Inside Linebacker: Best, Sleeper, Overrated

The cream of the crop in this year's inside linebacker class very well could end up being the Green Bay Packers' first-round draft pick. The sleeper, meanwhile, is Kimberly, Wis.-native A.J. Klein.

Here is a closer look at the inside linebackers, compiled from conversations with scouts and the NFL's longtime lead scout, Dave-Te' Thomas.

Best in class

Kevin Minter, LSU (6-0, 246): Early entrant was a Butkus Award finalist, All-American and team MVP after piling up 130 tackles. His 15 tackles for losses led the Tigers and ranked No. 4 in the SEC and tied for ninth on the LSU all-time single-season list. Against Florida, he had 20 tackles (second-most in school history) and 19 solo stops (most of anyone in the nation). He added 19 tackles in the bowl game against Clemson. "He's a hell of a player," a scout said. "Kevin Minter's going to come off the board in that 26 to 34 range. He's a hell of a player. He's not as athletic as you'd like but that guy, he hustles and he can make up for his deficiencies. He makes plays off of instincts and hustles." Said Phil Savage, the executive director for the Senior Bowl and former general manager for the Browns: "Minter's a very productive player at LSU. He doesn't have ideal height but he carries 240-plus pounds very well. He's a better-than-average athlete. He's a nice fit for a 4-3 or a 3-4 team looking for a Mike. To me, he has a little bit more juice, a little bit more suddenness than Manti Te'o. We'll see how that shakes out on draft night but he's a potential starter who you could probably plug in and play this year if necessary." Minter's stellar in the classroom, too; he's all-SEC in academics and earned his degree in December. But at 6-foot, can he cover? "Yeah, Minter can definitely cover," Thomas said. "An intelligent kid. If you look at that defense over there, they had a lot of knuckleheads. The thing I like about Minter is he knows everybody's assignments. He's not a great middle linebacker and he's not a great outside linebacker but he's a very good team-concept ball-player." Ran poorly at the Combine but was 4.67 at pro day.

Overrated

Kiko Alonso, Oregon (6-3, 238): Turned his life and career around after a DUI arrest in February 2010, a knee injury sustained during drills that spring and a burglary charge (that was reduced to criminal trespass in a plea deal that earned him two years probation and 200 hours of community service). Down to his final chance, he made the most of it. He finished second on the team with 81 tackles and led the way with 14 tackles for losses. "I'm not sold on this kid," Thomas said. "I think that this is a ball-player that still has a lot of issues off the field. And if you go back at look and film, I don't like guys that leave their feet when they're linebackers. Stay low in your pads, wrap up, go for the outside break of a ball-carrier. Don't try and take the guy's head off, because you know what happens? Either the guy ducks or the guy gives you a good spin move and, boom, you're done." Didn't test at Combine but ran 4.74 at pro day.

Sleeper

A.J. Klein, Iowa State (6-1, 250): Unanimous first-team all-Big 12 selection and an honorable mention for Defensive Player of the Year, an award he won as a junior. The native of Kimberly, Wis., was a tackling machine with 117 stops and an interception as a senior. He finished his career with 368 tackles and tied the NCAA linebacker record with four pick-sixes. He started 50 games, both inside and outside. He also was all-Big 12 in academics and a candidate for the Senior CLASS Award. "He's a good player. He's a solid player," a scout said. "He's a guy that he's not going to walk in and start for you, unless you have a need. I think he's in that third- to fourth-round conversation." He'd be a potential upgrade for the Packers because of his coverage ability. His 4.66 at the Combine ranked third among the inside linebackers. "Oh, my God, he's tied for the active leading interceptor among linebackers," Thomas said about Klein's coverage skills. "He's tied among all active players with four interceptions returned for touchdowns. The kid last year, 16 percent of the passes were completed last year and that was his career worst." Thomas compared him to former Dolphins standout Zach Thomas. He's a name to remember in the third or fourth round if the Packers don't take Minter in the first.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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