Inside Linebackers are generally the captains and leaders for the defense on NFL teams.
They are typically a team's best tackler, are relied on heavily to stop the run and team defenses are usually designed to force runners to the middle where they can make a play. If that isn't enough responsibility, they also are required to time blitzes well and drop in zone coverage.
A good inside linebacker has great strength and acceleration to the football combined with great instincts and awareness. They must instinctively shed blocks and play with a solid base, and typically are at least 6'2'' and weigh 240 pounds.
They also must play sideline to sideline—being relentless, fearlessly attacking the ball and making big plays.
Here are my Top 10 Inside Linebackers for the 2011 NFL Draft.
White is another underrated prospect with solid ability. He has good size and shows good instincts getting to the football. In 2010, he posted 110 tackles, 6 sacks and 2 interceptions. White has good quickness, plays with high intensity and is a solid wrap up tackler.
White isn't a naturally gifted athlete, but makes up for it with effort. That said, he plays out of control at times and struggles in open space. Finally, he doesn't have good speed for a starting NFL linebacker.
McCarthy has decent size to go along with pretty good speed. He is an adequate tackler, possesses a high motor and flies to the football. McCarthy also turned in a decent performance at the Senior Bowl, where he could be found making plays all over the field.
He is not a great athlete, is knocked down sometimes by playing too high and would benefit from a better base. Finally, he doesn't make very many big plays and struggles in coverage and has struggled with injury issues.
Harvey is a very underrated prospect coming out of college. Though relatively unknown on a national basis, he was an extremely productive player at Marshall where he recorded 419 tackles, 20 sacks and 5 forced fumbles during his career.
Harvey uses his free shoulder well getting off of blocks when making tackles. He also does a great job stopping the run and using every bit of his stout frame. A very tough player who genuinely likes to hit people, Harvey also demonstrates solid character and is a relentless hard worker.
His height is a disadvantage and he can't always see what's going on in the backfield, but seems to have a nose for the football anyway. He may switch to a 4-3 outside linebacker position at the next level. Finally, he doesn't go sideline to sideline very well and is pretty stiff in coverage.
Irving is a good football player that is technically sound in his game. He had a very good 2010 season with 92 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. He gets to the ball well, demonstrates great lateral movement and is a very hard worker...with the drive to get even better.
Irving lacks top end speed, but does get where he needs to be reading plays quickly. He plays too high sometimes and doesn't tackle with a lot of power. Finally, he has also had some injury concerns.
Herzlich has had to overcome a lot in his life after being diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer in 2009. Now cancer free, the focus can now be back on his game. Not surprisingly, Herzlich carries a great deal of mental toughness to go along with an imposing frame. He loves to play the game and just go out and hit people. An excellent tackler that never gives up on a play, he plays with very sound technique. Herzlich could be a monster in the NFL and a player the NFL hasn't seen since Chris Spielman.
Herzlich does struggle in coverage at times and doesn't have the best sideline to sideline speed, but there is plenty here for NFL teams to be excited about here.
Sheppard is a big inside linebacker with lots of power in his lower body. He is pretty fast recognizing plays on the move, drives through ball carriers when making tackles and plays smart. He also put up nice numbers, with over 100 tackles his last two seasons at LSU.
The only real knock on Sheppard is that he plays too high and doesn't get off blocks too well. He doesn't have superstar potential, but will be a solid player at the next level.
Matthews has rose up the draft boards recently and for good reason. In addition to coming from a well chronicled NFL bloodline, he played very well in the National Championship game which further increased his national exposure.
Matthews has amazing instincts and always seems to be around the football. He takes great angles towards the ball and consistently delivers big hits. Matthews has pretty good coverage skills as well, and can stop the run. He is not a great athlete, just a very good football player...just like his brother Clay.
Matthews doesn't have good speed and allows runners more yards after contact, but makes the tackle. He could improve on his explosiveness and strength.
Greg Jones was an excellent player for the Spartans in his four year career there. He totaled 465 tackles and 16.5 sacks while being named an All-American twice.
Jones has good speed and bulk. He plays with a lot of energy, has very good pass-rushing skills and is pretty effective in coverage.
Jones may have to transition to weakside linebacker in the NFL with him being a shorter guy. He can take bad angles to the ball at times and get caught out of position to make a play when he can't see what is happening behind the line of scrimmage.
He is more suited as a 3-4 inside linebacker than a 4-3 inside linebacker due to his size.
Sturdivant was very productive at North Carolina. He has good speed and provides solid coverage in zone or man to man. He has excellent instincts, gets to the ball quickly, doesn't make many mistakes and will not be fooled by misdirection plays.
Sturdivant needs to add bulk and get stronger in the upper body to succeed on Sundays. He is not a very hard hitter and doesn't drive through a ball carrier when making a tackle. There also might be some character issues as Quan was arrested for marijuana possession early in the 2010 season.
Wilson is a versatile player who played a lot in the middle linebacker for Illinois where he recorded 112 tackles in 2010. At the next level, he could also find himself as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
He has great size for a linebacker and also decent sideline to sideline speed. He was recruited as a top DE coming out of high school and could actually play that position in the NFL if he added weight. He does a great job of using his shoulder on blockers while keeping his other arm free, then exploding into the ball carrier. He also times his blitzes well, and can get to the quarterback quickly.
Wilson suffered a herniated disk in the 2009 season and was also stabbed outside a bar in a shocking incident earlier that year as well. He needs to break down more when making tackles and can sometimes struggle in one on one situations.