2013 NFL Draft Position Review: Outside Linebackers

Charlie lays out an overview at the top players from each position for the 2013 NFL Draft. For further information, check out our in-depth analysis of 2013 NFL Draft Prospects by Position.

By Charlie Campbell.
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This page was last updated April 2, 2013. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

Position Review: Outside Linebackers

Outside Linebackers Class
Early-round talent: B
Mid-round: B
Late-round: C
Overall grade: B

2012 prospects vs 2013
Bruce Irvin < Jarvis Jones
Mychal Kendricks < Arthur Brown
Bobby Wagner > Khaseem Greene
Zach Brown > Jamie Collins
Lavonte David > Sean Porter
Demario Davis > Chase Thomas
Sean Spence > Trevardo Williams
Nigel Bradham < Gerald Hodges

This year’s class of outside linebackers isn’t as talented as the 2012 class. Five outside linebackers went in the first two rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft, but only 2-4 are likely to go in the top-62 selections this year. That being said, Jarvis Jones is a better prospect than Bruce Irvin. WalterFootball.com confirmed with multiple teams that the majority of the NFL had Irvin graded as a second-day pick, but the Seahawks took Irvin with the 15th overall selection. Jones is a much better prospect and is more accomplished.

After Jones, it gets interesting. I really liked Lavonte David last year and thought he was a better prospect than the linebackers who went ahead of him. I also think David is better than Brown, Greene or Collins. Brown is on the bubble of the first and second round, so if you were to merge the two classes together, he would be the third linebacker behind Jones and Irvin. Greene would go behind David and in front of Davis.

Greene, Collins and Porter would be equal to Davis. The 2013 group should be third-rounders at worst. The bottom trio of the 2013 group would be about equal to Spence and Bradham as third- or fourth-round picks.

While the most talented player of the two classes is Jarvis Jones, the 2012 group was deeper with more talented players overall.

Safest Pick: Arthur Brown, Kansas State
I would be surprised if Brown didn’t turn into quality starter at outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. He is very instinctive, quick, physical and a good tackler. The senior had solid production with 100 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, two interceptions, four passes broken up and a sack in 2012.

Another reason that Brown is a safe pick is terrific intangibles. He is a team leader, an extremely hard worker and obsessed with football. Brown will work his way into being a good NFL player.

Biggest Bust Potential: Chase Thomas, Stanford
Thomas is not a good fit as a 4-3 outside linebacker. He is a natural 3-4 outside linebacker, but is undersized for that system in the NFL. Thus, Thomas is probably going to have to move to 3-4 inside linebacker or 4-3 outside linebacker.

Thomas mostly played the latter at the Senior Bowl, and the results illustrated that he may not make the transition as a pro. It doesn’t look like Thomas is fast enough for a 4-3, and he could have issues in pass coverage. Thomas will, at very least, need significant developmental time in a 4-3.

Outside Linebacker Rankings by Attributes

Pass Coverage:
NFL prototype: Lance Briggs, Bears
  1. Arthur Brown
  2. Khaseem Greene
  3. Jarvis Jones
  4. Sean Porter
  5. Jamie Collins
  6. Gerald Hodges
  7. Chase Thomas
  8. Trevardo Williams

Recap: The NFL is all about the passing offense, so linebackers must be be an asset at defending the aerial attack. Defensive coordinators want linebackers who function well in space and cover a lot of ground. Players have to have good instincts and anticipate the routes that are coming their direction.

Linebackers also need to function well in zone and have the ability to quickly get deep in their drops. Those who can play man coverage on running backs and tight ends are in serious demand.

Brown looks the most natural in pass coverage of the 2013 linebackers. Coming from the Big XII, college football’s version of the Arena league, he is well-versed in pass coverage. Brown is very good in zone coverage and picks up receivers well. He has some man-coverage ability as well. His prowess in pass coverage could be what places him in the top-32 picks.

Greene is strong in pass coverage and isn’t far below Brown. Rutgers used Greene as a pass-rusher more often, so he had less reps in coverage. Ditto for Jarvis Jones at Georgia. He demonstrated good potential to drop into coverage for the Bulldogs, but rarely did it because he is such a force as a pass-rusher.

Porter was playing well in pass coverage by the end of his senior season. He was a work in progress before that since he had started previous seasons at rush linebacker. Gerald Hodges has some ability in pass coverage, but is more of a run-defender. He’ll need some coaching in the NFL, but he has the potential to be a defender against aerial offenses.

Chase Thomas, Jamie Collins and Trevardo Williams were all pass-rushers in college. Thomas flashed some nice pass coverage as a senior, but he’ll need real development at that for the NFL. That was clear at the Senior Bowl. Williams is the same as Thomas.

Pass Rush:
NFL prototype: Von Miller, Broncos
  1. Jarvis Jones
  2. Jamie Collins
  3. Trevardo Williams
  4. Chase Thomas
  5. Sean Porter
  6. Khaseem Greene
  7. Arthur Brown
  8. Gerald Hodges

Recap: Jones is a relentless pass-rusher. He is an utter force coming off the edge with the ability to consistently beat double-teams. Jones is fast, fights off blocks and has a non-stop motor. He led the SEC in sacks the past two seasons and led the nation in sacks in 2012 with 14.5. Jones is an elite pass-rushing prospect who is similar to Von Miller.

Collins has some real edge-rushing ability as well. He totaled 10 sacks as a senior after notching 6.5 as a junior. Collins’ skills at rushing off the edge could lead to him cracking the top 60.

Williams and Thomas were both productive pass-rushers the past two seasons. They are both better fits in a 3-4, but they may be too small for those positions in the NFL. Thomas and Williams could be effective situational pass-rushers in a 4-3 or 3-4 in the NFL.

Porter’s sack numbers were impressive as a rush linebacker, but he had reduced opportunities during his senior season. Porter still has some rush ability for NFL defensive coordinators to dial him up on blitzes.

When Rutgers blitzed Greene, the team received positive results. He had six sacks as a senior and produced some splash plays chasing down the quarterback.

Brown and Hodges each had one sack as seniors. Neither was really a pass-rushing threat, but Brown flashed some nice blitzes on occasion. Brown and Hodges probably won’t be called on to blitz the quarterback often at the next level.

Run Defense:
NFL prototype: Chad Greenway, Vikings
  1. Khaseem Greene
  2. Arthur Brown
  3. Gerald Hodges
  4. Jamie Collins
  5. Jarvis Jones
  6. Chase Thomas
  7. Sean Porter
  8. Trevardo Williams

Recap: Greene is a superb run-defender. He is tough in the tackle box and very quick at reading his keys to get in position to make tackles. His massive tackle total is no accident.

Brown was very good defending the run and led Kansas State’s defense in shutting down ground offenses. He had 100 tackles in 2012, but that number would’ve been a lot larger in a more balanced conference like the Big Ten or the SEC.

Hodges and Collins are both quality run-defenders. Hodges is a smart, physical player who should do well in run defense at the next level. Both he and Collins recorded at least 90 tackles per year over the past two seasons.

While Jones’ pass rushing got all the attention, he wasn’t bad as a run-defender. Jones struggled occasionally when teams ran straight at him, like Alabama in the SEC Championship, but he is no slouch. Jones had 85 tackles in 2012 and did really well chasing down backs in pursuit.

Porter had some issues in run defense in a 4-3 this season. He is good in pursuit, but would get washed out of plays when blockers got to him. Williams had only 42 tackles as a senior; an ugly total for a linebacker. He is going to need to improve his run defense dramatically to be an every-down player in the NFL.

Read & React:
NFL prototype: Sean Weatherspoon, Falcons
  1. Arthur Brown
  2. Khaseem Greene
  3. Jarvis Jones
  4. Gerald Hodges
  5. Jamie Collins
  6. Sean Porter
  7. Chase Thomas
  8. Trevardo Williams

Recap: Brown, Greene and Jones are all excellent read-and-react linebackers. The three of them of them have good awareness and anticipate what an offense is trying to do. They are all pretty equal in this category.

Jones, Greene and Brown are also good at deciding whether to fire into the backfield or break laterally across the field. Their instincts and play recognition are very advanced from their multiple years as starters.

Hodges and Collins aren’t too far off from the top three. Each of them does a nice job of flowing to the ball. Porter and Thomas have some read-and-reaction skills, but they are still developing as a 4-3 linebackers. Porter is more advanced than Thomas.

Williams needs work on his read-and-reaction skills. He’s been programmed to attack the line of scrimmage, and if he can’t expand his skill set for the NFL, he would only be a situational player.

NFL prototype: Jon Beason, Panthers
  1. Khaseem Greene
  2. Arthur Brown
  3. Jarvis Jones
  4. Chase Thomas
  5. Gerald Hodges
  6. Jamie Collins
  7. Sean Porter
  8. Trevardo Williams

Recap: Greene is the best tackler in the class, hands down. He is extremely reliable in taking ball-carriers to the ground when he gets a hold of them. Greene has good strength and technique to wrap up. It is a very seldom sight for him miss a tackle.

Brown is the same way. He was very reliable for Kansas State. The only times when Brown occasionally missed a tackle was against smaller speed receivers, but he was typically very sound. Brown is very disciplined with his tackling technique.

Jones also is a fine tackler. His tackles from pursuit are phenomenal, and he has the knack for creating some turnovers. If Jones gets in position to make a tackle, he typically makes it. Jones’ struggles come when he has a powerful downhill runner going straight at him.

Thomas and Hodges were both well-coached. They’ve each developed their ability to wrap up ball-carriers when given the opportunity. You rarely see either allow a broken tackle.

Collins is reliable as well. It will be interesting to see how he handles the NFL as he has a bigger jump in competition than the other outside linebackers. Collins will see a lot of bigger and faster ball-carriers than he used is to.

Porter needs to add strength. Williams is a work in progress, too. Pass rushing was his speciality, so taking on NFL power backs will be an adjustment for him.

Shedding Blocks:
NFL prototype: Chad Greenway, Vikings
  1. Jarvis Jones
  2. Khaseem Greene
  3. Arthur Brown
  4. Chase Thomas
  5. Trevardo Williams
  6. Jamie Collins
  7. Gerald Hodges
  8. Sean Porter

Recap: Jones is excellent at shedding blocks. Even though offensive linemen have a lot more size and strength, Jones’ hand usage is tremendous. He knocks their hands off of him and uses his speed to run by them. Jones also has shown the ability to fight through double teams. He bounces off blocks and often finds a route to get free of the blockers. Jones’ 24.5 tackles for a loss as a junior and 19.5 tackles for a loss as sophomore illustrate how good he is at getting free from offensive linemen.

Greene is very skilled at getting free of blockers in the tackle box. He doesn’t shy away from taking on contact and has the ability to disengage. Greene will need to continue to work on that for NFL offensive linemen, but he has a good start heading into the next level.

Brown was solid at shedding blocks in college, but will need to continue to work on this in the NFL. He’s added a lot of weight since the end of the season and that should help him.

Williams, Thomas, and Collins have all developed the ability to use their hands. Each player’s pass-rushing prowess off the edge stems in part from his ability to shake free of blockers. All three are better at fighting off blockers in pass protection over the ground game. Williams, Thomas and Collins will all need to work on beating blocks to defend the run in the NFL.

Hodges was a little hit-or-miss with his ability to shed blocks. He was getting a lot of coaching points about that during the East-West Shrine, and it clearly is an area he can stand to improve.

Porter (6-1, 231) is similar to Brown. If blockers get a hold of him, it is unlikely that Porter will get free. He needs to add strength.

Splash Plays:
NFL prototype: Von Miller, Broncos
  1. Jarvis Jones
  2. Khaseem Greene
  3. Jamie Collins
  4. Trevardo Williams
  5. Chase Thomas
  6. Sean Porter
  7. Gerald Hodges
  8. Arthur Brown

Recap: NFL coaches love players who can take the ball away. It is a great equalizer against high-powered offenses and directly lead to victories.

There is no doubt about this one. Jones was a splash-play machine the past two seasons; not just in the form of sacks – he was consistently producing turnovers. The junior had seven forced fumbles and an interception in 2012.

Jones has developed the skill to slap the ball out while making tackles. He created huge turnovers against Missouri and Florida to help Georgia pull off wins. Jones also had two sacks and a forced fumble against Alabama. His ability to create turnovers is very unique.

Greene was excellent as well this year, racking up six sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions. He was consistently at the right place at the right time to create impact plays for Rutgers.

Collins had four forced fumbles to go along with his 10 sacks as a senior. He really increased his splash-play production in his final year. Williams and Thomas didn’t have big production when it came to generating turnovers, but they came up with big impact plays for their teams the past two seasons.

Porter showed more splash-play ability when he was a 3-4 outside linebacker as junior. He had 9.5 sacks before moving to the 4-3 as a senior. Porter has just one interception and one forced fumble since the start of 2011. Hodges had a forced fumble and two interceptions this year. He was a solid defender, but rarely made game-changing splash plays.

Brown totaled three interceptions, three sacks and zero forced fumbles the past two seasons. He was a very solid player but didn’t produce turnovers.

NFL prototype: Sean Weatherspoon, Falcons
  1. Chase Thomas
  2. Arthur Brown
  3. Khaseem Greene
  4. Gerald Hodges
  5. Sean Porter
  6. Trevardo Williams
  7. Jamie Collins
  8. Jarvis Jones

Recap: Thomas is known as being extremely intelligent and a hard worker. He is considered a good locker-room presence and a high-character individual. Brown, Greene and Hodges were the leaders of their defense. Each was a vocal tone-setter who is known to love football with the drive to be great. All four should develop into leadership positions.

Porter embraced his position change for 2012 and didn’t complain even though it hurt his draft stock. Williams and Collins don’t have bad reputations by any means.

Scouts at the East-West Shrine told WalterFootball.com that Jones would slide on draft day because they believe he will test poorly before the 2013 NFL Draft and isn’t a hard worker in the weight room. At the his ugly pro day, those thoughts were confirmed as Jones ran very slowly after skipping the Combine workouts. he isn’t a player who is loved during the week, but he shows up on game day.

Jones’ NFL coaches are surely going to work on changing that. He isn’t a bad guy and is considered to be a good teammate, but doesn’t attack training the way teams would like.

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