2016 NFL Draft Prospects: Linebackers

By Aaron Hyden
PSDC College Football Contributor

As the game of football continues to evolve, the linebacker position continues changing with it. With different defensive fronts, hybrid schemes and better athletes comes a different direction for the position. You have LBs that are strictly on the field to provide a pass rush, and are basically players who were defensive ends, but are too light to play DE anymore. You have the “traditional” LBs, who stay in their spots and rack up the tackle stats, playing sideline-to-sideline. It seems like every team has a different fit, and therefore, a different set of ‘Backers to play with. This is another loaded position in the Draft, with plenty of names fighting it out for first-round spots.

1. Scooby Wright, ILB/OLB, Arizona – Wright isn’t someone that you would refer to as an elite level athlete. He runs a 4.65 40, which isn’t bad at all, but compared to the 4.4’s and 4.5’s that some LBs run, his number doesn’t jump out at you. What he doesn’t have in elite athleticism, he makes up for it with world class instincts and a motor that simply doesn’t stop. When you watch an Arizona game, you’d swear that Wright ends each of them with 20+ tackles. He’s around the football like he was playing on offense, whether it’s making tackles, stuffing the run, pressuring the quarterback, forcing fumbles, and so on. His 2014 numbers (163 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, six forced fumbles) are what your LBs would get if you fired up a season in NCAA Football on your PS3.

Photo Credit: USA Today

Photo Credit: USA Today

If there’s anything people can point to and say Wright needs to improve at it, it would be his pass coverage. Some would tell you it doesn’t matter much, though, because that isn’t what his game is. He can sometimes fall into a one-dimensional spell when it comes to his pass rush moves, but that is something that he can easily improve on, making him an even better prospect for 2016.

2. Myles Jack, OLB, UCLA – Jack stands out where people feel that Wright doesn’t shine. His ability to drop back into pass coverage is tremendous, and he can make just as big of an impact on games that way as he can against the run. He only has a total of one sack in his two seasons with the Bruins, but again, that’s because the pass rush isn’t what his game is. He’s going to stuff the run, he’s going to put a hurting on ball carriers when he hits them, and he’s going to be able to defend the pass over the middle for you. If you’re looking for a pass rushing LB, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

At 6’1” and 225 pounds, he really needs to put on some weight and muscle before he gets to the NFL, but that ability to play in pass coverage is going to be very attractive to front offices across the league. Those types of LBs are almost becoming rare these days, so to see someone doing it and doing it well in college really catches attention.

3. Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia – If you want a speedy, athletic LB that can come around the edge with ease and get to the quarterback, Floyd is the player for you. He has strong hands to fight off blocks and he doesn’t seem to take many plays off.

However, if you’re looking for a LB that can do anything other than rush the passer, you’ll want to look elsewhere. Floyd has struggled against the run frequently, even being benched for a freshman last season after being the leader of a defense that gave up nearly 450 yards on the ground to Florida. Once he was inserted back into the lineup, he played better, but the questions continue to linger about what he can and can’t contribute.

Should he be able to work out some of those issues against the run, he’ll cement himself as an easy first round pick in 2016.

Other names to look out for are Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith, USC’s Su’a Cravens, Ohio State’s Darron Lee, Auburn’s Kris Frost and Alabama’s Reggie Ragland. There are intriguing prospects all over the class, covering every style of LB there is. This will be a good Draft to need help at that position.

Next up, I’ll be looking at the cornerback position, including my choice for the best prospect in the country at any position. CB continues the streak of being a very loaded position in this draft class, with at least four or five names already considered first round picks, and another four or five that could rise to that level with a strong 2015 season.

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