played, Pace only missed three tackles. He is able to play with aggression, but he targets too high and isn’t the punishing tackler he once was.

    Coverage

    4/10

    The veteran shows a great ability to read and react in coverage. Even though he is not as fast as he used to be, he can still make plays on the ball and disrupt passes.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    68/100

40. Armonty Bryant, Cleveland Browns

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    37/50

    After seeing limited snaps in his first two seasons, Armonty Bryant was able to get on the field and make plays in 2015. The big linebacker is able to utilize an above-average swim move in his pass rush and uses his hands well to stack and shed blockers. He had a breakout game against the Titans in Week 2, recording 2.5 sacks.

    Run Defense

    17/30

    Bryant is a long-stride runner, which makes him look slower than he is, but he can chase down running backs and set the edge playing outside in the 3-4 defense. His length helps him beat cut blocks, and his athleticism lets him make plays in the open field. He has a tendency to play high at times and reach too often. He only recorded two missed tackles in 2015, but he needs to improve on running through ball-carriers and not reaching for them.

    Coverage

    4/10

    Cleveland hasn’t asked Bryant to drop in coverage much. He is best suited for rushing the passer every play, at least until he gets in more work on his coverage technique. Playing with his hand in the dirt in college helped him develop his pass rush, but he is still a liability in coverage.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    68/100

39. Jarvis Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    39/50

    Jarvis Jones finally started living up to his potential in 2015. He was only able to record two sacks, but he generated more pressure and showed much more promise as a pass-rusher. With his athletic ability and strength, Jones is an ideal player for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. Jones has the heavy hands to punch and utilize a bull rush, while his feet help him drive blockers back and collapse the pocket.

    Run Defense

    15/30

    His strength lets him set the edge and keep his outside shoulder free to make plays in the run game, and his speed allows him to crash down the line and make plays on the opposite side of the field. Jones can struggle to shed bigger blockers and tries to play with too much finesse at times.

    Tackling is an area that needs improving as soon as possible. Jones missed 10 tackles in just over 500 snaps played. Part of the problem is that he looks to deliver a knockout blow with every tackle and doesn’t see tackles with his head up. Ball-carriers are able to make moves just before the tackle, and Jones is unable to adjust because he doesn’t see them.

    Coverage

    4/10

    When asked to cover the flats, Jones is a solid coverage player. When asked to take deep drops or run in man coverage, however, he is overmatched and unable to stay with his man.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    68/100

38. Alex Okafor, Arizona Cardinals

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    38/50

    A third-year pass-rusher out of Texas, Alex Okafor started 13 games for the Arizona Cardinals in 2015. While his sack production fell from eight to two, he managed to improve his number of hits on quarterbacks (eight) and hurries (26). Okafor is built more like a 4-3 defensive end at 6’4” and 261 pounds, and he hasn’t been his best in a stand-up role for the Cardinals. With his hand in the dirt, Okafor can use his length and power to jolt linemen at the snap. When lined up in space, he doesn’t have the quickness to capitalize on the separation created by his alignment.

    Run Defense

    18/30

    Okafor is able to hold up on his own in the run game thanks to his stout playing style and natural strength. Coming out of Texas, this was Okafor’s best asset, and he has the hand strength and speed to stack up blockers before shedding or ripping them to get to the ball. As a pro, he has to work on keeping his pad level even and consistent at the point of attack.

    Coverage

    3/10

    As a college defensive end, Okafor came into the NFL with little coverage experience. That’s been the knock on him throughout his career, and in the Cardinals’ hybrid scheme, he’s rarely a factor in coverage.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    69/100

37. Arthur Moats, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    37/50

    While Arthur Moats only recorded four sacks in 2015, he also finished the year with 30 hurries. The 60 Moats doesn’t have the length to extend his arms and beat tackles. However, he has an impressive first step and plays with great leverage when getting around the edge.

    Run Defense

    19/30

    Moats low center of gravity and functional strength help him get through blockers and get into running lanes. Most players at his position focus on one thing: getting to the quarterback. Moats, however, takes pride in playing the run and did well in 2015, recording only five missed tackles. Moats is able to play with leverage and hit runners low with good strength and balance on initial contact.

    Coverage

    3/10

    Moats is at his best when he is playing the run or getting to the quarterback. His coverage ability is subpar, he plays stiff in space and he lacks the speed to run with tight ends.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    69/100

36. Shane Ray, Denver Broncos

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    38/50

    Another rookie linebacker who excels as an outside pass-rusher, Shane Ray is able to use his hands and a variety of head fakes to get past tackles. He needs to add more pass-rush moves to make him more effective late in games, namely after tackles have seen his primary rush moves.

    Run Defense

    16/30

    Ray doesn’t have the ideal length for an outside linebacker, and he struggles to beat blockers in the run game. His hand use is very efficient in the pass rush, but he relies too much on his hands in the run game and not enough on putting a shoulder into a blocker.

    Ray missed zero tackles in 2015 while playing 414 snaps. That’s a great way to start your career, and he will look to bring that same production again next year. The flexibility he has allows him to get low on the ball-carrier and put his pads on his hips, knocking him off balance and driving him to the ground.

    Coverage

    5/10

    He has the talent to drop into coverage, and he is also able to plant and get back underneath. Ray has allowed athletic tight ends to beat him with head fakes and struggles to run with them as well. He needs to use his punch to knock bigger tight ends off their routes and not rely so much on his speed and quickness.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    69/100

35. Paul Kruger, Cleveland Browns

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    Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    41/50

    Paul Kruger is a talented pass-rusher who will use his hands and long arms to disengage from blockers and get to the passer. His strength lets him stunt inside and take on blockers better than most. Kruger doesn’t have elite speed, but he is able to close on quarterbacks and bend the edge.

    Run Defense

    16/30

    Kruger plays well at the line of scrimmage and keeps blockers from driving him back. Even though he doesn’t have elite-level speed, he has short-area quickness that allows him to get into rushing lanes and make plays in the backfield. With only eight missed tackles in just over 700 snaps, Kruger is a reliable tackler. Even though he plays upright, the Utah product is able to outmuscle most ball-carriers he meets in the box and force them down. When chasing backs or breaking down in space, ball-carriers give Kruger problems.

    Coverage

    3/10

    Playing in space is a problem for the 270-pound linebacker. He gets to the flats and can make plays on the ball, but is a liability in man coverage and doesn’t run well.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    70/100

34. Nick Perry, Green Bay Packers

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    37/50

    Nick Perry hasn’t lived up to his potential with the Green Bay Packers, but he has been a reliable pass-rusher. While the former first-round pick has had a few disappointing seasons, he continues to show up in postseason games, recording 3.5 sacks in two playoff games this season.

    Run Defense

    20/30

    Against the run, Perry is better than most at his position. He is able to read like a more traditional linebacker and use his hands and quickness to get into running lanes. Perry needs to bring the same tenacity to the pass rush that he brings against the run. He had six missed tackles for the second straight year, a high number for a player only seeing 400 snaps a season. Leverage is still an issue, and he needs to improve his initial contact as well as his wrap-up.

    Coverage

    3/10

    Perry seldomly drops into coverage, and seems to look lost when he does. While he is an athletic linebacker, he does not plant and break well and is not able to stick with tight ends upfield.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    70/100

33. Eli Harold, San Francisco 49ers

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    38/50

    A rookie third-round pick out of Virginia, Eli Harold started just one game in 2015 but saw action in all 16 and made an impact as a right outside linebacker in the San Francisco 49ers’ 3-4 scheme. While Harold didn’t record a sack in his 344 snaps, he did produce four quarterback hits and 10 hurries. Most importantly, as the season wore on, he started to play better and saw his role increase. Harold is an explosive athlete with the length to be a factor once he gains strength and improves his hand use to counter blockers.

    Run Defense

    19/30

    When asked to stack blockers, Harold showed the fire, but not the power to consistently make plays as the lead run defender on the edge. A key for his development will be adding lower-body strength to better anchor and contain on the edge. As it stands now, his athleticism allows him to get into the backfield to make plays only when uncontested or when he wins with speed.

    Coverage

    3/10

    A lack of instincts in pass coverage haunted Harold in his rookie season and kept him off the field in passing situations. Harold is inexperienced when asked to take a pass drop, and while he’s quick enough to plant and drive on the ball, his timing to see the play and get to the ball needs work.

    Position Value

    10/10 

    Overall

    70/100

32. Nate Orchard, Cleveland Browns

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    40/50

    One of the most impressive-looking players at the 2015 Senior Bowl, Nate Orchard backed it up with his play as a rookie with the Cleveland Browns. His initial burst out of a two-point stance is ridiculous, and tackles struggle to get their hands on him when he goes inside. While Orchard is still learning how to play at this level, he has great potential as a pass-pusher that will make him climb up our charts in no time.

    Run Defense

    17/30

    Orchard is a natural pass-rusher out of the two-point stance, but that aggression to get to the passer leads to overpursuing running plays. He struggles to set the edge in the run game and doesn’t engage or disengage from blockers well.

    Coverage

    3/10

    Much like Armonty Bryant, the Browns love to rush their outside linebackers and not put them into coverage often. Orchard’s athletic ability to drop in coverage and run with tight ends is there, but it is not something he is comfortable doing, and it doesn’t seem like the Browns were comfortable with him doing it either.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    70/100

31. Julius Peppers, Green Bay Packers

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    40/50

    With another 10-plus-sack season, Julius Peppers tied for the third-most sacks at his position (10.5) and is tied for ninth on the all-time sack list with 136. He is a freakish athlete who uses a variety of different skills and techniques to get to the passer. Even though Peppers weighs 287 pounds, he plays with finesse and quickness to beat blockers off the ball while also using his strength to bull rush and rip through blockers.

    Run Defense

    18/30

    Peppers has struggled more against the run in recent years. He allows himself to get pushed back and doesn’t attack blockers with the force or strength that he needs to. His 6’7” frame makes it difficult to play lower than fullbacks and pulling guards against the run.

    In 2015, Peppers was able to improve on his ability as a sure tackler. The Packers' decision to move him to outside linebacker in 2014 required a transition, as it put him out in space more often. His five missed tackles show he is adjusting to the scheme of playing outside linebacker and is becoming more comfortable tackling in space and utilizing his natural ability.

    Coverage

    3/10

    Peppers has rare athletic ability and may very well be the NFL’s most athletic player, but he has been limited by playing defensive end for most of his career. Even though he is raw in coverage, he has no problems checking tight ends at the line or redirecting routes of players in his coverage area.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    71/100

30. Courtney Upshaw, Baltimore Ravens

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    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    35/50

    In Courtney Upshaw’s fourth NFL season, he once again failed to log an impact as a pass-rusher. He set a new career high with two sacks, but added just five quarterback hits and 14 hurries while starting the final 15 games of the season. Upshaw looks the part, but he struggles to get the burst off the ball to eat up space against offensive tackles, and when he’s engaged with a punch, he doesn’t use his hands well enough to break free and turn the corner. Playing at 6’2” and 272 pounds is something for him to consider changing, as he could benefit from the added burst and flexibility that playing around 255 pounds would offer.

    Run Defense

    24/30

    Give Upshaw credit for being a willing player against the run. He’s a technically savvy player and uses his leverage and length well to keep his outside arm free when setting the edge. Upshaw’s 46 tackles in 2015 ranked fifth among 3-4 OLBs, and he set a personal best by forcing two fumbles.

    Coverage

    3/10

    The Baltimore Ravens could stand to upgrade in the coverage department at outside linebacker. Upshaw’s lack of flexibility and quick feet show up in a bad way when he’s matched up against quicker backs and tight ends.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    72/100

29. John Simon, Houston Texans

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    38/50

    Much like Melvin Ingram, John Simon played all over the field during his time at Ohio State and was then asked to learn a new position when coming into the NFL. The third-year pro had his most productive year in 2015, recording a career-high five sacks, seven quarterback hits and 14 hurries. Simon plays with leverage and offers good functional strength, but lacks adequate speed coming off the edge and is still adjusting to playing upright in the 3-4 defense.

    Run Defense

    21/30

    Simon’s first step isn’t ideal for the position, and he can be late on reading runs. However, his strength is noteworthy. He plays well in the box and can sift through the trash to find running lanes, as well as stack blockers and keep his head up to see what is coming at him.

    He lacks speed to chase ball-carriers, but sets the edge well and works runners back inside. The naturally strong linebacker had 10 missed tackles in 2015, which is far too many. Part of that is due to closing speed and not being able to get to ball-carriers, and part of it is struggling to read plays. If Simon can get himself into position, he is a sure tackler, but he did not always do that in 2015.

    Coverage

    3/10

    Coverage skills are just not there yet for the former Buckeye. Simon saw a lot of playing time at tackle at Ohio State before moving out to end and never worked in coverage. Coming into the NFL, there has been an obvious learning curve with getting into drops and turning and running.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    72/100

28. Derrick Morgan, Tennessee Titans

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    40/50

    At 6’3”, 261 pounds, Derrick Morgan has ideal size to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. His burst off the line is adequate, and even though he doesn’t generate much in the box score (4.5 sacks in 2015), he is able to pressure the passer and make plays in the backfield. Morgan also saw his season shortened by injury. After tearing a labrum in October, he played through the injury as best he could until eventually landing on the IR list in December.

    Run Defense

    18/30

    As a left outside linebacker, Morgan is asked to play the run more often than players who play on the right side. He takes pride in doing so, and crashes down the line hard to make plays on the opposite side of the field. His strength lets him set the edge and keep plays inside. However, five missed tackles in 500-plus snaps is not ideal for a linebacker. Morgan will need to get healthy and play with a better pad level in 2016.

    Coverage

    4/10

    Morgan was only thrown at six times in 2015, showing the ability to make plays in space and recognize players in his area. He won’t run with tight ends up the field, but he can redirect at the line and get to the flats well.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    72/100

27. Markus Golden, Arizona Cardinals

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    40/50

    Shane Ray was the big name coming out of Mizzou in 2015, but it was Markus Golden who shined in the NFL. Golden holds his own at the point of attack and is a relentless rusher. He makes up for his lack of speed and burst by continuing to fight through blockers and get into passers.

    Run Defense

    19/30

    Playing 4-3 end in college helped Golden get comfortable playing in the trenches. He can set the edge well for a linebacker and plays well with his hands for a rookie. He doesn’t have the short-area quickness to work down the line but is not easily taken out of plays. Golden can bring down the ball-carrier in space, but until he works on stacking up blockers, he’ll remain a work in progress here.

    Coverage

    3/10

    The Cardinals were not afraid to get Golden into the flats in coverage, but they did not ask him to work deep into coverage or run with receivers. He has a solid punch and can knock bigger tight ends off their routes.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    72/100

26. Lamarr Houston, Chicago Bears

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    Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    37/50

    Lamarr Houston has great size (6'3", 270 lbs) and strength for an outside linebacker. In addition, Houston has long arms and keeps blockers out of his pads. Many teams looked at Houston as a tackle in the 2010 draft before the Raiders took him as a defensive end.

    Run Defense

    21/30

    His experience playing along the defensive line makes him dangerous against the run. Houston is able to engage smaller blockers and keep his leverage when engaged with bigger blockers. His power helps him get down the line and and make plays other linebackers would not be able to. Houston was an impressive tackler to say the least. He recorded zero missed tackles in 2015 and had only three in 2014. He attacks the ball and delivers a punishing blow that few ball-carriers are ready for.

    Coverage

    4/10

    The same experience that makes him dangerous against the run makes him a liability in coverage. Until recently, Houston had few snaps dropping in coverage, and he does not have ideal speed or change-of-direction ability for coverage.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    72/100

25. Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts

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    Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    40/50

    Robert Mathis has first-step quickness that nearly everyone in the league is jealous of. After missing 2014, Mathis wasn't as productive as he was in 2013, but he looked just as quick. His ability to move inside and outside keeps tackles guessing, and if they guess wrong, he is already past them. As long as his shoulder dip and spin move are working, Mathis can serve as a productive situational pass-rusher.

    Run Defense

    17/30

    Playing against the run isn't something Mathis does well. He overpursues the passer and leaves running lanes open. He struggles to recognize run plays, making him a step late at times. Mathis is able to close on ball-carriers and drive through at the point of attack. He only recorded three missed tackles in 2015 while playing over 500 snaps.

    Coverage

    6/10

    Mathis is not a coverage linebacker. He plays stiff in space and has limited change-of-direction ability. Mathis needs to rush the passer in order to be effective on passing downs.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    73/100

24. Elvis Dumervil, Baltimore Ravens

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    42/50

    A fourth-round pick in the 2006 NFL draft, Elvis Dumervil continues to be an impact player when challenging offenses off the edge. Playing as a starter at outside linebacker in the Baltimore Ravens' hybrid scheme, Dumervil had six sacks and 16 quarterback hits, and he made his biggest mark by totaling 42 hurries on the year. With his signature quickness off the snap and natural leverage and pad-height advantage, Dumervil is still capable of bending the edge.

    Run Defense

    16/30

    Despite being a small player (listed at 5'11", 255 lbs), Dumervil has always been good at getting underneath the pads of blockers and finding the football in the run game. As more of a situational player in 2015, despite starting all 16 games, Dumervil still gives a solid pop to blockers in space coming off the edge and will get into the backfield to make tackles on outside runs.

    Coverage

    5/10

    When asked to play in coverage, Dumervil holds his own with quickness and awareness in zone coverage. He's no longer a great matchup with tight ends going down the seam, but he gets his zone drop and can make plays if the ball is in front of him.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    73/100

23. Preston Smith, Washington Redskins

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    39/50

    Standing at 6'5", 271 pounds, Preston Smith may be the biggest player at his position. His size and strength are ideal, as well as his hand use. His long arms and hands keep linemen from getting into his pads, and the big man is sneakily athletic, posting a 4.74-second time in the 40-yard dash at the 2015 combine. Smith needs to work on getting off the ball and his timing to be more disruptive in 2016.

    Run Defense

    20/30

    Quickness is an issue for Smith, and he isn't able to react to what he is reading. Smith sheds well and keeps blockers off him, but he needs work on engaging blockers and getting free. He brings an aggressive wrap-up and has the power to drive through ball-carriers. Smith has to make sure he doesn't get tired and play too high. Some of his tackles came at the shoulder of the ball-carrier, and that won't work on most NFL running backs.

    Coverage

    5/10

    Like the previous players, Smith had almost no experience dropping into coverage coming into the NFL. His inability to move in space and run with tight ends makes him a liability in coverage. His size allows him to cover up some of his mistakes and poor footwork. But when you are 6'5", it is hard for an offensive player to create enough separation in a short and quick passing game.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    74/100

22. Sam Acho, Chicago Bears

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    Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    37/50

    In his first year with the Chicago Bears, Sam Acho was not able to generate much pass rush and failed to record any sacks. He has the strength and punch to get blockers off balance with a bull rush, but lacks any secondary moves to make him effective against the pass.

    Run Defense

    22/30

    Bigger blockers keep him off the edge, and plays get outside of him too often. Acho needs to work on anchoring and shedding blockers to keep plays inside and his leverage outside. He plays through the whistle and is relentless getting to the ball. His limited reach makes it difficult to get a good wrap on ball-carriers, and he doesn't play with natural aggression. However, he doesn't quit on plays and doesn't give up on tackles. Acho needs to play with better leverage to improve on his eight missed tackles in 2015.

    Coverage

    5/10

    As a weak pass-rusher, Acho has had to develop his skills as a coverage linebacker. He shows the awareness to stick on a tight end's hip and enough quickness to disrupt underneath routes.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    74/100

21. Connor Barwin, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    44/50

    Connor Barwin is a productive pass-rusher and spends most of his time in opposing teams' backfields. His bull rush has been his go-to move. Even though he added more finesse moves this season, he can almost always generate pressure with his primary bull rush. He's much better suited to playing defensive end in a 4-3 scheme than the 3-4 set the Philadelphia Eagles ran under Chip Kelly.

    Run Defense

    18/30

    A lack of speed and quickness doesn't help in the run game, and Barwin and the Eagles suffered for that in 2015. Barwin struggled to chase down ball-carriers on the outside and missed many opportunities trying to get to the passer on run plays. In over 1,000 snaps played, Barwin only missed five tackles. His ability to drive through a ball-carrier and attack with good leverage makes him one of the surest tacklers at his position.

    Coverage

    3/10

    Change of direction is a problem for Barwin, but getting to passers is not, which is why he will rarely drop back into coverage. When he has dropped back into coverage, he is a liability.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    75/100

20. Jeremiah Attaochu, San Diego Chargers

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    37/50

    Jeremiah Attaochu didn't see much action as a rookie in 2014, but he had a strong showing in 2015. He doesn't offer much in terms of physical ability. He isn't the fastest, strongest or biggest, but he goes all out every play. He closes hard on passers and continues to improve his inside and outside pass-rush moves.

    Run Defense

    22/30

    A very disciplined football player, Attaochu plays the run well and doesn't get caught chasing down quarterbacks. Playing with leverage and anchoring allows him to match up against talented tackles and set the edge. He has enough speed to chase ball-carriers to the outside and enough strength to work down the line. In order to become a more complete linebacker, Attaochu needs to continue to add strength. His six missed tackles are not high, but do need improving. He still lunges for tackles and needs to run through ball-carriers.

    Coverage

    6/10

    Zone drops looked good, and he's much improved through the hips. He won't do much turning and running but has enough ability and work ethic to develop into a complete linebacker.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    75/100

19. Trent Cole, Indianapolis Colts

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    40/50

    Trent Cole has seen his sack totals drop throughout his career. Tackles have caught on to the fact that he is limited to outside moves only. His quickness off the ball is still above average, but it is evident that he is losing a step. Cole will need to develop secondary rush moves in order to stay relevant in the league over the years to come.

    Run Defense

    20/30

    Making a living by rushing the quarterback, Cole has never been strong against the run. He lacks strength and overpursues rushing lanes on his way to an empty-handed quarterback. Missed tackles were not an issue in 2015; however, Cole was only able to record 26 tackles. His four missed tackles were too many for a player with so few tackles.

    Coverage

    6/10

    Even though he has played most of his career as a pass-rush end, Cole wasn't terrible in coverage. He was rarely asked to drop in coverage, but showed good quickness and agility to the flats. Cole cannot run with tight ends, and coaches will not ask him to, but he can use enough of a punch to delay routes and get receivers off balance.

    Position Value

    10/10 

    Overall

    76/100

18. Shaquil Barrett, Denver Broncos

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    39/50

    A practice squad player in 2014, Barrett was able to break out and shine for the Broncos in 2015. Barrett transformed his body and added a lot of muscle mass. By getting into better shape, Barrett improved his first step and worked on bending the edge. His 5.5 sacks were an impressive start to what is hopefully a long career.

    Run Defense

    22/30

    Used mostly as an outside rusher, Barrett was able to hold his own and set the edge in the run game. He can get down the line and had good instincts to put himself in position to make plays. The second-year man was able to be a more complete linebacker than first-round pick Shane Ray, and he filled in nicely when DeMarcus Ware went down. With only two missed tackles, Barrett was a reliable tackler and brought some force with him as well. Barrett forced four fumbles last season and played a big role on the league's No. 1 defense.

    Coverage

    5/10

    The Denver Broncos did not ask Barrett to do much in coverage. He doesn't have the length to match up with bigger tight ends and lacks adequate speed. Out of his 15 targets, the receiver caught 11 passes—too many for a player playing so few snaps.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    76/100

17. Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins

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    Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    41/50

    Consistency is the strongest asset to Ryan Kerrigan's game. Not only has he never missed a game or start in his five seasons, but he brings reliable play as one of the league's finest pass-rushers. In 2015, Kerrigan was able to hurry the quarterback an outstanding 46 times. His ability to get after passers and change the timing of the offense is rare; his ability to bring the same relentless effort on every play is unbelievable.

    Run Defense

    22/30

    His lower body allows him to win against the run. Kerrigan anchors well with strength and has enough flexibility to gain leverage and work the edge. Playing on the left side of the defense, Kerrigan sees more action against the run and is able to hold his own against physical right tackles. Thirty-three tackles to only four misses in 2015 qualifies him as a reliable tackler, no surprise. Similar to the rest of his play, his tackles might not wow you, but he gets the job done and does it better than most.

    Coverage

    4/10

    Utilized mostly as a pass-rusher, Kerrigan doesn't see many plays in coverage. When he has dropped into coverage, he has enough turn-and-run ability to be an adequate coverage linebacker and is also able to make a play on the ball. He has had two pick-sixes in his short NFL career.

    Position Value

    10/10 

    Overall

    77/100

16. Trent Murphy, Washington Redskins

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    Tim Sharp/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    41/50

    At 6'5", 258 pounds, Trent Murphy has ideal size and strength for the position. He isn't the most athletic or fluid mover in a straight line, but Murphy can bend the corner and get after passers. His length helps keep him free of blockers, and his punch can drive anyone back. He's learned a solid bull rush and has started doing work on tackles from both a stand-up linebacker position and down at defensive end.

    Run Defense

    18/30

    His run defense is a work in progress, as the big man struggles to find running lanes and doesn't have the technique to take on move blockers. Missed tackles have not been a problem for the second-year linebacker. With only two in 2015 and three in 2014, Murphy has no problem wrapping up ball-carriers and driving through.

    Coverage

    8/10

    His ability to drop in coverage was much improved from year one to year two. Murphy is still working on getting good depth in his drops and doesn't move well laterally, but he wins with read-and-react skills and toughness in jamming tight ends off the ball.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    77/100

15. Aldon Smith, Oakland Raiders

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    41/50

    It wasn't long ago that Aldon Smith was the premier 3-4 rush linebacker. After a slew of off-field issues, Smith found himself on the other side of the San Francisco Bay. His physical ability is there, but Smith can't keep himself on the field to showcase his ability to get to the passer.

    Run Defense

    22/30

    The talented young player has the ability to keep tackles off him, but he is too greedy. Looking to get closer to his 19.5-sack season, Smith is solely focused on getting past blockers and getting to passers. Physical ability is not a problem for him; however, staying focused and staying on the field are huge issues.

    His ridiculously long arms make it difficult for any ball-carrier to get away from him. Add in his strength, and he has the ability to be one of the best tacklers in the game. Smith only had two missed tackles in 2015, and he has never had issues with poor tackling, as long as he can stay mentally prepared.

    Coverage

    4/10

    For a 265-pound linebacker, Smith is able to move well in space and drop into coverage. His ability as a pass-rusher makes him more of a weapon for getting after quarterbacks and not matching up against tight ends.

    Position Value

    10/10 

    Overall

    77/100

14. James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    42/50

    It wasn't that long ago that James Harrison was retired, and now he's back to making life hell for quarterbacks on Sundays. Harrison (6'0", 242 lbs) isn't the biggest player, but he's made a career out of playing at high levels of intensity and using his natural leverage to his advantage. Harrison is quick to bend the edge and still has the timing to beat tackles off the blocks. From there, he can use his hands and arms to keep his body free from blockers, and he has the agility to turn the corner and press the pocket. In flashes, Harrison plays as well at 37 as he did at 27, but he's now a part-time player in pass-rushing situations.

    Run Defense

    20/30

    Harrison can still take on blockers off the edge of the defense, and no fullback or tight end wants this guy running at him full speed when the ball is in space. Harrison plays at 100 percent all the time and packs a big punch as a tackler both in space and in traffic. He's not as active against the run now that he's splitting snaps with the younger outside linebackers in Pittsburgh, but Harrison can still be a nightmare to runs outside the hashes.

    Coverage

    7/10

    Harrison plays well moving backward, and when asked to get into a zone drop and read the pass, he's quick to read and react when the ball is in the air. He'll lay the wood on tight ends or receivers crossing his face.

    Position Value

    10/10 

    Overall

    79/100

13. Willie Young, Chicago Bears

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    41/50

    Willie Young is one of the quickest players at his position, with great hands to match. His 33 hurries and 6.5 sacks made him a threat on every pass play. Young has seen two productive seasons with the Chicago Bears and was one of few bright spots for their defense.

    Run Defense

    22/30

    Not only can he bend the edge in a pass rush, but he can get down the line and make plays against the run. Young was able to use his quickness to stay outside and anchor against bigger, stronger tackles. With 27 tackles, Young didn't put himself around the ball that often, but he only missed one tackle in 2015. He has the tendency to play too upright, but it hasn't been a problem in his tackling.

    Coverage

    6/10

    With most of his career being played as a defensive end, Young doesn't have much technique in coverage. He is athletic enough to match up on tight ends, but struggles to turn and run. As he gets more and more comfortable with the position, Young could develop into a formidable coverage linebacker as well.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    79/100

12. Melvin Ingram, San Diego Chargers

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    44/50

    Melvin Ingram had a career year in sacks in 2015, posting 10.5. His rare ability to play so many different positions and line up all over the field makes it difficult for opposing offenses to find him. His strength and leverage make him difficult to block when they do find him. Ingram is quick off the ball and has enough speed to bend the edge and get in the backfield; he uses his hands to shed blockers and get in passing windows.

    Run Defense

    22/30

    Ingram improved his ability to anchor against the run and did a much better job when facing pulling linemen in 2015. Not many plays got outside of him, and he was able to pursue the ball on stretch plays to the outside. Ingram still needs work on keeping free of blockers and not letting them get into his pads. Staying healthy in 2015 was key for Ingram, marking the first time in his career that he started all 16 games. His eight missed tackles are not a problem yet, but Ingram will need to continue to work on getting his short arms wrapped around bigger ball-carriers and not letting them break tackles when he has them in his grasp.

    Coverage

    3/10

    During his college career Ingram played defensive end and was not asked to drop in coverage. That made the transition to the NFL tough for him. He is still a liability in coverage, but has shown great improvements during his four seasons in the league.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    79/100

11. Brian Orakpo, Tennessee Titans

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    Weston Kenney/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    43/50

    Another Texas defensive lineman, Brian Orakpo has had an up-and-down career, battling injury and coaching changes. In his first season with the Tennessee Titans, Orakpo recorded seven sacks and showed that, when healthy, he is an elite pass-rusher. He has ideal speed and is flexible enough to bend the edge or work inside the tackle.

    Run Defense

    20/30

    He has the strength to set the edge and the quickness to get down the line. Orakpo needs to stay disciplined in the run game and not always look to get to the passer. He can easily be taken out of plays by always playing the pass. Missed tackles have been a problem for Orakpo after being a reliable tackler early in his career. Getting caught out of position and trying to make up for it has led to missed tackles and not putting good contact on ball-carriers.

    Coverage

    6/10

    Washington rarely used him in coverage, and neither did the Titans. He has the quickness and athletic ability, but struggles in space to keep up with tight ends.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    79/100

10. Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    45/50

    In his 10th NFL season, Tamba Hali was once again among the NFL's best pass-rushers. Playing in 15 games, and starting 14 of them, he logged 6.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits but stood out from the crowd with 55 hurries.

    Hali, at this stage of his career, has become an excellent setup man for Justin Houston on the other side, and given that he's battling against left tackles every week, the pressures and sacks he does accumulate are valuable. Even as his quickness starts to leave, Hali beats tackles with excellent hand use and the strong arms to shed, bat or swim blocks.

    Run Defense

    22/30

    Hali remains stout against the run off the left side of the offensive line given his size (6'3", 275 lbs) and instincts when the ball is coming his way. He's long enough to stack up blockers, and he'll shed a tackle or pulling guard to make a play on the run. Hali isn't as great in pursuit, but still got to 40 tackles in 2015.

    Coverage

    2/10

    Hali isn't a coverage linebacker and never has been. In passing situations, you want him pressing the line of scrimmage and going after the quarterback. When asked to drop into space, the fluid hip movement and athleticism he shows as a rusher become clunky and stiff.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    79/100

9. Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    42/50

    Brandon Graham has never been truly at home in the 3-4 defense used by the Philadelphia Eagles, given his natural fit as a 4-3 defensive end. But that hasn't kept him from routinely being one of the top-graded players at the position. Graham uses quickness and agility in his hips and shoulders to get under blockers, and he's strong enough to lock horns with tackles and walk them back into the pocket. That allowed him to score 6.5 sacks, seven quarterback hits and 45 hurries in 2015.

    Run Defense

    20/30

    Even as a part-time player, Graham emerged as a rock-solid run defender this past season. The 6'2", 265-pounder is stout at the point of attack, and uses that skill set to work himself between blockers and into the rushing lane. Graham's 41 tackles were a career best, as were his 10 starts.

    Coverage

    8/10

    Graham has never recorded an interception in his career, but when asked to get into coverage, he handles zone drops well and also has the toughness to line up over a tight end and get physical at the line. Graham is best at keeping his man from getting thrown to, and he held opponents to just nine catches for 35 yards on 10 targets all season.

    Position Value

    10/10 

    Overall

    80/100

8. Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    40/50

    Evaluate Jadeveon Clowney for his on-field performance—which is what we do—and it's hard to overlook just how talented he is. The athleticism Clowney displayed at South Carolina, which made him the No. 1 overall pick in a loaded 2014 draft, isn't completely back after he's dealt with injuries for the better part of two years, but when he flashes that quickness and power combination, few offensive tackles can match him step for step.

    Clowney understands timing, and he jumps the snap with awareness you don't often see in young players. When working in tandem with J.J. Watt, he's able to scoop and stunt to find pass-rushing lanes between the guard and the tackle or outside the tackle's shoulder. Given his length, power and quickness, he has the tools to lead the NFL in sacks if he could ever play 16 games.

    Run Defense

    28/30

    Clowney suffers from Ndamukong Suh syndrome at times—meaning he shoots into the backfield so quickly that offenses use it against him with wham blocks and misdirection to run inside the hole he creates by getting penetration. Still, his length and speed are a nightmare for blockers to deal with on the move. The key for Clowney is learning to engage and shed blockers at the line to stuff the line and stop the run.

    Coverage

    3/10

    As a defensive end in college and an oft-injured player so far in the NFL, Clowney hasn't developed the coverage skills he'll need to play all three downs at outside linebacker. What he does offer here is freakish ability to time his hands and disrupt passing windows for quarterbacks in the pocket.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    81/100

7. Whitney Mercilus, Houston Texans

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    43/50

    Whitney Mercilus has the ability to be a top pass-rusher in the league when he wants to, and he finally saw a breakout season in 2015. His 12 sacks were impressive and ranked second for his position; however, seven of them came in two games. He has exceptional first-step quickness to get around the edge, but cannot counter that with a secondary move. Mercilus took advantage of slower blockers in 2015. Luckily, it paid off.

    Run Defense

    24/30

    His lateral quickness and ability to get off the ball let him work into running lanes with relative ease. Doing less hand-fighting with blockers and reacting to what he is seeing is paying off, as he continues to solidify himself as one of the better 3-4 outside linebackers against the run.

    He still needs work setting the edge and anchoring down against bigger, more physical blockers. With only five missed tackles in 2015, Mercilus has become one of the surest tacklers at the position. He doesn't have many highlight-reel hits, but he has enough force to get to the ball-carrier and pull him down.

    Coverage

    4/10

    Mercilus is still improving his ability to drop in coverage. Even though he is athletic enough, his technique is poor, and he struggles to read plays and get into his coverage area.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    81/100

6. Aaron Lynch, San Francisco 49ers

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    44/50

    The San Francisco 49ers struggled in 2015, but second-year outside linebacker Aaron Lynch improved in every category. As a pass-rusher, he went from six sacks to 6.5, increased his quarterback hits from eight to 13 and saw his hurries go from 27 way up to 42.

    Even as the team around him fell apart, Lynch showed the power, speed and pass-rushing savvy to be a building-block player on defense. As Lynch develops secondary pass-rush moves, he's going to be a handful for offensive tackles given his 6'5", 270-pound frame and above-average first step.

    Run Defense

    22/30

    Lynch has the body type to stack up blockers at the line of scrimmage and the mentality to crash the edge and look for the ball in the run game. Because of that hard-charging first step, he can be overaggressive getting upfield and into the backfield. Lynch has to find a balance between slow-playing the run and still being violent at the point of attack with blockers. Given his length and power, learning to use his hands to better shed blockers will boost his impact in the run game.

    Coverage

    7/10

    You don't expect good coverage skills from someone with Lynch's size, but dating back to his college days at Notre Dame and South Florida, he's been an impressive player in space. Lynch can turn his hips and run with tight ends, and he's strong enough to reroute them at the line of scrimmage with a well-timed jam.

    Position Value

    10/10 

    Overall

    83/100

5. Pernell McPhee, Chicago Bears

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    44/50

    A big, physical pass-rusher coming off the edge at 6'3" and 275 pounds, Pernell McPhee offers a new set of problems for NFL offensive tackles given his mixture of agility and power. In 14 games (12 as a starter) in 2015, McPhee once again excelled as a run-stopper and pass-rusher, adding six sacks, 13 quarterback hits and 48 hurries to his resume. Perhaps even more impressive is that McPhee did this while being the only pass-rusher the Bears put on the field that offenses had to respect. With his first-step power, he can quickly get inside the reach of a tackle and then follow up with impressive power to put him on skates and get in the quarterback's face.

    Run Defense

    26/30

    Good luck moving McPhee off the point of attack. He's capable of being relentless in pursuit and has the length to keep offensive tackles off his body while he remains free to scrape them off and find the ball. McPhee doesn't add a ton of tackles to the tape, but he is excellent at forcing the run back inside to his linebackers and gives the effort to work down the line on run plays away from his spot.

    Coverage

    5/10

    McPhee's background in Baltimore and his current role in Chicago haven't asked him to play often in coverage. He can jam tight ends up at the line of scrimmage, and he'll give hustle on plays to the running back, but on true passing downs, you want him battling the offensive tackle to get to the quarterback.

    Position Value

    10/10 

    Overall

    85/100

4. DeMarcus Ware, Denver Broncos

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    47/50

    Many people thought the end was near when DeMarcus Ware joined the Broncos before the 2014 season. However, his 17.5 sacks in two seasons tell a different story. Ware stills gets around the outside and has developed countless pass-rush moves that he is still able to use today. His ability to use his hands is rare, and his length keeps blockers off him. Although there is no doubt he has lost a step or two, he still managed 7.5 sacks in just 11 games in 2015.

    Run Defense

    23/30

    In the latter part of his career, Ware is used as a pass-rush specialist. He plays mostly passing situations and lets the amazing outside linebacker depth rotate in during run situations. Ware struggles to engage and shed move blockers, but he has the quickness and hand use to make plays in the run game. Missed tackles were not a problem for Ware in 2015, and outside of his nine missed tackles in 2014, they never have been. His long arms and quick hands allow him to secure ball-carriers and drag them down. He won't chase down many ball-carriers, but he's reliable when he gets to them.

    Coverage

    5/10

    As a pass-rusher, you won't see Ware drop into coverage often. He is best utilized to get after quarterbacks and has the ability to disrupt passes at the line.

    Position Value

    10/10 

    Overall

    85/100

3. Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    48/50

    Injuries shortened Justin Houston's season in 2015, which affected his final stat line, but when on the field, he was once again among the premier pass-rushers in the NFL. While playing in 10 full games and part of another, Houston produced 7.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and an impressive 45 hurries.

    Turn on the Week 10 game against the Denver Broncos, and you'll see Houston's quickness and power coming off the right side of the offensive line to the tune of two sacks and eight hurries. When healthy, his 6'3", 258-pound frame allows Houston to beat up tackles with speed, strength, arm length or a plethora of pass-rushing moves, including a shoulder dip and a killer spin move.

    Run Defense

    29/30

    Houston is one of the NFL's most complete defenders coming off the edge, and his impact against the run is a big reason why. With the strength of a 4-3 defensive end, Houston can stack up blockers when he encounters them off the edge. That's a big key to his play at left outside linebacker, given that most NFL teams run off the right side of their line.

    Coverage

    6/10

    In 11 games during the regular season, Houston grabbed two interceptions and showed a smoothness in coverage that many pass-rushing linebackers lack. He will get beaten if his initial jam doesn't stick, and big tight ends do spin into his frame to box out over the middle, but Houston is an opportunistic cover man quarterbacks must be aware of.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    93/100

2. Von Miller, Denver Broncos

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    50/50

    Many fans will remember what Von Miller did in the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl and wonder why he's not ranked first overall. The big reason is that this is a season-long ranking, and while Miller is without a doubt a blue-chip, top-tier talent, he finishes slightly below an AFC West rival.

    As a pass-rusher, Miller does it all. He beats right tackles with speed off the snap and can counter with an amazing bend in his hips and core. Miller plays with his knees bent and his torso at times just inches off the turf as he turns the corner to attack the backfield. That athleticism and technique make him one of the NFL's most dangerous players and allowed him to notch 11 sacks, 21 quarterback hits and 50 hurries.

    Run Defense

    28/30

    The deciding factor for the top 3-4 outside linebacker spot in our rankings came down to run-stopping ability. Miller is very good here, but that patented upfield speed of his can take him out of the play at times. That's not to say he isn't good—he is—but playing out of position can lead to missed tackles and missed opportunities to make plays against the running back in the backfield. Miller's "quarterback or die" philosophy does hold him back in the run game.

    Coverage

    7/10

    Miller isn't thought of as a coverage linebacker, and it's not something he's asked to do often, but he's capable of performing well in that capacity. In fact, when dropping into coverage, Miller is athletic enough to run with tight ends and uses his length and toughness well to control players at the line of scrimmage.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    95/100

1. Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders

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    Ryan Kang/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    50/50

    Khalil Mack became an unstoppable force in his second NFL season. Playing more with his hand in the dirt but still classified by snap count as a 3-4 outside linebacker, Mack did it all off the left edge of the defense. Against the pass, Mack logged an incredible 58 hurries, eight hits and 15 sacks. He was all over quarterbacks with his first-step quickness, hand and arm strength and the nonstop motor that made him a top-five pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Mack can beat tackles with speed out of his stance, with flexibility and agility to dip his shoulder and bend the corner or with pure power.

    Mack ended the year as one of the highest-graded defenders the NFL 1000 project has ever seen.

    Run Defense

    30/30

    As well as Mack graded out as a pass-rusher, he was just as good against the run. Per Pro Football Focus, he notched 54 stops and became the edge-setting defender the Oakland Raiders needed to build their defense around. The same explosive traits that make Mack a stud pass-rusher enable him to get into the backfield and stop the run.

    Coverage

    6/10

    You don't take a lion out of the jungle, and you don't take Mack out of a pass-rushing role. The Raiders didn't overthink this, and Mack only allowed 11 targets all year. To that end, he allowed seven catches and two touchdowns, but did keep his targets from seeing the ball on most of his 99 plays in coverage.

    Position Value

    10/10

    Overall

    96/100