2011 NFL Draft Loaded With Linebackers, But Who are Their NFL Counterparts?
The 2011 NFL Draft has some stellar linebacker prospects who will be selected in the first round, like Akeem Ayers, Justin Houston and Von Miller.
The widespread expectation is that they, along with a slew of other LBs, will develop into great pros down the road.
But exactly what types of NFL players will they be?
Because we all know that NFL draft scouts and analysts love to compare the present to, well, the present.
And I'm going to do the same.
Let's take a look at the 10 top linebackers in the 2010 class and their NFL comparisons.
Measurables: 6'1", 231 pounds
2010 Production: 89 tackles, seven sacks and three forced fumbles
NFL Comparison: Curtis Lofton (Atlanta Falcons)
During his senior season at NC State, Nate Irving was a guy who could both get after the quarterback (seven sacks) and always be near the ball (89 tackles).
However, throughout most of his career, Irving didn't contribute much in other areas; he only had two total sacks in his first two seasons.
Lofton is close to the same size (6', 242 pounds) as Irving and has always been a decent tackler, averaging 115 tackles per season, but he's hardly going to sack the quarterback (just three for his career) because he plays outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme.
Expect similar production from Irving, who's never been an elite tackler but has always been a good one.
Measurables: 6'1", 237 pounds
2010 Production: 105 tackles, three forced fumbles, two interceptions and one sack
NFL Comparison: Lawrence Timmons (Pittsburgh Steelers)
The similarities between Greg Jones and Timmons are pretty striking.
Timmons was a tackling machine in 2010. He racked up 135 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Just compare that to Jones' 2010 production, and you'll see that both of these linebackers contribute in multiple areas of the game.
Not to mention that Timmons is nearly the exact same size (6'1", 234 pounds) as Jones.
Measurables: 6'4", 247 pounds
2010 Production: 65 tackles, four interceptions and two force fumbles
NFL Comparison: Scott Fujita (Cleveland Browns)
We all know Mark Herzlich for his incredible courage after he came back from a rare form of cancer to return to the football field at Boston College.
Herzlich was once a first-round prospect, but his illness has prevented him from returning to that form, so he'll likely end up a solid piece rather than a franchise linebacker in the NFL.
Like Fujita, who's only had one season with at least 100 tackles, Herzlich won't rack up 15 tackles a game, but he can contribute in pass defense (four picks).
Both of these guys have shown impeccable character throughout their careers, and I'd expect Herzlich to follow Fujita's footsteps by being a key contributor, but never a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
Measurables: 6'2", 244 pounds
2010 Production: 118 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception
NFL Comparison: James Laurinaitis (St. Louis Rams)
At LSU, Kelvin Sheppard literally seemed to be all over the place, totaling 228 tackles during his final two seasons.
But he's also a guy who forces turnovers and can get to the quarterback, even though his scheme at LSU wasn't necessarily built for him to do that.
The same goes with the 6'2", 247-pound Laurinaitis, who had 114 tackles, three sacks and one interception in 2010.
Both of these linebackers had stellar college careers and will be quiet, but key, contributors during their time in the NFL.
Measurables: 6'2", 227 pounds
2010 Production: 61 tackles, three sacks and one interception (missed five games)
NFL Comparison: James Farrior (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Despite missing nearly half the regular season, Quan Sturdivant showed two things: He can tackle, and he can get to the quarterback.
He reminds me a lot of James Farrior, who registered 109 tackles, six sacks and a force fumble in 2010.
Both Sturdivant and Farrior have played on teams that are loaded with defensive talent, so they sometimes get lost in the shuffle.
But they often outproduce their teammates over the course of the entire season.
Measurables: 6'3", 267 pounds
2010 Production: 72 tackles, nine sacks and one forced fumble
NFL Comparison: Brian Orakpo (Washington Redskins)
A defensive end in college, Jeremy Beal will be making the switch to 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.
Just like Brian Orakpo, who racked up 56 tackles and 8.5 sacks for the Redskins in 2010.
Beal will have to transition from playing on the ground to playing standing up, the hardest part of which will be learning how to drop back in pass coverage.
Even though Beal will have to adjust his game a bit, he'll still make his money the same way: by sacking the quarterback.
Measurables: 6'3", 235 pounds
2010 Production: 57 tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble and one interception
NFL Comparison: Derrick Johnson (Kansas City Chiefs)
Of the plethora of talented players on UNC's defense, Bruce Carter was arguably the most talented, but he was often outshined by guys like Quan Sturdivant.
Still, at the NFL level, most scouts think Carter will be the better player because of his physical skills and his ability to contribute in a number of different areas.
Like Derrick Johnson (121 tackles, four forced fumbles, one sack and one interception in 2010), Carter is going to be among the league's best tacklers but also a player who can make big plays outside of his comfort zone.
Carter likely won't develop into an elite pass rusher, but he will be all over the field all the time.
Measurables: 6'3", 254 pounds
2010 Production: 56 tackles, 10 sacks and one interception
NFL Comparison: Clay Matthews (Green Bay Packers)
Everyone who watches the NFL knows why Clay Matthews finished in second place in this season's Defensive Player of the Year voting: He sacks the quarterback.
Matthews is incredibly disruptive on passing downs, and so is Justin Houston.
Houston exploded onto the scene in 2010, with 10 sacks and a mean streak that gave SEC quarterbacks nightmares.
At the NFL level, I fully expect him to do the same things: disrupt plays and drive quarterbacks crazy.
Measurables: 6'4", 249 pounds
2010 Production: 68 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions
NFL Comparison: Manny Lawson (San Francisco 49ers)
Why does Akeem Ayers remind me of Manny Lawson?
Well, there are two reasons.
First, the obvious size similarities (Lawson's listed at 6'5", 240 pounds), but second, it's the fact that both of these linebackers are getting drafted higher more because of their potential than anything else.
Neither of them are hard-hitting, smash-mouth linebackers.
They're guys who show a ton of speed, agility and athleticism, and some team will take a chance on Ayers because of what type of player he could develop into, not the type of player he already is.
Measurables: 6'3", 238 pounds
2010 Production: 68 tackles, 11 sacks and one interception
NFL Comparison: DeMarcus Ware (Dallas Cowboys)
Straight up, DeMarcus Ware was just born to sack the quarterback.
Only once in his six-year career has Ware had fewer than 11 sacks, which is pretty ridiculous.
Could Von Miller really do the same, though? I don't know, mainly because that's a lot to ask.
But he was the most impressive defensive player at the Senior Bowl, and ESPN's Adam Schefter has already said that Miller's now a lock to go in the top five picks.
Why? Because he reminds scouts of Clay Matthews and...DeMarcus Ware.
That's not too bad of company to keep.