Position Analysis: Outside linebackers

The draft is loaded with potential at OLB but very few sure things. Taking into account players caught between positions and off-field concerns, every prospect seems to have legitimate concerns about them. We review the possibilities with the top 10 outside linebackers (including some that could be inside linebackers), examining their strengths, weaknesses, statistics, measurables and projections.

POSITION OVERVIEW: In recent years, the position of linebacker has been greatly devalued. With more passing going on in the NFL, college linebackers have become standup defensive ends in the NFL and rotations have been developed that have watered down the need for using top picks on linebackers. Once one of the most heavily drafted positions early, linebacker has become a position like guard and safety – where organizations believe they can coach up second-, third- and fourth-round talents to get the job done. This year's draft class doesn't help to buck that trend. Some believe top-rated Dion Jordan might end up being a defensive end and Alec Ogletree could end up being an inside/middle linebacker. With only two or three players viewed as first-round prospects, they may end up going quickly because the depth is thin here and those who have a chance to be solid pros will likely come off the board quickly.

VIKINGS OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS – Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson, Marvin Mitchell.

VIKINGS NEED – Greenway is a Pro Bowl-caliber player and the Vikings have confidence that Henderson can fill the void until someone better comes along. But depth is painfully thin. As a result, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings use at least one draft pick here, if not two – as well as jumping on a couple of undrafted players once the draft ends.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Dion Jordan, Oregon, 6-6¼, 248 – Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 86 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks in that span…Suffered a horrific injury his senior year of high school when he and some friends were siphoning gas from a vehicle and it exploded – burning 40 percent of his body…As a freshman, played tight end…Played standup defensive end in a hybrid role created for him in his final two seasons…All-Pac 12 as a senior…Has incredible athleticism…Has outstanding size and arm length…Very comfortable in space and is viewed as an OLB in some schemes and a pass-rushing defensive end in others…Explodes off the snap and gets into the backfield in a hurry…Has great closing burst…A hard worker who has learned multiple positions during his career…Doesn't have ideal upper-body strength, which could be a problem at the next level if he doesn't add bulk strength…Doesn't have the type of frame that can easily add bulk…Once blockers get their hands on him, he is too easily steered…Does not play under control and often loops beyond the pocket…Doesn't have a variety of pass-rush moves…Didn't lift at the combine, but ran a 4.53 40 with a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: A ferocious pass rusher who spent a lot of time in opposing backfields, he likely will be the first linebacker 'tweener off the board. He could end up reuniting with college head coach Chip Kelly with Philadelphia at No. 4.

Alec Ogletree, Georgia, 6-2½, 242 – Third-year junior…Started 21 of 30 career games, finishing with 197 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss and six sacks…Recruited by Georgia as a safety…Missed one game in 2010 after being arrested for theft after taking a teammate's scooter helmet, missed six games in 2011 with a broken bone in his right foot, was suspended the first four games of 2012 for violating the team's drug policy and was arrested for DUI the week before the combine this year…An elite athlete who has great range…Has excellent game speed…Has good closing speed when blitzing the quarterback…Can stick with running backs and tight ends deep down the field…Delivers the big hit consistently…Chases plays to the sideline…Has huge character issues that will scare away a lot of teams…Needs to improve his run support…Could stand to add some upper body strength…When blockers get to him, he struggles to disengage…Isn't overly instinctive…Misses too many tackles…Ran a 4.62 40 at the Combine with 20 reps of 225 pounds, a 33½-inch vertical jump and 10-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: A talented player capable of dominating games in the SEC, his character questions will drop him into the middle of the first round, but his talent won't let him last too long.

Jarvis Jones, Georgia, 6-2½, 245 – Fourth-year junior…Enrolled at USC, but left after one season and redshirted due to transfer rules…Started all 26 games he played at Georgia, notching 155 tackles, 44 tackles for a loss, 28 sacks and one interception…An all-state high school player in both football and basketball…A two-time All-SEC and All-American…A two-time Butkus Award finalist…As a junior, was also a finalist for the Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski and Lott Awards…The best pass rusher in the draft…Extremely productive and active…Has elite closing burst and finishes plays…Plays with excellent timing to avoid blockers and get to the ball…Uses his hands very well to shed blockers…Doesn't have the prototype size for a 3-4 OLB…Doesn't have the type of body that can add 10-15 pounds more muscle mass…Didn't get a lot of chances to take on running backs and tight ends one-on-one…Was diagnosed with spinal stenosis at USC, an injury that can end careers quickly…Doesn't have a variety of pass-rush moves – depends on speed too much…Elected not to work out at the combine. PROJECTION: The best pure pass rusher in the draft, he has the ability to play in either a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense and will battle his teammate Ogletree to come off the board first. Either way, he will be gone in the middle of the first round.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Arthur Brown, Kansas State, 6-0½, 245 – Fifth-year senior…Sat out the 2010 season due to transfer rules after spending two years as a backup at Miami…Started all 26 games with K-State, recording 201 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks and three interceptions…His brother Bryce plays running back for the Philadelphia Eagles…A two-time team captain…An All-American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2012…A tackling machine who had 100 or more tackles in each of his two years at K-State…A form tackler who rarely misses…Keeps his feet moving and can avoid blocks with relative ease…Is very instinctive and diagnoses plays quickly…Uses his hands well…Extremely good balance…Is solid in coverage deep downfield…Is undersized by NFL linebacker standards, especially his lack of height…Is not a playmaker – had just three interceptions and no forced fumbles…Doesn't have ideal game speed…Is not a player who delivers the highlight film hit…Played middle linebacker in college, but projects as an OLB at the next level, so he will have a learning curve…Didn't work out at the combine after suffering a left quad injury, only completing the broad jump (9-8) portion of the drills. PROJECTION: A solid, productive player who is technically sound, but undersized – which will make some team very happy in the second round of the draft when he falls to them.

Sio Moore, UConn, 6-0¾, 245 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 268 tackles, 43 tackles for a loss and 16 sacks in that span…Is very instinctive and reacts quickly to plays in front of him…A versatile player with starting experience at both the weakside and the strongside linebacker spots…Very muscular and has long arms…Earned rave reviews at the East-West Shrine Game, the Senior Bowl and the Combine…Delivers explosive hits…An impressive blitzer with good closing speed…Is undersized by NFL linebacker standards, especially his height…Doesn't have ideal mass or bulk strength…Gets knocked around too easily in traffic…Has a hard time disengaging from blockers when they get their hands on him…Misses too many tackles…Ran a 4.62 40 at the combine with 29 reps, a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: A player whose level of competition and lack of height typically drop prospects into the early portion of the final day of the draft, Moore made such an impression in the post season all-star game/combine circuit that he now appears to be a lock to go in the second round.

Khaseem Greene, Rutgers, 6-0¾, 241 – Sixth-year senior who spent a year at Avon (Conn.) Old Farm Prep School to improve his academics…Started 12 games at free safety, recording 77 tackles, three interceptions and four forced fumbles…In 2011, moved to OLB and made 141 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, winning Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year…In 2012, he moved to the weakside, recording 136 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, six sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions…Incredible production…A big tackler who is adept at knocking the ball loose – 12 times in three seasons…Very athletic and always swarming to the ball…Is technically sound and rarely takes a misstep…Times his blitzes well and closes on the ball quickly…Very limited in size…Can be slow to react when the play is developing and tends to wait for things to come to him, then to shoot gaps…Tends to try to run around blocks and gets too easily locked up when blockers get to him…Takes plays off and doesn't give full effort on plays to the other side…Doesn't have short-area lateral burst and struggled badly at the 3-cone drill at the combine…Needs to add upper body strength…Ran a 4.67 40 at the combine with 17 reps, a 30-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: The jury is out on Greene. He is one of the more productive athletes in the college game and has a wealth of experience starting at three different positions, but his size limitations and his hard-to-ignore weakness should keep him on the board until the end of Day 2 or early on Day 3.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Travis Long, Washington State, 6-3¾, 249 – Fourth-year senior…Started all 47 games of his college career…Finished his career with 201 tackles, 42 tackles for a loss and 19.5 sacks playing both defensive end spots and outside linebacker as a senior…Played through the 2011 season with a torn labrum and had surgery in November after his season ended with a torn ACL…Good instincts and a hard-nosed player…Chases plays down with high intensity…Has the type of body that can add 10-20 pounds of muscle mass as it continues to mature…His experience at defensive end taught him how to effectively fight off blockers with his hands and get to the ball…Has good lateral movement skills and can slide down the line and mirror the ball carrier…Is undersized and will get thrown around by NFL blockers…A 'tweener in every sense of the word …Has small hands and will have difficulty ripping blockers away from his body…Does not have elite straight-line speed…Has only one year experience at outside linebacker and that was at a hybrid position that had him moving around the field…Did not work out at the combine as he recovered from ACL surgery. PROJECTION: A high-energy, very coachable player who has legitimate limitations. The competition won't start for him until early in the fourth round, but he's the kind of player someone will trade up to get.

Cornelius Washington, Georgia, 6-4, 265 – Fifth-year senior…Was never a full-time starter – starting just 25 of 51 career games…Finished his career with 76 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks…Played his first three seasons at outside linebacker and 2012 at defensive end…Was suspended two games in 2012 after being arrested for DWI…Has a prototype build – good musculature, core power and long arms…Added 40 pounds from the time he arrived at Georgia…Incredible upper body strength – can bench press 500 pounds…Has excellent closing speed…Has a jolting hand punch that pushes blockers back…Can play a variety of positions…Extremely low production, but, when you play with Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones, the opportunities aren't always there, but his tackles numbers are shockingly low…Doesn't protect his legs and ends up on the ground far too much…Doesn't have much in the way of improvisational skills and, when neutralized quickly, he rarely gets away…Inconsistent in effort and intensity…Doesn't move well chasing plays laterally down the line…Ran a 4.50 40 at the combine with a whopping 36 reps of 225 pounds, a 39-inch vertical jump and a 10-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: An underachiever with a lot of upside based on his prototypical size and measurables, he could come off the board early in Day 3.

Michael Buchanan, Illinois, 6-5½, 255 – Fourth-year senior…Became a starter three games into his sophomore season…In two years as a full-time starter, he had 121 tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss and 12 sacks…Suspended two games in 2010 after being arrested for DUI…Had his jaw broken in a fight in the summer of 2012…Has excellent dimensions and long arms to shed blockers and bring down ball carriers…Has a mammoth wingspan (79½ inches)…Has good athleticism and closing speed…Fluid in coverage…Gets upfield in a hurry…The good end of being a 'tweener – can put his hand in the dirt and take off as a pass-rushing defensive end and has the athletic ability to be a coverage OLB in a 3-4 scheme…Does not have the upper body strength that is desired in an NFL DE or OLB…Gets caught up in the garbage too often and taken out of plays…Inconsistent effort and intensity…Doesn't have a variety of pass rush moves and tries to just get by with his quicks…Once he gets blocked, he stays blocked…Ran a 4.71 40 at the combine with 22 reps, a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: When playing opposite 2012 first-round Whitney Mercilus, he had a stellar season being single covered as a hybrid DE/OLB. When focused on last year, his numbers suffered. He can be a solid contributor and eventual starter in the NFL at outside linebacker, but likely will be on the board when the final-day marathon begins on Draft Saturday.

Gerald Hodges, Penn State, 6-1, 243 – A fourth-year senior…A two-year starter who amassed 215 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 11 passes broken up and three interceptions in that span…A three-year starter at quarterback in high school…Has good movement skills and sifts through the garbage to get to the ball…Has natural athleticism and football is important to him…Showed character during the scandal that rocked PSU by staying and finishing his career when given a free pass to leave to enhance his draft status…Has good closing speed and acceleration…Has the range to makes plays to the sideline…Is undersized by NFL standards…Added 30 pounds of bulk and muscle since he arrived at Penn State and doesn't have much more room for growth…Once blockers get their hands on him, he is too often neutralized…Does not use his hands well enough…Is not a playmaker who causes turnovers…Didn't compete in the vertical jump at the combine, but ran a 4.72 40 with 22 reps and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: A standup player from a disgraced university, he will likely drop into the final day of the draft, but he could be a player that not only makes a team but be a starter at some point in his career. He already knows adversity, which is a good intangible for a college player to have moving up to the next level.

OTHERS TO WATCH

David Bass, Southern, 6-4, 262
Jamie Collins, Mississippi, 6-3½, 250
Zaviar Gooden, Missouri, 6-1½, 234
Jelani Jenkins, Florida, 6-0½, 243
A.J. Klein, Iowa State, 6-1¼, 250
Stansly Maponga, TCU, 6-2, 256
Larentee McCray, Florida, 6-2¼, 250
Kevin Pough, Howard, 6-1¾, 239
John Simon, Ohio State, 6-1½, 257
Chase Thomas, Stanford, 6-3¼, 244
Nathan Williams, Ohio State, 6-3, 241
Tourek Williams, Florida International, 6-3, 260


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.
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