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Scouting Combine Research Series: Outside Linebackers (Part 1)

Who brought the hate for Alabama? Who is best known for his hair (and sacks)? Whose brother was a former NBA first-round draft pick? Those answers and more as we get to know the top outside linebackers.

Here are the 20 outside linebackers who have been invited to the Scouting Combine. Players are listed in alphabetical order. Heights and weights come from CBSSports.com/NFLDraftScout.com. All players are seniors unless noted. Note: Position designations might not reflect how they'd line up in all NFL defensive schemes.

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Ryan Anderson, Alabama (6-2, 258): Anderson was first-team all-SEC with a senior campaign of 61 tackles, nine sacks and a team-high 19 tackles for losses. He added 10 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles. That gave him career totals of 19 sacks, 39.5 tackles for losses and six forced fumbles.

Late in 2016, Tide coach Nick Saban said his elite defense was “hateful.” Anderson brought the most hate. Said defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick: “He always has that look, that killer look in his eye. He actually said in one interview that he hates the other team.” Indeed, Anderson once said that: “We hate everybody on the other team. Everybody that lined up across from us, we hate you. We are going to try to kill you.”

Anderson’s mom said she “babied” the youngest of her five children. But there was no babying Anderson when he wanted to transfer during his first season at Alabama. “When it was time and he said he wanted to leave, I had to put my foot down, I couldn’t baby him no more. I couldn’t let him have his way because I knew it was his life he was messing with. And I knew he had a bright future, he just needed to be patient.”

Anderson played outside linebacker in the Tide’s 3-4 defense but, Saban said, he could play inside in the NFL.

At Daphne (Ala.) High School, he was teammates with former Alabama and current Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon.

Alex Anzalone, Florida (6-3, 240): Junior. Anzalone tallied 53 tackles, including three sacks and four tackles for losses, during a final season that was cut short with a broken arm sustained in the eighth game of the season. He missed most of the 2015 season with a shoulder injury and battled shoulder injuries as a freshman in 2013, as well. His four-year totals were 75 tackles, three sacks and five TFLs.

"I've seen people get lost the past three or four years of my being here, so I think it's definitively possible," Anzalone said. "I think a little adversity really reveals who you are. I just kind of put it all into perspective of what my potential is."

Anzalone was a graduate student during the 2016 season. In high school, he had a 4.8 GPA.

"There are a couple things Alex doesn't like," said his father, Sal Anzalone, a pediatrician. "He does not like to be bullshitted. If you bullshit Alex, that's going to turn him off big time. And he doesn't like being mediocre. He always says he's the black sheep in the family. 'My dad's a doctor. My two brothers are a doctor. I'm the only one who's not a doctor.'”

Before there was football, there was lacrosse.

Vince Biegel, Wisconsin (6-3, 242): Despite missing two games with a foot injury that required surgery, Biegel was second-team all-Big Ten as a senior. He logged 44 tackles, including four sacks and six for losses, and added seven quarterback hurries. He was third-team all-conference as a junior (66 tackles, eight sacks, 14 for losses) and second-team as a sophomore (7.5 sacks, 16.5 TFLs, two forced fumbles).

Biegel is a fifth-generation cranberry farmer from Wisconsin Rapids. His path explains his football success — a path know well by his father, a former all-conference linebacker at BYU. “Growing up on a farm, it's not necessarily the most flashy of jobs,” Vince said. “You can't cut corners when it comes to growing crops and when it comes to farming. That was a big life lesson for me. I was very thankful to be able to grow up on a cranberry farm, and it's something I cherish and I take seriously. I'm proud of being able to be in the cranberry industry because it's shaped who I am today.”

Along with sacking quarterbacks, he’s known for his mullet, which he discussed — along with the joys of playing at Camp Randall Stadium — in this piece for The Players’ Tribune. “I mean practically, it just makes sense. It’s super easy to maintain. You get the sick flow coming out of the back of the helmet, and none of the long mess in the front. Also, you’ve got the sides open for artistic interpretation. Spence (his barber) is a magician with the razor. He’s put all sorts of designs on the side of my head. I’ve had the Wisconsin ‘W,’ the breast cancer ribbon during October, and the Chevy logo for when our linebackers were known as the ‘Chevy Bad Boys.’ People love it and are always coming up and asking for photos when I’m out in Madison. It’s a blast.”

Biegel, a regular on the Big Ten all-academic team, was a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy — aka the Academic Heisman.

Tyus Bowser, Houston (6-2, 244): Despite missing five games with a broken orbital bone suffered during a scuffle with a teammate at practice,

Bowser was second-team all-AAC with 8.5 sacks and 12 tackles for losses among 47 tackles. He added nine hurries. His first season as a starter came as a junior, when he had 5.5 sacks and 6.5 TFLs among 50 tackles. He finished his career with 21.5 sacks, 27.5 TFLs, three forced fumbles and two interceptions.

How good of an athlete is Bowser? Following the 2013 and 2014 football seasons, he played on the basketball team. That all-around skill led to a whirlwind of recruiting.

Josh Carraway, TCU (6-3, 241): A part-time starter as a sophomore, Carraway blossomed into a two-time all-Big 12 first-team selection as a junior and senior. As a junior, he tallied nine sacks, 11.5 tackles for losses and one forced fumble. As a senior, he had eight sacks, 11 tackles for losses, 49 tackles, five hurries and one forced fumble. Carraway, who graduated in May, was also an all-academic selection.

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Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt (6-3, 230): Junior. Cunningham left Vandy after becoming the first unanimous first-team All-American in school history. In 2016, the Butkus Award finalist ranked among national leaders in several categories, including an SEC-leading 125 total tackles and four fumble recoveries. His 71 solo tackles ranked second in the league and his 16.5 tackles for losses ranked third. While most players with high TFL counts are pass rushers, Cunningham didn’t record a single sack; all of his tackles for losses stopped running plays. He made two huge plays — a fourth-and-1 stop against Georgia and a blocked field goal against Auburn.

The honors don’t matter to Cunningham, who has four brothers and two sisters. “That isn’t something I really focus on, whether I’m underrated or not, I just want to go out there and play my best. I’m not really focused on being the guy that they write headlines about, I just want to go out there and do my best and show what I can do.”

In three seasons, Cunningham amassed 295 tackles, 39.5 tackles for losses and seven forced fumbles.

Before dominating football games, he dominated Newcomb games in elementary school. He was a legend at Pinson Valley High School near Birmingham, Ala.

Devonte Fields, Louisville (6-3, 242): Fields split his time between TCU and Louisville. He had two huge seasons. His first came in 2012 as a true freshman at TCU, where he had 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for losses to be the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year. His second came in 2015 as a junior at Louisville, where he had 10.5 sacks, 22 tackles for losses and two forced fumbles. As a senior, Fields had 45 tackles, including six sacks and nine for losses. He added 10 hurries. Fields’ career total counted 26.5 sacks and 51.5 tackles for losses, even though he played only three games at TCU as a sophomore.

What happened? Early in the 2013 season at TCU, Fields sustained a season-ending foot injury. Then, in August 2014, he was kicked out of school for the alleged assault of his ex-girlfriend.

Fields spent 2014 at a junior college and enrolled at Louisville for 2015. In June 2015, charges were dismissed with Fields completing an anger-management course. “It was tough, but I would say it humbled me real good. I really appreciate everything I went through, and it humbled me. So it was worth it. Going from Division I and seeing everything I had and seeing it being taken away from me really humbled me.”

Fields’ mom has a huge influence on his life. Just ask his former high school coach. The coach called Fields and his mom to his office one day. With just a few words, she had her son in tears.

Myles Garrett, Texas A&M (6-4, 268): Junior. Despite a high-ankle sprain sidelining him for two games and limiting him in others, Garrett was a unanimous first-team All-American in 2016. Of his 33 tackles, 8.5 were sacks and 15 were behind the line of scrimmage. He added two forced fumbles, 10 quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. In 2014, Garrett had 11.5 sacks to break Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC freshman record. In 2015, Garrett had career highs of 12.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for losses and five forced fumbles. His three-year total? An impressive 32.5 sacks, 48.5 TFLs, seven forced fumbles and three blocked kicks.

His brother, Sean Williams, was a first-round pick by the New Jersey Nets in 2007. His sister, Brea Garrett, won the NCAA championship in the weight throw in 2014. It doesn’t end there. His mom, Audrey, was an All-American in the 60-meter hurdles at Hampton in 1982. Williams, though, was a bust, and his loss could be Garrett’s gain. “Myles looks up to Sean and loves Sean but knows the things Sean went through and how my mom hated watching her son self-destruct,” says Brea. “Myles never wanted to let my mom down. Honestly, the best thing Sean could have done for Myles was to f--- up.”

Garrett is a “laid-back dude,” one of his teammates said. What young man would rather listen to Dean Martin than Drake, read a book instead of watching a movie, or do, well, anything other than engage in social media? “I mean just to see how much time is consumed looking down at your phone when you could be reading, becoming better at your own language or learning a new language,” Garrett said.

If he were a dinosaur, he’d be a deinonychus. “He’s a different cat,” coach Kevin Sumlin says. He’s into poetry and reading when not sacking quarterbacks and studying T-rex.

Joe Mathis, Washington (6-2, 255): In 34 career games in his first three seasons, Mathis had four sacks and eight tackles for losses. In the seven games before his senior season was cut short by a foot injury that required surgery, he had five sacks and 7.5 tackles for losses.

Mathis said becoming a father helped propel his big season. Joe Mathis IV was born on July 27. “Before a game, I’ll listen to music and look at his picture. Sometimes I’ll start tearing up and sometimes I don’t. I just don’t want him to have the life I had when I was younger. I look at it like I don’t want to let him down and I don’t want to let my teammates down. I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on me, but that’s my motive.” Before the arrival of hi son, Mathis admitted, “I don’t think I was coachable.”

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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