NFL draft preview: Linebackers

  • Updated: April 21, 2013 - 8:50 PM
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Jarvis Jones led the nation in sacks last season, but he had a lackluster pro day and there are questions about his health.

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The hot topic: What’s the worry factor on Georgia’s dynamic duo?

Forget for a moment the Tim Tebow-sized circus that’s expected to follow Notre Dame linebacker and infamous “Catfishing” victim Manti Te’o into the NFL. Bigger draft-day concerns might reside in Georgia, where two of the country’s finest linebackers could be toting their own separate baggage to a couple of brave pro teams via the first round.

Alec Ogletree, a twice-suspended inside linebacker who tacked on a DUI charge in February, and last year’s college football sack king Jarvis Jones, whose lackluster pro day added a second red flag to medical concerns about an old neck injury, are projected as mid- to late first-rounders. Of course, they also could take a tumble the way some projected first-rounders tend to do.

Ogletree is nearly everything a certain purple-clad, Tampa-2 team without a starting middle linebacker could want. At least on the field, where the former safety has the speed, quickness and size (6-2, 242) to overcome a lack of polish and become a vital weapon against modern pass-crazed NFL offenses.

“I’ve got him No. 1 among the inside linebackers, but hesitantly,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock told the Philadelphia Daily News. “With Ogletree, you’re just betting on the upside.

“[But] I’m scared to death about Ogletree, both for on- and off-the-field issues. When you put the tape on, he has no clue what he’s doing. … Some of the Cover-2 teams will love him because he can run down the middle of the field like a safety. If you can train him and he loves the game and he has a work ethic, all of which are question marks right now, the kid can be special.”

THE FRONT-RUNNER

Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon

As more teams switch to 3-4 defenses, more teams need 6-7, 248-pound freaks of nature who can clobber QBs. Jordan, a former tight end who grew into an explosive pass rusher, could be a top-five pick. He’s not expected to fall lower than sixth to Cleveland.

THE CONTENDERS

Manti Te’o, MLB, Notre Dame

So which team will take on the sideshow that comes with this instinctive, passionate Heisman Trophy runner-up whose reputation got chop-blocked by an Internet girlfriend hoax? ESPN’s draft gurus are split. Mel Kiper Jr. says the Vikings will have to trade up from No. 23 to get him. Todd McShay says the Vikings will say no thanks at Nos. 23 and 25 as Te’o tumbles to Baltimore at No. 32.

Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia

Led major college football with 14 ½ sacks last fall but raised eyebrows when he showed up for his pro day out of shape and ran a 4.92 40. Teams also have to weigh the potential long-term pitfalls of his spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the neck canal.

Barkevious Mingo, OLB, Louisiana State

Mingo is one of those “tweeners” who could become an outstanding player or be remembered as a what-were-they-thinking!? bust. The college defensive end is believed to be too lean (6-4, 241) to be an every-down 4-3 end, but he’s still a top-20 pick because he might be a DeMarcus Ware-type 3-4 edge pass rusher.

THE SLEEPER

Cornelius Washington, OLB, Georgia

The Bulldogs have another linebacker who might be worth a Day 3 pick. Washington is a 6-4, 265-pounder who runs a 4.55 40. He can be a situational pass rusher as a 4-3 end or 3-4 linebacker. His senior season, which included just half a sack, never lived up to its preseason hype. He also had a DUI arrest earlier in his career.

Mark Craig

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