2019 NFL Draft Position Review: 3-4 Outside Linebackers

Charlie lays out an overview at the top players from each position for the 2019 NFL Draft. For further information, check out our in-depth analysis of 2019 NFL Draft Prospects by Position.

By Charlie Campbell.
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This page was last updated April 19, 2019. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

3-4 Outside Linebacker Class
Early-round talent: A
Mid-round: C
Late-round: D
Overall grade: B-

2019 prospects vs 2018
Nick Bosa
Bradley Chubb
Josh Allen
Montez Sweat
Tremaine Edmunds
Clelin Ferrell
Brian Burns
Harold Landry
Breeland Speaks
Kemoko Turay
D’Andre Walker
Jaylon Ferguson
Jachai Polite
Sam Hubbard
Arden Key
Jalyn Holmes

The 2018 NFL Draft was weak at defensive end, and that carried over for edge rushers who would fit a 3-4 defense. Fortunately for the NFL, the 2019 NFL Draft is much more talented and contains some good edge-rushing prospects. There should be five edge rushers capable of being 3-4 outside linebackers who get selected in the first round. That number would be six if it weren’t for Jachai Polite’s off-the-field issues.

If you were to merge the two classes, Bosa would be the top 3-4 outside linebacker candidate, but he and Bradley Chubb are about equal as prospects. Bosa’s body type is just a better fit for a 3-4. Josh Allen is not far behind them as a legit high first-rounder. Montez Sweat would go ahead of Tremaine Edmunds, while Clelin Ferrell and Brian Burns are not as good of prospects as Edmunds. D’Andre Walker and Jaylon Ferguson would be behind last year’s second-round trio of Harold Landry, Breeland Speaks and Kemoko Turay. Jachai Polite is the outlier because of off-the-field issues pushing him way down. If he were clean off the field, he would be between Josh Allen and Montez Sweat. As a result of the concerns, Polite is on a par with last year third-round picks Sam Hubbard and Arden Key.

Safest Pick: Josh Allen, Kentucky
Previous Picks:
2018: Tremaine Edmunds
2017: Myles Garrett
2016: Joey Bosa
2015: Dante Fowler
2014: Jadeveon Clowney
2013: Dion Jordan

My track record is here is good after a horrible start with Dion Jordan, who was one of the many busts from the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Jadeveon Clowney has become one of the top defensive players in the NFL. Dante Fowler has had some ups and downs, but he contributed to the Rams getting to the Super Bowl last year. Joey Bosa has been very good for the Chargers, and Garrett emerged as a force for Cleveland in 2018. Edmunds showed some positive signs last year, but at this point one can’t make any judgements on his career.

With the way that Allen has developed over his past two seasons at Kentucky, he could be one of the safer players in the 2019 NFL Draft. Allen is a do-it-all defender who carried Kentucky to a big year for the program in 2018. He was a dominant pass-rusher and a steady run defender, plus made some huge clutch plays in pass coverage. In 2018, Allen totaled 88 tackles with 21.5 tackles for a loss, 17 sacks, five forced fumbles and four passes batted. That came after an impressive junior with seven sacks, 65 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and three passes batted.

With his speed, athleticism, size, strength and length, Allen (6-4, 262) has the potential to be an impactful edge defender with double-digit sack potential as a pro. He also is a good run defender who is capable of contributing in pass coverage.

Biggest Bust Potential: Jachai Polite, Florida
Previous Picks:
2018: Lorenzo Carter
2017: Takk McKinley
2016: Noah Spence
2015: Randy Gregory
2014: Dee Ford
2013: Barkevious Mingo

I have a pretty good track record here. Obviously, you can’t make any judgements on Carter after one season. McKinley could be the one blemish, but he was solid in in 208. Noah Spence has been a big disappointment in Tampa Bay and is nearing bust status. I was correct on Gregory and Mingo being potential busts. Dee Ford had a good 2016 season, but three seasons were underwhelming. He then played better last year before being traded away. Ford is neither a bust nor a standout either.

I love Polite as a player and have been high on him throughout the 2019 NFL Draft process, including him as a mainstay in the top 10 of my big board. However, Polite has major bust potential because of off-the-field issues. He quit on his team in 2017 and quit on his workouts at his pro day and at the combine, plus has issues that could lead to suspensions in the NFL. As a player, Polite is a dynamic pass-rusher who is a natural quarterback hunter. His character issues, however, could cause him to bust in the NFL, and that is why he has slid from being a projected top-16 pick to the middle of the draft.

3-4 Outside Linebackers Rankings by Attributes

Pass Rush:
NFL prototype: Khalil Mack, Bears
  1. Nick Bosa
  2. Josh Allen
  3. Montez Sweat
  4. Jachai Polite
  5. Brian Burns
  6. Clelin Ferrell
  7. Jaylon Ferguson
  8. D’Andre Walker

Recap: The NFL is a passing-driven league, and 3-4 defenses need edge-rushers who can consistently get to the quarterback. Rushing the passer is the primary responsibility for a 3-4 outside linebacker. Some college defensive ends can struggle to make the transition to rushing off the edge as they move out wider from offensive tackles. Other players thrive with the change.

In the pass rush, Bosa is a beast. He has an excellent get-off that sees him fire off the snap. He is fast off the edge with the ability to quickly get leverage by using his speed to find an angle to the quarterback. Bosa supplies a lot of quick pressure from tackles struggling to keep him from getting upfield. Along with his quick feet, Bosa has the agility to cut back to the inside thanks to his athleticism to bend and get underneath blockers. Aside from his speed and athleticism, Bosa has excellent hands with functional strength to fight off blocks, a burst to close, and puts quarterbacks down hard. Bosa has developed technique and obviously has been working at his craft for years with his older brother. That development extends to the weight room, where Bosa has made himself extremely strong for his size. The Bosa brothers are very similar with the relentless presence with speed, power and physicality as pass-rushers. Nick Bosa has a real nose for the quarterback with instincts and natural feel. He is a dynamic edge rusher for the next level.

The first thing that stands out about Allen is that he is a dangerous edge rusher with natural feel and a nose for the quarterback. He is very fast off the edge with a quick first-step and serious speed to run the loop around the corner. Allen has a nice ability to bend and quick feet to cut around blockers. Offensive tackles can really struggle to get their hands on him and lock him up. In the pass rush, Allen has some speed-based set of moves. He uses a spin move, speed around the corner, some speed to power, and rushes to the inside. Allen also is versatile to put his hand in the ground, stand up over the tackle, or blitz up the middle. On top of getting to the quarterback, Allen generates a lot of pressures that help create sacks for his teammates.

Sweat is a dangerous pass-rusher who shows good instincts and natural feel off the edge. He has good play recognition and uses his instincts to get in the right position to affect the quarterback or disrupt plays. For a tall defender, Sweat has a nice ability to redirect, and he uses that to get after the quarterback or defend the perimeter. As a pure pass-rusher, Sweat is quick off the edge with the speed to turn the corner and run around offensive tackles. One of his most impressive traits is his active hands to fight off blocks while using his feet at the same time. Sweat has some functional strength that he uses to get off blocks and shows impressive hand placement to get under the pads of blockers or rip them away from him. Sweat’s excellent length helps him to do that and also makes it harder for offensive tackles to get into his chest. Once he gets free, Sweat has burst to close on the quarterback. He also gives a second effort and will continue to fight if he’s initially blocked. For taking on NFL offensive tackles, Sweat could use more pass-rushing moves. He should add a spin and rip move to go with his speed or power rushes.

As an edge defender, Polite has huge potential from excellent instincts and physical tools. He has the skill set to be an annual double-digit sack producer in the NFL if he commits himself to working hard and being the best he can be. As a pure pass-rusher, Polite is fast off the edge with an excellent first-step and the speed to turn the corner while darting by offensive tackles. On top of his ability to fire off the snap and flat out run by tackles, he has a second gear with impressive closing speed to finish plays. Polite shows an inside counter move as well that makes it hard on tackles to commit to just trying to stop his speed rush around the corner. Polite has a the potential for a repertoire of moves with a spin move and an ability to dip under blockers. When he gets there, Polite is physical, putting quarterbacks and running backs down hard into the turf. Polite has good instincts to go for the strip and good awareness to adjust to scrambling quarterbacks.

Burns is very talented in the pass rush and could produce a lot of double-digit sack seasons in the NFL. Off the snap, he has an explosive first-step quickness. He is fast to turn the corner and just flat run by tackles with pure speed. Burns has a long frame, but shows some nice ability to bend around the edge. He can dip underneath blockers and has a burst to close that makes it difficult for tackles to recover against him. For the NFL, Burns could use more pass-rushing moves. Featuring more spins, cuts to the inside, and rip moves would help him when he takes on better competition who won’t be beaten by just a speed rush. As a junior, Burns flashed the potential for a repertoire of moves, and he just needs to continue to work on it for pro offensive tackles.

Ferrell is a balanced pass-rusher. He has a nice first-step that he takes advantage of to get upfield. Ferrell uses his functional upper body strength to fight off blocks, and he has an impressive left arm rip move to shed left tackles and get underneath them. Once he’s free, Ferrell has the quickness to close on the quarterback.

In the pass rush, Ferguson has some natural ability to get after the quarterback. He has a quick first-step and the speed to close when he gets free of blockers. With his length and some developed strength, Ferguson does a nice job of bull rushing tackles close to the quarterback before shedding them and grabbing the signal-caller. Ferguson makes splash plays, showing a good habit to go for the strip when taking down the quarterback.

Walker is a quick edge rusher who gets physical with tackles. He can use speed around the corner and is able to fight through blocks. He had 7.5 sacks last year and could be a contributing rusher in the NFL.

Run Defense:
NFL prototype: Jadeveon Clowney, Texans
  1. Josh Allen
  2. Clelin Ferrell
  3. Nick Bosa
  4. Jaylon Ferguson
  5. Montez Sweat
  6. Brian Burns
  7. D’Andre Walker
  8. Jachai Polite

Recap: Many 3-4 defenses typically don’t require their outside linebackers to be an asset against the run because they rely on their 3-4 defensive ends, nose tackle and inside linebackers to lead the way in run defense. However, the success of the read option is changing that, making edge linebackers play a critical role in defending against it. Being tough versus the run could become a more important attribute in the seasons to come.

In the ground game, Allen is a solid defender. He has good instincts, reads his keys well, and is consistently around the ball. Allen uses his speed to chase down backs and flows quickly to the ball. He is fast to the perimeter and is a good tackler in space. For the NFL, Allen could stand to get better at taking on blocks from offensive linemen, but he was stronger and showed improvement in this regard as a senior. Allen can get covered up and pushed back on runs coming straight downhill at him, but he was much better at it in 2018, so if he continues that level of improvement, he should be an asset in run defense during his NFL career.

Ferrell is a sound run defender. He has enough size and strength to hold his ground and not get blown off the ball. When runs come straight at him, Ferrell has shown some ability to holds his ground, shed the block, and get in on the tackles. He has nice recognition skills and flows to the ball when runs don’t come his direction. While Ferrell is not a dominant run defender, he is solid and contributes.

Bosa has the potential to be a good run defender. He has developed natural strength and can hold his ground on some plays. As a pro, it will be interesting to see how he handles length and strength from pro offensive tackles with runs coming straight at him downhill. He is shorter, and lacking length could present issues for him. At times, the length issue lead to Bosa getting covered up some in the ground game. He is good in pursuit and chases down backs outside of his gap. Improving his run defense is the biggest point of improvement for Bosa entering the NFL.

As a run defender, Ferguson has the strength and length to set the edge. He can hold his ground and disengage from blocks to get in on tackles. His straight-line speed shows up in pursuit. As a pro, his run defense would not be as good in a 3-4 defense as an outside linebacker where he would have to redirect more frequently. However, he showed serious improvement as a run defender from 2017 to 2018, with his tackle total improving from 39 to 64.

Against the run, Sweat sets the edge better than one would expect for a 241-pound defender. He uses his functional strength to stand up offensive linemen and does a nice job of stringing out perimeter runs to the sideline. Still, there were times when Sweat’s lack of weight could be seen, as he would be knocked on the ground and pushed out of his gap. If he were to go to a 4-3 defense in the NFL, he would need to add more weight to his frame to hold up as a base end or outside linebacker.

As a run defender, Burns is much better in pursuit, letting him use his speed and athleticism to chase down tacklers. He is agile to work through trash and get to the ball-carriers. Burns also has good vision with read and react skills to get in position to make plays. There is no doubt that Burns is going to need to add weight and strength for the NFL. Against pro offensive linemen, he is going to have problems holding up against downhill runs coming straight at him. Burns has gained some weight, but he needs to gain a lot more. Luckily for him, he has the frame to do it, so it is possible that fills out as he as he ages and gets experience in a pro strength and conditioning program. However, Burns is a liability in run support entering the NFL.

Walker flashed some run defense at times, but generally he was quiet in the ground game while at Georgia, and he didn’t total 100 tackle over the past two seasons combined. As a pro, Walker needs to do a better job of getting off blocks and getting in on tackles.

As a run defender, Polite is just okay. Sometimes, he would flash, but at other times, he didn’t seem that interested and didn’t appear to go all out. Some team sources say that they put in Polite’s report that he doesn’t always want to play against the run. That meshes with the personality and work ethic he has displayed throughout the pre-draft process.

Dropping Into Coverage:
NFL prototype: Clay Matthews, Rams
  1. Josh Allen
  2. D’Andre Walker
  3. Montez Sweat
  4. Brian Burns
  5. Nick Bosa
  6. Jachai Polite
  7. Clelin Ferrell
  8. Jaylon Ferguson

Recap: The NFL is a passing-driven league, and 3-4 defenses need linebackers who can function in space while dropping into pass coverage. The 3-4 defense is predicated on variety, so it requires linebackers to fall back into coverage to avoid predictability.

In pass coverage, Allen showed serious improvement as a senior, and his pass breakups were huge plays to lead Kentucky to a road upset over Florida. Allen shows a nice ability to function in space, quality instincts, and fluid athleticism to cover. He has the skill set to cover with good speed, athleticism, and length. In time, Allen could end up being an asset to help cover receiving tight ends and backs out of the backfield, but in the NFL, he will be mostly rushing the quarterback.

Walker could contribute in pass coverage in the NFL. He showed some ability to function in space as a zone defender. He can drop somewhat in coverage and help defend the short middle part of the field.

Sweat, Burns, Bosa, Polite, Ferrell and Ferguson were edge rushers in college who will need development for dropping in coverage in the NFL. That may not happen though, as all of these players will get drafted to be pass-rushers for their pro teams.

Shedding Blocks:
NFL prototype: Khalil Mack, Bears
  1. Nick Bosa
  2. Josh Allen
  3. Montez Sweat
  4. Jachai Polite
  5. Clelin Ferrell
  6. Jaylon Ferguson
  7. D’Andre Walker
  8. Brian Burns

Recap: 3-4 outside linebackers need the strength to fight off offensive linemen, especially when teams slide protections their way with double teams. Having the power to shed blocks separates the effectiveness of a lot of players.

In this category, Bosa really stands out. He has the strength to shed blocks and the quickness to close on the back to make tackles outside of his gap. With his natural strength, athleticism and quickness, Bosa is very difficult for offensive linemen to block.

Allen is very adept at shedding blocks. He uses his strength and length to disengage and his explosive speed to dart away.

Sweat, Polite and Ferrell were good at getting off blocks when it came to rushing the passer. However, they all could stand to get better at shedding blocks in the ground game for the NFL.

Ferguson and Walker were able to fight off blocks, but they will need more work for taking on NFL offensive linemen. Walker has the ability to get off blocks, although he didn’t do it consistently enough.

Burns can get covered up by offensive linemen and struggle to get off their blocks. He has added weight since the end of the college football season, so that could help him to improve in this regard.

NFL prototype: Bradley Chubb, Broncos
  1. Nick Bosa
  2. Josh Allen
  3. Clelin Ferrell
  4. Brian Burns
  5. Jaylon Ferguson
  6. D’Andre Walker
  7. Montez Sweat
  8. Jachai Polite

Recap: The majority of great pass-rushers have motors that don’t quit. Effort can make the difference between an edge rusher racking up 12 sacks in a season versus eight.

The first two really stand out in this category. Bosa also has a steady motor that never quits. On top of giving great effort, he has an infectious energy and his motor bleeds over to defenders around him. His motor should be a real asset for his pro defense. Allen has a relentless style of play. On every snap, he’s looking to make a play and always gives good effort.

Ferrell wouldn’t quit on plays and always gave a real effort. Burns and Ferguson also give good efforts. Walker has a quality motor and doesn’t get lazy. Sweat did not have a bad motor, but he didn’t appear to go all out in run defense at times.

Polite showed a good motor as a pass-rusher, but he seemed to check out of some plays in run defense. Some team sources say that they put in their report that Polite doesn’t always want to play against the run. If Polite had a more relentless spirit to him, he would have generated more production for his team and probably would have had a lot more playing time as a sophomore and a freshman.

Splash Plays:
NFL prototype: Von Miller, Broncos
  1. Josh Allen
  2. Jachai Polite
  3. Jaylon Ferguson
  4. Brian Burns
  5. Clelin Ferrell
  6. D’Andre Walker
  7. Nick Bosa
  8. Montez Sweat

Recap: Defenses and teams thrive off turnovers, so a pass-rusher who has the skills to force fumbles are game-changers. Many players go for strip sacks, but some are more effective than others.

Allen was a machine for splash plays for Kentucky last year, notched 17 sacks and five forced fumbles, plus some huge passes defended. This group could produce some good splash play defenders, but Allen is the best in this regard heading into the next level. Over his career at Kentucky, Allen created 11 forced fumbles and did it in clutch situations as well.

Polite was phenomenal last year in going for the strip sack, totaling six forced fumbles and coming close on a number of other plays. He has good instincts to go for the strip, awareness to adjust to scrambling quarterbacks, and an ability to redirect. Polite is very cognizant to try to knock the ball out when he gets close to the quarterback even if he can’t wrap them up for a tackle.

Ferguson had eight forced fumbles in his career, and he makes a real effort to go for the ball. Burns is similar, as he had seven forced fumbles the past three years. He goes for the strip-sack and makes a play for the ball.

Ferrell totaled three forced fumbles last year and two in 2017. He is cognizant to go for the strip when he gets close to the quarterback. Walker made some huge plays for the Georgia defense in 2018, including some clutch sacks and four forced fumbles. It was a big jump for him, so he could have play-making upside for the NFL.

Bosa had one forced fumble in each of the past two seasons, but he also played in a rotation. Last year, Bosa showed the instincts to go for the strip before going out with his season-ending injury.

Sweat had only one forced fumble over the past two seasons, which is surprising considering he collected 22 sacks over that span. Sweat should work on his ability to create turnovers, but he has the potential to improve in the NFL.

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