Ranking Top 15 Inside LB’s By Production

Who were the most productive inside linebackers, and who are the best prospects based on production and athleticism? We break it down as we continue our unrivaled preview of the Packers' No. 1 position of need.

There’s more to playing football than running fast and jumping high.

Their on-the-field production is paramount. After breaking down the top 15 inside linebacker prospects athletically by ranking them in the key scouting categories, we have done the same with their on-field production.

Here they are, as ranked by the NFL’s longtime head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas, in rankings provided to Packer Report.

No. PlayerTacklesSoloSacksQBHTFLT’oversPBU
1. Eric Kendricks1491014.0011.555
2. Stephone Anthony75452.5510.534
3. Benardrick McKinney71353.038.044
4. Paul Dawson136816.0520.099
5. Denzel Perryman110792.009.546
6. Kwon Alexander90401.557.521
7. Jordan Hicks147753.5413.024
8. Mike Hull140752.0110.534
9. Ben Heeney127881.5412.042
10. Ramik Wilson110562.067.021
11. Bryce Hager114762.0812.032
12. Jake Ryan112672.0514.034
13. Taiwan Jones60314.0112.533
14. Hayes Pullard95530.005.529
15. Edmond Robinson68540.017.525

Note: QBH is quarterback hits; TFL is tackles for losses; T’overs is the combined total of interceptions, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries; PBU is the combined total of passes intercepted and passes deflected.

Obviously, not all defensive statistics are created equally because of schemes and supporting casts. Mississippi State’s McKinney, for instance, was a first-team All-American even though he had less than half of Kendricks’ tackles. If McKinney had played somewhere else and been the centerpiece of a defense, would he still have had 71 tackles? Or would he have had 100, 125 or even 150? Nevertheless, with one point given to the top performer in each category and 15 to the worst, here are their rankings based on collegiate production.

Paul Dawson431311114
Eric Kendricks1121372430
Jake Ryan787326639
Jordan Hicks2647311639
Bryce Hager6571561242
Ben Heeney52127531246
Mike Hull3671086646
Denzel Perryman84713103348
Stephone Anthony12126386653
Benardrick McKinney131459113661
Taiwan Jones1515210461163
Ramik Wilson897214111465
Hayes Pullard101114131511175
Edmond Robinson141014101211475
Kwon Alexander111312312111476

Now, we put it all together. Which inside linebackers have the best combination of testing numbers and on-field production in this year’s class?

Eric Kendricks304272
Jordan Hicks393372
Stephone Anthony532679
Paul Dawson147589
Ben Heeney464591
Jake Ryan395594
Bryce Hager425496
Mike Hull4659105
Denzel Perryman4860108
Benardrick McKinney6153114
Kwon Alexander7645121
Edmond Robinson7548123
Ramik Wilson6566131
Taiwan Jones6370133
Hayes Pullard7576151

It’s no surprise that UCLA’s Kendricks, Clemson’s Anthony and TCU’s Dawson fared well. They’re among the top prospects at the position. However, Texas’ Hicks winds up tied with Kendricks for the top spot. Hicks isn’t at the top of draft boards, however, because he missed most of 2012 with a hip injury and most of 2013 with a torn Achilles.

McKinney and Alexander show up down the list, even though they are expected to be among the top inside linebackers selected. Why? They didn’t pile up a lot of total tackles or solo tackles. What isn’t reflected in our charts but is key in scouts’ minds is the percentage of a linebacker’s tackles that are solo. Scouts want that to be above 50 percent — preferably more than 60 percent — because they want their linebackers delivering the initial blow and not just jumping on piles.

What’s impressive is how Dawson placed fourth in the overall rankings after finishing one point out of the cellar athletically. He’s going to pose quite the dilemma for teams needing an inside linebacker. Can he match his eye-popping production — he finished first in four of seven categories and not worse than fourth — despite limited athleticism?

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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