Draft outlook: Inside linebackers

Though their is some talent at the top, overall the inside linebacker position is not strong at all as the top players in this group are exclusively run stuffers with minimal skills when the ball is in the air. Here's a closer look at the Top 5:

 

1—Terry Pierce, Kansas State

The Good: Game-impacting defender that has the possibility of playing several different linebacker positions. Tremendous athlete that displays great range and gets a lot of depth on his pass drops. Quick picking up assignments, forceful moving up the field and pursuing to the action with speed in either a straight line or laterally. Squares into his tackles, wraps up then brings the ball carrier down on initial contact.

The Bad: A little slow locating the ball in run defense and does not always take the best angles to the play, inefficiently running around the field.

The Skinny: A terrific prospect in every sense that can be used in the middle or possibly on the weak side. Must improve the finer points of his game, but he's a defender who will quickly impact a team at the next level when he is drafted.

2 – EJ Henderson, Maryland

The Good: Forceful run-defending linebacker that makes a lot of plays up the field. Breaks down well, takes on then defeats blocks at the point of attack and fires through the hole in run defense. Scrapes laterally to the flanks, quickly reading the action against the run and snuffing out the ball carrier. Displays a short burst of speed to the action and squares into the tackle, wrapping up ball handlers and bringing them down on initial contact.

The Bad: Pass covers well in a small area but lacks range and agility; he's better in confined quarters. Lacks the quick, fluid change of direction. Gets sucked up the field and out of position on play-action passes. Must improve his instincts against coverage.

The Skinny: Best against the run when his area duties are kept to a minimal. May also be better suited for three-four inside linebacker as opposed to a pure middle linebacker.

3—Gerald Hayes, Pittsburgh

The Good: Tough, hard working linebacker that gives top effort for sixty minutes. Breaks down well and is quick to the ball carrier. Forceful moving up the field; a physical defender that attacks the ball carrier. Also scrapes laterally to the flanks with a good deal of efficiency. Has adequate instincts and takes good angles to the action.

The Bad: Not fast and cannot sustain his speed. Slowed by blocks and a tad short.

The Skinny: Having a great senior campaign and pre-draft workout results, most specifically his forty time, will dictate whether or not he moves into the top 45.

4—Mario Haggan, Mississippi State

The Good: Hard working linebacker best in a straight line. Heady, quick to read or anticipate the action, and a patient defender that fills the correct gaps in run defense. Forceful moving up the field, holds his ground against blocks and takes the correct angles to the action scraping laterally. Leader on the defense that gives the impression he knows what's happening on the field.

The Bad: Not fast or rangy, and limited in his ability to cover the pass. Not an explosive or sudden player either.

The Skinny: A lot of mental intangibles which help compensate for limited athletic skills. Probably best off as a three-four inside 'backer.

5—Clifton Smith, Syracuse

The Good: Big, powerful run stuffer that clogs the middle. Disciplined, quick to read the action and plays assignment football. Holds his ground against blocks or defeats them altogether on his way to the ball carrier. Strong at the point, squares into tackles, wraps up and easily brings the opponent down on initial contact.

The Bad: Best in a straight line, not fluid scraping laterally and limited making plays in reverse. Not effective against the passing game, has only minimal range.

The Skinny: Two-down defender at the next level.


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