Connor is by far the best inside linebacker in the 2008 draft, and he proved that at the Senior Bowl. He displayed excellent quickness and cover skills and proved that he’s a versatile defender who can play inside or outside. He also positioned himself well to make tackles. Connor is truly a tremendous prospect who provides leadership qualities to a defense. The Combine is a place for scouts to clock Connor’s true speed and to envision how he can fit into their defense during one-on-one interviews.
After a junior campaign where he recorded 157 total tackles, 10.5 for a loss, one sack and three interceptions, Lofton makes the jump from the collegiate level to the NFL. Lofton is an instinctive player who works well in small areas and is quick to the point of attack. He reads a quarterback well and anticipates the action. Lofton’s overall speed is questionable and will be measured by scouts in Indianapolis.
Georgia Tech LB Philip Wheeler gets ready for action against North Carolina.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
3. Philip Wheeler, Georgia Tech, 6-2, 245
Draft Projection: 2nd Round
A quick, explosive linebacker with playmaking ability, Wheeler has the makings of a potential game-changing defender. He’s always around the action and is an effective blitzer, as evidenced by his 5.5 sacks this past season. He takes good angles in pursuit and showed excellent sideline-to-sideline ability at the Senior Bowl. He received a lot of attention from teams in Mobile, and with another solid all-round performance at the Combine, look for Wheeler to move up draft boards.
Mayo is another underclassman who enjoyed a successful junior season and exploded on the scene for the Volunteers. He amassed 140 tackles, 8.5 for a loss, 1.5 sacks and an interception. He’s not considered a playmaker, but he’s a steady defender who’s an explosive tackler. Scouts will look to see how Mayo performs in drills and how he transitions in pursuit. Is he a middle linebacker, or can he switch to OLB? The more versatility he shows, the higher his stock will climb.
Bell was a dominant performer in the WAC and enjoyed a spectacular senior season. He recorded 111 tackles, 7.5 for a loss, three sacks and four interceptions. His production this past season warranted an invitation to the Senior Bowl to show his skills to NFL personnel. But Bell didn’t help himself in Mobile, and although he’s a quick, straight-line runner, he had difficulty moving laterally. He also suffered a knee sprain during the second day of practice in Mobile and didn’t return the rest of the week. Bell will have to run well in the forty and perform well in agility drills to improve his draft positioning.
Moving from outside to inside linebacker last season gave Gooden an opportunity to show his ability. He had a breakout year, recording 100 tackles, three for a loss and an interception. Gooden has to take better angles in pursuit, shed blocks cleanly and get in the backfield quicker to make plays. He has a lot of potential and comes from a program that has produced many great linebackers. He was invited to the Senior Bowl, but didn’t participate because of a hip injury. Since Gooden wasn’t present in Mobile, scouts will look to see how Gooden does during drills to see where he fits at the next level.
Hall lacks ideal size to play inside at the next level, but he’s instinctive and reads the action very well. He had an injury-riddled senior season and missed four games, but still recorded 100 tackles, 6.5 for a loss, 3.5 sacks and an interception. Hall has to run well in Indianapolis to warrant a possible first day selection. Durability will also be a concern, and teams will look over his medical records very carefully.
9. Jeremy Leman, Illinois, 6-2, 240
Draft Projection: 5th Round
11. Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Boston College, 6-1, 228
Draft Projection: 5th – 6th Round
14. Steve Allen, West Texas A&M, 6-1, 236
Draft Projection: FA
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.