With the 2018 NFL Draft approaching quickly, it’s time to really lock in player rankings. With the combine over and pro days and visits underway, it is much easier to get a sense of where players should be taken in the draft. Linebacker is a position the Eagles could be interested in spending a high pick on and lucky for them it is one of the deeper positions this season! Here are the ten best linebackers in what looks like a loaded class.
10. Tegray Scales, Indiana
Tegray Scales might not wow anyone with size or speed, but he is a highly physical and intelligent player who was massively productive in college. Scales, standing at only six foot, has a thickly built frame and plays like his hair is on fire. He is dependable in coverage and is a playmaker behind the line of scrimmage, showing an ability to anticipate ball carriers and fire through gaps to make a play. Scales does not meet a lot of NFL thresholds for size or athleticism, but I bet he out performs his draft position as a future starter as a weak side linebacker.
NFL Comparison: Najee Goode, Philadelphia Eagles
9. Jerome Baker, Ohio State
Jerome Baker is a guy I have been a fan of for a while. While he is also a bit undersized at 6’1” and 230 pounds, his blazing speed was on full display his whole career and at the NFL combine when he ran a 4.52 in the forty yard dash. Baker’s speed flashes in coverage and attacking the line of scrimmage. His physicality could be more consistent but teams will want to use his speed as a blitzer almost immediately and he has room to improve.
NFL Comparison: Darron Lee, New York Jets.
8. Darius Leonard, South Carolina State
Darius Leonard was a multi-purpose weapon for SCSU during his time there. They utilized his athleticism and physicality all over the field where he made plays against the run, in coverage and as a blitzer/pass rusher. Leonard is an athletic, high motor player with high football intelligence. At only 234 pounds, about, he might need to get bigger to thrive in the NFL but he has immediate potential as a coverage linebacker with room to become an every down player.
NFL Comparison: Jarrad Davis, Detroit Lions
7. Shaquem Griffin, UCF
One of the best stories of college football and the NFL draft. Shaquem Griffin defied odds as he gained a starting role on the Golden Knights even though he only had one hand. He then proceeded to dominate college football for two seasons. After that, he lit up the combine with a record breaking 4.38 forty yard dash for a 227 pound linebacker and benched an impressive 20 reps. Griffin, a former track star, is a fantastic athlete and better football player. He was used all over the place on UCF’s defense and that versatility will help him in the NFL. Teams might use his speed on the weak side where he can chase down plays and blitz. Hopefully teams will look past his physical differences because he will massively reward the team that selects him .
NFL Comparison: Wesley Woodyard, Tennessee Titans
6. Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama
Every year Alabama seemingly has another talented linebacker ready to head into the NFL. This year, they have two. Shaun Dion Hamilton has been impressive over his last two years with the Tide despite ending both seasons sidelined with injuries. Dion Hamilton is a smart, physical player who excels against the run and does a good job covering in space. At six foot, he is shorter than NFL teams would prefer but he is a gritty player who makes up for his size. Dion Hamilton tore an ACL in 2016 and fractured his knee-cap during the second half of his last season at Alabama. Injuries could push him deep down in the draft, but he remains a talented player.
NFL Comparison: Chris Borland, Former San Fransisco 49er
5. Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
Among this year’s more fascinating players; Leighton Vander Esch is all upside when it comes to the linebacking position. Vander Esch was a one year starter at Boise State but went on to win the conference Defensive Player of the Year. He is a fast, instinctive player who absolutely tore up the NFL combine. He is up and down as a run defender right now, but his peaks as a player are absolutely unbelievable and teams could be very happy from betting on his upside.
NFL Comparison: Pre-injury Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills
4. Malik Jefferson, Texas
One of the more difficult evaluations, Malik Jefferson played everywhere on the Texas defense during his three year career there. They took advantage of his athleticism by playing him at inside linebacker, outside linebacker, edge rusher and slot defender every season. This type of versatility was effective in college but it definitely made it harder for him to be comfortable in one spot. Jefferson is an off ball player in the NFL and his speed and playmaking ability will be valuable for an NFL defense. He had an incredibly explosive combine, running 4.52 and broad jumping over 10 feet at 236 pounds. While he is a bit of a project, teams will love his versatility and upside. He can be immediately effective as a run and chase type of player who can also blitz from anywhere in the formation. As he becomes more comfortable in traffic and coverage, he could become a star.
NFL comparison: Early career Brian Cushing, Houston Texans
3. Rashaan Evans, Alabama
The second half of Alabama’s talented linebacker duo this season; Rashaan Evans was a multifaceted weapon for the Tide last season who excelled as a run defender and made an impact coming off the edge in sub packages. The 6’1”, 232 pound linebacker will likely stay off the ball in the NFL, but he could still make an impact as a blitzer. Regardless, he is a high impact run defender who can set the tone as a tackler. He could improve as a coverage defender and may be best suited in a 3-4 scheme, but Evans will be a productive tackler and a leader on a defense from day one.
NFL Comparison: Early career Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh Steelers
2. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
The conversation for who the number one linebacker is this season is quite fascinating. There is an extremely good argument for Tremaine Edmunds given all that we know about him. First of all, he is an absolutely massive player for the linebacker position. At 6’4”, 253 pounds with 34.5” arms; Edmunds is freakishly big for a linebacker. Even more impressive, he blazed a 4.54 forty yard dash at the combine at his size. Unreal size and speed combination. Even more ridiculous, Edmunds is turning 20 a few days after he’s (likely) drafted which means he is still years away from reaching his full athletic potential. So there are just some ridiculous facts about the Virginia Tech product and we haven’t even gotten to how damn good of a player he is. Have I mentioned how damn good of a player he is? Virginia Tech deployed Edmunds everywhere in their front seven to maximize his freakish ability. He made an impact as a pass rusher and playing off ball. He is incredibly physical and players as fast as he runs. His instincts are a bit raw, but his flashes are outright dominant and he has so much room to grow. He could play a variety of roles in the NFL, but I feel like his skill-set is fully maximized playing off the ball where he could affect the game in coverage, against the run and as a blitzer. He is one of the most exciting players in the draft this year.
NFL Comparison: Anthony Barr, Minnesota Vikings
1. Roquan Smith, Georgia
As much as I love Tremaine Edmunds, Roquan Smith is among the top three best players in this class, period. Smith captained the Georgia defense to a national Title appearance and was the impact player on a defense full of future NFL players. Smith led his team in sacks because of how overwhelming his speed is as a blitzer and that same speed made him an outstanding run defender in side to side situations and coming straight downhill. Smith might not have the “ball production” to prove it, but he is also a very solid pass defender with room to get better. He is a bit shorter at six foot and only 236 pounds. However, he is incredibly physical and intelligent, offsetting obstacles that could be set by his lack of prototypical size. Smith will immediately reshape a defense due to his leadership on the field and just outstanding play. Day one, immediate impact player.
NFL Comparison: Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Who are your favorite linebacker prospects this year?