Lawrence Timmons, Florida State (6-0¾, 233)
Third-year junior…One-year starter who backed up Detroit first-round pick Ernie Sims until 2006…Last season had 79 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 6 passes broken up and 1 interception…Good speed and makes plays from sideline to sideline…Is solid in coverage and completely took away projected first-rounder Greg Olsen when the Seminoles played Miami…Spent a lot of time making plays in the backfield with almost 25 percent of his tackles coming behind the line of scrimmage…Good upper-body strength…Forces running plays inside because he can stand up blockers at the corner…Can get to top speed very quickly…Very slow to react off the snap and is almost always the last person moving…Extremely raw with only one year of starting experience…Not accustomed to blitzing because he was moved to a stand-up defensive end on passing downs…Doesn't go after ball-carriers face up and prefers to hit from the side or leg-tackle…Needs to work on tackling technique…Had a solid Combine performance, running a 4.63 40 with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 35-inch vertical jump and tied for second among OLBs with a 10-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A raw prospect, but he has the skills to play equally well in a 4-3 or a 3-4. His upside is so huge that, despite the lack of playing time, he will probably be the first OLB off the board in the second half of the first round.
Paul Posluszny, Penn State (6-1¼, 236)
Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 336 tackles, 32.5 tackles for a loss, 9 sacks, 9 passes broken up and 1 interception…Had an outstanding junior year and won the Bednarik Award, given to the top defensive player in college football and was the first junior for the Nittany Lions to be named a captain in 40 years…Suffered a partially torn MCL and PCL in the 2005 Orange Bowl but didn't need surgery…Attacks the hole quickly and shoots gaps on running downs…Has a lot of toughness and on-field smarts…Calls the defensive plays…Can get to top speed in just a couple of strides…Makes big hits…Keeps sweeps to the inside by manhandling blockers…Isn't a polished blitzer and gets picked up too easily…Needs work on his coverage skills because the PSU defense didn't require him to play one-on-one…Doesn't have top-end strength and can get engulfed by big offensive linemen…Didn't show great cover skills at the Senior Bowl…Ran a 4.58 40 at the Combine with 22 reps, an impressive 37-inch vertical jump (third-best among OLBs) and a 9-8 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Didn't look as good as a senior when he was wearing a knee brace. If he gets a clean bill of health from the teams at the end of the first round, he won't be around for the second round.
Jon Beason, Miami (6-0¼, 237)
Fourth-year junior…Came to Hurricanes as a fullback but had a shoulder injury early on and was granted a medical redshirt in 2003…A two-year starter at weakside linebacker who had 140.5 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and 1 interception in that span…Built like a tank and has very little body fat…A big hitter who likes to initiate contact…Doesn't have great upper-body strength and needs to use lower-body strength to be effective…Very physical at the point of attack and shoots gaps to make plays…Can chase down running backs on plays going away from him…Has very good closing speed…Bites too often on play action and will take himself out of position…Isn't an effective blitzer and had less only 1.5 in 24 games the last two years…Durability will be a question in light of shoulder and knee injury history…Didn't help his cause at the Combine because his 40 time (4.75) and his lifting of 225 pounds (19 reps) were both third-worst among OLBs at the Combine.
PROJECTION: Beason is viewed as a three-down linebacker despite being a little undersized. There are plenty of scouts that have raved about him, and he might go as high as the first round. But if we were running a war room, we would wait until the second round before pulling the trigger on him.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Stewart Bradley, Nebraska (6-3¾, 258)
Fifth-year senior…Played only one year of high school football, but his prep rugby team won three national titles…Three-year starter who missed most of the 2005 season with a torn ACL…In his last three years, he started 29 of 30 games and amassed 169 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss, 4 sacks and 1 interception…Is at his best in the open field, where he reads and diagnoses quickly…Decent blitzer who gets into the backfield and disrupts a lot of pass plays…Had a big week at the Senior Bowl…Does a solid job in pass coverage…A team leader whose motor never stops…Works hard and likes to deliver the big hit…Has a long injury list dating back to high school…Doesn't have the speed to chase plays down to the sideline…Doesn't have the type of linebacker tackle production a lot of scouts look for…Will struggle trying to keep up with running backs and speedy tight ends in coverage…Ran a 4.73 40 at the Combine with 28 reps, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 9-4 broad jump.
PROJECTION: An interesting prospect in that he could likely be a solid starter in a 4-3 defense on the strongside or a 3-4. With so many teams needing linebackers and his skills fitting in with both types of defensive schemes, he will likely come off the board somewhere in the middle to end of the second round.
Justin Durant, Hampton (6-1, 229)
Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who made starts in his final 34 college games…Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year in each of his final three seasons, when he totaled 321 tackles, 42.5 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, 15 passes broken up and 4 interceptions…Has very good quickness and reads plays quickly on the fly…Good football instincts in both run defense and in coverage…Has explosive closing burst and brings the wood…Can chase down plays to the sidelines…Spends a lot of time in the weight room…Was a leader by example…A little shorter than most scouts want…Didn't see any truly top competition playing at the Division I-AA level…Doesn't have the body mass to hold up his end of the line on sweeps with big blockers coming at him…Isn't an effective blitzer and gets picked up too easily…Had a strong Combine performance, running a 4.52 40 with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump, all among the top in their respective disciplines.
PROJECTION: A very productive player who has excellent speed and good on-field power, but his inexperience against real competition will scare away some teams and even the team that takes him will probably view him as a player that will need a year or two of seasoning. Even so, he likely will be gone by the end of the second round.
Stephen Nicholas, South Florida (6-1½, 232)
Fifth-year senior who played three games as a true freshman before sustaining an ankle injury and was granted a medical redshirt…A four-year starter who made starts in 45 of 47 career games, totaling 324 tackles, 52.5 tackles for a loss, 20 sacks, and 2 interceptions…Hard-nosed player with excellent upper-body strength…Durability is unquestioned and has played through minor injuries…Uses hands well to keep blockers away from his body…Solid in man-on-man coverage with backs and tight ends…Reads and recognizes quickly and gets to the ball in a hurry…Is undersized…Doesn't have good foot speed…Doesn't finish off plays with explosive closing speed…Has trouble changing direction when asked to follow a tight end down the seam…Impressed at the Combine with 29 reps of 225 pounds (third-best among OLB prospects) but his 4.85 40 time was tied for worst, to go along with a 33½-inch vertical jump and a 9-2 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player who likely will be taken because of his production rather than jump-out-at-you skills. He's got a chance to go on the first day of the draft, but because of his lack of speed, he may go behind a couple of players we have rated below him.
Quincy Black, New Mexico (6-1¾, 240)
Fifth-year senior who spent two years at Harper (IL) College…Two-year starter at New Mexico and had 177 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and 4 interceptions in that span…Had a huge senior season with 114 tackles…Excellent foot speed and leaping ability…An outstanding natural athlete…Excellent closing speed…Reacts quickly and knifes his way to get to the ball…Excellent lateral quickness to slide down the line to make plays and sift through the garbage…Solid in coverage and reads the quarterback's eyes very well…Is undersized by NFL standards…Doesn't have ideal bulk or upper-body strength…Doesn't finish as many tackles as he should…Doesn't consistently fight off blockers and will get driven out of plays…Didn't show much potential as a blitzer…Had a very good Combine performance: his 4.45 40 was second-best among OLBs, he did 24 reps and both his vertical jump (41½, best of anyone at the Combine) and broad jump (best among OLBs at 10-4) were impressive.
PROJECTION: Thought to be a Day 2 prospect, his dynamic showing at the Combine might push him into the latter stages of Day One.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Rufus Alexander, Oklahoma (6-1 232)
Fifth-year senior who underwent knee surgery following his redshirt season of 2002…Three-year starter who had 293 tackles, 38 tackles for a loss, 9 sacks and 3 interceptions in that span…Excellent production that went up each of his three years as a starter…Hits the hole with speed and makes a lot plays behind the line…Very good closing speed and gets more than his share of sacks when he blitzes…Solid in zone coverage in pass defense…Has good initial burst off the snap…Needs to work on leverage because he can get swarmed by pulling linemen…Is viewed as being considerably undersized…Tends to lead with his shoulder when tackling rather than running through ball-carriers and wrapping up…Takes short steps and can get caught up in the garbage trying to chase plays to the sidelines…Ran a 4.69 40 at the Combine with 26 reps of 225 pounds, a weak 32-inch vertical jump and a 9-9 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A good player with nice intangibles, but film study doesn't show the kind of knock-your-teeth-out linebacker most scouts want. He can make an immediate impact on special teams, but that shouldn't be enough to get him coming off the board on the first day.
Zac DeOssie, Brown (6-4¾, 249)
Fourth-year senior…His father Steve played in the NFL for the Cowboys, Jets, Patriots and Giants…Three-year starter who made starts in his final 29 college games…Missed four games in 2005 with a partially torn left ACL…Smart player who has great football instincts…Very good size and speed combination…Gets to full speed extremely quickly…Has good change of direction and fluid hips in pass coverage…Has good closing speed and can run with athletic tight ends…Has the added bonus of being a long-snapper…Doesn't have good lower-body strength and struggles to hold at the point of attack on sweeps…Didn't face top-end competition in the Ivy League…Plays too upright and will miss a lot of tackles he should make…Needs to work more on his hand use to keep blockers away from his body…Had a tremendous Combine performance, running a 4.59 40 with 26 reps, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A strongside linebacker who will likely be devalued because the Ivy League is known for producing doctors and lawyers more than football players. But his Combine production and his bloodline in the NFL should get him off the board early on the second day of the draft.
Michael Okwo, Stanford (5-11½, 231)
Fourth-year senior…Didn't become a full-time starter until last year, when he had 95 tackles, 5 tackles for a loss and 2 sacks…Very good footwork and tenacity…Finishes almost every tackle when he gets his hands on a runner…Reads and diagnoses plays quickly…Moves well through traffic when tracking down plays on the backside…Big hitter who drives through his tackles…Extremely undersized at less than six feet tall…Has trouble taking on lead blockers and often disappears in the pile…Needs to improve hand use to have any chance at the next level…Is not an adept blitzer…Ran a 4.65 40 at the Combine with 20 reps of 225 pounds, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A very good athlete who has a great motor, but his inexperience and lack of height will probably keep him off some draft boards completely and likely won't go until the late rounds if at all on draft weekend.
Rory Johnson, Mississippi (6-0¼, 232)
Third-year junior…Named USA Today All-American in high school…Spent two years at Hinds (MS) Community College and played just one year at Ole Miss…Started seven of 12 games last year, registering 94 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss and earned a half-sack…Very athletic player who makes a lot of tackles…Motor always running…Has good football recognition instincts and smells out plays in a hurry…Has the speed and hip movement to mirror tight ends down the seam in pass coverage…Excellent leaping ability…Very inexperienced…Has had several brushes with the law that have some questioning his character…Doesn't have good upper-body strength and doesn't shake off blockers as well as he should…Seems lost at times and doesn't stick to his assignment because he prefers to freelance…Plays upright and tackles the same way…Ran a 4.60 40 at the Combine with just 19 reps (one of the lowest totals among all linebackers), but showed excellent leaping ability: his 38-inch vertical jump was second among LBs and his 9-8 broad jump was near the top.
PROJECTION: Has a lot of the skills scouts look for, but his inexperience and off-the-field issues could drop him to the end of the draft or make him an undrafted free agent. He should have stayed in school one more year to help his draft stock.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Juwan Simpson, Alabama (6-2½, 228)
Earl Everett, Florida (6-2½, 238)
Tim Shaw, Penn State (6-1¼, 233)
Zach Latimer, Oklahoma (6-1¼, 234)
Tony Taylor, Georgia (6-0½, 236)
Antwan Barnes, Florida International (6-0¾, 240)