NFL Draft 2011: Power-Ranking the 5 Best Undersized Linebackers
This 2011 NFL Draft is loaded with talent from top to bottom on the defensive side of the ball.
In fact, ESPN's Todd McShay predicts that 21 of the 32 players taken in the first round will be defensive players. But of those 21, only three are linebackers.
This year's draft class is not loaded with top-heavy talent at the linebacker position, but there are a lot of players at that position who are expected to fall off the board in the middle rounds. A number of those linebackers had standout college careers and probably would be first round selections, if it wasn't for the fact some of them were undersized.
For every Ray Lewis, an ideal-size linebacker, there is a Zach Thomas, an undersized linebacker who is a likely future Hall-of-Famer.
So are there any Zach Thomas-like players in this year's draft class?
Let's break this down and take a look at the five best undersized linebackers in this year's NFL Draft.
5. Winston Venable, OLB, Boise State
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Winston Venable had two solid years at Boise State as a starting outside linebacker. In those two seasons, he totaled 116 tackles, six sacks and two interceptions.
He helped lead a defense that allowed just 12.8 points per game, which ranked second in the nation in 2010.
While those statistics would make one believe that the former Broncos star could be a high draft pick, the truth is that most draft experts expect him to be a late round pick, or go undrafted.
Standing at 5-foot-11 and weighing 223 pounds, this guy has the body frame of a cornerback, as opposed to an outside linebacker. But don't let his size deceive you, his numbers speak to how good this guy has been.
4. Lawrence Wilson, OLB, UConn
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Connecticut may not have been the best defense in the nation this year, but they did have one standout linebacker in Lawrence Wilson.
The former Huskie was the best tackler at UConn this past season. He ran a 4.55 40-yard dash at his recent pro day, which is very good speed for a linebacker.
Wilson stands at 6-foot-1, 226 pounds, which is small for someone expecting to play and succeed at the linebacker position in the NFL.
A four-year starter at Connecticut, Wilson totaled 449 tackles, 35.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, five interceptions, and six forced fumbles. He was one of the top linebackers in the Big East this year and is projected to be selected somewhere between the third and fifth round.
3. Colin McCarthy, ILB, Miami (FL)
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Colin McCarthy is a guy that isn't going to be the fastest or most athletic guy on the football field, but he is just one of those downright good football players.
The former Hurricane standout started three years for Miami, totaling right around 300 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions. This past year he recorded 120 tackles, which was amongst the tops of all linebackers in the ACC.
McCarthy played primarily middle linebacker during his time at Miami, but at just 6-foot-1, 238 pounds, he is certainly a little undersized to play that spot at the next level.
Right now, most NFL Draft experts believe that McCarthy will come off the board sometime in the third or fourth round, and then should transition into the outside linebacker position in the pros.
2. Brian Rolle, OLB, Ohio State
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When it comes to good college linebackers that are undersized, there isn't a single linebacker in the country that was as small, yet talented as Ohio State's Brian Rolle.
As a two-year starter for the Buckeyes, Rolle totaled over 200 tackles, four sacks and four interceptions.
Rolle helped lead a defense that consistently ranked amongst the best in the nation. Ohio State won the Big Ten Championship both years that Rolle started, and he earned a spot in this year's All-Big Ten First Team.
Standing at just 5-foot-10, 229 pounds, Rolle is extremely undersized to play linebacker at the next level. We could see him make the transition to strong safety in the NFL, or he could excel at special teams at the next level.
1. Greg Jones, ILB, Michigan State
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When it comes to the top linebackers in this year's draft class, Von Miller might be the best pro, but there isn't a single linebacker who has had as productive a career as Greg Jones has had for Michigan State.
The former Spartan standout was a four-year starter for the Spartans, leading them in tackles all four years. He totaled 464 tackles and 16 sacks for Michigan State over his career.
Jones would probably be a first round pick in this year's draft if it wasn't for him being slightly undersized at the middle linebacker position.
Standing at 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, Jones is not the biggest of linebackers. But, he did play outside linebacker during his first two years in East Lansing, which should help make a smooth transition for him at the NFL level.
Jones is the definition of a "ball-hawk," and because of that and his non-stop motor, this guy will be a success in the pros.