Draft Position Preview: OLBs

In an incredibly deep class of pass-rushing prospects, the biggest question of all is whether the Packers think Brad Jones is the answer as the starter. Finding a sidekick to Clay Matthews ranks fourth on our list of the Packers' draft needs.

Packer Report continues its position-by-position looks at the NFL Draft with the outside linebackers.

Packers position rank by need

Fourth of 13.

State of the Packers

The Packers have a star at right outside linebacker in Clay Matthews III, but what about the left side? Aaron Kampman is in Jacksonville, putting Brad Jones atop the depth chart on the left side. Jones had a fine rookie season, in part because he played the position in college and in part because he's a good athlete and a diligent worker.

What the coaches must figure out is whether Jones can become a solid starter and if he'll ever be anything more than an OK pass rusher (four sacks, 11 quarterback hits). If the answers are no, outside linebacker becomes a high priority in the first two or three rounds. If they're comfortable with Jones, then the team can afford to tap into the extraordinary depth in this group.

Forget about ...

South Florida's Jason Pierre-Paul and Georgia Tech's Derrick Morgan, who probably will wind up playing as 4-3 ends anyway, are at the top of this hybrid group of 3-4 outside linebackers/4-3 ends. Another one or two probably will be gone before the Packers pick at No. 23, but these players are so closely grouped that there's no consensus on who those players will be.

Possible targets

— Of the players who are best suited to play 3-4 outside linebacker, Michigan's Brandon Graham is considered the best of the bunch by most insiders. After back-to-back seasons of double-digits sacks at Michigan, he proved to be unblockable during the week of Senior Bowl practices. He's got great quickness, counter moves and a relentless desire to get to the quarterback. A whopping 40.6 percent of his career tackles at Michigan were made behind the line of scrimmage. At 6-foot-1 and 268 pounds, he's sort of a cross between Pittsburgh's LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison.

No. 13: Quarterbacks
No. 12: Specialists
No. 11: Wide receivers
No. 10: Tight ends
No. 9: Nose tackles
No. 8: Running backs
No. 7: Defensive ends
No. 6: Inside linebackers
No. 5: Interior offensive line

Two other players possess first-round grades: Texas' Sergio Kindle (6-3, 250) and TCU's Jerry Hughes (6-2, 255). Hughes lacks desired height and would have to learn the ropes of the position after playing with his hand down. But if you want sacks, Hughes is the best in this draft. A lightning-fast first step and uncommon relentlessness translated into an NCAA-leading 26.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles over his final two seasons. He bristled at moving from running back at first but would rather sack a quarterback than anything now. Kindle has a better frame and actually played linebacker in 2008 but wasn't as productive as Hughes with 16 sacks over the last two seasons. Two driving violations (DUI and crashing into an apartment building while texting) surely will give teams pause with a big signing bonus at stake, but he plays hard and has tremendous athleticism, too. The bottom line: You know what you're getting with Hughes but Kindle has the larger upside because of his size.

— Why are so many teams playing the 3-4 scheme? It's because difference-making outside linebackers can be found in the second and third rounds.

In a class filled with players ranging from 6-foot to 6-foot-2, Clemson's Ricky Sapp (6-4, 252) is one of the few guys in this group who has the desired length. A former high school sprint champion and kick returner, Sapp could become an elite rusher but had "only" 17.5 sacks for his career. Played 2009 after tearing his ACL late in 2008, refusing to take a medical redshirt because he wanted to play with the rest of his recruiting class. USC's Everson Griffen (6-3, 273) has great size and production (eight sacks, 9.5 tackles for losses as a junior last year) but lacks the motor of Matthews, his former USC teammate. Some scouts see him as a late first-rounder; others see him falling into the third round.

Utah's Koa Misi (6-3, 251) is arguably the best run defender in this group but had just 10.5 sacks in three seasons with the Utes. He has the strength and motor to get better in that regard but it's still guesswork. Virginia Tech's Jason Worilds (6-1, 254) left school early after eight sacks as a sophomore and four as a junior. A gifted athlete but is short. South Carolina's Eric Norwood (6-1, 242) was a big-play machine with 29 sacks and 54 tackles for losses in college but, like Worilds, is he tall enough? Ohio State's Thaddeus Gibson (6-2, 243) probably is at the bottom of this group. He left school early after posting nine sacks in his last two seasons. He might not be solid enough to play the run the way Dom Capers demands but figures to be tremendous in coverage immediately.

— Questions abound with the rest of this group. What are Northwestern's Corey Wootton (6-6, 272) and Murray State's Austen Lane (6-6, 276)? Wootton had 10 sacks in 2008 but struggled through 2009 after suffering a knee injury in the 2008 bowl game. Lane had 23 sacks and 41.5 tackles for losses over his final two seasons. Can they play outside linebacker, like some scouts believe, or should they bulk up to play end? Or are they only fits as 4-3 ends?

Continuing in the third round and going through the fourth and fifth, was Florida's Jermaine Cunningham (6-3, 266) a byproduct of a superior supporting cast? He had 19.5 sacks in his three seasons but didn't run well at his pro day. Connecticut's Lindsey Witten (6-4, 250; 11.5 sacks as senior) and North Carolina State's Willie Young (6-5, 251; eight sacks as senior) have great length, but are either of them strong enough to play the run?

Where does Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield wind up after tearing his ACL at the Senior Bowl? Schofield (6-2, 242) led the Big Ten in sacks last year and was flying up draft boards before the injury. Can Arthur Moats (6-0, 246) compete at his height and will his production (22.5 sacks over final two seasons) translate after dominating at James Madison? Will Chris McCoy (6-3, 261) be able to compete after dominating at Middle Tennessee State with seven sacks and 20 tackles for losses as a senior? Ditto for Aaron Morgan (6-4, 242), who posted 22 sacks at Louisiana-Monroe and had a great offseason to surge up draft boards. What happened to South Florida's George Selvie (6-3, 252), who looked like Lawrence Taylor with 14.5 sacks as a sophomore but a total of eight in his last two seasons?

— In the sixth or seventh rounds, remember Arizona State's Dexter Davis (6-2, 244; 31 sacks as four-year starter); Auburn's Antonio Coleman (6-2, 255; 25 sacks in last three seasons); William & Mary's Adrian Tracy (6-3, 248; 22 sacks, 37.5 TFLs in final two seasons), Stephen F. Austin's Tim Knicky (6-4, 252; 12.5 sacks, 15 TFLs as senior); Stillman's Junior Galette (6-2, 257; 9.5 sacks in only season after transferring from Temple); and Troy's Cameron Sheffield (6-3, 257; 13 sacks last two seasons). The Packers like South Dakota State's Danny Batten to play outside or inside. All of them will fit as situational rushers and special-teams demons.

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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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