NFL draft analysis: Linebackers

  • Updated: April 22, 2011 - 11:18 AM
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FILE - In this Nov. 25, 2010 file photo, Texas A&M's Von Miller (40) pulls down an interception as Texas' Fozzy Whittaker (28) stops him during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in Austin, Texas. Miller is a top prospect in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Photo: Eric Gay, Associated Press - Ap

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THE CREAM

VON MILLER, TEXAS A&M

Given the explosion of 3-4 defenses in the NFL and the success of rush linebackers (See: Matthews, Clay), it's no wonder teams covet fast, aggressive outside linebackers who can put pressure on quarterbacks.

Enter Von Miller, the prototypical 3-4 pass rushing specialist.

"It's a great time to be a linebacker," Miller said. "It's a great time to be a linebacker every year. I don't just label myself as an outside 3-4 linebacker. I want to be the best defensive player in this year's draft. That may be in a 3-4, a 4-3, a 5-2, I just want to play football and get on the field."

Miller's 17 sacks in 2009 led the nation. His total dropped to 10 1/2 as a senior partly because of an ankle injury that bothered him all season. Miller is one of the top-ranked defensive players in the draft and a likely top-five pick. Draft experts view him as the next dynamic rush linebacker.

"The kid gets like a motorcycle driver coming around the corner," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "You wonder how some of those guys can stay on the bike on motocross, and this guy is the same way. He comes around that edge and I don't even know how he stays on his feet. He gets this tremendous leverage on those big tackles and they just can't handle him. There's a great motor he plays with, great leverage he plays with, great speed, attitude, approach, all those things."

Miller said he's more than just a pass rusher and is versatile enough to play in a 4-3 scheme. But ...

"My God-given ability is speed off the edge, just rushing," he said. "I can drop back into coverage and do all that other stuff, too, but what God has blessed me with is pass rushing off the edge."

THE CROP

1. JUSTIN HOUSTON, GEORGIA

Houston is a hybrid-type player who could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 or defensive end in a 4-3. He collected 10 sacks and 18 1/2 tackles for loss this past season. He has to prove that he can do more than just rush the passer. Teams must discern whether Houston (6-3, 260 pounds) is better suited playing with his hand on the ground or standing up.

2. AKEEM AYERS, UCLA

Ayers is regarded as one of the most athletic linebackers in the draft, and one who is equally comfortable defending the run and pass. He intercepted six passes and had 24 tackles for loss combined in his final two seasons at UCLA. There's no denying that Ayers is an athletic playmaker, but he needs to become more consistent.

3. MARTEZ WILSON, ILLINOIS

Wilson said he often gets compared to Miami Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby because they have nearly identical size (6-4, 250 pounds), long arms and versatility. Some teams envision Wilson playing inside linebacker while others see him on the outside. Wilson said he's comfortable in either role. A neck injury caused him to miss nearly the entire 2009 season. Wilson said his neck is no longer a problem, but it's something to consider.

THE SLEEPER

MARK HERZLICH, BOSTON COLLEGE

It's easy to admire and root for Herzlich, who beat cancer and returned to football this past season. The 2008 ACC defensive Player of the Year, Herzlich missed the following season while getting treatment for Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. "I talked to a lot of people who are going through cancer right now and the biggest problem they have is not having a light at the end of the tunnel, not having a goal," Herzlich said at the combine. "My goal happened to be running out of the tunnel, running with my team. It kind of got me through a lot of things." Herzlich is expected to be a mid-round pick.

PURPLE FEVER

This position isn't a high priority for the Vikings. E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway are entrenched as starters. They likely will have to replace veteran free agent Ben Leber, but they could look in-house to fill the role. They could add a linebacker in later rounds for depth.

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Fla Southern 2 FINAL
Detroit 12
FIU 2 FINAL
Miami 7
Toronto 114 FINAL
Philadelphia 103
Golden State 108 FINAL
Brooklyn 110
Phoenix 98 FINAL
Miami 115
LA Clippers 110 FINAL
Minnesota 105
New Orleans 93 FINAL
Dallas 102
Nashville 1 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Carolina 2 FINAL
Chicago 5
Montreal 0 FINAL
San Jose 4
Virginia 59 FINAL
Syracuse 47
Baylor 59 FINAL
Texas 61
SE Louisiana 79 FINAL
Northwestern St 92
Central Arkansas 49 FINAL
Sam Houston St 76
Norfolk State 59 FINAL
Howard 61
Bethune-Cookman 50 FINAL
NC A&T 67
Hampton 75 FINAL
Delaware State 85
Lamar 69 FINAL
McNeese State 70
Nicholls 89 FINAL
New Orleans 79
Incarnate Word 62 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 83
NC Central 62 FINAL
Savannah State 49
Texas Southern 77 FINAL
Alabama A&M 75
Prairie View 67 FINAL
Alabama State 65
Oklahoma 70 FINAL
Iowa State 77
Grambling St 62 FINAL
Miss Valley St 66
Boston College 66 FINAL
Virginia Tech 59
Jackson State 62 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 64
Bethune-Cookman 55 FINAL
NC A&T 58
Hampton 78 FINAL
Delaware State 63
Norfolk State 63 FINAL
Howard 60
NC Central 54 FINAL
Savannah State 65
Texas Southern 83 FINAL
Alabama A&M 46
Prairie View 42 FINAL
Alabama State 60
Jackson State 78 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 74
Grambling 56 FINAL
Miss Valley St 61
Tulsa 71 FINAL
Cincinnati 58
(1) Connecticut 88 FINAL
South Florida 65
UCF 57 FINAL
East Carolina 67
Central Conn St 53 FINAL
Bryant 55
Wagner 66 FINAL
Robert Morris 60
Sacred Heart 75 FINAL
Fairleigh Dickinson 84
St Francis-NY 73 FINAL
Long Island 49
Mount St Marys 87 FINAL
St Francis-PA 90
Temple 56 FINAL
Houston 45
Texas Tech 65 FINAL
(6) Baylor 75
Iowa State 64 FINAL
Kansas 68
SMU 60 FINAL
Memphis 53
Oklahoma 66 FINAL
Oklahoma St 56
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

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