Luke Kuechly*, ILB, Boston College
Height: 6-3. Weight: 242. 40 Time: 4.50. Bench: 27. Vertical: 38. Broad: 10-3. Arm: 31. Projected Round (2012): Top-16. 4/25/12: Kuechly is the top linebacker in the draft and one of the best linebackers to enter the NFL over the past decade. He could be one of the safest picks in the entire draft class. As far as pure football players, he is one of the best and is in the top 10 of everybody's big board rankings.
Kuechly laid to rest any concerns about his speed with a fabulous showing at the Combine. He validated his draft stock as a pick in the top half of the first round with the potential to go in the top 10.
Kuechly was all over the field in 2011, giving a weekly illustration of how effective a linebacker can be when he has elite instincts and top-notch intelligence. Kuechly has enough speed to get in position to go along with excellent tackling technique.
Against Miami, the junior set ACC and school records for career tackle totals, along with providing the game-winning score on a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown. He had nine tackles and his interception, plus a pass breakup that came deep downfield in tight coverage on speedster wide receiver Tommy Streeter.
Kuechly was extremely active against Florida State, recording 20 tackles (plus helped force a fumble, but was not officially credited with it). All game, he made big plays and was always around the football.
Kuechly amassed 191 tackles with 12 tackles for a loss, three passes broken up and three interceptions in 2011. He was the lone bright spot on a disappointing team. If Boston College was bowl eligible, Kuechly would have, almost certainly, exceeded 200 tackles on the season. He left Boston College with a tackle total of 532.
8/25/11: Luke Kuechly, a consensus All-American, led the nation in tackles in 2010 with 183. That included a 110 solo tackles. The All-American also contributed 10.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three interceptions. Kuechly has fabulous instincts and is extremely intelligent. He is a hard-working student of the game, and is a safe pick to be a productive, in-the-box run defender. As a freshman, Kuechly had 158 tackles with 13 tackles for a loss and four passes broken up. Kuechly is not an elite athlete, but definitely is a top-20 pick.
Dont'a Hightower*, ILB, Alabama
Height: 6-2. Weight: 265. Projected 40 Time: 4.62. 10-Yd Split: 1.65. Vertical: 32. Arm: 32 5/8. Projected Round (2011): 1. 4/25/12: Even though there are concerns about Hightower's scheme fit and if he is a three-down player, Hightower figures to go in the first round.
Hightower showed off excellent speed at the Combine for such a big, heavy linebacker. He has the size of a defensive end with the speed of a starting linebacker. Hightower performed well in the field drills too. He stood out at the Crimson Tide's pro day also. The two performances have validated his stock as a first-round pick.
Hightower had a good season for Alabama. He was a tough, in-the-box defender and increased his splash plays. Hightower has shown the ability to be a dangerous blitzer as well. He looks much faster than he did in 2010 when he was in his first season back from knee surgery. Hightower had 85 tackles with 11 tackles for a loss, four sacks, one interception and three passes batted away this season. He had a dominant game against Tennessee and played well versus LSU. Against Georgia Southern, Hightower blocked a field goal and it looked like he was spiking a volleyball.
Hightower is a real presence in the tackle box, and would fit well on the inside of a 3-4 defense. On passing downs, he could rush the passer from outside linebacker, or blitz from the interior. Hightower may not have the speed and movement skills to be a three-down linebacker in a 4-3 defense.
8/25/11: Dont'a Hightower is a physical, in-the-box defender. He takes on and beats offensive linemen regularly without difficulty. The intelligent Hightower is the signal caller for the Crimson Tide defense, a complex collegiate scheme. A season-ending knee injury cost Hightower the majority of the 2009 season. He came back last year to record 69 tackles with 3.5 tackles for a loss. Hightower should be more productive in 2011 as he gets further away from the injury. He has looked slow at times, especially early in the year, and did not look as fluid as he did before the injury. Hightower looks like he would have to be a 3-4 inside linebacker in the NFL. He does not have the range to be a 4-3 middle linebacker that can get to runs on the perimeter.
Mychal Kendricks, OLB/ILB, California
Height: 5-11. Weight: 239. 40 Time: 4.41. Bench: 24. Vertical: 39.5. Broad: 10-7. Arm: 31 5/8. Projected Round (2012): 2-3. 4/25/12: Kenricks was the premier workout warrior among the linebackers at the Combine, and his performance sent a charge into his draft stock. He led the linebackers in the 40-yard dash with the fastest time for a linebacker in the past 12 years. Kenricks also led all linebackers in the broad jump and the vertical jump. In the field drills, he looked good moving around in space. Kendricks definitely helped himself. He continued that with a good pro day and has been rising up draft boards.
Kendricks had 107 tackles with 14.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, two passes broken up and two interceptions this year. He increased his tackle total dramatically from 2010, but his sack production was nowhere near the same level as he moved to inside linebacker as a senior after being an outside linebacker in 2010. In the NFL, Kendricks may be best on the outside as he is undersized to be a middle linebacker. He could play some hybrid inside/outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
8/23/11: Mychal Kendricks broke out last season as a rush linebacker for California. He recorded 8.5 sacks with 15 tackles for a loss and 66 tackles. Kendricks could use some more size to play outside linebacker in a NFL 3-4 defense, but has quality blitzing kills and if he has another quality season, should solidify his mid-round status.
Bobby Wagner, OLB/ILB, Utah State
Height: 6-0. Weight: 241. 40 Time: 4.46. Arm: 30 5/8. Hand: 9 7/8. Projected Round (2012): 2-3. 4/25/12: Wagner was unable to work out at the Combine because of pneumonia. At his pro day, he had a superb performance. Wagner reportedly blazed a 40 time at 4.46 while looking good in the other drills. It helped validate his stock after missing the Combine.
Wagner was extremely productive in his senior season, making 147 tackles with 11.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks and two interceptions. He is a smart player with a nose for the ball. Wagner is well-built, but his frame looks maxed out. That could push him to being an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense at the next level. He had a quality week at the Senior Bowl.
8/23/11: Bobby Wagner was tied for seventh in the nation with 133 tackles in 2010. He also had eight tackles for a loss. Wagner has added weight to his frame and displays good instincts and tackling technique. He had 114 tackles as a sophomore. Wagner looks like a solid middle of the draft prospect.
Tank Carder, ILB/OLB, TCU
Height: 6-2. Weight: 236. 40 Time: 4.56. Bench: 19. Vertical: 34.5. Broad: 10-1. Arm: 31 1/2. Hand: 9. Projected Round (2012): 3. 4/25/12: Carder had a phenomenal Combine and pro day where he showed off more speed than many gave him credit for. With those two performances, he illustrated his speed to cover a lot of ground in the NFL. Carder has received a fair amount of interest in the form of pre-draft visits.
Carder started out the season slowly and looked like he missed teammate Tanner Brock, but in the second half of the season, Carder picked up his play. He finished with 70 tackles with 4.5 tackles for a loss this year. Carder also had two interceptions returned for scores this season. One was returned 26 yards and the other was a 69-yard run back. He is a tough football player who has good tackling technique. For the second straight year, Carder was the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year.
Carder combines good speed and instincts. He could continue to add some bulk and play on the inside of a 3-4 defense. Carder has the quickness to play outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense and would fit as a 4-3 middle linebacker if he continues to add weight. Carder is a high-character individual who will be a positive presence in the locker room.
8/25/11: Tank Carder has a lot of buzz about him heading into his senior year. Carder had 60 tackles last season with 9.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery. The leader of TCU's defense, Carder was a second-team AP All-American last season. In 2009, Carder broke into the starting lineup and registered 89 tackles with 10 tackles for a loss. Carder looks like a middle linebacker for multiple defenses although he can play outside linebacker as well. Carder is a hard-nosed football player.
James-Michael Johnson, ILB, Nevada
Height: 6-1. Weight: 241. 40 Time: 4.60. Bench: 23. Vertical: 37. Broad: 10-4. Arm: 32 7/8. Hand: 9 5/8. Projected Round (2012): 4-5. 4/25/12: Johnson was solid at the Combine. He totaled 100 tackles with 5.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, one interception and one forced fumble in 2011. Johnson is a little stiff and struggled with his footwork at the Senior Bowl. He is going to need some grooming at the next level.
8/25/11: James-Michael Johnson was an All-WAC performer in 2010, when he totaled 88 tackles with eight tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. A year earlier, he had 58 tackles with 11.5 tackles for a loss. Johnson is a quality college player who could be a good developmental linebacker in the NFL.
Audie Cole, ILB, North Carolina State
Height: 6-4. Weight: 246. 40 Time: 4.72. Bench: 19. Vertical: 35. Broad: 9-6. Arm: 32 3/4. Hand: 10. Projected Round (2012): 4-5. 4/25/12: Cole had a disappointing Combine. He looked slow and stiff. Cole put together a solid senior season in 2011. He recorded 108 tackles with 13.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and four passes broken up.
Cole has good instincts and can be a tough defender in the tackle box. In the spring of 2011, North Carolina State moved him to the middle linebacker spot. In 2010, for the second straight year, Cole led the team in tackles. He recorded 97 tackles with 10.5 tackles for a loss as an outside linebacker. As a sophomore, Cole led the team in tackles with 85. He needs to get bigger for the NFL.
Cole was solid at the Senior Bowl. He looks like he has the flexibility to be an inside linebacker in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense.
Vontaze Burfict*, ILB, Arizona State
Height: 6-1. Weight: 248. 40 Time: 4.93. 10-Yd Split. 1.70. Vertical: 30. Broad: 8-8. Arm: 31 1/4. Projected Round (2012): 5-6. 4/25/12: Burfict has fallen further any prospect over the past year. He says that whichever team drafts him will get a great middle linebacker, but he hasn't done much in the past year to convince an NFL team to take him.
At his multiple pro days, Burfict allegedly bombed at them as well with barely any improvement on his Combine numbers. Some say he will go undrafted, but that may be too big of an exaggeration. No player may have hurt their stock more at the Combine than Burfict. He went from an early-round pick to the mid-rounds, at best. Burfict performed terribly on the field with a slow 40. His interviews with teams were said to be equally bad.
Burfict had a disappointing 2011 season. He made some splash plays, but seemed to hold back some of the aggressiveness that made him such a presence in his first two seasons. Burfict also took some bad angles and did not get to the ball as often as he did in past seasons. In 2011, the junior had 69 tackles with seven tackles for a loss, five sacks, three passes broken up and an interception.
Burfict's best game came against USC when he had five tackles and a tackle for a loss. He made a game-changing play by intercepting Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley in the red zone and returning the ball to just past midfield. Including his outing against USC, Burfict did not have a game all season where he recorded double-digit tackles. Too often, Burfict was quiet and did not make an impact in the ground game. He has a skill set but needs to get focused to reach his potential.
8/25/11: Vontaze Burfict runs around the field like a heat-seeking missle that is constantly looking to knock an opposing player out. He had 90 tackles last season (54 solo) with 8.5 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles. Burfict is an excellent run defender who intimidates opposing players through his violent play. NFL sources that know Burfict well from coaching him have told WalterFootball.com that Burfict is not a bad kid, but is ultra-competitive and as a result can be overly aggressive during games. They also said that he is making strides with self-control and they don't think that dirty play will be a problem for Burfict as a professional.
Najee Goode, ILB, West Virginia
Height: 6-0. Weight: 244. 40 Time: 4.66. Vertical: 35.5. Bench: 9-9. Arm: 31 7/8. Hand: 8 7/8. Projected Round (2012): 5-7. 4/25/12: Goode had 87 tackles with 14 tackles for a loss, five sacks, one interception and one forced fumble in 2011. As a senior, he flashed at times but needed to be more consistent. Goode did not total much production in his previous four seasons. He was solid at the East-West Shrine and the Combine.
Jerry Franklin, ILB/OLB, Arkansas
Height: 6-1. Weight: 241. Projected 40 Time: 4.72. Arm: 33 1/4. Hand: 9 1/4. Projected Round (2012): 5-7. 4/25/12: Franklin totaled 101 tackles with 10 tackles for a loss and four passes broken up this season. He kept quiet in a lot of big games this year. Franklin stepped up and helped avoid an upset loss to Vanderbilt with a 94-yard fumble return for a touchdown. He had a solid week at the East-West Shrine, but did not get a Combine invitation.
8/25/11: Jerry Franklin has played at outside linebacker and middle linebacker. He broke out with 13 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks last season, and was an All-SEC second-team selection. That came after a quality season as a sophomore, when Franklin led the team with 94 tackles. He also had three interceptions, with five tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks.
As a freshman in 2008, Franklin was the starting middle linebacker and led the team in tackles with 87 stops. He could be moved into a variety of roles in the NFL. Some teams that run a 4-3 defense will look at Franklin as a better fit in the middle, and some will look at him as a better fit as a Sam (strongside) linebacker. Teams that run the 3-4 defense could look at him as an outside linebacker.
Chris Marve, ILB, Vanderbilt
Height: 6-2. Weight: 232. Projected 40 Time: 4.71. Projected Round (2011): 6-FA. 4/25/12: Marve had 92 tackles with nine tackles for a loss, three sacks, three passes broken up, one forced fumble and one interception. He was solid but unspectacular for Vanderbilt this season. Marve is instinctive, but lacks special speed and is not overly physical. He did work out at the Combine.
8/25/11: Chris Marve played through a knee injury in 2010 and, as a result, his production declined. He recorded 80 tackles with eight tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and two passes broken up. A year earlier, he recorded 121 tackles with 7.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and three forced fumbles. When healthy, Marve shows good speed and instincts to be around the ball. He is strong in pass coverage at getting downfield and covering tight ends. Marve looks like he would be a good fit in a Cover-2 defense.
Shawn Loiseau, ILB, Merrimack
Height: 6-0. Weight: 244. 40 Time: 4.75. Bench: 19. Vertical: 32.5. Broad: 9-1. Arm: 30 3/4. Hand: 10. Projected Round (2012): 6-FA. 4/25/12: Loiseau had a strong week of practice at the East-West Shrine and showed that he could compete with better competition. Loiseau is a tough player with quality instincts. He had good production throughout his career at Merrimack.
Loiseau had 121 tackles with 10.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks this senior. He had 133 tackles in 2010. Loiseau looks like he could be a good special teams player. Loiseau did not have a good Combine, but that is not the environment that he will thrive in.
Carmen Messina, ILB, New Mexico
Height: 6-2. Weight: 236. Projected 40 Time: 4.72. Projected Round (2012): 7-FA. 4/25/12: Messina was one of the most productive linebackers in the nation this year. He had 142 tackles with 12.5 tackles for a loss, one interception, three sacks and one forced fumble. Messina did not work out at the Combine.
8/25/11: Carmen Messina is a technically-sound tackler who has been very productive the past two seasons. He had 115 tackles and six tackles for a loss in 2010. A year earlier, Messina had 162 tackles to lead the nation. He is a smart and instinctive football player. If he continues to add weight while maintaining his production, he should be a mid-round pick who could have starting potential after being developed as a backup for a couple of seasons.
Adrien Cole, ILB, Louisiana Tech
Height: 5-11. Weight: 250. Projected 40 Time: 4.71. Projected Round (2012): 7-FA. 4/25/12: Cole was the WAC Defensive Player of the Year. He had 128 tackles with 13 tackles for a loss, two sacks, one forced fumble, one interception and three blocked kicks in 2011. Cole had a good game against Mississippi State. He could be a sleeper prospect who surprises. Cole did not participate in the Combine or a major All-Star game.
8/25/11: Adrien Cole is a physical, in-the-box defender who projects to an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Cole had 80 tackles for a loss and 4.5 tackles for a loss with one forced fumble last season. In 2009, he had 93 tackles with four tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles. Cole needs to reverse that trend and increase his production as a senior to make sure he gets drafted.
Chris Galippo, USC
Height: 6-1. Weight: 241. 40 Time: 4.66. Bench: 19. Vertical: 29.5. Broad: 9-11. Arm: 30 1/2. Projected Round (2012): 7-FA. 4/25/12: Galippo did not have much of an impact this season, collecting only 47 tackles with 3.5 tackles for a loss with 1.5 sacks and five passes broken up. He needed more production in order to increase his draft stock. Galippo had a decent Combine performance.
8/25/11: In 2009, Galippo started every game at middle linebacker and had 70 tackles with eight tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Last year, Galippo lost the starting middle linebacker position early in the season but started the second half of the year. He totaled just 29 tackles, but did have two interceptions and three forced fumbles.
Galippo needs to prove himself a starter to former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and linebackers coach Joe Barry. From there, he has to be productive in order to be more than a late-round pick.
D.J. Holt, ILB, California
Height: 6-1. Weight: 250. Projected 40 Time: 4.75. Projected Round (2012): FA. 4/25/12: Holt totaled 82 tackles with 8.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, two passes broken up, zero interceptions and zero forced fumbles this year. It was somewhat of a disappointing season for the senior. He did not participate at the Combine.
8/25/11: D.J. Holt was leading the Bears in tackles for much of the season, before Mike Mohamed took the lead late in the season. Holt recorded 86 tackles with 5.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks. With more experience, Holt could improve on his numbers in 2011.
Ronnie Thornton, ILB, Southern Miss
Height: 6-1. Weight: 247. Projected 40 Time: 4.73. Arm: 33 1/8. Hand: 9 5/8. Projected Round (2012): FA. 4/25/12: Thornton led Southern Miss in tackles this season, making 111. He also recorded 8.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, one forced fumble and two interceptions. In his junior season, Thornton had just 61 tackles.
J.K. Schaffer, ILB, Cincinnati
Height: 6-1. Weight: 227. Projected 40 Time: 4.69. Projected Round (2012): FA. 4/25/12: Schaffer had a good 2011 season for Cincinnati. He recorded 114 tackles with 12.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and six passes broken up. Schaffer flashed some good run defense and was also very good at timing his blitzes up the middle. He is very instinctive and makes big plays at clutch times.
Schaffer is a sleeper prospect who, if allowed time to develop physically and mentally, could turn into something at the pro level. His lack of size is a large obstacle. He did not participate at the Combine or an All-Star game.
8/25/11: J.K. Schaffer had 111 tackles last season with 9.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles. In his first season as a starter in 2009, he had 100 tackles with three interceptions, 5.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Schaffer needs to add a lot of weight for middle linebacker in the NFL. If he can only add a little, he could potentially move to outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. He looks like a developmental type and special teams contributor.
Josh Linam, ILB, Central Florida
Height: 6-2. Weight: 245. Projected 40 Time: 4.74. Arm: 30 1/4. Hand: 8 3/4. Projected Round (2012): FA. 4/25/12: Linam totaled 66 tackles with 10 tackles for a loss, two sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles this season. He could be worth a late-round pick.
Korey Williams, ILB, Southern Miss
Height: 6-2. Weight: 243. Projected 40 Time: 4.66. Projected Round (2012): FA. 4/25/12: Williams' season ended in the fourth game due to a torn ACL. He assembled 35 tackles with 3.5 tackles for a loss, three interceptions and two pass breakups before the injury. Williams was rehabbing to get ready for pre-draft workouts, but did not work out at the Combine.
8/25/11: Korey Williams is a playmaking linebacker who is adept at getting into the backfield to make plays. Last year, he had 11 tackles for a loss and three sacks, with 80 total tackles. As a sophomore, Williams had 121 tackles with 11 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. He needs another strong season to stay as a mid-round pick.
Brian Hendricks, ILB, Wyoming
Height: 6-1. Weight: 228. Projected 40 Time: 4.74. Projected Round (2012): FA. 4/25/12: Hendricks had 105 tackles with 2.5 tackles a loss, one sack, four passes broken up and two forced fumbles in 2011.
8/25/11: Brian Hendricks had a drop in his production in 2010. He recorded 80 tackles with one sack in 11 starts last season. In 2009, Hendricks had 116 tackles with five tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble. Hendricks also missed a couple of games that season due to injury. Hendricks could be moved to outside linebacker as a senior. Either way he needs to add weight and muscle while improving his production to get drafted.