Draft 2002: Looking at the OLBs

<P><STRONG>Napoleon Harris, Northwestern</STRONG> (6-3, 255 lbs., 4.53) Harris has very good size and fantastic speed. His functional strength has improved, but can get pushed around at the point of attack, especially when he is lined up as an edge rusher.

He is more of a one dimensional pass rusher and needs work in pass coverage.

A defensive end this past season, which really helped improve his pass rush skills, while he also learned how to make much better use of his hands against blockers. He will need time to develop at strong-side linebacker, but he finished his career with 334 tackles. His quickness off the ball, speed and versatility impressed scouts, both at the Senior Bowl and Combine.

As great as his physical numbers and production look his instincts are not the best, although they have vastly improved over the past two years. Oakland and New England are both trying to put themselves in position to select Harris.

Levar Fisher, N.C. State (6-1, 233 lbs., 4.59) Fisher is a sideline-to-sideline defender that has amazing speed and comes off the ball very quickly. He is more of an upfield player that consistently gets into the backfield.

The Wolfpack's all-time leading tackler, Fisher was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year as a junior and posted 25 double-figure tackle games during his career. He has been able to take on blockers and keep his feet moving until he can release and make the play.

However, he lacks the ideal size and strength to hold up at the point of attack, which is why he will likely play weak-side linebacker in the pros. He will need to be protected because he tends to get caught in traffic at times, but is always around the ball (nine career fumbles caused).

Fisher broke his left forearm in the Tangerine Bowl and had his knee scoped, as well, but is expected to be at full strength for training camp. His durability may be questionable, but he should be a great special teams player. He fits perfectly on teams like Miami, Arizona or Kansas City.

Ben Leber, Kansas State (6-3, 244 lbs., 4.61) Leber is a solid two-way defender that has experience at both inside and outside linebacker. He tends to be a little stiff at times and will not play with ideal leverage or balance. Blockers have the ability to get him off his feet, since he has such a long frame -- once he learns how to make better use of his hands that will happen less.

A clubhouse leader with a solid work ethic, the Wildcats' defensive unit took their cue from Leber's drive, motor and production. His terrific workout at the Combine, 20 reps of 225 pounds and excellent footwork on his positional drills, really helped move him up the draft board. He was a high school running back and combines athleticism with a first-rate attitude.

The NY Giants, Atlanta, New England and Houston will all likely take a serious look at him in the third round.

Raonall Smith, Washington State (6-2, 244 lbs., 4.53) Smith is the best athlete the Cougars have produced at linebacker since Mark Fields (Panthers). In fact, he turned in one of the best all-around workouts at the Combine, including his 4.53 40-time, 26 reps of 225 pounds and 42" vertical, a number that is usually reserved for defensive backs or receivers.

His instincts are only average and he has had some durability issues in the past. He started all but two games over the last two years, but recorded only 139 tackles and one interception. On paper he would look to be the best player available except for the fact that he likes to run around blocks and seems to be more of a hit-and-run defender.

His field strength is only average, and misdirection plays can occasionally confuse him. Smith will be too good of a "potential" prospect to pass up come rounds three and four, but needs to get more consistent and improve his football smarts in order to fulfill that potential.

Saleem Rasheed, Alabama (6-2, 233 lbs., 4.59) An early entrant to the draft, Rasheed became the first Alabama defensive player in 12 seasons to compile 100 or more tackles in a single season last year. He had 115 tackles and finished with 10 or more tackles in six consecutive games.

The Crimson Tide defensive scheme allowed him to play both middle and outside linebacker, but he lacks the ideal size or strength to play inside in the pros. He lacked consistency throughout his college career, and may have left Alabama early to escape all of the NCAA problems the program has been dealing with.

He will show you flashes that might make you think he can be an All-Pro, but when his level of play evens out he can be a non-factor for long stretches of time.

Although he has the look of a coachable kid -- he needs re-assuring and some "babying" at times. He impressed scouts by doing 26 reps of 225 pounds and recording a 38.5" vertical, but his play strength looks average and he needs more work in pass coverage. Rasheed is still likely to be a day one selection, but I would very surprised if it happens before the third round.

 "Sleeper" David Thornton, North Carolina (6-2, 236 lbs., 4.62) 26 reps, 35.5" vertical and 4.09 short shuttle, Thornton, a former walk-on and chief reserve, was named the Tar Heels' Defensive MVP this season, while playing with Julius Peppers and Ryan Sims. He led the team with 131 tackles and also chipped in three sacks. Seldom out of position, he has a good understanding of the game and plays smart football.

He has the ability to shed blockers and uses his hands well, which allows him to make so many plays at the point of attack. A willing hitter, he is solid in pursuit, but still needs work in pass coverage, since he does not always get proper depth on his drops. He is a player "on-the-rise", which is a key aspect of a prospect's evaluation come draft day. Thornton has the ability to contribute as rookie, both at linebacker and on special teams.

John Murphy, is the editor of www.draft2002.com and Director of Scouting and Evaluation for NL Sports. Be sure to check out the most in-depth, up-to-the-minute 2002 NFL Draft website and you can also email your draft questions to John from the www.draft2002.com website.

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