POSITION OVERVIEW: As with defensive end, assigning a grade to this position will vary from one team to the next. Some defensive end candidates are viewed as outside linebackers in 3-4 systems and some undersized pass-rushing OLBs are viewed as situational DEs, making it difficult to pigeon-hole players as to whether they are truly outside linebackers. That being said, there are several candidates to come off the board in the first couple rounds from this group.
VIKINGS' OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson, Marvin Mitchell, Tyrone McKenzie, Larry Dean, Solomon Elimimian.
VIKINGS' NEEDS: The Vikings have a Pro Bowl-quality player in Greenway and, after a solid first season as a starter, Henderson is the other starter at this time. The Vikings will likely add an outside linebacker somewhere in the draft, but barring a player the Vikings have highly rated falling into their laps, they probably will wait until the third day to jump on a prospective candidate. Depth is minimal with the team not re-signing special teams ace Kenny Onatolu and the Vikings will likely find someone with special teams skills and upside to bring in to compete for a roster spot via the draft instead of waiting for the post-draft cattle call.
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama, 6-2, 272 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 103 tackles, 31.5 tackles for a loss, 15 sacks and two forced fumbles in that span…A finalist for the Butkus Award (best college LB) and the Lombardi Award (best LB or interior lineman) in 2011…Two-time All-SEC selection…Was arrested in 2009 along with his girlfriend for mutual domestic violence charges…Was the MVP of January's national championship game…Very strong and physical…Has good agility to be a pass-rush specialist, especially in a 3-4 system…Has excellent speed chasing down plays…A good wrap-up tackler with closing speed…Ideal combo of upper- and lower-body strength…An emotional on-field leader who plays with a glass-eater mentality…Played in a system that created a position for him, so he wasn't asked to do a lot in coverage or playing in space…Has short arms and gets swallowed up by big offensive linemen…Didn't have to read-and-react often – was used as a pure pass rusher with one speed (all out)…May have to move inside because of pass coverage limitations…Is not naturally gifted changing directions and covering RBs in pass patterns…Chose not to do any of the skill drills at the Combine and the one event he did take part in was disappointing – completing just 22 bench press reps of 225 pounds. PROJECTION: Does a lot of things well, but was a player who essentially had a position created for him. He projects as an OLB in a 3-4 system or a DE in a 4-3. His production and hard-nosed style will have him off the board in the middle of the first round, but his choice not to work out at the Combine or his pro day (claiming knee tendinitis) may cause him to drop considerably.
Andre Branch, Clemson, 6-4, 259 – Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter…Exploded in 2011, registering 85 tackles, 17 tackles for losses and 10.5 sacks…Did not take part in the Senior Bowl because of a hamstring injury he battled for the last month of the 2011 season…Excellent size and strength combination…Excellent closing speed when the ball is in sight…Has the agility to cover backs in the open field…A strong wrap-up tackler…Has the speed to blow past larger O-linemen…Inconsistent playing strength and effort…Gets himself out of position too often…Doesn't have the bulk to hold up consistently vs. the run…Doesn't have elite upper-body strength (see below)…History of back injuries may scare off some teams… Ran a 4.67 40 at the Combine with a pathetic 19 reps, a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION:A talented pass rusher who is ideally suited to play OLB in a 3-4 system. He is viewed as a finesse player who will have to be in a system that can maximize his athleticism and not expose him to his bulk strength deficiencies. Too talented to last much past the first round and should go late on Day One.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Zach Brown, North Carolina, 6-1, 244 – Fourth-year senior…One-year full-time starter who had a huge season (105 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries)…First-team All-ACC in 2011 and a Butkus Award finalist…A high school champ in wrestling and track (100 and 200 meters)…Spent 2007 at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia…Blazing speed and hits top speed extremely quickly…Very strong in coverage and blankets receivers…Good agility and change-of-direction skills…Has good quick-twitch read-and-react skills…One of the most pure athletes in the draft…Very raw in many key aspects – gets himself out of position and freelances too much…Doesn't play with fire or intensity…Bites on play action… Not a solid wrap-up tackler, he tends to bulldog and drag ball carriers down…Doesn't eat, breath and sleep football…Didn't lift at the Combine but ran a sparkling 4.44 40 with a 33½-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump despite being sick at the workout. PROJECTION: Wowed scouts with his speed at the Combine, but is almost sure to be pigeon-holed as a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme because he isn't overly physical. He may sneak his way into the first round because of his off-the-charts athleticism, but isn't a physical dominator – which should drop him into the second round.
Lavonte David, Nebraska, 6-1, 233 – Fourth-year senior who spent two years at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College…Started all 27 games he played for the Cornhuskers, recording a whopping 285 tackles, 28 tackles for losses, 11.5 sacks, 10 passes broken up and two interceptions…All-Big 12 pick in 2010 as a middle linebacker and first-team All-America selection in 2011 as a weakside LB…Won the Big Ten's Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year Award…His 152 tackles in 2010 set a school record…Came to Nebraska weighing 210 pounds…Has very good read-and-react skills and closes quickly…Incredible tackle production…A strong wrap-up tackler…Solid vs. the run and played much of the time in the box in run situations…Strong on the blitz…Strong work ethic…Doesn't have great overall game strength…Freelances too often and takes himself out of position…Undersized by NFL standards…Doesn't have ideal change of direction skills and will stumble at times when forced to make quick 180-degree moves…Big TEs can create mismatches against him down the seam…Ran a 4.57 40 at the Combine with 19 reps of 225 pounds, a 36½-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION:Played middle linebacker in college, but doesn't have the bull strength needed to play inside at the NFL level. Is undersized, but has elite competitive instincts, which will get him off the board in the second round.
Shea McClellin, Boise State, 6-3, 260 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who made starts in his final 37 games…In his final two seasons, he had 80 tackles, 26 tackles for losses, 16.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Added 12 pounds from his weigh-in at the Senior Bowl to his weigh-in at the Combine…First-team All-Mountain West as a senior…Plays with a ton of intensity and never takes a play off…Very strong upper body…Good playing speed…Physical player who seeks out contact and enjoys delivering the big hit…A strong work ethic…Played DE in college but projects to a linebacker in the NFL, which will require a learning curve…Struggles against huge O-linemen…Not an elite pure athlete…Has short arms and gets enveloped by linemen…Doesn't have great explosion or burst…Ran a 4.63 40 at the Combine with 19 reps, a 31½-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: A prospect who will likely go higher than his measurables would lead you to believe. He is a tenacious worker who coaches will love, but his lack of top competition and being forced to switch positions might drop him into the second round or early into the third.
Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma, 6-2, 253 – Third-year junior…One-year starter who made starts in just 10 of 34 career games…In 10 games in 2011, he had 59 tackles, 13 tackles for losses, 5.5 sacks and five passes broken up…First-team All-Big 12 in 2011…Played 8-man football in high school in Oklahoma…Has a long injury history that includes injuries to both knees and a neck injury…Incredible upper-body strength (see below)…Has good read-and-react skills and good closing speed…Doesn't give up on plays and pursues relentlessly…Has strong hands to keep blockers off of him…Quick acceleration and gets to top speed in a hurry…Isn't a strong run defender because of average lower-body strength…Has durability concerns…Not overly productive in terms of tackle numbers…Left OU early because he got in academic problems and didn't really care about his school work…Needs polish because he bites too often on fakes…Doesn't have a natural position from what he played in college…Ran a 4.65 40 at the Combine with an eye-popping 36 reps of 225 pounds, a 31-inch vertical jump and a 9-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: A high-effort player who appears to be a fit only as a pass-rushing OLB in a 3-4 system, which will limit the number of teams that will be interested in him. As a result, he will be a candidate to get drafted in the third round, with the potential of remaining on the board into Day 3.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Sean Spence, Miami, 5-11, 231 – Fourth-year senior…Started 40 of 47 career games…In his final two seasons, he had 217 tackles, 31 tackles for losses, 5.5 sacks and seven passes defensed…A Butkus Award finalist the last two seasons…Weighed 205 pounds as a freshman and added bulk without sacrificing speed…An explosive hitter with big-time competitive spirit…Reads and reacts in an instant…Has good lateral agility and change-of-direction skills…Hard worker who was praised by his coaches as a once-in-a-lifetime talent…Very undersized for the NFL…Gets taken out too easily by blockers…Tight ends can create a size mismatch down the seam…Tends to run around blockers to get to the ball and often takes himself out of plays…Doesn't have ideal game strength to blow up plays…Ran a 4.66 40 at the Combine with an anemic 12 reps of 225 pounds, a 33½-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: If he was three inches taller and 20 pounds heavier, he would be a first-round lock. But, as it stands, he will be a special teams demon initially who will need to have a spot tailored for his skill set, which could see him drop into the fourth round – where he would be a priority Day 3 selection. He has a future in the NFL, but will have to be in the right system to succeed. He may get picked after players we have ranked behind him, but has the skill to be a DeMeco Ryans type of undersized overachiever.
Keenan Robinson, Texas, 6-3, 242 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who made starts in 39 of 51 career games…In his final two seasons, he had 219 tackles, 18 tackles for losses, three sacks and nine passes broken up…A Butkus Award semifinalist as a senior…A versatile linebacker who played on the outside in his first two seasons as a starter and in the middle as a senior…Good upper-body strength, he bench presses 450 pounds…Has prototypical size and length for the NFL…Has good change-of-direction skills and chases plays down…Uses his hands well to keep blockers away from his legs…Isn't a glass-eater and runs around tacklers more often than taking them on face-up…Doesn't have great speed or burst…Once blockers get their hands on him, he stays blocked…Is not an elite closer who drives through the man with the ball…More of a drag-down tackler than a wrap-up tackler…Ran a 4.72 40 at the Combine with an impressive 27 reps, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: Has experience and an ideal size-speed combination, but given his lack of fire and intensity, he projects as a 4-3 weakside linebacker only who will likely be on the board late in Day 2 or possibly Day 3.
Nigel Bradham, Florida State, 6-2, 241 – Fourth-year senior…A three-year starter who made 40 starts in 53 career games...In three years as a full-time player, he notched 277 tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss, nine sacks, 12 passes broken up and three interceptions…Led FSU in tackles all three seasons as a starter…Has the word "Beast" tattooed on one arm and "Mode" tattooed on the other…Incredible physical specimen who plays with fire and a mean streak…A dominating run defender…Sheds blockers very well…A very strong tackler who holds up in pass defense when plays are in front of him…Struggles in man coverage with big tight ends…His own aggression takes him out of position on too many plays…Doesn't have great anchor strength and will get moved by larger blockers when engaged…Not a student of the game or quick to read and react…Not a polished or efficient pass rusher…Ran a 4.56 40 at the Combine with 24 reps, a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A fiery competitor who has some significant coverage deficiencies, he will likely be a primary special teams performer early with enough upside to become a starter in the right system, primarily as an outside LB in a 4-3 system.
Kyle Wilber, Wake Forest, 6-4, 249 – Fourth-year senior who started 36 of 43 career games…A two-year full-time starter who had 135 tackles, 26 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks and five passes broken up in that span…Had a difficult childhood and was shipped between several family members growing up…Missed seven games in 2009 after breaking his left fibula…Very quick and good burst…Excellent in pursuit and will chase down plays…Has long arms and uses them to keep blockers away from his legs…A good closer who makes highlight film hits…Very coachable and doesn't take plays off…Was used as a hybrid in a 3-4 defense and never truly established an NFL position for himself…Doesn't play with a mean streak…Doesn't have a strong base…Played one of his two seasons at DE and doesn't project there at all in the NFL…Doesn't have good sustained speed…Ran a 4.73 40 at the Combine with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 33½-inch vertical jump and a 9-9 broad jump. PROJECTION: A player who does a lot of things well but nothing great. He isn't overpowering and will need to be in a finesse defense where his speed and desire will come into play. Looks like an ideal fit for a team like Indianapolis that uses speed and savvy rather than brute strength.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Miles Burris, San Diego State, 6-2, 246
Audie Cole, North Carolina State, 6-4, 246
Darius Fleming, Notre Dame, 6-2, 245
Josh Kaddu, Oregon, 6-3, 239
Travis Lewis, Oklahoma, 6-1, 246
Brandon Lindsey, Pitt, 6-2, 254
Terrell Manning, North Carolina State, 6-2, 237
Tyler Nielsen, Iowa, 6-3, 238
Olivier Vernon, Miami, 6-2, 261
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Position Analysis: Outside linebackers
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