NFL Draft 400: Top LBs for 2018 NFL Draft

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterApril 16, 2018

NFL Draft 400: Top LBs for 2018 NFL Draft

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Scouts and general managers have called the 2018 NFL draft class average, but we still have questions. Who is the best overall player? How about the best at each position? 

    The NFL Draft 400's goal is to figure that out. 

    We tracked, scouted, graded and ranked the top 400 prospects with help from scouting assistants Marshal Miller, Dan Bazal and Jerod Brown. Together, we viewed tape of a minimum of three games per player—the same standard NFL teams use. Oftentimes, we saw every play from a prospect over the last two years. 

    Strengths and weaknesses figured into the grades, with a pro-player comparison added to match the prospect's style or fit in the pros. The top 400 prospects will be broken down by position for easy viewing before the release of a top-400 big board prior to the April 26-28 draft.

    In the case of a tie, players were ranked based on their overall grade in our top 400.

35. Jermaine Carter, Maryland

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    G Fiume/Getty Images

    POSITIVES

    —A two-time team captain (2016, 2017) and the team's Defensive Player of the Year.

    —Scouts praised his work ethic, character, IQ and maturity. Great locker room guy.

    —Very active tackler who packs a punch when he meets the ball-carrier.

    —Has experience on special teams.

    —Smart and poised when diagnosing but explodes through alleys to make hits.

          

    NEGATIVES

    —Undersized at 6'0" and 222 pounds.

    —Ran a 4.68 at his pro day and missed the bench press due to a pectoral injury.

    —Short-area quickness is lacking; was able to get by on instincts and football IQ.

    —Blockers will end his day if he's not kept clean by his defensive line.

    —Doesn't have the size, strength or speed to handle NFL offenses.

            

    OVERALL

    Jermaine Carter was incredibly productive at Maryland, leading the team in tackles each of the last three seasons, but simply lacks the height/weight/speed to be considered a draftable prospect. His motor and football IQ, plus special teams experience, make him a valuable free-agent pickup.

          

    GRADE: 4.99 (Camp Body)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Devante Bond, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

34. Chris Worley, Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Started two seasons as an outside linebacker.

    —Shows toughness and instincts on the field and makes up for a lack of athleticism with aggressiveness.

    —Smart, disciplined player who will perform his assignment; reliable.

    —Strong tackler who can wrap up, come to balance and secure the hit with few misses.

            

    NEGATIVES

    —Timed at 4.86 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

    —Lacks the athleticism or size to dominate. Was an average college player.

    —No twitch to his game.

    —Allows himself to be easily blocked if he doesn't beat the block with force.

    —Stiff as a board and lacks the lower-body flexibility needed to run in space with NFL talent.

             

    OVERALL

    Chris Worley was a solid performer for Ohio State but is limited athletically and lacks the size (6'2", 230 lbs) to make up for his deficiencies. He has the tools to be a strong backup or special teams player as a priority free agent.

            

    GRADE: 4.99 (Camp Body)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Jordan Evans, Cincinnati Bengals

33. Jacob Pugh, Florida State

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    POSITIVES

    —Long, lean athlete with good speed on a 6'4", 232-pound frame.

    —Has experience as a defensive end and could fill out and be used as an edge-rusher.

    —Shows good agility in space and has the hips to redirect and recover on the edge.

    —Runs down ball-carriers easily and chews up yardage with a long stride.

    —Pugh looks natural moving on the field and could intrigue teams with his athletic potential.

          

    NEGATIVES

    —Needs to fill out his frame to better take on blockers.

    —Has to better learn to use a long arm to keep blockers away; can be timid at the point of attack.

    —Looked timid and unsure of what to do at times.

    —To make an NFL roster, he has to get stronger and better use his strength on the field.

           

    OVERALL

    Jacob Pugh looks the part but is built like a small forward and needs to fill out his long frame. If he can add bulk and strength, it's not out of the question that he could develop into a quality backup situational pass-rusher. He's worth a look late if teams are OK with his work ethic and motor.

          

    GRADE: 5.00 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Koa Misi, free agent

32. Azeem Victor, Washington

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    POSITIVES

    —Aggressive player who isn't afraid to poke his nose into traffic and stuff the run.

    —Plays with good instincts; his 2016 tape showed a high football IQ.

    —Uses his hands well to stack and shed but also to get physical when in coverage.

    —Sinks into zones well and can close on routes coming up to play the ball.

    —True downhill thumper who attacked the run game.

          

    NEGATIVES

    —Tested well below NFL standards with a 4.4 short shuttle and a 7.2 three-cone to go along with an average
    4.72 in the 40.

    —Almost declared for 2017 draft but broke his leg in November 2016.

    —Started only five games in 2017; suspended after DUI arrest; appeared out of shape and unmotivated
    compared to previous seasons.

    —Coaches did not vouch for him when we talked to them. Isn't a self-motivator.

    —Was benched as a senior.

          

    OVERALL

    Azeem Victor was a big name in 2016 but didn't look the same this past season. A poor showing at the combine didn't help his stock since there were already concerns about work ethic and motivation. Victor is unlikely to be drafted.

           

    GRADE: 5.00 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON
    : Manti Te'o, New Orleans Saints

31. Nick DeLuca, North Dakota State

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Above-average mental processing that puts him in the right place more often than not.

    —High-level instincts that keep him in the action often.

    —Special teams experience and willingness to compete.

    —Vocal player; a quick learner who can direct a defense.

          

    NEGATIVES

    —Shoulder injury in 2016 and torn meniscus in 2017.

    —Struggled in Senior Bowl practices, often playing too upright and with a forward lean.

    —Limited athlete with speed concerns who will be exploited in NFL.

    —Average change-of-direction skills that become a problem moving laterally through traffic.

    —Will be chewed up in isolation against NFL talent in the backfield.

           

    OVERALL

    Nick DeLuca is a smart player who has found ways to mask some of his athletic limitations. At the Senior Bowl, however, those limitations stood out rather easily both in linebacker drills and on the field for team portions. DeLuca will have to consistently diagnose plays correctly to have any shot at being an effective NFL linebacker. If a team can manage with him as a depth piece, he has the commitment and willingness to learn any backup spot and contribute on all special teams.

           

    GRADE: 5.00 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON:
    Nick Bellore, Detroit Lions

30. Tre' Williams, Auburn

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    POSITIVES

    —Thumper who loves to hit and made many big tackles at the Senior Bowl.

    —Very physical taking on blockers and sniffing out the run in the middle of the field.

    —Old-school mentality and relishes opportunities to put pads on ball-carriers.

    —Instincts, timing and awareness all scored high.

          

    NEGATIVES

    —Only one year (2017) as a full-time starter.

    —Shoulder injury limited him to eight starts.

    —Doesn't have ideal speed or range to project as a starting linebacker prospect.

    —Low-impact player on game days. Only had 50 total tackles (24 solo) in 2017. Easy to lose him on film.

           

    OVERALL

    Tre' Williams made a name for himself with big hits at the Senior Bowl, but he lacks the hips and speed to play in space in the NFL. He projects well as a backup middle linebacker whose aggressive, physical style would play well on special teams.

          

    GRADE: 5.00 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON:
    Mike Hull, Miami Dolphins

29. Jason Cabinda, Penn State

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Tough, physical "Mike" linebacker who attacks the run.

    —Excellent leader on and off the field. Received high character grades from scouts.

    —Naturally strong and uses his base well to anchor against the run or come to balance as a tackler.

    —Is aggressive stacking up blockers and will look to run over a pulling guard or fullback.

    —Shoots gaps well and is quick to read the run.

           

    NEGATIVES

    —Lacks the open-field speed to be an NFL starter.

    —Struggles to reach outside runs and can get caught behind the play.

    —Offers limited upside as a coverage 'backer due to tight hips and sluggish feet.

    —Won't open his hips and cover much ground. Heavy feet.

          

    OVERALL

    Jason Cabinda was productive at Penn State and looks the part of a throwback linebacker, but he simply lacks the athleticism to make an impact at the next level. He could carve out a career as a backup and special teams stud.

           

    GRADE: 5.10 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Ben Heeney, Houston Texans

28. Matthew Thomas, Florida State

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    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    POSITIVES

    —A big, athletic, rangy linebacker

    —Brings the wood as a hitter and can rock ball-carriers.

    —Opens his hips and flies to the ball when he has a clean alley.

    —Has the open-field speed to run down ball-carriers outside the hashes.

    —Good size (6'3", 232 lbs) to play any linebacker position but looks like a natural at "Will".

    —Former top-15 overall recruit in the 2013 prep class.

           

    NEGATIVES

    —Small hands on a big frame at just 8 ⅞".

    —Suspended for six games in 2013 for violating team rules.

    —Scouts complained he doesn't play aggressively enough, which shows up on film.

    —Reaction time is poor and relies too much on athleticism to get in position to make a play.

    —Doesn't use hands or length to keep blockers off his body; is constantly locked up.

            

    OVERALL

    Matthew Thomas is a big name because of his ranking coming out of high school, but he struggled to develop at FSU and has never popped on film as a high-impact player. He's athletic enough to stick in the pros but isn't the type of player you spend a premium pick on.

           

    GRADE: 5.10 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Kamalei Correa, Baltimore Ravens

27. Kenny Young, UCLA

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Legitimate sideline-to-sideline speed; can pursue boundary runs to the strong side.

    —Coverage ability to stay on the field on third down whether matched up in man or zone coverage.

    —Solid fluidity to open up and run when reads are clear to the edge.

    —Short-area agility to restrict cutback lanes and weave through traffic.

    —Identifies responsibilities and rarely deviates or freelances.

           

    NEGATIVES

    —One-track player who won't make the game-changing flash plays in multiple phases as a defender.

    —He's routinely late in all phases; he's late to diagnose, late to fire feet and late to get downhill.

    —Not the kind of banger teams want at linebacker and will have to develop technique to mask deficiencies. 

    —Elects to dip around blocks rather than take them on and disengage.

    —Toughness and consistent hustle/effort is a concern.

           

    OVERALL

    Kenny Young is a good athlete who can become locked on to specific roles on a play-to-play basis. In some ways that helps his projection if a team bets on consistency. At the same time, teams will want to see him make decisions out of structure that create some of the game-changing plays to win games. He's an immediate special teams contributor who should hold a spot during training camp.

          

    GRADE: 5.20 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Kirk Morrison, retired

26. Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Western Kentucky

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Athletic with easy movements in space.

    —Natural ability to bend and attack with good closing speed.

    —Has the feet and hips to drop into zone coverage and can find the ball well when facing the quarterback.

    —Super productive with 11.5 tackles for loss and first-team All-Conference USA honors in 2017.

    —Can make splash plays in space thanks to burst and closing speed; has impressive range.

           

    NEGATIVES

    —Undersized at 6'1", 229 lbs and lacks play strength.

    —Can be late to read and react and gets caught behind the play.

    —Has long arms (32 ⅝") and big hands (10 ¼") but doesn't use them to keep blockers off him or shed.

    —Junior entry to the 2017 draft hasn't seen much top-tier competition.

    —Lacks the size or strength to consistently stay free and clean to use his athleticism to make plays.

            

    OVERALL

    Joel Iyiegbuniwe has traits to warrant consideration as a late-rounder but is more of a developmental prospect who likely would need to work his way onto the roster as a sub-package 'backer and special teams performer.

           

    GRADE: 5.30 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON:
    Matt Milano, Buffalo Bills

25. Chris Covington, Indiana

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Well-built that combines enough speed and physicality to be effective in NFL.

    —Can open up and run with the best of them.

    —Moldable prospect that has baseline athleticism and is still learning position.

    —Natural athlete who is ultra-competitive.

    —Good tackler who brings some "pop" and runs behind his pads.

           

    NEGATIVES

    —Converted QB with limited experience at the position.

    —Underwhelming diagnose skills and doesn't read and react like other linebackers yet.

    —Technical aspects of position are undeveloped.

    —Doesn't have functional hand usage to take on blocks and disengage.

    —Overruns gaps and loses leverage.

           

    OVERALL

    Chris Covington is a sturdy athlete with the requisite athleticism and power to compete for a role in the NFL. As a converted quarterback who began his collegiate career as a passer, the questions about Covington's long-term linebacker projection linger. He'll have to spend a couple of years learning the nuances of the linebacker position before being expected to do too much, but the foundation is there to warrant a look during training camp.

          

    GRADE: 5.30 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON:
    Avery Williamson, New York Jets

24. Ja'Whaun Bentley, Purdue

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Thick-bodied and can defend the inside run with ease.

    —Not a player who linemen will want to meet in the hole consistently, as he comes with nasty power downhill.

    —Heavyweight boxer who punches with force and muscular upper body.

    —He'll drop all of his weight into his hips for tackles and doesn't miss much.

            

    NEGATIVES

    —ACL tear in 2015 and limited playing time in 2016.

    —Underwhelming athlete who will be exposed as a coverage player in both man and zone.

    —Speed is a real concern; he's almost unplayable against zone schemes that work him laterally.

    —Will struggle to reach backside runs and is almost entirely a Mike at the next level.

    —Needs to work flexibility into his training to gain the necessary mobility.

            

    OVERALL

    Ja'Waughn Bentley looks like a linebacker from the early 90's with a thick frame and ability to handle power inside better than most. The NFL is transitioning away from that need, however, and Bentley's skill set is becoming irrelevant. He'll struggle to compete against NFL-caliber athletes in space, limiting what a team can ask him to do.

         

    GRADE: 5.30 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON:
    Hardy Nickerson Jr., Cincinnati Bengals

23. Skai Moore, South Carolina

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Quick to read plays and get into coverage or into gaps.

    —Four-year starter with incredible production. Made some form of All-SEC team all four years.

    —Athletic enough to slip past blockers. Strong enough to rip through.

    —Makes plays sideline to sideline.

    —Very capable blitzer after playing in Will Muschamp's defense.

          

    NEGATIVES

    —Neck surgery after the 2015 season. Sat out the 2016 season.

    —Size will be a concern, especially for inside linebacker.

    —Heavy-footed and stiff hips for a linebacker his size.

    —Change of direction is slow and labored.

    —Below average athletically.

           

    OVERALL

    It is hard to overlook the severity of his neck injury and missed time. Skai Moore already comes in as an undersized inside linebacker who lacks athleticism. He is going to win time on the field with work in the film room and natural instincts as a player. Limited agility may make it difficult for him to contribute on special teams.

                      

    GRADE: 5.30 (Priority Free Agent)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: D'Qwell Jackson, free agent

22. Zaire Franklin, Syracuse

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    Nick Lisi/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Three-time team captain; the first at Syracuse since the 1890s.

    —Fast linebacker seen running down top speed back Nyheim Hines in the open field.

    —High-character leader whom coaches raved about to us.

    —Athletic hips and feet allow him to cleanly move through space.

    —Has natural play strength that lets him bench-press blockers off his frame.

    —All-around athlete who looks the part on film.

          

    NEGATIVES

    —Short (6'0") for NFL standards at the position with average length.

    —Can get washed down in the run game and struggles to stay clean.

    —Maxed-out player who has seen a lot of snaps and collisions in the last three years.

    —Can be late to start and will let the play run before he attacks.

             

    OVERALL

    Zaire Franklin somehow slid under the radar and wasn't invited to the combine, but his film and pro day numbers all point to a draftable prospect. He's a tad undersized, but his instincts and character are worth taking a gamble on.

           

    GRADE: 5.40 (Round 7)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Chris Borland, retired

21. Oren Burks, Vanderbilt

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Has experience as an inside and outside linebacker, as well as in a 3-4 and 4-3 defense.

    —Quick feet allow him to excel in coverage and get to the football quickly.

    —Matches up well against athletic running backs and tight ends in man coverage.

    —Fearlessly takes on blockers and fills gaps.

    —Great character off the field and established leader on the field.

            

    NEGATIVES

    —Too slow to analyze plays in front of him. Has to rely too much on speed to make tackles.

    —Unafraid of blockers and playing in traffic but struggles to disengage from blocks.

    —Great speed for the position (4.59) but overruns plays.

    —Needs to add strength at the point of contact, tackling and taking on blocks.

    —Defensive scheme changes at Vanderbilt left him without a true position.

             

    OVERALL

    A very athletically gifted linebacker with a ton of experience in different schemes. However, all the changes on defense left Oren Burks without a true position and puts him behind fundamentally. He will fit in well with a team that runs multiple sub-packages and is looking for a good coverage linebacker with special teams upside. Burks will be a late-round selection to develop and play on special teams in the meantime.

             

    GRADE: 5.50 (Round 6)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Derrick Johnson, free agent

20. Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —High football IQ and leader of a very successful defense with some highly drafted players.

    —Will provide great depth at linebacker with a late-round selection.

    —Has been asked to play many roles in Alabama's defense and was productive.

    —Keeps good position and outside shoulder free to force plays inside.

    —Good footwork on film with quick drops and limited false steps.

            

    NEGATIVES

    —Doesn't initiate contact with ball-carriers; lets them make contact with him.

    —Multiple injuries while at Alabama. ACL and fractured kneecap.

    —Undersized. Weighing in at only 228 pounds and 6'0".

    —Bailed out in missed reads by outstanding talent around him. 

            

    OVERALL

    Two bad right knee injuries cannot be overlooked by NFL teams. Shaun Dion Hamilton has not been able to test for teams and needed to show his range and athleticism. Fundamentally, Hamilton is very solid and well-coached. An instinctual player who can drop into coverage and play in traffic. Despite not being the best prospect at the position, Hamilton has been able to earn playing time in a star-studded defense throughout his career at Alabama. Teams will fall in love with his IQ and leadership skills.

              

    GRADE: 5.50 (Round 6)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: D.J. Alexander, Seattle Seahawks

19. Keishawn Bierria, Washington

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Has desired experience as multiyear contributor.

    —Competitive toughness and hustle are immediately apparent.

    —Good vision and processing to put himself in position pre- and post-snap.

    —Able to work through mess while on path to ball-carriers.

           

    NEGATIVES

    —Will lose race to the edge in outside run support against legitimate NFL talent.

    —Frame could use a little more thickness in lower half to handle consistent power in gaps.

    —Doesn't move like an athlete his size and looks rigid in transitional movements.

    —Limited overall athletic ability that will be exposed against better NFL talent.

    —Half-second delay to diagnose that is only heightened in the NFL.

              

    OVERALL

    Keishawn Bierria is an ultimate competitor and wins with hustle and effort each and every down. Unfortunately, those are the minimum requirements in the NFL, and the other aspects of his play leave a bit to be desired. He's an average athlete at best and will need time studying film to learn the ways he can position himself to be successful. Teams looking for a depth player and core special-teamer could find it in Bierria.

           

    GRADE: 5.60 (Round 6)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Paul Worrilow, Philadelphia Eagles

18. Dorian O'Daniel, Clemson

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Versatile athlete that will play on all special teams.

    —Above-average lateral agility that helps weave through traffic in the box.

    —Mental processing as a zone defender is impressive; shows awareness to match concepts.

    —Drops chest and rolls hips through contact to be an efficient tackler.

            

    NEGATIVES

    —Undersized frame but doesn't run fast enough to back it up.

    —Limited experience makes projection a question about whether 2017 was a flash in the pan.

    —Short-area speed is limited and causes him to lead with chest because feet are behind.

    —Will struggle to match up physically with tight ends in coverage.

    —Struggles to get off blocks with physicality and can be locked up early in the rep.

            

    OVERALL

    Special teams value is critical for backup linebackers in the NFL. Dorian O'Daniel will have to prove he can continue to be a special teams standout while fighting for a depth role as a linebacker. A lack of size and pure speed make him a difficult player to find a position for. He's average in most areas and lacks a top-tier trait to hang his hat on, forcing evaluators to look long and hard when trying to find a fit.

            

    GRADE: 5.65 (Round 5-6)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Cory James, Oakland Raiders

17. Jack Cichy, Wisconsin

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Was on path to be four-year contributor at big-time school suggesting coaching staff saw all necessary traits.

    —Doesn't waste time getting lower half into motion once he's committed to a read.

    —Instincts and processing skills are above-average and put him in the right spot more often than not.

    —Productive blitzer who shows solid hand usage to keep himself clean in traffic.

           

    NEGATIVES

    —Missed second half of 2016 with pec injury and missed all of 2017 with knee injury.

    —Limited athlete who wins by being correct and can struggle to even compete if his instincts are wrong.

    —Average height but routinely plays high and upright; will struggle to routinely win leverage.

    —Limited playing time makes him even more of a projection than most.

    —Two-down linebacker who will be exposed by skill players in space at the next level.

             

    OVERALL

    Jack Cichy's injuries are a major concern and will weigh heavily in his evaluation. He simply doesn't have enough consistent tape to know what teams will be getting at the next level. Throw in his limited athleticism and teams will be guessing about where exactly he'll fit with their teams. The instincts are obvious and Wisconsin's staff clearly had high hopes, suggesting there's enough there to warrant a look.

         

    GRADE: 5.65 (Round 5-6)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Nick Kwiatkoski, Chicago Bears

16. Andre Smith, North Carolina

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Will hit everything that moves.

    —Efficient tackler who made play after play in 2016.

    —Short and squatty frame that handles contact well.

    —Good vision to read through gaps at line of scrimmage as plays develop.

    —Handles power at the point of attack well and can out-leverage in gaps.

            

    NEGATIVES

    —Knee injury ended 2017 season after just two games.

    —Doesn't run like a traditional three-down linebacker.

    —Length and speed will become an issue in man coverage against average tight ends in the NFL.

    —Lower-body strength is underwhelming; can't dig in when he doesn't win immediate leverage.

    —Limited on-field experience.

           

    OVERALL

    Andre Smith's season-ending knee injury will give teams pause when trying to project him to the NFL. With only one year of consistent tape, he's an unfinished prospect. Nonetheless, Smith has no fear of contact and will stick his nose in every play. Teams will love his hard-hitting aggressiveness and may feel comfortable living with his limited athleticism

           

    GRADE: 5.65 (Round 5-6)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Mason Foster, Washington Redskins

15. Christian Sam, Arizona State

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Excellent size and thickness to play the run as a gap-shooting linebacker.

    —Can stay on the field on third down with the hips to open up and run in coverage.

    —Above-average explosiveness and change-of-direction ability.

    —Solid tackler who can wrap and control in space.

    —Coverage instincts are strong with awareness to break on passes.

             

    NEGATIVES

    —Missed essentially all of 2016 with foot injury.

    —Inconsistency is maddening and leads to concerns about his hustle.

    —Avoids blocks with athleticism and loses leverage to boundary.

    —Diagnose skills look underdeveloped and will need consistent tape study in NFL.

    —Doesn't stack out and redirect with the efficiency of better linebackers in this class.

           

    OVERALL

    Christian Sam has a NFL-ready frame and the combination of skills that will make him a valuable three-down linebacker at the next level. Inconsistency in effort on film is a major concern and will hold him back as a rookie. He's certainly worth a roster spot to develop as a versatile backup, but the routine plays have to be no-brainers for starters in the NFL—and that's not the case yet with Sam.

          

    GRADE: 5.69 (Round 5-6)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Stephone Anthony, Miami Dolphins

14. Genard Avery, Memphis

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Four-year experience with variety of responsibilities.

    —Able to time rushes and lives behind the line of scrimmage.

    —Stout player with thick upper body that can withstand NFL contact.

    —Above-average hand usage as pass-rusher and can play on the line of scrimmage.

    —Ridiculous athleticism given his body type (6'1", 255 lbs); can move well in space.

               

    NEGATIVES

    —Not a click-and-close player as an inside linebacker.

    —Lacks vision and instincts as a true inside linebacker to read keys.

    —Will be exploited in man coverage against backs.

    —Misjudges angles to the boundary as a stacked backer and will get lost in space.

    —Doesn't use his thickness well to stack and shed with power.

           

    OVERALL

    Genard Avery has a diverse skill set that should intrigue teams looking for a linebacker to play on the line of scrimmage. He's likely best as a strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 defense or an outside linebacker in a 3-4. He has more than enough athleticism given his thick frame, but the instincts and vision needed to diagnose NFL offenses in motion are lacking and limit his ability as a true inside linebacker.

           

    GRADE: 5.70 (Round 5)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON
    : Sam Acho, Chicago Bears

13. Mike McCray, Michigan

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Big-time NFL size and length.

    —Willingness to play downhill as an inside linebacker with power.

    —Doesn't waste time getting going and can read entire picture quickly.

    —Solid as a middle-hole dropper with eyes to redirect to concepts as they happen.

    —Forces the issue on climbing offensive linemen and looks to squarely take on blocks.

          

    NEGATIVES

    —Missed all of 2015 with various injuries.

    —Not a legitimate three-down player and will struggle in man coverage against average athletes.

    —Play speed is a concern when edge is threatened.

    —Doesn't have the hip fluidity to open and run to boundary with necessary pace.

    —Uncomfortable runner who has forced, heavy-footed gait.

            

    OVERALL

    Mike McCray has all of the thump and toughness that teams hope to get from a true inside linebacker. However, his athleticism is limited and may force him off the field on third downs. He looks like an unnatural mover struggling to reach the top speed needed to compete. McCray is best as an inside backer who isn't the primary coverage guy on the field and can instead use mental processing and power to be a productive player.

            

    GRADE: 5.80 (Round 4)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON:
    Max Bullough, free agent

12. Fred Warner, BYU

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Excellent height and length to be an effective coverage player down the field.

    —Above-average athlete for the position.

    —Moveable piece who can play matchups and provide defensive positional flexibility.

    —Fires feet to throttle down and burst with efficient steps and good explosiveness.

    —Doesn't waste time getting a jump on plays and can make flash stops all over the field.

          

    NEGATIVES

    —Spatial awareness lapses when in motion and causes inconsistent strike points.

    —Long and lengthy player who doesn't look like a traditional inside linebacker from a thickness perspective.

    —Arm tackler in space who can overrun clean contact.

    —Leverage and gap strength as an interior run defender needs improvement.

           

    OVERALL

    Fred Warner's length and ability to match up against multiple positions in coverage will make him a highly coveted sub-package player early in his career. The trick will be defining a long-term position or role for Warner that keeps him on the field as an effective player for all three downs. Some of his mechanics have to be cleaned up, but the athletic base is eye-popping as a prospect.

              

    GRADE: 5.90 (Round 4)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON:
    Zach Cunningham, Houston Texans

11. Shaquem Griffin, UCF

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Productive all over the field for UCF, including as an edge-blitzer.

    —Above-average athletic ability and versatility.

    —Toughness, competitiveness and desire are unquestionable.

    —Was asked to practice at multiple positions at Senior Bowl and impressed with mental processing ability.

    —Aggressive hitter who brings chest and hips through every tackle.

             

    NEGATIVES

    —Will struggle to disengage from blocks when offensive linemen have strong grip strength and can stack him out.

    —Stands tall and relies on athleticism to run around; has to show a consistent ability to deconstruct blocks in the gap.

    —Most of his weight is from his midsection up; will need to fill out his lower body if he is going to consistently play inside.

    —Play strength to blow up power inside needs more developing.

            

    OVERALL

    Shaquem Griffin obviously meets the marks when it comes to competitive toughness and heart. Complications during pregnancy led to Griffin's left hand not developing fully. As a result, he had the hand amputated at the low forearm when he was four years old. Now, he's an above-average athlete who has all of the movement skills to be a weak-side 'backer in a 4-3 defense. There's no precedent for how the NFL might judge Griffin, but he's worth a comfortable mid-round pick.

          

    GRADE: 5.99 (Round 4)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON:
    Duke Riley, Atlanta Falcons

10. Micah Kiser, Virginia

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Four-year production with big-time tackle numbers over last three seasons.

    —NFL-ready frame that can handle physicality with ease.

    —Play strength and tenacity to fill downhill on inside runs.

    —Instincts and competitiveness to fit through trash and always find the ball.

    —Do-it-all 'backer who can have an effect in all three phases.

            

    NEGATIVES

    —Won't be a backside tackler on edge runs due to a lack of true range versus speed.

    —Boom-or-bust tackler.

    —Not a player who can handle space against average NFL athletes one-no-one.

    —Change of direction exposes limited flexibility and tight hips to open and run downfield.

    —Form tackles are few and far between and will lead to close calls or extra yardage in the NFL.

          

    OVERALL

    Micah Kiser's numbers are eye-popping and highlight a player who routinely tracks the ball and makes plays when it matters. He has a relentless motor that keeps him active in all phases and will endear him with NFL coaches who love toughness and hustle. A limited athletic skill set makes specific matchups worrisome, but Kiser's thumping attitude is built for the NFL.

             

    GRADE: 5.99 (Round 4)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Blake Martinez, Green Bay Packers

9. Josey Jewell, Iowa

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Relentless competitor who is always around the ball.

    —Squares up contact and can roll hips through tackles for efficient stops.

    —See-it-and-go type of processor in run support who fires from processing to action immediately.

    —Sniffs out screens and diagnoses quickly to compensate for athletic limitations.

    —Technician who wins with fundamentals and sound hand usage.

         

    NEGATIVES

    —Average athlete who will have to win with film study at the next level.

    —Change-of-direction skills show up in man coverage and will be exploited by offensive coordinators.

    —Runs into everything and doesn't show much of an ability to dip and rip through contact.

    —Drops eyes into contact and can out-leverage himself unintentionally.

    —Lateral speed is underwhelming and causes concern consistently defending edge runs.

          

    OVERALL

    Josey Jewell is an ode to the throwback linebacker in playing style despite a frame that doesn't quite match. He lives near the ball and racks up tackle after tackle, an encouraging sign that highlights his instincts and competitiveness. Jewell will struggle when isolated against above-average athletes in space and will have to rely on tape study to compensate.

                 

    GRADE: 6.00 (Round 3)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON:
    Chris Borland, retired

8. Tegray Scales, Indiana

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Four-year experience and production at Indiana.

    —2016 tape was even better than 2017 and showed a tackling machine.

    —Instinctual player with a nose for the ball.

    —Playmaker in all phases who can create turnovers, force big stops and make game-changing plays.

    —Can stack and shed blocks with the top-tier linebackers in this class.

           

    NEGATIVES

    —Short, squatty frame that doesn't have length or weight desired for NFL.

    —Struggles to routinely handle power at the point of attack.

    —Man-coverage skills will have to improve at the next level, or better athletes will expose him.

    —Average speed; has to rely on instincts to get to front-side edge runs against speed.

    —When instincts are wrong, back side of runs can be left with a soft second level because he overpursued.

            

    OVERALL

    Tegray Scales filled the stat sheet in 2016 in every category and was a clear leader of the defense. He has the instincts and playmaking knack that simply can't be coached up. He'll have to continue developing varied manners to handle power at the point of attack, but the foundation is there for a successful linebacker at the next level.

            

    GRADE: 6.00 (Round 3)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON:
    Will Compton, Tennessee Titans

7. Darius Leonard, South Carolina State

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Four-year contributor who filled up the stat sheets in all phases.

    —Above-average arm length for his height that aids in reach and stacking out blockers.

    —Quick-trigger athlete who doesn't waste motion to hit top speed in a hurry.

    —Above-average eye discipline to match concepts in motion and make plays on the ball.

    —Lateral agility is impressive, allowing him to flow smoothly as plays develop.

           

    NEGATIVES

    —Undersized frame at 6'2", 229 pounds, and may not be able to add much more.

    —Doesn't play with the nastiness and intensity of other top linebackers in this class.

    —Athleticism can't be his only trick in the NFL, and he'll have to show more fundamental block-destruction technique.

    —Consistent tackler but doesn't hit with the finishing force you'd like to see from a stud defender.

    —Drops eyes into contact and will out-leverage himself too easily.

          

    OVERALL

    Darius Leonard's production is impressive regardless of the school where he played. He made a living by chasing the ball and relying on above-average athleticism to mask some technical deficiencies. Leonard's body may not be able to add much more weight, but if he can get into a system as a stacked 'backer with protective beef up front, he could be an excellent gap-shooting weak-side linebacker.

          

    GRADE: 6.45 (Round 3)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON
    : Jatavis Brown, San Diego Chargers

6. Jerome Baker, Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Above-average athlete with sideline-to-sideline range.

    —Ideal coverage linebacker who can hang in space with backfield athletes.

    —Lateral agility is excellent and highlights rare athleticism for the position.

    —Evades blockers in space and makes for a difficult second-level target for offensive linemen.

    —Ball skills are strong and show a player capable of generating turnovers in the NFL.

            

    NEGATIVES

    —Will be steamrolled with routine power.

    —Slow to process and can't compensate when offense is equally speedy to edge.

    —Undersized frame; will struggle to match strength at the point of attack.

    —Slow to fill downhill when he knows it will be a dog fight inside.

    —Lacks varied hand usage to disengage or redirect in space.

         

    OVERALL

    Jermome Baker is a supremely talented linebacker who looks to fit the mold of the NFL's new-age linebackers. He has the range to make tackles on either sideline and the coverage instincts to stay on the field on third down. Concerns about Baker's size and competitive toughness against beef up front will have to be answered for him to be seen as an immediate starter at the next level.

          

    GRADE: 6.50 (Round 2-3)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Deion Jones, Atlanta Falcons

5. Malik Jefferson, Texas

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Top-tier athlete with special burst and open-field speed.

    —Has the natural strength to stack blockers or press in coverage at the line of scrimmage.

    —Scheme and position versatility with upside as a pass-rusher or off-ball linebacker.

    —Can chase down ball-carriers with ease and has the speed to run with tight ends up the seam.

    —Still developing nuances of the position; his best football could still be ahead of him.

    —See-ball, get-ball type linebacker who can be a mismatch for offenses to worry about.

           

    NEGATIVES

    —Moved around the Texas defense with only one year of notable production.

    —Nagging injuries affected him in his first two seasons.

    —Instincts are a step late, which he covered up with speed at Texas.

    —Missed tackles were an issue; needs to square up ball-carriers better and make less whip-style tackles.

            

    OVERALL

    On athleticism and upside, Malik Jefferson is a first-rounder, but every team must evaluate him differently. He isn't a fit in a scheme that wants him to sit and read, but if he's freed up to make plays either in space or coming off the edge as a pass-rusher, he could make a huge immediate impact.

           

    GRADE: 6.99 (Round 2)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh Steelers

4. Rashaan Evans, Alabama

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Has excellent size (6'2", 232 lbs) with the speed to chase and attack.

    —Used all over the defense at Alabama and has experience in coverage and as a pass-rusher.

    —Frame and speed scream Will linebacker but can also play Mike; versatility is a selling point.

    —High-IQ linebacker tasked with setting up the Crimson Tide defense; quicker read-and-react.

    —Tough, old-school mentality in a new-era athletic frame.

    —Burst to close on the ball is special; plays with violence.

            

    NEGATIVES

    —Played in a defensive system that kept him clean from blockers.

    —Maxed out physically and played through a groin injury in 2017.

    —Can get caught behind the play and doesn't run through blockers.

    —Scouts worried he's not a fast processor playing middle linebacker.

              

    OVERALL

    Rashaan Evans is what the NFL wants in a modern linebacker. He's fast, versatile and tough in the middle of the field. With his tools as a run defender, blitzer and an upside player in coverage, he has all the makings of a first-rounder.

              

    GRADE: 7.00 (Round 1)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON
    : Alec Ogletree, New York Giants

3. Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Big (6'4", 256 lbs) and long (33 ⅞" arms) with excellent speed and agility.

    —Three-down impact player who was used as a blitzer and asked to carry tight ends in coverage.

    —Awesome instincts in the middle of the field allowed him to live around the football.

    —Hips and feet show up as special in coverage. He can turn and run in-phase with tight ends.

    —Fluid, smooth mover whether he's running down a ball-carrier or backpedaling in coverage.

    —Timing and instincts as a blitzer allowed him to have a huge impact.

           

    NEGATIVES

    —One-year wonder who was banged up prior to 2017.

    —Can play tall at times with stiff knees.

    —Durability concerns were mentioned by scouts given his injury history.

    —Not always an effective stacker of blocks and must better use his length to stay clean.

           

    OVERALL

    A former basketball standout in high school, Leighton Vander Esch is one of the best all-around defenders in the class. He's also still developing physically on an already dominant frame. Whether he's playing in a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, Vander Esch looks like a Day 1 starter.

            

    GRADE: 7.05 (Round 1)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON:
    Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers

2. Roquan Smith, Georgia

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Instinctive, rangy linebacker prospect with speed to dominate outside the hashes.

    —Excellent work ethic and considered a leader of the Georgia program. Ideal captain of the defense.

    —He'll leave running backs sore with powerful, consistent tackling. Shows the ability to wrap up and not let runners slip.

    —Has the speed and hips to play in coverage against tight ends or backs. His timing and instincts in coverage are special.

    —True three-down impact at linebacker with excellent speed, instincts and timing.

    —Has the agility of a running back and can start, stop, accelerate and flip his hips.

           

    NEGATIVES

    —Added weight to his frame for the combine but is still undersized by NFL standards (6'1", 236 lbs).

    —Struggled at times against power-run teams (Oklahoma, Alabama) and failed to show up early in those games.

    —If he gets behind the play in the run game, he'll get swallowed by blockers.

    —Could better learn to stack and shed blockers.

            

    OVERALL

    Roquan Smith is the ideal 4-3 Mike linebacker with speed and instincts but could also end up as a weak-side linebacker where he's free to make plays in space. He's been compared by some scouts to Ray Lewis or NaVorro Bowman, which speaks to his excellent overall ability.

             

    GRADE: 7.10 (Round 1)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON: Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers

1. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    POSITIVES

    —Big, fluid, fast linebacker with three-down skill set and versatility to rush, stop the run or play in coverage.

    —Legacy player whose dad, Ferrell, played tight end in the NFL.

    —Has the frame to add size if so desired and could ultimately end up as an edge-rusher or stack linebacker.

    —Size and speed are rare. He's able to run with wide receivers and chase down running backs at 250 pounds.

    —Can be a defensive chess piece that matches up with the offense's best player. He's agile and fast enough to play slot coverage but long and powerful enough to rush off the edge.

    —Has the body type to be developed into any role the defense imagines.

    —Just 19 years old with a whole lot of time ahead of him to grow and develop.

             

    NEGATIVES

    —Still learning the position and will take false steps that his athleticism covers up.

    —Can be late to react and is more of a catcher than initiator as a tackler.

    —Needs to continue getting stronger to take on NFL blockers.

             

    OVERALL

    The sky's the limit for Tremaine Edmunds, and the only thing holding him back might be the creativity of his defensive coordinator. Players with this size, speed, strength and natural ability don't come around often. One scout we spoke to even compared him to a young Brian Urlacher.

             

    GRADE: 7.25 (Round 1)

    PRO PLAYER COMPARISON:
    Anthony Barr, Minnesota Vikings