Plenty of Depth, Talent at Outside Linebacker

Brad Jones had a solid first season while getting seven starts in place of Aaron Kampman. But if the Packers aren't sold on Jones, there are plenty of talented prospects available in the first three rounds. Packer Report tells you the top 10 3-4 OLBs.

The Packers need an offensive tackle to eventually replace Chad Clifton. They need a cornerback in light of last year's injury-riddled debacle.

But do they need an outside linebacker in light of Aaron Kampman's departure? Or do they think they're set with Brad Jones, who started seven games and tied for third on the team with four sacks as a rookie seventh-round draft pick?

There will be ample opportunities to add an impact outside linebacker in this draft. It's no wonder why more and more teams are switching to the 3-4 alignment — from the big names from the big schools to the under-the-radar stars from smaller schools, there are scores of 245- to 260-pound collegiate defensive ends with the pass-rushing ability to play outside linebacker in the 3-4.

"The thing with this year's draft is it's loaded with defensive linemen and linebackers. It's really a hybrid draft," Scout.com draft analyst Chris Steuber said. "There's a lot of guys that can play both defensive end (in a 4-3) and outside linebacker (in a 3-4). Trying to stack them all up and say, ‘This guy is better than another,' they're very, very close in my mind.

"I just keep going back and forth with them because they're so closely graded," he added.

Here is how Steuber ranks the 3-4 outside linebackers.

No. 10: Eric Norwood, South Carolina


Eric Norwood
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Norwood (6-1, 245) was a four-year starter, a freshman All-American and a three-time all-SEC selection. For his career, he piled up 29 sacks and 54.5 tackles for losses. Both figures were tops among active players in the conference. Steuber called him a "terror off the edge."

"I'm a good player on the field and I'm not a liability on the field or off the field," Norwood told Scout.com's Ed Thompson before the Combine. "I'm one of those guys who lives football. It's definitely my life now for the simple fact that I'm dedicated to what I do. I graduated in three-and-a-half years from the University of South Carolina and I think that's an indicator of my dedication to what I do on and off the field. I'm willing to learn and I'm that guy you're looking for."

Steuber's projection: Third round.

No. 9: Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State

With nine sacks in two seasons as a starter, Gibson (6-2, 243) isn't the prototype pass rusher that is the mold for the position, but he excels in the other areas. Gibson showed his tremendous athleticism at the Combine with the best three-cone time and ran a 4.55 40 at his pro day.

"Gibson has a chance to be special," Steuber said. "He's quick off the snap, dynamic off the edge and makes a lot of plays in the backfield. He's still raw and developing his craft as a pass rusher, but if he learns to use his hands more and continues to get stronger – watch out."

Steuber's projection: Third round.

No. 8: Koa Misi, Utah

Misi (6-3, 252) is a terrific all-around prospect with superb athleticism, strength and instincts. He just hasn't been a dynamic pass rusher, with 10.5 sacks in his three seasons as a starter. A back injury suffered last preseason cost him the 2009 opener.

"Wherever they need me to play, that's where I'll play," Misi said at the Combine. "I feel comfortable at both. I like to drop into coverage, I like to run around and make plays and I like to pass rush, too."

Steuber's projection: Second or third round.

No. 7: Ricky Sapp, Clemson


Ricky Sapp
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Sapp (6-4, 252) was a three-year starter who was productive with 41 tackles for losses but only an OK pass rusher with 16 sacks. A high school track and field champion in the 100 and 200 meters, Sapp has the potential to be a dominant defender, but thus far, it's just that: potential. Plus, teams will worry about a partially torn ACL suffered in 2008. He said he played at "80 percent" health last season but is 100 percent now. But, unlike the other players in this group, Sapp has at least played 3-4 end, with Clemson's scheme borrowing upon Bill Belichick's Patriots scheme.

"Sapp is an athletic defender who has the size/speed combination that makes him a perfect fit at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense," Steuber said. "He has an elite frame, long wingspan and the speed to be effective as a pass rusher. He has great instincts and a nose for the ball."

Steuber's projection: Second or third round.

No. 6: Jason Worilds, Virginia Tech

Worilds (6-1, 254) posted eight sacks and 18.5 tackles for losses in 2008 and 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles for losses last season. A tremendous athlete, he ran a 4.49 40 at his pro day.

For more on Worilds, click here for our Packer Report interview.

Steuber's projection: Second round.

No. 5: Corey Wootton, Northwestern

For teams running a 3-4 defense, Wootton is one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft. At 6-foot-6, he's got the height to grow into an impact defensive end. But with his athleticism and instincts (four career interceptions), Wootton (272 pounds) also could find his niche as a linebacker. He tallied 10 sacks and 16 tackles for losses in 2008 but suffered a knee injury in the bowl game. He played hurt in 2009, and his numbers slacked to four sacks and six tackles for losses. He ran in the 4.9s at his pro day.

"He has a great frame. He has the size that you want," Steuber said. "He can drop in coverage. He can do a lot of things at linebacker. He's probably better off being a defensive end in a 4-3, but he thinks that he can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 and there are teams that think that, as well. He's very athletic."

Steuber's projection: Second round.

No. 4: Sergio Kindle, Texas


Sergio Kindle
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Kindle (6-3, 25) was a two-time All-American who has played defensive end and linebacker. Flanked by Brian Orakpo in 2008, Kindle tallied 10 sacks and 12.5 tackles for losses. In helping the Longhorns reach the national title game in 2009, he piled up 5.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for losses. He's got a great first step and explosive closing speed.

"Kindle has had some off-the-field troubles, and those instances may concern teams that want to draft him in the first round," Steuber said, alluding to Kindle's drunken driving arrest in 2007 and a texting-while-driving violation in 2009 in which he ran his vehicle into an apartment building. "He has first-round talent, but there's also a chance he could fall into the second round. This draft features plenty of hybrid players that are closely graded, and if it's comes down to a matter of preference, teams generally value players with higher character and less baggage off the field.

Steuber's projection: First or second round.

No. 3: Jerry Hughes, TCU

Hughes (6-2, 255) is the best pass rusher in his draft, based on collegiate production. The heart and soul of the juggernaut Horned Frogs' defense, Hughes piled up a whopping 26.5 sacks in his final two seasons. The best first step in the draft, Hughes is one of those guys who plays faster than his speed.

The knock? "He's such a tweener," Steuber said. "If you play him at outside linebacker, he's probably an every-down linebacker but his cover skills aren't as good as they should be. There's limitations with Jerry but he's an outstanding pass rusher. He's so explosive. He's better to me as a defensive end but he has to put a little weight on him. As a linebacker, he could good but cover skills aren't there yet."

Steuber's projection: First or second round.

No. 2: Everson Griffen, USC

Griffin (6-3, 268) is one of the fast-movers in this draft. A physical freak in terms of strength and speed, Griffin lost his job to Clay Matthews in 2008 but bounced back in 2009 with eight sacks and 9.5 tackles for losses. While Matthews was basically a one-year wonder in college, scouts will need to determine whether Griffen's 2009 was a similar jumping-off point or just the means to a first-round payday.

"Griffen is a gifted athlete whose stock will continue to soar as the draft process continues, because he will shine during workouts and showcase his elite attributes," Steuber said. "But having a sensational workout and being a consistent force during a game are two different instances. Griffen flashed great ability this past season, but is still raw and developing his overall game. On draft day, Griffen will be a hot commodity and a sure first -round selection. A team will be intrigued with his upside and could over-draft him."

Steuber's projection: First round.

No. 1: Brandon Graham, Michigan

A dominant Senior Bowl week pushed Graham (6-1, 263) into the top half of the first round. He posted 29 sacks in his final three seasons at Michigan. Tremendous combination of speed and power to get to the passer. He'll be long gone by the time the Packers are on the clock.

"He's very similar to another former Wolverine, Pittsburgh Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley," Steuber said. "Graham is relentless, and that helps him attack in the backfield, but he has to become more disciplined if he's going to move to linebacker. He's a perfect fit for a 3-4 team."

Steuber's projection: First round.


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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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