There are lot of teams currently in need of decent linebacker play. My series on evaluating each positional group in the NFL Draft continues with the linebackers. Who is the best player in the position group? Safest pick? Boom-or-bust pick? Underrated? Sleepers? Who is guy you should be cheering for to make it in the NFL? Let’s dive in!
Best Player in the Position Group: Reuben Foster (Alabama)
If he didn’t have injury concerns, he would likely be in the Top 5 discussion. He has the instincts, hitting skills, range and ability in pass coverage to be an every down linebacker. He has the skills to be an impact player and leader in the second layer of any defense. He can play in any defensive scheme as his skills translate to playing 3-4 or 4-3. Any team that drafts him (and if he stays healthy) will have an all-pro caliber player for a decade.
Safest Pick: T.J. Watt (Wisconsin)
I really like T.J. Watt because I know what I am getting as a player. He has the bloodlines with J.J. Watt and a relentless motor off the edge. He reminds me of players like John Simon (outside linebacker for Indianapolis) and Ryan Kerrigan (outside linebacker for Washington). These are tough guys who may not have the elite athletic skills, but are gritty football players who know how to play with drive and instinct.
Boom-Or-Bust Pick: Tyus Bowser (Houston)
Recently I have seen this player on some well-known mock drafts. He is a player who is a multi-sport athlete which I really like in my prospects. He has shown flashes of being an extremely disruptive player at the linebacker position. The issue moving forward is what is his true position? Can you match the physical traits and create a NFL football player? A very high ceiling, but will need solid coaching for a few years before we will know those answers.
Underrated: Jarrad Davis (Florida) & Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State)
Jarrad Davis, without his injury history, is a first-round pick. He has all the valuable traits that are needed to succeed at linebacker. Athletic ability within the box, tackling technique and natural instincts for the position. He could play on a 4-3 or 3-4 defense with the traits he possess. Any team that needs a leader on defense will be ecstatic to have him.
Raekwon McMillan is coming into the draft with a chip on his shoulder. There is a lot of scouts who think he can’t make it as a decent starter in the NFL. I think he could be a very good linebacker in specific schemes. I think his best position is on a 3-4 base team that does a lot of zone coverages out of their inside linebackers. He possess the instincts to play the position and has a nose for the ball in traffic.
Sleeper: Kendall Beckworth (LSU) & Anthony Walker Jr. (Northwestern)
If you are looking to take a flyer on a late-round inside linebacker, Beckworth could be your guy. He is meant to play 3-4 inside linebacker for a physical team. He is a downhill type player who makes plays in the box. If he can be paired in a 3-4 scheme with an inside linebacker with excellent coverage skills, it could make Beckworth a very good player in the league.
Walker Jr. is a natural linebacker who could blossom in the NFL with some coaching. His feel for the game within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage is one of the best in the class. If he can be coached up with some technique and other fundamentals of the game, he could be a quality starter for a team at inside linebacker.
“Rudy” Player: Conner Harris (Lindenwood)
You want to cheer for this guy come draft day. He is a 5-foot-11 player from NCAA Division II who has unbelievable stats. He is a dynamo and just racks up tackles. From what I’ve read, he loves the game and is a natural leader. I would want this guy in my locker room as a general manager and/or head coach. He will give it 110 percent and will be a respected member of your roster.