2011 NFL Draft: Rush Linebackers

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2011 NFL Draft: Rush Linebackers
Joe Robbins/Getty Images


These college players were the guys’ once known as "tweeners." These NFL prospects primarily played defensive end in college but did not have to size to play the position in the NFL. These prospects possess the athleticism to play the outside linebacker position and make an impact as a pass rusher.

To play defensive end in the NFL, the optimum size is 6’5” 285 lbs. 3-4 scheme calls for run-stopping power ends with more size than speed, quickness and short area explosion.

The players that do not possess the above-mentioned size are in for a position change at the next level.

The optimum size for a rush linebacker in a 3-4 is 6’3” 255 lbs. The rush linebackers are a team’s primary pass rushers, but they must be big enough to hold up at the line of scrimmage.

Outside linebackers must have the strength to shed blocks, the speed to make plays from sideline to sideline and the athletic ability to play in zone or man coverage. A rush linebacker has to be able to come off the ball low to the ground and bend.

The 3-4 or “30” front, popular in the NFL, has started sprouting around the college landscape. Former NFL coaches leading college football programs have been good for the league. NFL teams employing the 3-4 had difficulty projecting college defensive ends to the rush linebacker position because few colleges ran the scheme.

In general, pro-style college programs have produced the most NFL-ready prospects. Defensive schools like Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, USC and Miami come to mind—this is where the SEC has shined.

The NFL scouting community took notice when Nick Saban took over at the University of Alabama. The more coaches like Saban teach the scheme and develop talent, the better job evaluators can do projecting college players to the NFL.

Almost every year, these are the guys that grab lots of headlines going into the draft and have phenomenal showings at the NFL combine and on their schools pro day.

15 teams in the NFL employ the 3-4 scheme. Since 2001, six of the 10 Super Bowl winners ran a 3-4 scheme as their base defense.

The most desirable traits NFL teams seek in OLB prospects are:

Instincts: The ability to find the ball, read play-action and mis-direction and quickly recognize whether to play the run or drop into coverage.

Range: Outside linebackers operate in space and must be able to get depth in their drops and cover backs-sometimes even receivers-in the slot. They must have enough speed, range to flow to the ball and chase down backs from sideline to sideline.

Athletic Ability: A rush linebacker has to be a more accomplished pass rusher. A rush linebacker has to come off the ball low to the ground and bend. Ideally, he has to have rare athletic ability.

Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor made this position famous, but today’s prototypes are James Harrison, Clay Matthews Jr., Lamar Woodley, Terrell Suggs, Shawn Phillips, DeMarcus Ware and Brian Orakpo.

In this draft, here are the top rush linebackers who are rare, physical specimens who have demonstrated the ability to cause havoc:

1) Von Miller - OLB, Texas A&M, 6’2” 240 lbs.

2) Robert Quinn – North Carolina, OLB/DE, 6’5” 270 lbs.

3) Akeem Ayers – OLB, UCLA, 6’3” 255 lbs.

4) Aldon Smith – Missouri, OLB/DE, 6’5” 255 lbs.

5) Justin Houston – OLB, Georgia, 6’3” 258 lbs.

6) Ryan Kerrigan – Purdue, 6’4” 263 lbs.

7) Jabaal Sheard – Pittsburgh, 6’3” 255 lbs.

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