First I would like to apologize to all the IDPers out there for the tardiness of my first defensive player list. We will look at the combined linebacker position and I rated them with a balanced scheme focus so a sack would be worth about two and a half times what a tackle is worth. I will also admit to a Senior Bowl bias as most of these players I got to see up close there.
1. OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
He is a thick, powerful backer with good burst to the ball. Mack disengages with blockers quickly keeping them off his body. Finds the ball quickly which helps him cause turnovers and negative plays for the offense. The outside linebacker moves around well, but struggles somewhat in pass coverage. In big play leagues, he is the best linebacker bar none!
2. ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
The linebacker finds the ball quickly, but lacks some physicality that I expect from inside backers. He looks more like a safety as he doesn’t always wrap up and tries to launch himself. Mosley was effective dropping back into coverage and flowed well to the ball. If he can be a weak side linebacker in a 4-3, watch out.
3. ILB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
Shazier is a fast-twitched guy who gets around the field quickly, but doesn’t have a big, muscular frame. He has good vision and flows to the ball well. Shazier struggles at times to disengage from blockers and can get caught up in the trash. He might be the best in his class at pass coverage, but can rush the passer too.
4. ILB Chris Borland, Wisconsin
He is short, stout, and physical who loves contact. Borland has good vision and flows to the ball well. The Wisconsin backer is decent in coverage for short bursts, but can’t cover backs and tight ends all over the field. He might be the smartest football player at his position, but is the least athletic.
5. OLB/ILB Kyle Van Noy, BYU
This linebacker is more quick and fluid than a physical thumper. He sees the play developing and flows to the ball. Van Noy covers backs and tight ends well down the field. He seems to avoid contact when he can. Something about him screams Patriots to me.
6. OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
I realize his low ranking here may cause people concern. Barr is a physical freak with speed, strength, and explosion. His first step is amazing, but he is raw and has his struggles defending the run. He might spend a year or two as a pass rush specialist before transitioning to a full-time player, limiting his fantasy upside.
7. OLB/DE Dee Ford, Auburn
Some people may have issues with me ranking him as a linebacker. At 6’ 2“ 252 lbs., Ford is too small to play on the defensive line. He attacks the line of scrimmage quickly with silky smoothness, working around blockers on his way to the quarterback. Ford looks natural enough dropping back to cover the flat with good balance and agility. He also might be limited early on his career with what role he plays on the defense.
8. OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
He identifies the play quickly, while flowing to the ball. Attaochu can play against the run and pass equally well. The linebacker can create pressure as a pass rusher and likes to force fumbles. He has issues getting rid of blockers and plays with his heart more than his mind at times.
9. ILB/OLB Jordan Tripp, Montana
Tripp made an impression on me in Mobile. He finds ways to get to the ball quickly with good decision-making and fluidity. The linebacker is willing to do the dirty work, including taking on two blockers, to make the play. Tripp isn’t the most physically gifted player, but he has good instincts and toughness that NFL teams need.
10. ILB/OLB Christian Jones, Florida State
To say he is versatile would be an understatement. Jones played some defensive end this past year, but should be a good NFL linebacker. He is tall, flows to the ball well, drops back in coverage, and rushes the passer. The linebacker doesn’t have a natural spot at any one linebacker position.
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