Today I will be ranking the inside linebacker position which may be easy enough since the position has such a small pool this year of true fits at the spot. As per usual please hold back on rude comments calling me out as not being a true scout because you are right, but I do try my best to get my stuff right. I like to make hot takes and use my gut often on figuring out which players may work out in the NFL and ones that will not. Of course, I could be wrong, but so is Mel Kiper and others every year so this is all just a crap shoot game. So, without further adieu here we go!
Most Pro Ready:
1) Reuben Foster LB Alabama 6-1 228 lbs
Coming out hot out of the linebacker factory at Alabama is Reuben Foster who is built in the same nasty, instinctive, and hard hitting mold as his predecessors. Even with his shoulder surgery making him miss the Combine and most likely his Pro Day I can still see him land in the top 10 of the draft and at worst 13 to the Cardinals. To me he is faster and more athletic than last years Reggie Ragland and even C.J. Mosley with his ability to cover in space pretty solidly moving sideline to sideline. However, I worry about his actual football instincts that are below that of the previous Alabama backers. He can fit right into a 3-4 inside linebacker spot and even play a weak side linebacker in a 4-3 system that gives him a little bit of flexibility that the other Bama backers do not possess. I can even see him moving to an edge rushing position if need be in exotic blitzes thanks to his block shedding ability and speed. I am not one to draft an inside linebacker early since their impact on a total game is very minimal, but I can see why a team would love to have Foster.
2) Zach Cunningham LB Vanderbilt 6-4 230 lbs
Another linebacker in the SEC has a shot to be one of the best from this draft and should be getting just as much love as Foster, but is seemingly flying under the radar. That being Cunningham who was a defensive stud for a bad football team flying around and single handedly stopping opposing offenses for the Commodores to get a few wins this season. He may not be a thumper or overly strong, but his speed to fly around the field and instincts are at a very high level. His fit is best served as linebacker on a 4-3 defense so he can fly around the edge and play downhill. Block shedding is one of his best assets to slip by blockers to get to opposing running backs and quarterbacks. If he does get stronger without wasting any of his speed I can see him being a long time starter in this league.
1) Anthony Walker LB Northwestern 6-1 245 lbs
A year ago Walker looked like a lock to be a first round pick when he played at a lighter weight, but was told he needed to get stronger to become better. Whoever gave him that advice obviously did not know his best trait was his speed. After putting on the bulk he limited his speed making him a lot less effective. If he can lose that weight and get back to his original playing weight he can become a nice development pick to play sooner than later. He has good instincts and tackling ability to be a roving linebacker playing off the line cleaning up the mess getting past his defensive line. Walker is obviously a smart guy coming out of Northwestern and has expressed the hunger to continue to get better and his leadership ability is what you like to get from a linebacker at the next level. If he can continues to improve overall he can become a nice starter.
2) Alex Anzalone LB Florida 6-3 240 lbs
If Anzalone could stay healthy he can be a sure fire second round stud for team in the middle of their defense with his all around solid ability in the middle of a defense. He showed that ability at the Senior Bowl sticking out as one of the best cover linebackers in space and blitzing downhill. His athleticism, versatility, and three down potential will have coaches and GMs tempted to over drafting him, but they should hold off until the 3rd round or later for him. If he stays healthy however, whoever drafts him will love him with his upside playmaking and can be landing a future Pro Bowler and nice leader on a defense.
1) Elijah Lee LB Kansas St 6-3 228 lbs
Lee fits the current mold of linebackers who are lighter and quicker to cover in space. He has good technique in coverage and has a lot of speed to keep up with the faster running backs and tight ends. I really like players from Kansas St because it normally shows they have a good head on their shoulders and work ethic to play under head coach Bill Snyder. Lee still needs some work with good linebacking coaches however, to work on his upright running to make him play with better fluidity and better tackling form. If he does I can see him carving out a very nice niche in the NFL as a passing down linebacker.
2) Harvey Langi LB BYU 6-2 252 lbs
Langi is a very raw player who is still getting used to his new position at linebacker. He has a ton of athleticism and skills to be a solid contributor in the middle of a defense. Langi does need to improve upon his instincts as a linebacker to make plays consistently. After being miscast as an edge rusher for BYU and finally was put in the middle late last year he finally looked comfortable. If he is given more time there to develop he can turn into a very nice developmental prospect. At the very worst he can be a nice special teams player as he continues to learn the position. In due time he could be come a very good starter with his athletic tools.
None to really mention for the traditional linebackers really with this shallow pool. I could put Raekwon McMillan as a bust, but he should be going in the late 2nd - early 3rd round which is not really bust territory. All in all though this class is pretty solid with good instinctive players.