2004 DRAFT PREVIEW: LINEBACKERS

As the weekend of April 24-25 approaches, we preview the 2004 NFL draft with a series examining the top prospects at each position, how the Dolphins stands at each position and what the Dolphins might do at each position. We continue our series with a look at the linebackers.

The top prospects

It really has become increasingly difficult to find a difference-maker at linebacker in the draft in recent years. Sure, every so often you have your Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher, but it's usually a crop of solid-but-not-spectacular prospects. That's the case this year. Leading the way are yet two more top-notch University of Miami prospects, D.J. Williams and Jonathan Vilma. They are expected to both be selected in the first round, and it's entirely possible they'll be the only two No. 1 pick among linebackers. Williams, the former USA Today High School Player of the Year, leads a decent group of outside linebacker prospects that also includes Karlos Dansby from Auburn, Teddy Lehman from Oklahoma, Keyaron Fox from Georgia Tech and Pasha Jackson from Oklahoma. There also are a couple of undersized but speedy prospects at OLB, namely Michael Boulware from Florida State and Demorrio Williams from Nebraska. At middle linebacker, the top names following Vilma are Daryl Smith from Georgia Tech, Dontarrious Thomas from Auburn and Courtney Watson from Notre Dame. A small-school prospect to remember is Jonathan Harrell from Northern Iowa.

The Dolphins situation

This is one position where the Dolphins haven't added anything in the offseason. In fact, the only transaction of significance was the departure of backup Tommy Hendricks to Jacksonville as an unrestricted free agent. Last year's starters — Zach Thomas, Junior Seau and Morlon Greenwood — are all returning and the Dolphins have some promising young players behind them in the likes of 2003 top pick Eddie Moore, Corey Jenkins and Brendon Ayanbadejo.

What the Dolphins might do

The flip is the Dolphins' young talent at linebacker is just that — it's young. The Dolphins have no proven backup now that Hendricks is gone and there is also the need to start thinking about a replacement for Seau, who won't be around that much longer. Having said that, it's not impossible the Dolphins will select a linebacker at some point in the draft, although it's not as big a priority as a wide receiver or offensive lineman.

Next up: The cornerbacks.


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