Editor's note: This is Part 12 of our 14-part position-by-position breakdown heading to the April 25-26 NFL Draft. We continue with the outside linebackers. The prospects are listed in order based on analysis by Scout.com draft expert Chris Steuber and Packer Report, with the comments that follow them based on the beliefs of league experts and insiders.
The Packers' perspective:
Outside linebacker is the marquee position in a 3-4 defense. But that's not the only reason why this position is dripping with intrigue heading into the draft.
Aaron Kampman will man one of the spots as he makes the switch from defensive end in the old 4-3 scheme. Kampman had 9.5 sacks last season, finishing just short of his third consecutive season in double digits. Packers general manager Ted Thompson and the coaches — as well as most scouts and general managers around the league — have little doubt that Kampman will make the transition.
But who will fill the other position? And is drafting one a major need with an early pick?
The 3-4 should suit aggressive Brady Poppinga. Brandon Chillar, who split time with Poppinga last season, is a steady player. Jeremy Thompson, who was drafted in the fourth round last year as a pass-rushing prospect, should be fine in the transition because of how much coverage he played at Wake Forest. Hard-hitting Desmond Bishop, like Chillar, can play inside or outside and could be a factor, too, as could special-teamer Jason Hunter.
Will Thompson look at this as mediocrity? Or does he think this group is good enough and focus elsewhere in the early rounds — especially considering the depth of this class? That's where the intrigue will be on Saturday.
Cream of the crop:
— Brian Orakpo, Texas: With 11.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles, Orakpo (6-2, 263) won the Nagurski Award (top defensive player), Lombardi Award (top lineman) and Hendricks Award (top defensive end) in 2008. A physical specimen with 31 reps on the 225-pound bench press, 39.5-inch vertical leap and 4.7 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine. Big enough to be a 4-3 defensive end and explosive enough to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. High character and intelligent. Some wonder if he's got enough pass-rush moves to be an elite player and he's battled some injuries the last two years. Clearly the top prospect at the position. If he falls to No. 9, he would be hard not to take.
— Aaron Maybin, Penn State: Maybin moved into the starting lineup early in the season and finished with a Big 10-leading 12 sacks. Absolutely cat-quick first few steps, so his pass-rush production figures to translate nicely to the NFL. Maybin is 6-foot-4 and 249 pounds but played last season at about 230. So, can he keep on the weight to make him effective against the run? And will he be retain his quickness at that higher weight?
— Everette Brown, Florida State: Scouts' thoughts on Brown vary widely. Some think he's the best pass rusher in the draft. Others don't. Some think he's as good as Orakpo. Others don't even think he's a first-round talent. Some of that is the Florida State stigma, which the Packers know well with Jamal Reynolds. It doesn't help that Brown was listed at 6-foot-4 in college but is a shade less than 6-2. Nonetheless, he had big-time production with 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for losses last season. Superior quickness and strength. High-character and a desire to prove detractors wrong.
— Clay Matthews, USC: More varied thoughts, though not as extreme as on Brown. The one-time 169-pound walk-on wasn't even a starter until early in his senior season. Matthews (6-3, 240) blossomed with nine tackles for losses and 4.5 sacks. Dominated the predraft process, including the Senior Bowl, to send him up draft boards. Fast (4.67 40) and explosive (35.5-inch vertical), and football is in his genes with father Clay and uncle Bruce. Proven special-teams standout is huge bonus.
— Connor Barwin, Cincinnati: Varied thoughts here, too. Barwin (6-4, 256) played tight end until his senior season, when he was asked to move to defensive end. He delivered 12 sacks, 17 tackles for loss and 20 quarterback pressures. Some scouts think he should move back to offense. Some wonder if his raw abilities will translate against polished offensive linemen. Others, though, see an impact defensive player who can be a hard-to-stop goal-line tight end. Fastest short-shuttle, which tests the initial quickness needed in a rusher, at Combine.
— Larry English, Northern Illinois: More varied thoughts. (Sense a trend?) At 6-2, he doesn't have ideal height, and his 40 time of 4.88 didn't blow away anyone, but it's not a 40-yard sprint to the quarterback. His short shuttle ranked fifth among defensive line prospects. Voted the Mid-American Conference's MVP his final two seasons. Had eight sacks as a senior and 31.5 for his career. Lower level of competition but was fantastic at Senior Bowl and against Tennessee. The 274-pounder, who's been compared to the Steelers' LaMarr Woodley, has high character and a strong motor.
Just a notch below:
— Clint Sintim, Virginia: The first six players on this list were 4-3 defensive ends. Sintim, meanwhile, was a four-year starter as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Sintim (6-3, 256) had 27 career sacks, including 20 the last two seasons. For more on Sintim, check out our exclusive interview.
— Cody Brown, Connecticut: Brown (6-2, 244) started 33 games for the Huskies, piling up 24 sacks. Had 11 sacks and forced five fumbles as a senior. Quick around the edge, but scouts wonder if he's a one-trick pony ... and whether that one trick will work against polished tackles. May not be big enough to be effective against the run. For more on Brown, check out our exclusive interview.
— Lawrence Sidbury, Richmond: Sidbury (6-2, 266) dominated the Football Championship Subdivision, which is a rung below the BCS schools. Tallied 11.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss as a senior. Four sacks came against Montana in the championship game. His 40 of 4.64 was fastest among defensive linemen at the Combine and ran the 100 meters for Richmond's track team. Scout.com's Tom Marino, a former NFL scout, thinks Sidbury is the best pass-rushing talent in the draft.
— Robert Ayers, Tennessee: Sort of like Matthews in that he's a one-year wonder. While Matthews was stuck on the depth chart of USC's star-studded defense, Ayers was behind someone named Antonio Reynolds. Nonetheless, Ayers (6-3, 272) had a solid senior season with three sacks and 15.5 tackles for losses. Really caught fire at the Senior Bowl, where he was a star at practice and game MVP. Probably will be coveted as a 4-3 end. Might not be athletic enough to be a 3-4 outside linebacker, though he could bulk up to play end.
— Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech: Johnson (6-7, 266) is the most frustrating player in this draft. Johnson has an astounding combination of size and athleticism (4.75 40, 38.5-inch vertical) but it rarely comes together. Didn't become a starter until his senior season. Finished with 19 career sacks, including nine last year with 17.5 tackles for losses. Too quick to give up when blocked.
— Paul Kruger, Utah: Kruger (6-4, 263) was an honorable mention All-America after leading the powerhouse Utes with 7.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for losses. Ran just a 5.0 40 at the Combine but is quick off the ball. Left school after his junior season, wanting to get a jump on the NFL after a two-year Mormon mission. Has been compared to Kampman.
Others to remember:
— Marcus Freeman, Ohio State: Freeman (6-0, 239) played outside linebacker in the Buckeyes' 4-3 defense and might be best-suited for that role. Good tackler and high IQ, both on and off the field, and a good athlete (4.74 40, 37-inch vertical, 30 bench-press reps). Not a high-impact player (3.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for losses last season), but that wasn't his role.
— Jason Williams, Western Illinois: Williams (6-1, 241) is one of the fast-risers on draft boards. Wasn't even invited to the Combine but ran 4.41 and 4.46 40s and had 28 bench-press reps at pro day workouts. Scouts took notice of that speed and went back to the film room. Had 17 tackles for losses, four sacks, six forced fumbles and eight passes defensed as a senior. Has FCS record with 14 forced fumbles. For more on Williams, check out our exclusive interview.
— David Veikune, Hawaii: Veikune (6-2, 257) tallied nine sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss as a senior. Ran a 4.87 40 with an impressive 35 bench-press reps. He's a hustle player who's not afraid to power through a blocker. Could be an inside player in a 3-4, as well.
— Brandon Williams, Texas Tech: Williams (6-5, 252) piled up a Big 12-leading 13 sacks. Finished with 22.5 sacks in his three seasons. Unimpressive 40 time (5.0 seconds) for a guy who is purely a speed rusher because of his height.
— Phillip Hunt, Houston: Here's a guy getting no buzz for some reason. Hunt (6-1, 255) had 14 sacks last season, 13 in 2007 and eight in 2006 with a combined 47 tackles for loss. Position coach was former Cowboy Jim Jeffcoat. Too short for scouts' liking, could struggle in coverage and Conference USA isn't a big-time league, but ran a 4.75 40 at his pro day. His 41.5-inch vertical leap shows his explosiveness.
— Pierre Walters, Eastern Illinois: Walters (6-5, 261) was a FBS All-American after posting 4.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for losses. Has the height and frame to add weight to be a 3-4 end, but he told Packer Report that the Packers' coaches talked only about being an outside linebacker. Athletic (4.70 40) and strong (29 bench-press reps). For more on Walters, check out our exclusive interview.
— Lee Robinson, Alcorn State: Robinson (6-2, 249) was a four-year starter. As a senior, he piled up 10.5 tackles for losses and 3.5 sacks with three interceptions and three forced fumbles. Had nine sacks as a sophomore. Ran a 4.71 40 with 24 reps at the Combine. Has the ability to be a standout in a 3-4. Packers worked him out this month.
— Victor Butler, Oregon State: Butler (6-2, 248) put an exclamation mark on his career with four sacks in the Sun Bowl against Pittsburgh. A dozen sacks a senior and 10.5 as a junior. Primarily a speed rusher but has the strength and ability to add some moves. Ran decent 4.84 40 at Combine.
— Ian Campbell, Kansas State (6-4, 265): Posted 12 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore. Never got close to those numbers after that but became a more well-rounded player. Had second-fastest short shuttle, which shows the initial quickness to make him a pass-rushing prospect.
— Jovan Belcher, Maine: The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder is a pretty well-kept secret among writers, but he had 7.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for losses as a senior and 10 sacks and 17 TFLs as a junior. A FCS All-America both seasons. Played defensive end those seasons but was a starting outside linebacker as a sophomore. Ran in the 4.8s at his pro day workout.
Chris Steuber's sleeper:
— Julius Williams, Connecticut: While Cody Brown got the accolades, Williams (6-1, 254) was productive at the opposite defensive end spot. Had team-high 8.5 sacks as a junior and six sacks and 11 tackles for loss as a senior. Fast off the ball with a good burst to make him a possible pass rusher while he learns how to play linebacker.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.