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Top 10 Prospects: Linebackers

Over the next couple of weeks and leading up to the draft, I will be taking a look at each position, if the Dolphins have aneed to upgrade that position in the draft, and who are the top 10 prospects going in. Remember, this is only one man’s opinion. This is the seventh of such posts and today we will look at linebackers.

Another position the isn’t an immediate need for the Miami Dolphins. While most of us agree that we are on our last straw with Channing Crowder, the rest of the group is quite strong. Cameron Wake is an absolute beast on the outside, and I am very high on second year player Koa Misi. Karlos Dansby may not have put the gaudy numbers he has in seasons past, but he is the unquestioned leader on this defense and is an asset to the team. I am also a huge fan of Ikaika Alama-Francis. He plays hard on every down and is a great reserve player. With that said, the Dolphins may look for an upgrade to Crowder in the middle or end of the draft, so this position should not be ignored.

Since the large majority of top prospects at this position are outside linebackers, I decided to split it up. I present to you the top 5 prospects at outside linebacker and the top 5 prospects at inside linebacker in the 2011 NFL Draft:

TOP 5 OUTSIDE LINEBACKER PROSPECTS:

1. Von Miller, Texas A&M 6’3, 246 lbs

Possibly my favorite name of the entire draft, Von Miller is an absolute beast. He has tallied 27.5 sacks over the past two seasons and won the Butkus Award this past year. His combine performance was great and his pro day performance was even better. He is the definition of a pass rushing linebacker. He has the speed and burst to be able to collapse the pocket and he doesn’t miss many tackles.  He has great instincts for the position. He will need to work a bit on pass coverage, but still did manage to break up five passes as a junior and will continue to get better. His athleticism and instincts have NFL scouts drooling, and has as high of a ceiling as any prospect this year. He has drawn favorable comparisons to Elvis Dumervil. Many mocks have him going #5 to the Arizona Cardinals, but I’ve also heard the Buffalo Bills are very interested as well. If he falls at all, he won’t make it past the San Francisco 49ers at #7.

2. Akeem Ayers, UCLA 6’3, 254 lbs

While playing outside rush linebacker for most of his career at UCLA, Ayers 4.81 at the combine might prove his future rests on the inside of a 3-4 scheme. He’s a versatile linebacker who has the size and speed to line up at several positions on the field. He’s a solid tackler who plays under control. He will need to work on his edge moves and will struggle to keep up with the faster tight ends in the NFL. However, he might fit well in a hybrid scheme lining up on the outside or on the end of the line. He is a fringe first rounder, possibly to the Green Bay Packers at #32.

3. Justin Houston, Georgia 6’3, 270 lbs

Houston benefited greatly from Georgia switching to a 3-4 in 2010. He finished the season with 18.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Teams looking for strength and speed on the outside will value Houston’s physical tools. Like most converted edge rushers, he’s still very raw dropping back in coverage. But he can flat out get after the passer with an explosive upfield burst. He does need to work on his tackles, as he tends to tackle too high and misses too many. He is a high character guy with a lot of upside, and will be probably an early second rounder.

4. Brooks Reed, Arizona 6’3, 263 lbs

Reed worked out with the defensive linemen at the combine, but he projects best to outside linebacker in a 3-4. He only enhanced that probability with a 4.65 40, which was faster than 18 of the 24 linebackers tested in Indy. However, he is raw and did not perform admirably against top competition in college. He has trouble getting off blocks and plays very stiff. He is a strong leader though, and a high character guy. He will be a second rounder, possibly sneaking into the first if the Packers like him enough.

5. Sam Acho, Texas 6’2, 262 lbs

Acho had a great combine and followed that up by backing up all his numbers at his pro day. Acho earned first-team All-Big 12 honors by leading the team’s defensive linemen with 59 tackles, 17 for loss, nine sacks and five forced fumbles. He lacks exceptional quickness as a pass rusher, but shows versatility when regularly playing as a five-technique. He has the ability to play the run and the pass, which will help him be selected in the second or third round.

TOP 5 INSIDE LINEBACKER PROSPECTS:

1. Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina 6’1, 241 lbs

Most mocks have Martez Wilson above Sturdivant, but Wilson has been falling and I believe in stats. As a sophomore, Sturdivant led the NCAA in solo tackles (87) and had 122 in total. He followed that up with an impressive junior campaign, registering 79 tackles and 12 tackles for loss. His senior season was mostly loss due to due to hamstring injury, but he still managed to lead the team in tackles. He has four seasons of starting experience, and teams know what they will be getting out of him, which is a solid player in the middle of the defense. He will be a mid round selection, probably between the third and fourth rounds.

2. Martez Wilson, Illinois 6’4, 250 lbs

Wilson has way too many red flags for me to rate him number one on this list. Yes, he had a huge 2010 season. But I’m not a huge fan of one year wonders, nor am I a big fan of players coming back from neck injuries. Teams will look at his skill set (he is excellent at defending both and pass and the run) and somebody will probably reach for him. Consensus opinion says he hurt his draft stock by displaying horrible footwork at his pro day, probably dropping him out of the first round. He will more than likely be a second round selection, which I still believe is high for him.

3. Greg Jones, Michigan Stae 6’0, 242 lbs

Jones was Michigan State’s on-field emotional leader while also pacing the team in tackles the past four years. Jones has experience inside and outside and was moved around by the Spartans to take advantage of his strengths, which are his instincts and pass-rushing ability. Scouts remain split on Jones, who struggled during Senior Bowl week and didn’t pop off the charts during the combine either. Despite the impressive production, Jones doesn’t wow scouts with his size or strength inside. His leadership and speed in the middle might help some NFL teams overlook his lack of height and slight frame. He is a mid-round selection.

4. Casey Matthews, Oregon 6’1, 231 lbs

Is Matthews only on this list because of his brother, his father, his uncle and his hair? Maybe. But a good football pedigree can mean more than pure football talent. It’s one thing to only have one relative play well in the NFL, but three? That has to mean something. Matthews has great instincts, which were on display during the BCS Championship game, keeping Cam Newton in check. He is smaller and has less athletic ability than his brother, and has a lingering shoulder issue that will throw up a red flag for some teams. He will fit in well with a 4-3 scheme, and will be a late round selection. Not a bad spot for the Dolphins to take a chance.

5. Kelvin Sheppard, LSU 6’2, 250 lbs

While LSU has a history of developing highly-touted linebackers who don’t project well to the NFL, I don’t believe that will be the case with Sheppard. A former track star, Sheppard recorded 311 tackles and 26 tackles for loss during his time there. He is able to locate the ball quickly and wastes no time closing. He is athletic enough to stay on the field for all three downs and is a solid tackler. He is a born leader and will quickly become the leader of a defense. He does have an issue getting off blocks and needs to work on his zone coverage. He will be a third or fourth round selection.

As stated above, the linebacker position is not an immediate need for the Dolphins. Will they address it in the draft? I’m not sure. If they do, we can be assured that it won’t be in the early rounds. Keep your eyes peeled though, because if the Bills draft Von Miller, we’ll be seeing him a lot in the upcoming years. If the Phins decide to look at an inside linebacker with a mid-round selection, I hope they take a long look at Casey Matthews. I know, maybe I’m just sucked in by his bloodlines, but I like the way he plays. He plays bigger than he is and has a lot of passion and intensity on every play. I would have no problem seeing him in a Dolphins uniform next year.

If you had to pick one, who would you go with?

Twitter- @notquiterosey

Other Top 10 Prospects:

Quarterback

Running Back

Wide Receiver

Tight End

Offensive Line

Defensive Line


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Tags: Akeem Ayers Brooks Reed Casey Matthews Greg Jones Justin Houston Kelvin Sheppard Linebackers Martez Wilson Miami Dolphins Quan Sturdivant Sam Acho Top 10 Prospects Von Miller

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