The Carolina Panthers have two excellent linebackers with Luke Kuechly at middle linebacker (or MIKE) and Thomas Davis on the outside (or SAM). Unfortunately the team struggled to find that third linebacker that could regularly stay on the field in 2014. This forced the defense to use their nickel formation a majority of the time down the stretch. These are five players who could step in at the weakside outside linebacker position and allow the Panthers to stay more in their base defense in 2015.
Weight: 230 lbs.
Notes: He was a tackling machine for the Horned Frogs with 135 total tackles in 2014 to go along with six sacks and three interceptions. The biggest concern with Dawson is some of the off-the-field issues he has had in college, particularly a failed drug test his sophomore year. The Carolina Panthers would have to feel very confident these issues are a thing of the past if they decide to draft him, especially considering the issues they had a season ago with Greg Hardy.
Weight: 227 lbs.
Notes: Kwon Alexander finished his junior year very well with 33 tackles over his final four games and 92 tackles for the season. He also had 1.5 sacks over the final four games. One of the reasons the Panthers had to go to a nickel defense so much was they lacked a linebacker who could drop back in pass coverage. According to Rob Rang, “Alexander shows good agility and recognition of passing angles.” Alexander could help solidify this part of the Panthers' defense.
Weight: 234 lbs.
Notes: Hicks finished his senior year with 107 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 2 interceptions. This past year certainly helped his draft stock, which had taken a hit due to durability concerns. The 2012 and 2013 seasons both ended due to injuries and he played only a total of five games over this stretch.
Weight: 231 lbs.
Notes: This was Spaight first year as a starter for the Arkansas Razorbacks and he played very well with 128 tackles, 1 sack and 1 interception in 13 games. He continued to play well at the Senior Bowl and got plenty of chances to impress scouts with Denzel Perryman limited due to an abdominal strain. In the article it was written, “Spaight flashed with his agility and terrific closing speed, making several eye-popping hits.”
Weight: 228 lbs.
Notes: This could be the most intriguing prospect of this group because it remains to be seen exactly what position he could play. He has experience as a running back but the defensive side of the ball is where he would excel. He has the coverage ability of a safety but Thompson firmly believes he is a linebacker. There is one player who has had an excellent career switching from safety in college to outside linebacker in the NFL and that is current Carolina Panther Thomas Davis. A player like Thompson, with his coverage skills at linebacker position, would make perfect sense for this defense.
*All measurements courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise noted.