2006 Draft Preview: Outside Linebackers

As more defenses around the NFL switch to the three-four alignment, strong and forceful outside linebackers are again at the top of the draft priority list.  Three were selected in last year's first round, the most since the bumper crop of 2000. 

If the top players at the position step to the plate this season and meet the expectations of NFL scouts, the 2006 class could rival last April's group.  Three seniors and another junior all carry first-round grades.  An additional half-dozen could be selected before the draft's first day is complete. 

There could be competition for the top spot at this position, but presently Iowa's Chad Greenway is the number one outside linebacker prospect.  An intelligent defender with outstanding instincts and a well-rounded game, Greenway makes plays sideline-to-sideline.  Effective in pass coverage, he is constantly around the action, making positive plays and will be a top-20 pick. 

Ohio State offers a pair of top-tier linebacker prospects on the outside.

AJ Hawk is an explosive defender who forces the action.   Quickly filling gaps in run defense, Hawk defeats blocks on his way to the action and makes a lot of positive plays.  Instinctive, Hawk effectively covers the pass as well as defends the run.  His passion for the game and physical skills make him a solid first-round prospect at a number of linebacker positions.  

Fellow Buckeye Bobby Carpenter is an instinctive linebacker who consistently puts himself in a position to make plays on the ball.  Quickly reading the action, he takes good angles to play and is very efficient.  Fast for the stopwatch, Carpenter is tremendously gifted athletically yet does not always play to those numbers on the field.  All things considered, Carpenter also has first-round talent. 

Florida State junior Ernie Sims is another physically dominant prospect that pounds the opposition into submission.  At times a one man wrecking crew, Sims forcefully stuffs the run and holds his own in coverage.  He is also top-32 material when he enters the draft. 

There are a bevy of linebackers who fall into the second tier of the position, and most are prospects who could move towards the first round. 

Pittsburgh junior H.B. Blades plays up to his family's reputation and is a consistent force on the field.  Making a ton of tackles on the ball carrier, Blades also displays outstanding range with the ability to defend the pass sideline-to-sideline. 

Much the same can be said of Miami-Ohio's Terna Nande.  A prospect who tests off the charts athletically, Nande plays with great explosion and suddeness.  Possessing the ability to force the action in any direction, Nande flashes on the scene and is a top weak-side prospect for next April. 

In similar fashion, Kellen Pruitt is one of the nations most underrated outside linebackers.  Like many of his predecessors from Syracuse, Pruitt's ability to cover tight ends or running backs in pass defense is outstanding.  A little small, his run-defending responsibilities will significantly increase this year and good results will push him up draft boards. 

DeMeco Ryans is another top athlete who stands out in pursuit.  The Alabama product is coming off a brilliant junior campaign and presently sits as a potential second-round choice for '06. 

Kansas has a winner in Nick Reid.  A tenacious defender, Reid plays an explosive brand of football, constantly throwing his body around the field.  Testing well athletically, Reid's instincts are below par, a factor that could keep him out of the initial two frames of the draft. 

Cameron Vaughn of LSU, Washington State's Will Derting and Vandy's Moses Osemwegie are all productive seniors to keep an eye on.

Top 20 Outside Linebacker Prospects
# Name School
1 Chad Greenway Iowa
2 A.J. Hawk Ohio State
3 Ernie Sims* Florida State
4 Bobby Carpenter Ohio State
5 H.B. Blades* Pittsburgh
6 Terna Nande Miami-Oh
7 Kellen Pruitt Syracuse
8 DeMeco Ryans Alabama
9 Nick Reid Kansas
10 Cameron Vaughn LSU
11 Brandon Archer* Kansas State
12 Will Derting Washington State
13 Kai Parham* Virginia
14 Moses Osemwegie Vanderbilt
15 Pierre Woods Michigan
16 Thomas Howard UTEP
17 Clint Ingram Oklahoma
18 Rufus Alexander* Oklahoma
19 Rocky McIntosh Miami-Fl
20 Kyle McKenzie Minnesota

* denotes underclassmen

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