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2011 NFL Draft: Ranking the Top 25 Linebackers Entering the Draft

Nathaniel UyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: Ranking the Top 25 Linebackers Entering the Draft

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    Linebackers are big, bad tackling machines. 

    The great ones have the ability to stop running backs on their tracks and also have the speed and athleticism to match up against bulky tight ends or gritty slot receivers in pass coverage. 

    It's never an exact science when it comes to finding the next Hall of Famer out of the draft because there are other intangibles involved besides impressive numbers in college.

    With that in mind, let's take a look at the upcoming crop of linebackers.  Perhaps one of these guys will be the league's next defensive superstar.

    Here we go.

25. Casey Matthews, ILB, Oregon

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    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'2", 235 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: He's part of the Matthews family, a brood of fierce linebackers.  His brother is Packers star Clay Matthew and his uncle is former NFL star Bruce Matthews. 

    Although Casey is not as highly touted as his older brother, he still has an excellent pedigree, is extremely coachable and has a will to succeed.

24. Adrian Moten, OLB, Maryland

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    Stats: 6'2", 230 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: 67 total tackles, three sacks and four interceptions were the highlights of Moten's best and final season in college.

    A season ago, Moten showed that he was a savvy pass rusher with six sacks.  This year, he showed he can also drop back in coverage and be a factor, grabbing four interceptions.

23. Lawrence Wilson, OLB, UConn

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'1", 226 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: The Huskies were embarrassed by the Oklahoma Sooners passing game led by Landry Jones in the Fiesta Bowl.  And their weak defensive showing has to be pointed towards their pass rush.  For that reason, Wilson's stock could take a hit in the draft.

    However, he is still the best tackler they have at UConn and he has also shown a knack for turning interception into touchdowns, with three pick-six's in his career.

22. Nigel Bradham, OLB, FSU

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'2", 242 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: Only a junior, he comes from a great football program that produces quality linebackers.

    He exhibited a nose for being a tough pass-rusher this season with five sacks.

21. Mike Mohamed, ILB, Cal

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'3", 245 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: He's a big kid with excellent size. 

    Mohamed finished the season strong with a total of 40 tackles in his last three games, playing for rebuilding Cal Bears team that only managed to win five games.

20. Michael Morgan, OLB, USC

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'4", 220 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: USC's defense wasn't exactly at their best this season, but Morgan is a very good athlete that could appeal to many pro teams.

    He has size and speed that makes him a pest on defense.  Morgan somehow always finds himself among the team leaders in tackles for loss.

19. Josh Bynes, ILB, Auburn

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'2", 235 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: With all of the hype surrounding Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, the Tigers' defense has rarely been given any credit. 

    One of the big keys to their defense this year has been the leadership of Bynes a senior.  At linebacker he has the talent to rack up tackles and also shown the skills necessary to be a quality guy in pass coverage.

18. Brian Rolle, OLB, Ohio State

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Stats: 5'10", 218 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: Playing for a Big Ten co-champion, Rolle earned a spot in this year's All-Big Ten First Team. 

    His big highlight this year was a team-high 10 tackles against conference rivals Iowa in Week 12. In that game, Rolle also collected a career-high three tackles for a loss, winning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors.

17. Mason Foster, OLB, Washington

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'2", 242 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: Playing for the Huskies, this linebacker racked up plenty of tackles.  How do you improve upon the 80 total tackles he collected as a junior?  You double it!  Foster totalled 162 tackles (including 105 solo) as a senior. 

    It's pretty obvious, this guy knows how to stop the football.

16. Alex Wujciak, ILB, Maryland

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    Stats: 6'3", 245 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: In his three seasons playing for the Terps, Wojiak was known was their defensive anchor. 

    He may not be as gifted of an athlete as some of the other talents on this list.  But he gets the job done.

15. K.J. Wright, OLB, Mississippi State

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'4", 250 lbs.

    Why He Is Special:  Wright boasts excellent size and his tackling numbers have improved each and every season during his college career. 

    He can be a pest as a pass-rusher but also has the ability to lock down his man on coverage.

14. Mario Harvey, ILB, Marshall

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'0", 250 lbs.

    Why He Is Special:  Forget his short frame, this guy find a way to stop the football.  He was a member of the 2010 Conference USA First-Team and the only semifinalist for the Butkus award to come from a non-AQ school.

    During Week 12 of this season, Harvey notched a career high 21 total tackles and two sacks against Tulane.

13. Mark Herzlich, OLB, Boston College

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'4", 238 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: There was time when Herzlich was one of the best defenders in the nation.  Then he was struck by cancer.  After a year off, Herzlich's cancer is believed to be 99 percent gone. 

    He's been able to return for his senior season and still display the skills that made him a top linebacker.  However, his draft stock will clearly be affected by his bout with cancer.  Nonetheless, Herzlich has already proven he is a great competitor and a true fighter.

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12. Greg Jones, ILB, Michigan State

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'1", 245 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: His size may be a little on the small end for a middle linebacker, but Jones has proven that he has excellent football instincts that makes him a well-balanced defender.

    Jones has turned out to be one of the best linebackers to ever come out of the Spartans program. 

11. Dontay Moch, OLB, Nevada

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    Stats: 6'1", 245 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: Moch is lightning fast, or so they say.  Guys his size aren't supposed to run the 40-yard dash in 4.2 seconds but that's what Moch is capable of doing.

    He's also the WAC's all-time leader in tackles for loss.

10. Quan Sturdivant, ILB, North Carolina

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'2", 235 lbs.

    Why He Is Special:  He's been getting playing time since he was a true freshman with the Tar Heels.  As a sophomore and a junior, Sturdivant led the team in tackles. 

    This year, an injury caused him to miss five games this season.  With his versatility he can jump into the backfield or drop back into coverage.

9. Travis Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'2", 232 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: He's a tackling machine.  Lewis is a workhorse on defense and has a knack for finding the ball carrier. 

    His speed allows him to cover from sideline to sideline and he also has the versatility to be a factor in pass coverage, tallying eight interceptions in his three-year college career.

8. Jeremy Beal, OLB, Oklahoma

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'3", 267 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: This Big 12 defensive end will likely be moved to OLB in the pros. 

    With the Sooners he's shown great speed and explosion trying to stop the football from the line.

7. Kelvin Sheppard, ILB, LSU

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'3", 240 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: Run coverage is his bread and butter.  But he does have the athleticism to become a pest in pass coverage. 

    Sheppard is more than capable of keeping up with quick running backs and big tight ends who cross his path.

6. Justin Houston, OLB/DE, Georgia

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'3", 258 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: This extremely talented pass rusher was a nightmare for SEC quarterbacks this season. 

    He racked up 10 sacks and several tackles for loss leading the team in most defensive categories.  He was also top on the team in quarterback hurries. 

    Although he played defensive end in college, Houston can also fit in 3-4 schemes as a rush linebacker.

5. Bruce Carter, OLB, North Carolina

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'3", 235 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: He's been a starter for three seasons at North Carolina.  Carter has all the tools to excel at the next level, he's a very well-balanced defender, but thrives in pass coverage because of his great athleticism.

4. Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB, Purdue

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'4", 259 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: Although he played defensive end in college, scouts can see him playing the outside linebacker position in the professional level.

    He's a versatile defender that has a great combination of size and athleticism.

3. Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'4", 255 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: He's a balanced linebacker with all the tools to become a force in the league.  Ayers has shown signs of brilliance and ability to become dominant during an up-and-down junior season.

2. Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Stats: 6'5", 270 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: He can play defensive end or outside linebacker.  Despite not playing a game this season, Quinn remains a highly touted prospect.

    This is a guy capable of wreaking havoc and making plays on the defensive line.   If Quinn drops because of his time away from football this year, he may be a steal just outside the top 10 of the draft.

    He can help quickly clog up open running lanes with his size and speed as a run stopper.  As a pass rusher, Quinn also has the potential to rack up plenty of sacks.

1. Von Miller, DE/OLB, Texas A&M

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    Stats: 6'3", 243 lbs.

    Why He Is Special: He's a gifted athlete with great speed for his size.  Miller's versatile and very talented.  Of course any team can use him.

    Despite starting the year off with an injury, Miller has come on strong late in the season with the Aggies.

    He's first-round material and the top 3-4 OLB prospect in the draft.

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