B/R NFL Draft 400: Top Linebackers for 2015

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterApril 6, 2015

B/R NFL Draft 400: Top Linebackers for 2015

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Each spring, 256 players are drafted into the NFL, and roughly another 100 are added as undrafted free agents. With close to 350 new players entering the pros each year, it's tough to keep track of them.

    Everyone knows who Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Amari Cooper are. But what about the rest of the class? At Bleacher Report, our aim is to thoroughly cover the draft unlike any other outlet, so we're not stopping with coverage of the top 32 picks or even the top 200 picks. We're covering the top 400 draft-eligible players, with a full scouting report on each one.

    The top 400 players have been tracked, scouted, graded and ranked by myself and my scouting assistants, Marshal Miller and Dan Bazal. Together, we have viewed a minimum of three games per player (the same standard NFL teams use), and oftentimes we've seen every play from a player over the last two years. That's led to the grades, rankings and scouting reports you see here.

    Players are graded on strengths and weaknesses, with a pro-player comparison added that matches the player's style or fit in the pros. Position by position, the top 400 players are broken down for easy viewing before the final release of a top-400 big board before the draft. 

The Grading Scale

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    At the end of each scouting report you'll see a Final Grade that falls somewhere between 9.00 and 4.00 on a unique grading scale. This scale comes from the teaching I had from Charlie Casserly, Michael Lombardi and other former and current front office personnel in the NFL. I've tweaked it this year to be more transparent, and the result is each player receiving a number grade as well as their ranking.

    This applies to all positions.

    Matt Miller Draft Grading Scale
    GradeLabel
    9.00Elite, No. 1 pick
    8.00-8.99 All-Pro Potential 
    7.50-7.99Pro Bowl Potential 
    7.00-7.49Top 15 Player Potential 
    6.50-6.99Rookie Impact/Future Starter 
    6.00-6.49Rookie Impact/Future Starter
    5.50-5.99Future Starter
    5.10-5.49Quality Backup
    5.01-5.09Backup Caliber
    5.00Draftable Player Cutoff
    4.75-4.99Priority Free Agent
    4.50-4.74Camp Player
    4.00-4.49Not NFL Caliber

38. Junior Sylvestre, OLB, Toledo

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.45s
     26 reps 30.5" 115" -

    STRENGTHS

    A productive, athletic tackler for Toledo, Junior Sylvestre has led the team in tackles the past two years playing outside linebacker. He's versatile, with experience in 2012 and 2013 as a defensive back, and may see a position change in the NFL. The move to linebacker in 2014 came with 9.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and five passes broken up. Sylvestre is a playmaker with range to attack all over the field. His 4.45 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, per Dane Brugler, points again to a possible move to safety.

    WEAKNESSES

    Sylvestre is undersized to play linebacker in the NFL at 6'0" and 222 pounds. If asked to play safety, he has to become more fluid and confident in his footwork. He'll gamble and take himself out of the play too often and is a freelance football player. Sylvestre wasn't invited to the combine, Senior Bowl or Shrine Game and was left off NFL radars in the pre-draft process.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     100 2.5 9.5

    FINAL GRADE: 4.75/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

37. Maurice Falls, OLB, East Carolina

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.63s 18 reps31.5" 119" -

    STRENGTHS

    Maurice Falls' athletic exploits are legendary. Coaches claimed he ran the 40 in 4.47 seconds with a 36-inch vertical jump. Add in a 645-pound squat and a 425-pound bench press, and Falls is one of the more explosive weight room players in the draft. He's able to play inside or outside linebacker and has NFL size, speed and agility. Falls did well rushing the passer and added 2.5 sacks and five tackles for a loss in 2014. He has experience on special teams and can play there right away.

    WEAKNESSES

    Just a one-year starter at East Carolina, Falls relies on speed and power instead of instincts. He didn't live around the ball and was too timid when asked to fill holes and take on the ball. He likes to freelance and doesn't play disciplined, assignment football. He'll have to learn to take clean angles to the ball instead of looping around the edge so often.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     36 2.5 5.0

    FINAL GRADE: 4.75/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

36. Michael Orakpo, OLB, Texas State

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    Dave Martin/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     - - - - -

    STRENGTHS

    The brother of Brian Orakpo, Texas State linebacker Michael Orakpo is a top-tier athlete with big potential. He's a freak athlete with rare strength and speed and the raw potential to develop into a solid player. When healthy, he showed attacking ability off the edge and in space and surprising play power for his size. He's versatile enough to play inside or outside linebacker with a frame to add weight if needed.

    WEAKNESSES

    Orakpo is undersized and doesn't have the length to keep blockers off his frame. He has quickness and power but doesn't convert speed to power on the go. Orakpo was kicked out of Colorado State after his involvement in a fight and then saw his 2014 season end with a torn MCL and ACL. Orakpo lacks football instincts and is more athlete than player. He can come in immediately and produce on special teams if healthy.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     5 1.0 1.0

    FINAL GRADE: 4.75/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

35. Cole Farrand, ILB, Maryland

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.63s - 34.5" 121" 6.87s

    STRENGTHS

    A tough, stout inside linebacker for the Maryland Terrapins, Cole Farrand is a productive tackler and captain on defense. He's a disciplined player who understands leverage and uses his hands well to keep his body clean in traffic. Farrand will use short, choppy steps to set up tackles and then can come downhill to meet ball-carriers.

    WEAKNESSES

    Farrand didn't get an invite to the combine or Senior Bowl. He doesn't show the instincts needed to read and react quickly enough to overcome his athletic limitations. In coverage, he can be a liability if matched up in man coverage. Farrand doesn't do any one thing exceptionally well and lacks the range to make an immediate impact in the NFL.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     118 - 5.0

    FINAL GRADE: 4.80/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

34. Houston Bates, OLB, Louisiana Tech

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    USA TODAY Sports
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.6s 30 reps - - -

    STRENGTHS

    A former All-Big Ten honorable mention linebacker at Illinois before heading to Louisiana Tech, Houston Bates has an NFL body and is capable of producing at the NFL level. He's a versatile attacker who can stand up or play down and has the first step to quickly get into a blocker's body. Bates was a standout producer in 2014 and had 4.5 sacks against Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl to give him 10 on the season. Bates may be a candidate to play fullback, ala Bruce Miller of the San Francisco 49ers.

    WEAKNESSES

    Bates wasn't a combine or Senior Bowl player and doesn't show the on-film athleticism needed to make an impact in the NFL. He's stiff and will struggle to change direction on the go. While he's long and lean, he doesn't move with fluid hips or feet. As a pass-rusher, Bates doesn't have the countermoves to beat blockers consistently. 

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     42 10.0 16.0

    FINAL GRADE: 4.80/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

33. A.J. Johnson, ILB, Tennessee

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     - - - - -

    STRENGTHS

    A high-level producer who at one point looked like a future top-50 pick, A.J. Johnson has talent and athleticism. He's a disciplined linebacker with the instincts to find the ball and put himself in a position to make plays. He's built like a pro and has enough agility to make plays outside the box. Johnson uses his length well to keep blockers off his frame and has the power to stack up linemen and shed to make the tackle. In coverage, he'll read and react well, and he shows upside as an interior blitzer from middle linebacker.

    WEAKNESSES

    Johnson was suspended by Tennessee and had his combine invite rescinded after he was indicted by a grand jury on two counts of aggravated rape. That alone could keep him out of the NFL. When looking at pure football weaknesses, Johnson isn't a great athlete, and he hasn't developed good technique because he's survived on instincts and tenacity. Johnson has starter-level potential, but on- and off-field questions are huge. Johnson did not participate in the Tennessee Pro Day. 

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     101 2.0 9.0

    FINAL GRADE: 4.80/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

32. Curtis Grant, ILB, Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.65s - 36" 125" 7.15s

    STRENGTHS

    A late add to the Senior Bowl, Curtis Grant stood out in limited practice time as an athletic inside linebacker. On the hoof, Grant looks like a model for an inside linebacker. He's tough and will get aggressive in the box. When on the field, Grant can play as a pass-rusher, run-stuffer or coverage linebacker.

    WEAKNESSES

    Grant looked good in Mobile but wasn't invited to the combine. His pro-day testing was good for an inside linebacker, but it showed a poor short shuttle time that backs up stiffness on film. He doesn't change direction well and will struggle to redirect in the run game. If he guesses wrong on the play, he's not athletic enough to recover. Grant was used solely as a two-down linebacker at Ohio State and came off the field often.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     69 1.0 5.0

    FINAL GRADE: 4.80/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

31. Aaron Davis, OLB, Colorado State

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.95s 16 Reps 29.0" 107.0" 7.38s

    STRENGTHS

    A combine player with rare read-and-react skills, Aaron Davis jumps off the film as a productive, attacking middle linebacker. Davis' instincts are top-notch and allow him to make plays he otherwise shouldn't be in on. He's a powerful tackler who won't let runners slip through his hands. In coverage, he can make plays and moves well in zone situations.

    WEAKNESSES

    Davis lacks NFL size and athleticism for the linebacker position, and he's not agile enough for a position change that would require him to play in coverage. If blockers get a body on Davis, it's game over, as he's not long enough, big enough or strong enough to break free. He's too easily neutralized by college blockers, making a jump to the NFL a major question mark. He'll need to come in and play special teams early.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     118 - 6.5

    FINAL GRADE: 4.80/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

30. Michael Odiari, OLB, Texas State

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    Michael Odiari (right)
    Michael Odiari (right)Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     - - - - -

    STRENGTHS

    Michael Odiari played defensive end at Texas State, but he gets ranked here as a linebacker due to his size and athletic traits. A transfer from West Texas A&M, he has good range and will attack the ball without reservation. Odiari can win with leverage and will slip blockers with surprising flexibility and bend in his hips and shoulders. He was a productive three-down player at the small-school level.

    WEAKNESSES

    Odiari was a good college player but never dominated at Texas State, and for that, he failed to receive a Senior Bowl or combine invite. He's a tweener with defensive end experience but 4-3 outside linebacker size and athleticism. He's short and lacks the length to keep blockers off his frame at the point of attack.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     73 9.0 12.0

    FINAL GRADE: 4.85/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

29. A.J. Tarpley, ILB, Stanford

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.70s 24 reps 34" - -

    STRENGTHS

    A four-year producer at Stanford with major experience under his belt—not to mention the expected football IQ that comes with playing at a great school—A.J. Tarpley wins with technique and instincts. He's a wrap-up tackler who won't get run over by power backs, and he uses his length well to bring down outside runs. Tarpley will impress with short-area quickness and can run down quarterbacks who get out of the pocket.

    WEAKNESSES

    An average athlete, Tarpley wasn't invited to the combine or Senior Bowl. The biggest issue on film is a hesitation when attacking gaps or taking on contact. Tarpley doesn't stand out in terms of strength or athleticism and must be more aggressive taking on the ball or blockers. Without the agility to play in man or zone coverage, Tarpley is limited to being a two-down player in the NFL.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     84 2.0 4.5

    FINAL GRADE: 4.85/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

28. Derrick Malone Jr., OLB, Oregon

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    USA TODAY Sports
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     - - - - -

    STRENGTHS

    A highly productive tackler for the Oregon defense, Derrick Malone has lined up at inside and outside linebacker for the Ducks. He's a smart leader on the defense, and coaches raved about his readiness. Malone has the range to run down the ball outside the box, to get depth in coverage or to attack as a blitzer. Oregon loved to move him around for matchups, and he generally produced.

    WEAKNESSES

    Malone was not invited to the Senior Bowl or combine. He's undersized for the NFL and doesn't have the agility to make a position change. Malone lacks NFL strength and the ability to beat blockers to the hole. He won't be able to play inside linebacker in the NFL and may be limited to a 4-3 weak-side linebacker position, which limits his draft stock considerably. He was a good but never great college player and fails to meet NFL standards for size and athleticism at linebacker.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     85 0.5 2.5

    FINAL GRADE: 4.85/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

27. Quayshawn Nealy, ILB, Georgia Tech

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.62s - 36" - -

    STRENGTHS

    A Shrine Game standout, Quayshawn Nealy was a highly productive linebacker at Georgia Tech. He's agile enough to make plays outside the tackle box but is stout enough to step up and fill holes on the interior. He's tough, aggressive and doesn't run himself out of position. Nealy is a high-motor player with excellent football character and showed playmaking skills when attacking the ball.

    WEAKNESSES

    Nealy was not invited to the combine or Senior Bowl. Average to below-average athleticism across the board limits Nealy's draft stock despite his production. He doesn't have the size or power to break free from blockers and struggles to get small to knife through gaps so he can make plays in the backfield. He's a read-and-react tackler who lives off instincts but struggles when asked to run down ball-carriers. The ability to get off NFL blocks is lacking here, and Nealy will have to make his mark early on special teams.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     92 1.5 6.0

    FINAL GRADE: 4.90/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

26. Trey DePriest, ILB, Alabama

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.92s - - - -

    STRENGTHS

    A productive inside linebacker at Alabama, Trey DePriest is a thick, stout linebacker with thumper potential. He was a three-year starter and four-year producer for Nick Saban, and that alone carries weight with NFL scouts. He's a hitter who will be aggressive and active in traffic, and he uses his size well to come off blockers. He's at his best when locked in and able to attack downhill.

    WEAKNESSES

    DePriest didn't run at the combine and then turned in 4.92 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Alabama pro day, via Gil Brandt of NFL.com. He's not a sudden or quick player and is limited to making plays in the A- and B-gaps. In coverage, he's a liability due to his limited change-of-direction skills, and you don't want him isolated on a back or tight end. DePriest is at best a two-down linebacker in the mold of Brandon Spikes or A.J. Hawk.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     87 - 5.0

    FINAL GRADE: 4.90/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

25. Mark Nzeocha, OLB, Wyoming

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    Otto Kitsinger/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     - 24 Reps - - -

    STRENGTHS

    A German national who played high school football in Europe, Mark Nzeocha is a high-motor athlete with NFL potential. He's a versatile player who has spent time at linebacker and safety, and you see that footwork on film. He's compact but with long arms and big hands and uses his size well as a tackler. Nzeocha was a playmaker for Wyoming, and he shows good range, good play speed and the instincts to attack the ball.

    WEAKNESSES

    A season-ending knee injury will have a big impact on Nzeocha's draft stock. He wasn't able to run at the combine and may not be able to before the draft. He's an older prospect (25) and, coupled with the injury, could fall into a priority free-agent position. His technique against the run needs work, and his football instincts are still very raw. Asking him to contribute early will be a reach given his injury and the limited ability to diagnose plays that he shows on film. Update: Nzeocha was not able to workout at his pro day due to injury.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     60 2.0 3.0

    FINAL GRADE: 4.95/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

24. Tony Washington, OLB, Oregon

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.99s 17 Reps 32.5" 110.0" 7.20s

    STRENGTHS

    A versatile athlete at linebacker, Tony Washington could play 3-4 outside linebacker or work as a weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. He's also played some defensive end at Oregon, but his body style and traits point to a linebacker position in the NFL. He's a quick, flexible player in space with the strength to be a pull-down tackler on the edge. He flashes leverage and good hand use when engaged in the run game and has the agility to stay on the field as a pass-rusher on third downs.

    WEAKNESSES

    Washington needs to add lower-body strength to better hold up at the point of attack. He has long arms but doesn't use his length well to keep blockers off his frame. Too often, Washington looks like he's relying on athleticism and isn't fully aware of what the offense is doing or what his plan is at the snap. He's an athlete more than a football player.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     60 6.0 11.5

    FINAL GRADE: 4.95/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

23. Zach Vigil, ILB, Utah State

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    Eugene Tanner/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.67s - 32" 113" 7.11s

    STRENGTHS

    A well-built linebacker with NFL size, Zach Vigil was a standout for the Utah State defense. He was a one-man wrecking crew, notching 19.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. Vigil is a two-year starter with experience and a tireless motor. He has the agility to produce in coverage and can run with backs and tight ends. His 4.68 pro-day speed (via Gil Brandt) shows up on film. He's not a monster hitter, but he doesn't miss tackles either.

    WEAKNESSES

    Vigil wasn't invited to the Senior Bowl or the combine, which generally means he's a long shot to be drafted. Vigil's instincts in the run game are questionable, and too often he's overanxious to get into the backfield and takes himself out of position. He'll struggle to break free from blockers at the second level. Vigil was productive but was also schemed to attack the backfield and not play gap-discipline football, so he'll have to learn there.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     154 9.0 19.5

    FINAL GRADE: 5.09/9.00 (Backup)

22. Bryce Hager, ILB, Baylor

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    Brett Deering/Getty Images
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.60s 26 Reps 35.0" 117.0" 7.15s

    STRENGTHS

    Bryce Hager was the man for the Baylor defense, and he shows good timed and film speed in attacking outside the tackle box. Hager didn't dominate the combine in any one athletic area, but he tested very well in all of them. That shows up on film with his closing speed and lateral-slide ability. He'll close on the ball and has the bulk to back up his tackles. You can see flashes of range and footwork in coverage that are promising.

    WEAKNESSES

    Hager is too often timid or reserved when attacking the hole and can take himself out of the play mentally. When asked to work through traffic, he struggles to disengage and doesn't have the required length to stack up blockers. Hager is at his best when there's a clean lane to the ball; otherwise, he'll struggle to get in place to make the play.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     114 2.0 12.0

    FINAL GRADE: 5.09/9.00 (Backup)

21. John Timu, ILB, Washington

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     - - - - -

    STRENGTHS

    John Timu is built like an NFL linebacker and comes game-ready as a coverage linebacker. He moves very well in space and has the feet to transition and change direction on the go. He'll flash run-stopping skills and can fill gaps well. Mike Holmgren selected Timu as a captain at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. He was often asked to flex out and cover slot receivers and has the agility to survive in short areas. Timu is an arm tackler, but he's productive there.

    WEAKNESSES

    Timu wasn't invited to the Shrine Game or Senior Bowl and instead attended the NFLPA Bowl, which is looked at as the third-tier all-star game. He's too often caught hesitating and treading water instead of pulling the chain and running alleys. False steps tend to take him out of position, and he lacks the speed to make up ground.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     109 - 1.5

    FINAL GRADE: 5.10/9.00 (Quality Backup)

20. Jeff Luc, ILB, Cincinnati

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    USA TODAY Sports
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.61s - 34.0" 106.0" 7.30s

    STRENGTHS

    Jeff Luc looks like an NFL linebacker—or, more accurately, like a caricature of an NFL linebacker. He's a rocked-up player loaded with muscles. Luc is strong enough to fight with blockers and close down a gap. He's built to play the "Mike" linebacker position and will step up to fill and assume the role of a thumper against blockers. He's not timid and will be an asset in short-yardage situations.

    WEAKNESSES

    As you might expect, Luc's muscles make him stiff and limit his explosive ability. He was not invited to the combine after receiving a Senior Bowl invite (pro-day numbers via Gil Brandt). He plays heavy and lacks the agility to make quick, sudden movements in space. For a player with his stout, bulky build, you'd expect more power in his hits, but he looks the part more than he produces it.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     133 6.5 9.0

    PRO COMPARISON: A.J. Hawk, Cincinnati Bengals

    Luc is a fun player to watch, but he's a limited athlete and a two-down linebacker at the next level—like A.J. Hawk in present day.

    FINAL GRADE: 5.10/9.00 (Quality Backup)

19. Damien Wilson, ILB, Minnesota

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    USA TODAY Sports
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.77s 22 Reps 37.0" 119.0" 7.21s

    STRENGTHS

    Damien Wilson might be a smaller linebacker, but his exceptional length allows him to make plays many other "small" linebackers couldn't. He's a productive, very active player with a high tackle count in each of his two starting seasons and a nose for the ball. Wilson is agile enough to survive in coverage and off the ball, and he'll attack and run down the ball outside the hashes.

    WEAKNESSES

    Wilson doesn't do well with blockers in his face and can shy away from a power-run game at the second level. He'll get caught out of position and can take himself out of plays too often for a 4-3 inside linebacker. His vision is good, but his follow-through is not.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     119 4.0 10.5

    PRO COMPARISON: Nigel Bradham, Buffalo Bills

    A solid athlete with good movement skills and football IQ but limited to a special teams role early, Wilson and Bradham are very similar prospects.

    FINAL GRADE: 5.10/9.00 (Quality Backup)

18. Deiontrez Mount, OLB, Louisville

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.62s 28 reps 31" 119" 7.09s

    STRENGTHS

    A versatile attacker who lined up at defensive end, defensive tackle, outside linebacker and inside linebacker for Louisville, Deiontrez Mount has many of the same qualities we saw last year in Marcus Smith. He can attack the edge with leverage and has some twitch to his game. Mount is a solid tackler and can create plays behind the line of scrimmage. He has upside as a pass-rusher and may eventually play on the edge.

    WEAKNESSES

    Mount is a bit of a tweener given his lack of size and strength, but he needs to be freed to play on the edge. Given his struggles in coverage, he may be a 3-4 outside linebacker. The question of where to play him overshadows some of his traits. As a pure athlete, he's average and can struggle when asked to change direction.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     38 6.0 11.5

    PRO COMPARISON: Whitney Mercilus, Houston Texans

    Average in coverage with a long, lean frame coming out of college, Mount and Mercilus have many similarities in their game.

    FINAL GRADE: 5.15/9.00 (Quality Backup)

17. Amarlo Herrera, ILB, Georgia

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    Amarlo Herrera (left)
    Amarlo Herrera (left)Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.83s 23 Reps 32.0" 111.0" 7.35s

    STRENGTHS

    A bully at inside linebacker, Amarlo Herrera produced consistently at Georgia. He's a classic 3-4 thumper who was the captain of the Georgia defense, making all the calls and audibles. Herrera is a worker and a fighter who will claw for position and attack the ball. He can be used as an A-gap blitzer and had some success there.

    WEAKNESSES

    An average athlete, Herrera will struggle if asked to get outside the tackle box. In coverage, he lacks the feet and hips to excel in transitions and can get caught flat-footed often. He's purely an A-gap attacker and will get lost outside the tackles. You'd like to see Herrera finish more tackles at first contact.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     115 3.0 10.0

    PRO COMPARISON: Nico Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals

    A limited athlete who can be a thumper in the middle but will struggle in passing situations, Herrera and Nico Johnson are nearly interchangeable as prospects.

    FINAL GRADE: 5.15/9.00 (Quality Backup)

16. Alani Fua, OLB, Brigham Young University

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.73s 18 Reps 34.5" 118.0" 6.83s

    STRENGTHS

    If teams want a big, scheme-versatile linebacker, Alani Fua is their guy. He lined up all over the BYU defense and can work as an inside or outside linebacker with pass-rush impact. On film, he looks like a freak athlete, even if his combine numbers weren't eye-opening. He can play in coverage and takes good zone drops off the ball. There's no wasted space with Fua, regardless of whether he's taking on the run, blitzing or playing in coverage.

    WEAKNESSES

    Fua is more quick than fast, but that can be an issue when asked to trail and pursue the ball. Not having one true position will be an issue for many teams. Fua's power is average to below average and will have to improve for him to effectively take on blockers in the NFL. He hasn't had a chance to develop great technique or instincts because he's moved around the field so much.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     41 3.0 7.5

    PRO COMPARISON: Trent Murphy, Washington

    A long, lean pass-rusher with versatility, Fua reminds of Trent Murphy athletically and in terms of use.

    FINAL GRADE: 5.20/9.00 (Quality Backup)

15. Hayes Pullard, ILB, USC

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.78s 19 Reps 31.0" 110.0" 7.07s

    STRENGTHS

    An NFL linebacker on the hoof with an impressive Senior Bowl week, Hayes Pullard moves better than his combine numbers indicate. He's a smart attacker when it comes to angles and has the power to clean house when engaging a ball-carrier. He has good vision and knows how to sort through trash to find the ball. He looked better in Mobile moving in coverage than he did on film and has nice upside there. His transitions from hips to feet were smooth and well timed.

    WEAKNESSES

    Pullard can be slow to diagnose plays and put himself behind the ball on outside runs. On film, he got pushed around often and didn't engage blockers well enough to stack them up with his hands. His shorter arms are an issue there. Pullard is ideal for a 4-3 defense where he can be kept clean in the run game.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     95 - 5.5

    PRO COMPARISON: Demario Davis, New York Jets

    A good athlete but a smaller linebacker who can get lost in traffic, it's easy to see Demario Davis when watching Hayes Pullard.

    FINAL GRADE: 5.20/9.00 (Quality Backup)

14. Mike Hull, OLB, Penn State

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    USA TODAY Sports
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.68s 31 Reps - - 6.99s

    STRENGTHS

    A standout performer during Senior Bowl week, Mike Hull made a nice move up the board during the draft process. Hull shows good agility when asked to move, and he can knife through traffic to make plays at the line of scrimmage. He can get outside the box and run down ball-carriers too, showing good angles to the football. In coverage, he's able to sink and get depth and can attack the ball in front of him. Hull is likely to see a position change and could end playing outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme.

    WEAKNESSES

    Hull doesn't have great speed and is an average athlete for a smaller linebacker. The lack of size from Hull is the biggest concern, as he doesn't work off blocks well and can get walled off in the run game. His combine numbers showed more athleticism than his film or Senior Bowl week did.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     140 2.0 10.5

    PRO COMPARISON: Justin Durant, Atlanta Falcons

    A good, not great linebacker who's the kind of productive player you can't forget about, Mike Hull has a lot of Justin Durant to his game.

    FINAL GRADE: 5.20/9.00 (Quality Backup)

13. Jake Ryan, OLB, Michigan

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.65s 20 Reps 34.5" 120.0" 7.11s

    STRENGTHS

    A versatile linebacker with experience on the outside before moving to inside linebacker in 2014, Jake Ryan brings big-tackle production to the NFL. A true downhill player who closes on the ball and moves well enough in space to change direction and get outside the tackle box, he has experience in coverage and has shown the hips and feet work there. Coaches we spoke to raved about Ryan's work ethic, football IQ and leadership.

    WEAKNESSES

    Ryan is coming off a torn ACL suffered in 2013 and appeared limited at times because of it. He has average strength and doesn't pop on film or in workouts there. He likes to get tied up on blockers and struggles to free himself if they get their hands on him. He's better in that regard playing outside linebacker but doesn't have the agility to excel there in the NFL in a 3-4 scheme. Another year recovered from the ACL injury could see him become a much quicker, more flexible player.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     112 2.0 14.0

    PRO COMPARISON: Jasper Brinkley, Dallas Cowboys

    A downhill attacker with big tackle numbers and good coverage skills, Ryan can come in and make an impact similar to that of Jasper Brinkley from day one.

    FINAL GRADE: 5.30/9.00 (Quality Backup)

12. Martrell Spaight, OLB, Arkansas

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    Danny Johnston/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.88s 25 Reps 35.0" 120.0" 7.66s

    STRENGTHS

    A limited starter at Arkansas, Martrell Spaight is a big-time upside bet at linebacker. He's an attacking, straight-line linebacker who can line up on the edge or off the line of scrimmage. He'll attack behind the line of scrimmage and uses his agility and length well to string out plays or make tackles in space. He's not been used much in coverage but does show potential there and looked good at the Senior Bowl.

    WEAKNESSES

    Spaight's lack of size will be an issue for teams, as his height and length aren't ideal. That shows up on film, as he struggles to get free from blockers and has difficulty in traffic. He'll let himself stay blocked too long and isn't strong enough to anchor at the point of attack. Spaight is a former JUCO All-American (twice) and has big upside, but he isn't NFL-ready.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     128 1.0 10.5

    PRO COMPARISON: Jelani Jenkins, Miami Dolphins

    Spaight is an athletic project at linebacker, much like Jelani Jenkins was coming out of Florida. His upside is promising, though.

    FINAL GRADE: 5.30/9.00 (Quality Backup)

11. Taiwan Jones, ILB, Michigan State

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    USA TODAY Sports
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.95s 19 Reps 32.0" 115.0" 7.25s

    STRENGTHS

    Taiwan Jones is a productive, active run-stuffer with the strength to play right now in the NFL on first and second downs. He's a thick, physical, tough linebacker who passes the eyeball test right away. Jones will line up and hit you in the mouth, and he looks for contact and fights through traffic. He's played both inside and outside linebacker and has shown the ability to impact the game from either position thanks to his closing speed and strength.

    WEAKNESSES

    Jones won't wow anyone with athleticism, and his combine performance was subpar. On film, you'll see him struggle with transitions, and he'll get tunnel vision in terms of what he sees and can reach as a tackler. He's not someone you want playing in coverage early on, and Michigan State often replaced him on passing downs.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     60 4.0 12.5

    PRO COMPARISON: Rolando McClain, Dallas Cowboys

    straight-line thumper at linebacker, Jones is more like a modern-day Rolando McClain than the player coming out of Alabama.

    FINAL GRADE: 5.35/9.00 (Quality Backup)

10. Ben Heeney, ILB, Kansas

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    Jerry Larson/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.59s 19 Reps 33.5" 120.0" 6.68s

    STRENGTHS

    A speedy, athletic linebacker with the skills to make plays outside the box, Ben Heeney flashed on a Kansas team that lacked NFL talent. Heeney lived behind the line of scrimmage in 2014 and showed impressive motor when attacking ball-carriers. He's a bit of a freelancer, but it tends to work for him. He attacks the offense, and the net result is big plays.

    WEAKNESSES

    Missed tackles are a major issue for Heeney, and they are what keep him ranked lower than other linebackers here. Part of Heeney being a freelancer who makes big plays is that he completely blows plays, too. He'll shoot gaps and be nowhere near the ball and takes himself out of position to make a lot tackles. That leads to questions about vision and instincts for this undersized linebacker.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     127 1.5 12.0

    PRO COMPARISON: Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Timmons and Heeney are both good athletes with the skills to play inside linebacker while being undersized. From an athletic and style standpoint, they're similar players.

    FINAL GRADE: 5.40/9.00 (Quality Backup)

9. Jordan Hicks, OLB, Texas

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.68s 20 Reps 38.0" 124.0" 6.78s

    STRENGTHS

    An athletic, NFL-ready linebacker with the versatility to play inside linebacker or outside linebacker, Jordan Hicks is turning heads now that he's healthy. Hicks thrived under Charlie Strong's watch in 2014 and became a three-down star. He shows good burst and straight-line speed and can run laterally to make plays outside the box. His football IQ is very high and shows in his ability to read and react against the run and pass equally. As a pure tackler, Hicks gets the job done and can bring down ball-carriers in traffic or in space.

    WEAKNESSES

    Hicks missed major time in 2012 and 2013 with hip and Achilles injuries, so teams will have to dig in to his health history. Hicks will get stood up taking on blocks and has to be able to slip contact instead of shedding hands. He may also be too limited to his scheme—something he did answer at the Senior Bowl but nevertheless shows up on film. Drafting Hicks is betting on his upside, so there is a risk involved with drafting him too early.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     113 3.5 11.0

    PRO COMPARISON: Mychal Kendricks, Philadelphia Eagles

    An explosive, athletic linebacker with three-down skills, Hicks and Mychal Kendricks are carbon copies of each other.

    FINAL GRADE: 5.75/9.00 (Future Starter)

8. Ramik Wilson, ILB, Georgia

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    USA TODAY Sports
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.77s 23 Reps 35.0" 111.0" -

    STRENGTHS

    A productive, flashy three-year starter at linebacker, Ramik Wilson was the leader of the Georgia defense. He's an in-the-box linebacker with the speed to run downhill and close down rushing lanes, and he'll add some power to his tackles too. He was highly productive and consistent as a tackler over the last three years and is one of the better, more accurate hitters in the entire draft class. Wilson offers some scheme versatility, as he could play inside linebacker in a 3-4 or 4-3 or move outside to strong-side linebacker in a 4-3.

    WEAKNESSES

    When asked to move in space, Wilson can be limited. He doesn't look like an immediate-impact player in coverage, and his lack of high-level instincts is a concern. He's a scheme-versatile player but may also get tagged as a guy without a true position, and that will hurt him. Wilson needs to get stronger to take on blockers if he's to move inside full-time. Consistency is a key for his development, as too often he'd make a great play and then disappear for quarters.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     110 2.0 7.0

    PRO COMPARISON: Chris Kirksey, Cleveland Browns

    An under-the-radar linebacker with good size, good speed and three-down skills, Chris Kirksey made his move up draft boards at the Senior Bowl in 2014, and Wilson did the same this year.

    FINAL GRADE: 5.95/9.00 (Future Starter)

7. Kwon Alexander, OLB, LSU

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    Phil Sandlin/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.55s 24 Reps 36.0" 121.0" 7.14s

    STRENGTHS

    An impressive athlete with great speed on tape and in workouts, Kwon Alexander left LSU as a junior and is ready for the 4-3 defense in the NFL. He's a snappy, twitchy athlete with lateral and straight-line movement skills. He's an easy mover in transitions and can run with backs and receivers in pursuit or coverage. The LSU defense allowed Alexander to blitz, and he produced well there given his speed and burst in his first few steps. He's an aggressive player who will fight through traffic and sacrifice his body to make plays.

    WEAKNESSES

    Alexander's size will typecast him solely as a 4-3 outside linebacker, which will immediately take him off some boards. Any thoughts about moving him to safety should be removed once his stiffness in space is seen. Being a small, athletic linebacker, Alexander lacks the power needed to get off blocks and make effective tackles. He freelances way too much and takes himself out of the play often. Alexander lacks ideal height, length and weight for the linebacker position. He's a developmental prospect with a high ceiling.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     90 1.5 7.5

    PRO COMPARISON: Bruce Carter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Alexander needs some work, but his athleticism and toughness will go far in making him an NFL starter. That’s a lot like Bruce Carter coming out of North Carolina.

    FINAL GRADE: 6.00/9.00 (Future Starter)

6. Stephone Anthony, ILB, Clemson

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    John Raoux/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.56s 23 Reps 37.0" 122.0" 7.07s

    STRENGTHS

    An easy-moving linebacker who jumped off the field at the Senior Bowl and quickly made an impact, Stephone Anthony looks like an NFL starter on the hoof. He has an athletic, solid build backed up by impressive agility and speed. He's a producer as a tackler and shows the lateral ability to make plays outside the tackle box. He's smooth enough as a mover to play well in coverage and can lock up tight ends or jam slot receivers. Coaches rave about his work ethic.

    WEAKNESSES

    Going back to his junior season, Anthony lost his starting job and had to earn it back. He gets too shy when asked to shut down a run lane and will hesitate to close the hole. When engaged by blockers in the lane, he'll get hung up and can tie himself to blockers too often. His instincts are only average, and he'll get caught watching the play.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     75 2.5 10.5

    PRO COMPARISON: Karlos Dansby, Cleveland Browns

    A tall, lean, athletic linebacker with very good movement skills and coverage potential, Anthony looks a lot like Karlos Dansby did coming out of Auburn and how he looks now in Cleveland.

    FINAL GRADE: 6.15/9.00 (Rookie Impact)

5. Benardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.66s 16 Reps 40.5" 121.0" 7.21s

    STRENGTHS

    A surprising athlete at 6'4" and 246 pounds, Benardrick McKinney can line up at inside 'backer or as a rusher off the edge and make an impact. He's a scheme-versatile player in that way and performed position drills as both a linebacker and defensive end at his pro day. McKinney is a thick, powerful, explosive player with the speed to run down ball-carriers or rush the quarterback. He's aggressive and uses his strength well to step up against the run to meet blockers or the ball. His football IQ is good, and he'll read and react without delay. McKinney adds value as a blitzer and can move around the defense to make plays.

    WEAKNESSES

    McKinney could do a better job working through blockers—especially cut blocks—to get to the football. When the alley is clean, he'll run it and blow plays up, but he can take himself out of plays too often with average footwork and shedding ability. He's not been asked to work in pass coverage and shows the hip stiffness in transitions to be a weakness there. Too often, he blended in to the background and didn't make plays.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     71 3.0 8.0

    PRO COMPARISON: Jamie Collins, New England Patriots

    An impressive athlete with the skills to play inside or outside, McKinney and Jamie Collins are very similar weapons when looking at the X's and O's of their games.

    FINAL GRADE: 6.25/9.00 (Rookie Impact)

4. Denzel Perryman, ILB, Miami (Fla.)

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    USA TODAY Sports
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.78s 27 Reps 32.0" 113.0" -

    STRENGTHS

    A powerful hitter with knock-you-out power when he comes downhill, Denzel Perryman loves to lay the wood. He looks like he walked out of the 1990s and should be playing alongside Levon Kirkland. Perryman is a stout, tough, instinctive linebacker against the run, and he'll take out his frustration on a blocker in traffic. For a smaller 'backer, Perryman will stack and shed very well and does a good job keeping himself clean to attack the ball. When he sees a lane, he dives in at full speed to make the tackle.

    WEAKNESSES

    Playing at 250 pounds in 2014 was a bad idea for Perryman, and he wore down late in games while looking heavy-footed and sluggish in space. Limited agility makes Perryman a liability in coverage, and he doesn't have the speed to run with receivers or tight ends. He may develop into a good zone-coverage linebacker, but the skill isn't there right now. Limited movement skills could have been brought on by added weight, but he didn't move well at the combine or Senior Bowl at a lower weight.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     110 2.0 9.5

    PRO COMPARISON: Paul Posluszny, Jacksonville Jaguars

    FINAL GRADE: 6.25/9.00 (Rookie Impact)

3. Paul Dawson, ILB, TCU

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.93s 21 Reps 28.0" 109.0" -

    STRENGTHS

    An instinctive, tough linebacker with the skills to play inside or outside in a 4-3 defense, Paul Dawson consistently shows up on film. Dawson's instincts are off-the-charts good. He's quick to read and react and can meet the ball-carrier in the hole or make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Dawson isn't big, but he gets off blocks well and can slip through traffic without getting tied up. He's agile enough to move laterally, pull the chain and go get the ball in front of him or bail and get into coverage. When asked to get into coverage, Dawson's instincts are still top-notch, and they allow him to play very well in-phase with tight ends or backs.

    WEAKNESSES

    A lack of speed and agility is the chief concern for Dawson. He did not test well at the combine and missed the Senior Bowl with a shoulder injury. When asked to play assignment football, he can get a little lost and find himself out of position. Many will question his size and bulk to play inside, so he may be earmarked for a position change in many draft rooms. Coaches at TCU and area scouts have expressed concern that he's not a hard worker in practice, and he was often late to meetings and practices. He was described as being a "handful."

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     136 6.0 20.0

    PRO COMPARISON: Chris Borland, San Francisco 49ers

    Sometimes all the athletic tests are overrated, and what matters most is what a player does when the helmet is on. Dawson is impressive on film, and like Chris Borland, he's a gamer who will show up on Sundays.

    FINAL GRADE: 6.49/9.00 (Rookie Starter)

2. Eric Kendricks, ILB, UCLA

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.61s 19 Reps 38.0" 124.0" -

    STRENGTHS

    The best inside linebacker prospect in this draft, Eric Kendricks is athletic enough to be considered an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense too. Turn on the Virginia game film and watch Kendricks turn into a wrecking ball, making plays from sideline to sideline—and with impressive lateral agility. Kendrick's footwork is very impressive, and you won't see false or timid steps against the run. He's a smart, fast-thinking linebacker with the football IQ to diagnose and attack. He's small but slips blocks well and has a nose for the ball. In coverage, he's fast enough to run with tight ends and backs. Few linebackers can match the production Kendricks put on tape at UCLA. Add in his character and leadership traits, and he looks like a safe pick.

    WEAKNESSES

    Some will want to compare Kendricks to his older brother Mychal, who plays for the Eagles, but he's not that explosive on film. Athletically, Kendricks did not test well at the combine, and that will factor into his draft stock, as teams want agile, flexible linebackers. Kendricks' film shows good range, but not many impact plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. He's a bit of a catch tackler—meaning he waits for the ball-carrier to get to him.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     145 4.0 11.5

    PRO COMPARISON: Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

    A smaller, rangy inside linebacker with the feet and agility to play outside if needed, Kendricks compares very well to the size and play style of Bobby Wagner.

    FINAL GRADE: 6.49/9.00 (Rookie Starter)

1. Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
    40         Bench PressVertical   Broad       3-Cone     
     4.64s - 33.5" 117.0" 6.99s

    STRENGTHS

    You won't find many players with Shaq Thompson's versatility. He lined up at running back, linebacker and safety for Washington and produced at each spot. Some evaluators feel his best long-term position may be at running back. Thompson shows top-level quickness in space and is fast enough to run down ball-carriers all over the field. He's shown the strength to attack the edge and the agility to play in coverage. He projects as a three-down linebacker and a star nickel linebacker.

    WEAKNESSES

    Thompson doesn't yet show great instincts at linebacker and too frequently wins with athleticism and not read-and-react skills.

    2014 STATISTICS

    Tackles           Sacks           Tackles for Loss
     80 1.0 2.5

    PRO COMPARISON: NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers

    Thompson isn't as strong as Bowman, but he's a similar athlete and, likewise, is a player who could dominate as a nickel linebacker/safety. His range and coverage ability are very similar to Bowman's. 

    FINAL GRADE: 6.99/9.00 (Rookie Starter)