Positional analysis: Outside linebackers

The Vikings will almost surely draft an outside linebacker in the first two days of the draft, but which one (or two)? Some seem destined to 3-4 defenses, but we analyze the strengths, weaknesses, measurables and agility of the top 10 options.

VIKINGS OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS – Chad Greenway, Larry Dean, Gerald Hodges, Simoni Lawrence, Terrell Manning.

TEAM NEED – It doesn't take a genius to see that the Vikings have a need here. Last year, Greenway was his usual team-leading self, but the other side was a mess. Marvin Mitchell and Desmond Bishop both played the position, but neither stood out. If a draft prospect like Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr is available at the eighth pick, there wouldn't be many that could question the Vikings taking either of them. They have players that are there for depth at least (Hodges and Dean), but it shouldn't come as any surprise if one of the team's first two picks in the draft comes at outside linebacker.

POSITION OVERVIEW – It's a pretty decent group, but Khalil Mack is clearly the No. 1 prospect and Barr is clearly No. 2. Beyond them, there isn't a lock on another first-rounder from the group, but there could be five or six more players that come in the second or early third rounds. There isn't an abundance of elite talent in the group, but there are several players who will make a good living in the NFL.


Khalil Mack, Buffalo, 6-2¾, 251 –
Fifth-year senior…Started all 48 games of his college career, finishing with 327 tackles, 75 tackles for a loss, 28.5 sacks, four interceptions (returned for 148 yards and two TDs), and 16 forced fumbles…In the last two seasons, he had 194 tackles, 40 tackles for a loss, 18.5 sacks and nine forced fumbles…His 75 TFL and 16 forced fumbles are all-time FBS records…Has prototype size and weight and, in individual drills, is frighteningly good…Has great upper-body strength and imposes his will…Plays with great leverage and is relentless to the ball…Can chase plays from sideline to sideline…Played extremely marginal competition that allowed him to be a man among boys in football terms…Will need a lot of work in pass coverage because he never faced elite tight ends…Looks for the "kill shot" and will miss tackles as a result…Has got by on natural ability and will need to improve his technique in space…Ran a 4.65 40 at the Combine with 23 reps of 225 pounds, an incredible 40-inch vertical jump and a 10-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: He played for a small college, but was so dominant that his talent can't be ignored. No player has seen his stock rise faster or farther since his last game than Mack. He could go anywhere from the first pick on down – don't be slack-jawed if the Rams take him at No. 2.

Anthony Barr, UCLA, 6-5, 255 – Fourth-year senior…Spent just two years at linebacker, having played his first two seasons at fullback for the Bruins offense…Started all 27 games he played in his final two seasons, recording 152 tackles, 41.5 tackles for a loss, 23.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles…First-team All-Pac 12 in 2013 and recipient of the Lott Impact Trophy…Missed three games in 2011 after having arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage damage in his right knee…An impressive tackler and natural athlete who knows how to close and finish…Has rare balance, agility and footwork to sift through plays to get to the ball…Has long arms and incredible burst to make plays that he shouldn't…A blitzer who instinctively finds seams and splits coverage, whether it results in a sack or blows up a play…Very raw with just two years of experience at the position…Doesn't have elite upper-body strength (see below) when blocked…Doesn't have explosive face-to-face power…May be better suited for a 3-4 defense rather than a 4-3 due to coverage responsibilities…Has a learning curve that may be a big jump even though he played quality competition…Ran a 4.66 40 at the Combine with 15 reps, 34½ inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: A tantalizing prospect, he has the upside potential to be a top-10 pick but could slide farther down the list in favor of players with less depth at the position or more pressing team needs. Even in a worst-case scenario, he's gone by the middle of the first round.


Ryan Shazier, Ohio State, 6-1¼, 237 –
Third-year junior…Originally signed to play with Florida, but when Urban Meyer left for Ohio State, he de-committed and followed him to Columbus…A two-year starter who had 259 tackles, 40.5 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks and seven forced fumbles…Two-time first team All-Big 10 selection…A versatile athlete who played both inside and outside for one of the premier college programs…Has sideline-to-sideline speed and has a motor that only runs high…Has surprising closing speed that is hard to find…A student of the game who works hard in practice and film study and is extremely coachable…Doesn't have ideal lower-body strength and loses leverage battles with larger blockers…Doesn't take ideal angles and will slide off too many tackles…Has a lean frame and limited ability to add 20 pounds of muscle and bulk…Given his strengths and weaknesses, he may be limited to teams that run a 4-3 defense…Didn't run the 40-yard dash at the Combine after complaining of left hamstring tightness, but did 25 reps of 225 pounds, a whopping 42-inch vertical jump and a 10-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: A big-time athlete groomed by a big-time coach, Shazier is a tantalizing prospect, but, given that he doesn't have the mass or bulk to be a true 3-4 OLB, his apparent limitation to a 4-3 OLB will potentially cut the number of suitors and push him into the late first or early second round.

Kyle Van Noy, BYU, 6-3¼, 243 – Fourth-year senior…Started 34 of 39 games in his final three seasons, recording 188 tackles, 55 tackles for a loss, 24 tackles for a loss, seven interceptions (returned for 122 yards and two touchdowns), 11 forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries (all returned for TDs)…Incredible production, he was always around the ball when he had the chance…A solid tackler whose motor runs high…Elite read-and-react skills to see plays developing and has the athleticism and anticipation to sift through to the ball…Made a big impression at the Senior Bowl…Is not an elite natural athlete and gets neutralized too often and too easily…Has decent range, but not sideline-to-sideline…Doesn't have elite upper-body take-on strength…Had his best season as a junior, which dropped his draft stock somewhat…Ran a 4.71 40 at the Combine with 21 reps, a 32½ inch vertical jump and a 9-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: A technically sound player with some athletics limitations, on film he looks a lot like Chad Greenway at Iowa. If he can replicate Greenway's pro career, he will be a steal in the second round.

Trent Murphy, Stanford, 6-5½, 250 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter (he started the final 40 games of his career) who had 158 tackles, 51.5 tackles for a loss, 31.5 sacks, two interceptions (both returned for TDs) and three forced fumbles…A team captain who also threw discus early in his college career… Has prototypical size for a 34 OLB…Is very strong and has the frame that can add more muscle and bulk…A strong work ethic, very coachable and works hard in the film room and on the practice field…Uses his hands effectively to keep blockers from undercutting him…Doesn't have elite speed or change-of-direction skills…Doesn't have good flexibility and will lose leverage battles…Viewed by some scouts as a classic DE/OLB ‘tweener who needs to be in a scheme that is tailored to the things that he does best…Didn't help his cause at the Senior Bowl, where his athletic deficiencies were glaring…Ran a 4.86 40 at the Combine with 16 reps of 225 pounds, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: A technically sound, easily-coachable athlete who will give his all on every play, but his lack of athleticism was on display at the Senior Bowl and the Combine and it will hurt his stock, dropping him into the third-round range.

Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech, 6-3¼, 252 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 173 tackles, 39.5 tackles for a loss, 28.5 sacks, one interception and four forced fumbles in that span…Had 22.5 sacks in his final two seasons…A native of Nigeria…Couldn't work out at the Combine after pulling a hamstring during Senior Bowl week…Has a great work ethic and his motor runs high at all times…Has long arms and good range to pass rush or drop in coverage…Is a strong edge rusher who had played both DE and OLB in the Georgia Tech 3-4 defense…Has good read-and-react skills and is quick to locate the ball and close on it…May be pigeon-holed as a player who can only succeed in a 3-4 scheme…Played in an aggressive defense that played to his strengths and helps mask some of his faults…Does not have a lot of experience in pass coverage, which could hurt his stock at the next level…Gets his legs cut out from him too often trying to sift his way through the garbage…Asked to play a 4-3 OLB at the Senior Bowl, he struggled…Did not work out at the Combine after suffering a hamstring injury at the Senior Bowl. PROJECTION: An athletic player with a good work ethic, he has limitations and is a classic ‘tweener type that only seems like a logical fit in a 3-4 defense. That will drop his stock well into the second day of the draft.


Adrian Hubbard, Alabama, 6-6, 257 –
Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who made 27 of 28 possible starts in that span…In his final two seasons, he had 74 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks and three forced fumbles…Had two hernia surgeries between the 2011 and 2012 seasons…Has good size and a frame capable of handling more muscle and bulk…Has good field awareness and times his commitment to attacking a play very well…Has a good combination of length, versatility and athleticism…Doesn't have elite change-of-direction skills and will get washed out of plays…Doesn't have an explosive burst off the snap…Is solid in many areas but isn't elite in any…Didn't lift at the Combine due to a left deltoid strain, but ran a 4.69 40 with a 38½-inch vertical jump and a 9-9 broad jump. PROJECTION: A solid athlete who will have the chance to develop into a starter over time, he doesn't jump out at you in any aspect of the game, but does a lot of things well. He's a classic mid-round pick who may not be a priority pick until late in the second day or early in the third.

Telvin Smith, Florida State, 6-3, 218 – Fourth-year senior…Didn't become a starter until 2013, but had 90 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss and three interceptions – two of which he returned for touchdowns…Has incredible closing burst and aggressively takes on blockers and ball carriers…Looks natural in coverage in space…A hard worker who is tireless on the field and can adapt to any scheme…Is undersized by NFL OLB standards…Can be too aggressive and will take himself out of plays too often…Has a body that can add bulk and strength but has a lean frame and may never be able to add the bulk needed to stand up to blockers in run defense…Didn't lift at the Combine due to a right shoulder injury, but ran a 4.52 40 with a 31½-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: A raw prospect who was only a full-time starter for one season. He has strong aggressiveness, but has all the looks of a late-Day 2 or early-Day 3 developmental project who can help immediately on special teams as he tries to work his way onto the field.

Carl Bradford, Arizona State, 6-0¾, 250 – Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who had 142 tackles, 39.5 tackles for a loss, 20 sacks, two interceptions, six forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in that span…Is a great teammate who shows leadership on the field, in practice and in film study…Has a nice combination of power and explosion…An instinctive pass rusher who posted excellent sack numbers in his two seasons as a full-time starter…Still is a bit raw in his technique when asked to drop back in coverage…Can get swallowed up in run defense, and when blockers get their hands on him he typically is neutralized…Plays out of control sometimes, looking for the big hit and missing too often…Ran a 4.76 40 at the Combine with 23 reps of 225 pounds, a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: A player who has a chance to come off the board based on his athleticism and production, he doesn't do anything at an elite level, but is a very solid project linebacker – the type that typically goes in the third or fourth round.

Lamin Barrow, LSU, 6-1½, 237 – Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 195 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in that span…Has a 3-year old daughter…Is a student of the game who is a hard worker on and off the field…Has long arms and plays with a physical style that attacks the ball…Has a very good combination of balance, fluid movements, agility and acceleration…Is a very raw prospect, especially in terms of coverage responsibilities…Is not an effective blitzer and is more disruptive than he is a sack master…Will take himself out of plays too often because he will play out of control…Ran a 4.64 40 with 22 reps, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 10-3 broad jump. PROJECTION: An athletic specimen who could grow into a star in the right system, he is very raw in terms of OLB responsibilities in the NFL and will take time to develop. Players like that become a priority on Day 3 of the draft, but usually not before that.


Jordie Tripp, Montana, 6-2¾, 234
Christian Kirksey, Iowa, 6-1¾, 233
Prince Shembo, Notre Dame, 6-1½, 253
Trevor Reilly, Utah, 6-4¾, 245
Morgan Breslin, USC, 6-1, 250
Adrian Hubbard, Alabama, 6-6, 257
Devon Kennard, USC, 6-3, 249
Denicos Allen, Michigan State, 5-11, 218
Jonathan Brown, Illinois, 6-0½, 238
Anthony Hitchens, Iowa, 6-0½, 240

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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