By Dan Pompei, Chicago Tribune reporter
6:08 PM CDT, April 18, 2013
The outside linebacker class will test teams' philosophies. On the one hand, there is Georgia's Jarvis Jones, who played like a demon but worked out horribly. On the other, there is Missouri's Zaviar Gooden, who was all-pro at the NFL scouting combine, but didn't impress many scouts on Saturdays during the fall. Some teams go for the player; some go for the athlete. There aren't many in this class who are both outstanding players and outstanding athletes.
1. Jarvis Jones, Georgia, 6-2, 245: Some teams focus on the 4.92 he ran in the 40-yard dash on his pro day. Others focus on his 28 sacks over two years. Said one veteran scout: "From his stance to the quarterback, he plays at a speed of 4.6." Jones is an explosive edge player with a burst. He will chase the ball carrier all over the field, and he can close and finish. One general manager called him "a game changer." Another pointed out, "He played big in big games." He is described by scouts as violent, nasty and aggressive. He is tough to push off the point, and he has natural pop. He is best suited for a 3-4 defense as an outside linebacker. In a 4-3 defense, he either is a strong-side linebacker or a defensive end, or some combination of the two. His height and reach is a concern if he is asked to play defensive end. "He will get beat up on the line if he has to play there," one scout said. He started out at Southern Cal and suffered a neck injury. The next year USC doctors didn't clear him to play, so he transferred to Georgia. He has had no recurring problems with the neck and has been medically cleared. In high school in Georgia, he played basketball and earned all-state honors.
2. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers, 6-1, 241: The former free safety is athletic, fast and highly productive. He should be a perfect fit as a weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, but he is gifted enough to play any linebacker position in a 4-3. He is short but thick. He has bulked up without losing athleticism. Greene looked good at the Senior Bowl, showing fluidity and change of direction in his drops. Greene has good play speed, and some power and pop. Greene can make big plays. He still is learning to play linebacker, and his potential his considerable if he continues to develop.
3. Jamie Collins, Southern Mississippi, 6-4, 250: He is another player who fits best in a 3-4. In a 4-3, Collins probably would have to be a strong-side linebacker who rushes on nickel downs. "It's a debate what to do with him for our team," said a scout who works for a 4-3 team. Collins has excellent measurables and speed. He has the potential to be a very good pro. With his combination of burst, power and speed off the edge, Collins can get to the quarterback. Rushing the passer is his thing, but he also is sufficient against the run. Collins' effort level is a little up and down, scouts say.
4. Sio Moore, Connecticut, 6-1, 245: He is an active linebacker who looked like the best player on the field at the East-West Shrine game, according to one scouting director. Moore is powerful and aggressive, and he loves to hit. He plays with unusual passion. He might be able to play the weak side in a 4-3, but he would be suited best as an outside linebacker in a 3-4. "The best thing he does is rush," one general manager said. "He doesn't have a lot of flexibility as far as dropping and covering." His stock has been on a steady climb all year. Front office men still see Moore as inconsistent despite his production over three seasons.
5. Jelani Jenkins, Florida, 6-1, 243: His skill level would suggest he should go in the second round, but he probably won't go that high because of his extensive injury history and durability concerns. Jenkins was hurt so much that he has not fully developed. He could have benefited from staying in school for his final year of eligibility. He showcased his athleticism with a fine workout at Florida's pro day. Jenkins is a former safety and he has excellent ball skills and hands. He shows suddenness and instincts. He makes plays. "He is one of the more talented kids in the draft at the position," one longtime evaluator said.
6. Gerald Hodges, Penn State, 6-1, 243: He is a solid linebacker who would be best on the weak side in a 4-3, but also might be considered a middle linebacker. He is effective in space, and he shows decent play speed. Hodges can play all downs. He is physical enough. He has good intangibles. He was a high school quarterback who bulked up. "He has some upside to him," one GM said.
7. Zaviar Gooden, Missouri, 6-2, 234: His workout numbers, including a 4.46 40-yard dash, are some of the best NFL scouts have seen in years for an outside linebacker. He was the top performer among his position group in every test at the combine but one. Gooden is a former safety who moves like one. But scouts say his lack of instincts negate some of his athleticism. He does not read and diagnose quickly. He takes poor angles. He is not aware on zone drops. His tackling needs work, and he needs to clean up his technique. At the very least, Gooden should be a fine special teams player.
8. A.J. Klein, Iowa State, 6-1, 250: Klein had an outstanding workout, but didn't play as athletically as he worked out. He tends to play high and therefore doesn't get a lot of power in his collisions. Otherwise, he is fundamentally sound. NFL execs who have interviewed Klein came away very impressed with his understanding of the game and his ability to articulate. "He's off the charts smart," one said. His preparation comes through in his play, as Klein reads and reacts promptly. He is suited best for strong-side linebacker, but also is considered a middle or inside linebacker candidate.
9. Sean Porter, Texas A&M, 6-1, 229: He is a little smaller than ideal, but he makes up for it with instincts, quickness and suddenness that are above average. He is a run and chase player. "He gets around the ball," one scout said. He was used as a pass rusher in college, but he probably will have to take on a different role in the NFL, perhaps as a weak-side linebacker in a 4-3. He is not the most physical linebacker. Porter may be just a backup in the NFL, but one AFC general manager said he has hopes he eventually could develop into a starter.
10. Chase Thomas, Stanford, 6-3, 244: Scouts are all over the board on him. Some think he is a surefire NFL starter; some think he was a good college player who has maxed out. He is a heady player who knows how to use his hands and get around blocks. Thomas takes good angles. He can drop. He also has good strength at the point for his size. He is big and physical. "He could be a (middle linebacker), but ideally he would set the edge as a (strong-side linebacker)," an AFC general manager said. "He reminds me of Mike Vrabel." Thomas is not a dynamic pass rusher.
11. DeVonte Holloman, South Carolina, 6-2, 243: He is thought of as a strong-side linebacker or possibly a middle/inside linebacker in the NFL. He is a former safety, but his speed is so-so. Holloman finds the football well. He is intense. NFL teams have some off-the-field concerns with him, as he was arrested for driving under the influence.
12. Jake Knott, Iowa State, 6-2, 243: He covers a lot of ground and is a solid tackler. He is a crafty, aggressive linebacker who plays decisively. Knott is not the most dynamic athlete, but he is a pretty good football player with good intangibles. In high school, he was a heck of a baseball player. He is coming off a shoulder injury.
13. Brandon Magee, Arizona State, 5-11, 223: He is undersized and subsequently gets engulfed at times. But scouts say he has good instincts, energy and quickness. "He gets around the ball," one said. "He's a good player. I just don't know where to put him." Magee could carve out a role as a special teams player. He also was a fine baseball player who played in college and was drafted by the Athletics and Rays.
14. Lerentee McCray, Florida. 6-2, 250: He offers a nice combination of speed and punch. McCray is an intense player who doesn't show any quit. He isn't the most fluid athlete. Some see him as an outside linebacker in a 3-4, and he has rushed the passer quite a bit. He recently had shoulder surgery that could affect his draft stock.
15. John Lotulelei, Nevada-Las Vegas, 5-11, 233: He is a hustler who lacks ideal size but has decent pop considering. He shows good recognition skills. He is limited in coverage. He should be a good special teams player if nothing else. John is no relation to Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.
16. Travis Long, Washington State, 6-4, 245: He has the body type to play outside in a 3-4. Long has some pass rush skills, and he was pretty productive. He seems to have a knack for getting to the quarterback. His athleticism is just OK, and he is not the most physical defender.
Eric Martin, Nebraska
Etienne Sabino, Ohio State
Mike Taylor, Wisconsin
Nick Moody, Florida State
Jayson DeManche, Southern Illinois
Herman Lathers, Tennessee
Alex Debniak, Stanford
Nate Williams, Ohio State
Troy Davis, Central Florida
Evan Frierson, Illinois State
Nate Palmer, Illinois State
Alonzo Highsmith, Arkansas
The Bears are not in position to overlook a good, young outside linebacker. They lost Nick Roach in free agency. His replacement, James Anderson, signed a one-year contract. Moreover, Lance Briggs is 32. He had an outstanding season in 2012, but the Bears have to begin thinking about his successor. Their depth also is questionable after losing Geno Hayes to free agency. He was the primary backup one year ago.
Next: Kickers and punters
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