Draft 2002: Inside Linebackers

<P><STRONG>Trev Faulk, LSU (6-3, 241 lbs., 4.65)</STRONG> Faulk recorded 232 tackles over his last two seasons at LSU. He led the team in tackles with 119, while leading them to the SEC title as a junior. His decision to declare early came on the heels of him recording double-figure tackles in five of his final eight college games. </P>

A consistent performer with above-average athletici ability, he has yet to show "big-play" ability. He had only 14 tackles for loss and four sacks over the last two years and amazingly zero interceptions. Despite his impressive size, he tends to play small, especially at the point of attack and tends to run around defenders rather than step up to take on blockers.

Overall, Faulk has the best combination of skill level, size and potential of anyone at this position. He may also prove versatile enough to also play weak-side linebacker in the pros.

Robert Thomas, UCLA (6-0, 233 lbs., 4.51) Thomas has an excellent combination of instincts, athleticism and passion for the game. He had a fantastic senior campaign, including 111 tackles, 26 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. As a result, he was a consensus All-American pick and the Pac-10's Defensive Player of the Year. A quick and active defender, he flows to the ball well and takes good pursuit angles versus the run.

His best attributes come from his read-and-react skills, short area speed and ability to make big plays. However, his size would limit his production level in the pros -- unless he plays in a 3-4 or is protected by a pair of good-sized tackles. Thomas really impressed scouts with his speed and quickness in his drills at the Combine.

He lacks ideal pass coverage skills to move outside, although several teams have him rated as a weak-side linebacker. His production, attention to detail and tremendous work ethic should allow him to be taken on the first day.

Josh Thornhill, Michigan State (6-2, 243 lbs., 4.58) Thornhill blends size and speed along with being a big-time hitter in the middle. He was an All-Academic selection, but plays the game with great intensity. In fact, the kid wakes up each morning with his "game face" on.

He is a downhill player that moves to the ball well and is excellent in pursuit. A solid leader, he does a good job taking on blockers and shedding them, but could improve his hand technique. His speed is more straight-line, and he needs to increase his pass coverage skills.

Ben Taylor, Virginia Tech (6-2, 236 lbs., 4.77) An All-Big East pick, he was one of 11 semifinalists for the Butkus Award before his senior campaign. He led the Hokies with 121 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, tied for the team lead with 4.5 sacks and picked off one pass.

The heart-and-soul of the Hokies defensive unit, he sat out spring drills last year, while recovering from off-season right ankle surgery to correct ligament damage. He has terrific instincts, is a quick decision maker that shows the ability to weave through trash and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. A leader in the locker room, he shows good emotion on the field, a consistent motor, and makes players around him play better.

Overall, Taylor lacks ideal size and has been a bit injury-prone. However, he shows good pass coverage skills and should contribute as a rookie in the role of nickel 'backer.

Tyreo Harrison, Notre Dame (6-2, 238 lbs., 4.87) Harrison outplayed several higher profiled linebackers this past season, including his teammate Rocky Boiman. He recorded 91 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and two sacks, but most importantly he made several key stops for Irish's defense. His improvement across the board this season was very impressive.

While he lacks ideal speed, he moves well to the ball, attacks the line of scrimmage and can be a sure-handed tackler. He is better versus the run at this point, although he drops well in zone coverage, but tends to be a little stiff overall. His stock has risen consistently during the course of the season, especially thanks to his on-field production.

Overall, Harrison may be more of a two-down player in the league unless he develops a better feel for pass coverage, but shows the right attitude for special teams duty, as well.

"Sleeper" Max Yates, Marshall (6-3, 229 lbs., 4.80) Yates plays with great intangibles and intensity, while also being highly productive. In fact, he led the Thundering Herd with 274 tackles over the past two seasons, including 159 as a senior. His instincts and lateral movement have improved over the past two years, while he still seems to struggle when taking on blockers at the point of attack.

He is cut a tad high for a middle linebacker, but lacks the necessary speed for outside linebacker. Additionally, he is much better in zone coverage and tends to lose his man out of the backfield at times. Overall, Yates is an ideal candidate for being a backup in the pros, while also standing out on special teams.


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