Green Bay Packers NFL Draft Preview: Elite Five Outside Linebackers

Even with Clay Matthews moved back to outside linebacker, this remains a position of need for the Packers. Here are the top five prospects for this week's draft.

Even with Clay Matthews back to full-time duty at outside linebacker, the Green Bay Packers enter this draft with a significant need on the edge. Julius Peppers is 36 and entering his final season under contract, and Nick Perry and fellow elephant Datone Jones are playing under expiring contracts, as well. Jayrone Elliott hasn’t proven he is capable of playing regular snaps and Mike Neal appears to be out of the picture.

With such uncertainty, the Packers might be tempted to dig into an edge-defender class that is short on high-end talent but long on mid-round depth.

Stats are from STATS via Real Football, though comparisons are compiled by Packer Report. Scouting opinions are courtesy of longtime NFL scout and Packer Report contributor Dave-Te’ Thomas.

Note: The outside linebackers capable of playing the elephant position are listed here. Our statistical rankings in this story compare the top 16 FBS-level outside linebackers (not including the elephants). Our rankings go 21 deep.

JOEY BOSA, Ohio State

Position rank: 1

Height: 6-foot-5 1/8. Weight: 269. 20 shuttle: 4.21. 3-cone: 6.80. Broad jump: 10-0.

Notes: What could Bosa do for an encore after being a consensus first-team All-American and the winner of the Big Ten’s Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2014? He won those honors again in 2015 with his 51 tackles including five sacks and 16 tackles for losses, despite being suspended for the season opener and being ejected from the bowl game for targeting. He added one interception, four pass breakups and one forced fumble. Compared to his peers, Bosa might be the most dominant player in the draft. Even with just five sacks, Bosa led our group of 16 in pressures (by 11), quarterback hurries (by nine) and run disruptions (by 14). In 2014, he was named the Big Ten’s Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year along with capturing the Smith-Brown honor. He he led the Big Ten in tackles for losses (21) and sacks (13.5) and added four forced fumbles. As a freshman in 2013, he rang up 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for losses. In three seasons, he ranks third in Ohio State history with 26 sacks and fourth with 50.5 tackles for losses.

WORLD'S BEST OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS CHART: Pressures, stuffs, missed tackles and much more.

Scouting: Not that he’ll be on the board for Green Bay, but a scout said Bosa could handle the Packers’ elephant chores but his athleticism would be wasted in that role. “Bosa’s outstanding instincts shined throughout his career,” Thomas said. “He displays improvement in the strength department, as his body has begun to mature to NFL level. The first thing you notice on film is that he plays with a high motor and has excellent initial quickness to surprise the lethargic offensive lineman. He shows above average balance working down the line and in pursuit. He gains advantage with his sudden moves and change of direction agility, doing a nice job of using his hands and arm extension to avoid low blocks and maintain balance on the move. The thing that fools most offensive linemen is Bosa’s ability to either play with finesse and sudden moves, or come at them with power and excellent hand usage. While ranking third in sacks, he really has yet to develop an array of pass rush moves, relying more on his length and raw power to beat blocks on his path to the quarterback. He is known more for that power, but as he matures, he needs to be more efficient with his swim- and rip-move techniques.

Personally: Bosa’s father, John, was a first-round draft pick by the Dolphins out of Boston College in 1987 who had seven sacks in three seasons. A brother, defensive end Nick Bosa, committed to Ohio State in July. An uncle, Eric Kumerow, was a star linebacker for the Buckeyes between who recorded five sacks in three seasons for the Dolphins. “He’s kind of just let me do my own thing,” Bosa said of his dad at the Combine. “I’ve got great people around me. He’s surrounded me with the best agents, the best trainers, with all the best people. I really trust him with everything’s he’s done for me in this process.”

NOAH SPENCE, Eastern Kentucky

Position rank: 2

Height: 6-foot-2 1/2. Weight: 251. 20 shuttle: 4.35. 3-cone: 7.21. Broad jump: 10-1.

Notes:  Spence was the FCS Defensive Player of the Year by the College Football Performance Awards, the fourth-place finisher for the STATS FCS Defensive Player of the Year, the Ohio Valley Conference co-Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American. In his only season at the school, Spence had 22.5 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks, the fourth-most in EKU single-season history. According to the school’s stats, he also contributed 63 tackles (31 solo), 15 quarterback hurries, forced three fumbles and recovered two fumbles. He had at least one sack in nine of 11 games. This isn’t some small-school wonder. After being Pennsylvania’s two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Spence spent two years at Ohio State. As a sophomore, he started 13 games and was first-team all-Big Ten with eight sacks (second in the Big Ten) and 14.5 tackles for losses.

Scouting: There’s no denying Spence’s talent. He’s got the film from Ohio State to show what he can do against quality competition. “Thanks to his change-of-direction agility, he has excellent tools to line up at strong-side linebacker in a 3-4 defensive alignment, as he shows the low pad level and burst coming off the edge and the leg drive to shoot the gaps,” Thomas said. “He generates a quick first step and and is very active working down the line. He has fluid hip flexibility and movement coming off the snap and valid strength and good knee bend. He is not quick enough to handle receivers on deep routes, but in the second level, he is quite effective using his strong hands to reroute/jam tight ends, backs and slot receivers working underneath. He is disciplined in containing the run and charges hard coming off the edge to disrupt the pocket. Spence might be the most technically sound tackler in this draft coming out of the small-college ranks, with a slight challenge from Southern Utah’s Miles Killebrew. Spence reminds me a lot of the Raiders’ Khalil Mack, as he has great skills and balance as an edge rusher, as he is slippery moving past lethargic offensive tackles playing off the perimeter. Once he gets into the backfield, it appears as if he gets quicker, doing a very nice job of flushing out and chasing down the quarterback.” The questions, of course, are off the field, which no doubt is why the Packers brought him in for a visit — something the Packers almost never do with elite prospects. Spence says he’s a changed man. But is he? “As much as you try (to figure that out), you just don’t know,” a scout said. “We talked to him at every step in the process, brought him here for a visit. He says all the right things and he says them in a believable way. But you don’t know. What happens when he gets a couple million bucks in his pocket and a bunch of free time because he doesn’t have to sit in class?” Beyond that, Spence didn't exactly test off the charts. He ran his 40 in 4.80 seconds and was barely average in the 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drill. That 40-yard time beat Bosa but the other two numbers were far off the pace.

Personally: For Spence, it was ecstasy and Ecstasy. A failed drug test late in 2013 cost him the end of the season, including the bowl game. His parents sided with Spence and even threatened legal action against the Big Ten. Then, in September 2014, he failed another drug test and drew a permanent ban from the conference.

LEONARD FLOYD, Georgia

Position rank: 3

Height: 6-foot-5 5/8. Weight: 244. 20 shuttle: 4.32. 3-cone: 7.18. Broad jump: 10-7.

Notes: Floyd was a finalist for the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker and was second-team all-SEC as a junior in 2015. Floyd tallied 75 tackles — most among the 3-4 outside linebacker prospects. Unlike the rest of our outside linebackers, Floyd played mostly as an off-the-ball linebacker last season. Thus, he had only 4.5 sacks but showed his excellence as a blitzer by rankings fourth with 32 quarterback pressures. Used frequently in coverage, he allowed 8-of-15 for 76 yards with three passes defensed. He had a class-high 11 missed tackles. In three seasons, Floyd won postseason honors three times (honorable mention all-SEC as a sophomore and Freshman All-America). He started 32 games and was in on 17 sacks, 28.5 tackles for losses and five forced fumbles. Floyd, who went through two shoulder surgeries at Georgia, lined up here, there and everywhere, including at inside linebacker this season.

WORLD'S BEST OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS CHART: Pressures, stuffs, missed tackles and much more.

Scouting: While Floyd played as a 3-4 inside linebacker in 2015, a scout said Floyd was miscast in that role. Then again, noting Floyd played at about 235 this past season and in the 220s previously, the scout was concerned Floyd could ever be big enough to be a full-time outside linebacker. Considering Green Bay’s scheme, he thought Floyd potentially could handle the type of role Matthews played in 2015 but would be best as a 4-3 outside linebacker. That position uncertainty is why Floyd ranks behind Spence. Said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock: “Leonard Floyd is a polarizing figure from Georgia. Some people think he's a top-10 pick, some of them think he's going to be Barkevious Mingo, meaning a great-looking, fast but underpowered player who ultimately won't live up to what he should.” Size and strength are the key questions if he’s going to make it as a 3-4 outside backer. Said Thomas: “Floyd has a solid, yet long frame, but he plays at a good pad level and displays excellent quickness coming out of his stance for a rush end. He plays with good suddenness and leverage, showing no issues when having to change direction, which are ideal traits to have if he possibly moves to (inside) linebacker. Thanks to his exceptional balance and good change-of-direction agility, Floyd could also become a candidate to play strong-side linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. Floyd needs to continue working on his hand usage at the point of attack, but he does a nice job of locking on and shedding the lead blockers when playing the ball in his area. He has that above-average balance needed to make plays in pursuit. He will get covered up and contained by the bigger blockers, but while he is still a work in progress as a stack-and-shed type, he does a very good job of stringing out plays and playing off blocks on the move. Floyd is very capable of becoming a quality pass rusher, thanks to his pad level, change-of-direction agility and quickness off the snap. When he explodes off the ball, few bigger blockers have the quickness to mirror him. He is quickly learning how to dip for arm action pressure and has a nice reverse spin move to attack from the back door. Once he learns to use his hands, he will be much more effective using inside counter moves. He is simply a quick-twitch type with a very explosive up field burst and smooth hips.”

Personally: Floyd is from Eastman, Ga., a community of about 5,000, and got on Georgia’s recruiting radar as a freshman at Dodge County High School. “It means a lot to my hometown,” he said at the Combine. “They love me back home. I’m doing it for them. I’m trying to represent them the right way. It’s been a while since somebody from my hometown made it to this stage right now.”

KAMALEI CORREA, Boise State

Position rank: 4

Height: 6-foot-2 5/8. Weight: 243. 20 shuttle: 4.18. 3-cone: 6.96. Broad jump: 9-0.

Notes: Correa was first-team all-conference as a sophomore with a Mountain West-leading 12 sacks and 19 tackles for losses. Correa’s production fell back this past season, though, as he wound up with seven sacks and 11 tackles for losses. He was second-team all-Mountain West. Correa flat-out disappeared at times. He finished the season with 37 tackles. Of our group, only Alabama’s D.J. Pettway and Florida’s Alex McCalister had fewer and they played only one-third of the defensive snaps. Correa went four games (against non-powerhouses Wyoming, UNLV, New Mexico and Air Force) with a combined zero sacks and 1.5 stuffs. Of our 16 big-school prospects, Correa ranked eighth with 28 quarterback pressures, ninth with 18 run disruptions and 10th with 7.5 stuffs.

Scouting: What Correa has is excellent athleticism. The 20-yard shuttle is arguably the key testing element of scouting this position. Correa was timed in 4.18 seconds — second-fastest of our outside linebacker class. “Really quick and twitchy off the edge, tough kid, I like him a lot,” Mayock said. The production doesn’t add up, though. It wasn’t like he was battling stud Big Ten offensive tackles, after all. “Yeah, I’d put him near the top of the list, but it’s sort of by default,” said a scout from a 3-4 team. “I don’t know if Floyd can play outside linebacker, Spence has issues, Calhoun doesn’t play the run, and you have no idea about all the small-school guys. This guy (Correa) should have kicked ass against his level of competition but he didn’t. What you like is he’s incredibly athletic. I might play him inside.” Cf our top 21 outside linebackers (not including elephants), six are from FCS or Division II. “it's interesting this year from the edge rushers, maybe not in that first round but outside the first round, I think we've got some guys not from traditional powerhouse programs that are going to be fun to follow and see where they go,” said former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah, now with NFL Network. “Obviously, Boise State is a big-time program, but it's not coming out of the SEC. Kamalei Correa is one of my favorite players, the ideal outside linebacker can really rush. He's got a great motor. He's been very productive. He's one to keep an eye on.” 

Personally: Correa is from Honolulu and high school teammates with Marcus Mariota. It’s not as if Hawaii didn’t recruit him. In fact, the school offered him a scholarship — when he was 15. One of his favorite players to watch is Matthews. “I’m willing to accept the challenge,” Correa said at the Combine of learning how to play outside linebacker. “It’s going to be something new to me but I love a new challenge. I love playing football so if they ask me to play special teams, I’m going to play special teams. With the linebacker thing, it’s always been a dream of mine to play linebacker. I feel like my body structure is built for that position.”

SHILIQUE CALHOUN, Michigan State

Position rank: 5

Height: 6-foot-4 3/8. Weight: 251. 20 shuttle: 4.25. 3-cone: 6.97. Broad jump: 9-7.

Notes: Calhoun was a three-time all-Big Ten first-teamer and three-time All-America second-teamer. As a senior, Calhoun led the Spartans in sacks with a career-high 10.5. His 46 quarterback pressures trailed only Bosa among our outside linebacker candidates, justifying Calhoun being a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, which goes to the nation’s top defensive end. In fact, his 26 quarterback hits almost equaled Correa’s total number of hurries. Calhoun finished his career with 27 sacks — tops among all active defenders — and 44 tackles for losses. However, Calhoun was at the bottom of the charts with just 2.5 stuffs — an appalling number. He also missed eight tackles, giving him 5.6 tackles per missed tackle and putting him near the bottom of our chart. Moreover, he was penalized a whopping 10 times. Correa, Joe Schobert, Kyler Fackrell and Jordan Jenkins — four others who are graded in the same ballpark — were penalized seven times combined.

Scouting: As far as all-around production, there’s little doubt that Wisconsin’s Schobert is the better player. However, Calhoun is 3 inches taller, almost 3 inches longer and a bit more athletic. Those things matter. Calhoun was an elite pass rusher. “This is what Calhoun does best — attacking the pocket,” Thomas said. “He has above-average quickness and very good hand power, along with the upper-body strength to shoot the inside gaps regularly. He is also very effective at using his strength to press the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle. Calhoun has some of the quickest hands in this draft class and also shows very good footwork, balance and loose hips working his way down the line to hit the smallest of gaps. Calhoun has cat-like quickness to simply run past the slower offensive tackles at the line of scrimmage. He has the body flexibility and knee bend to keep balance when suddenly having to turn.” Calhoun has traits that can’t be taught. The hope is he can be taught to use those physical traits to play solid run defense, as well.

Personally: Why did Calhoun go back to Michigan State for his senior season? It goes back to a 2002 fire at his family’s home in New Jersey. He’s certainly battle-tested, having faced Ohio State’s Taylor Decker, Indiana’s Jason Spriggs and, at practice, teammate Jack Conklin. “My toughest matchup would probably be on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday against our left tackle Jack Conklin. He did a great job moving his feet, heavy-set guy, too, so he had lean to him, good amount of weight, so you weren't going to just bull rush him. He knew me well, so it made going against him a little harder which was good because it opened up my move set. I knew if it would be successful against him, it would be successful on Saturdays.”


Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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