TEAM NEED – The Vikings have a budding superstar in Barr and are bringing Greenway back for a final season, but under ideal circumstances he won’t be a full-time player. They have a couple of young in-house candidates for playing time (Robinson and Watts) and made a pair of free agent signings (Lamur and Lewis) to compete for playing time. The Vikings have used three draft picks on outside linebackers in the two years that Mike Zimmer has been with the organization and have used a first-round pick on Barr and a second-round pick on middle linebacker Eric Kendricks. Anything is possible here since the Vikings have already gone to well twice with premium picks, but it is unlikely they will use a first-round pick at linebacker unless a player they have rated much higher than most analysts do is still on the board.
POSITION ANALYSIS – This is a pretty good draft class in terms of depth and top-end talent, but the best of all of them – Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith – is a huge question mark after tearing his ACL during the Fighting Irish’s bowl game Jan. 1. Arguably the next talented player – Noah Spence of Eastern Kentucky – has multiple red flags that will scare off some teams. This is a solid class overall, and by the time Day 2 is done we may see 10 or more players come off the board and find a home in the NFL.
CREAM OF THE CROP
Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame, 6-2, 223 – Third-year junior who started all 39 games of his college career, finishing with 284 tackles, 23½ tackles for a loss, 4½ sacks, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries…A consensus All-America in 2015, as well as winning the 2015 Butkus Award, given to the country’s top linebacker…Suffered a severe knee injury Jan. 1 in the Fiesta Bowl…An incredibly polished athlete who has elite speed and change-of-direction skills…Is hard to stop in pursuit, with good agility, burst and closing speed…Is a punishing tackler who kicks butt and takes names…A solid fundamental form tackler who does a lot of things right when he closes in on a ball carrier…Doesn’t have ideal awareness when asked to drop in zone coverage…Doesn’t always play disciplined and will get himself out of position too often…There are grave concerns about the extent of his knee injury since some team doctors feared he may have degenerative nerve damage…Did not work out at the Combine while rehabbing his injury.
PROJECTION: A top five pick on the morning of Jan. 1, we currently have him still on the draft board at the start of the second round. This pick could be one decided more by medical personnel than coaches or scouts. If he can come back 100 percent from the injury, he will be a steal anywhere past the midway point of the first round and a potential steal of the draft in the second round.
Darron Lee, Ohio State, 6-0¾, 232 – Third-year sophomore…Started all 28 games he played, recording 146 tackles, 27 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and three interceptions – one he returned 41 yards for a touchdown…Has prototypical speed and explosiveness and is ideal in space…Times his blitzes extremely well off the edge…Has top-end closing speed and hits with power…Chases down players well and has very good technique in pass protection when asked to take on running backs and tight ends…Not a face-up tackler, he tends to avoid contact to chase down ball carriers…Is on the skinny side and can’t add much more weight – he came to OSU as a 195-pound high school quarterback…Does not have elite instincts to accurately predict where a play is going and will get out of position…Ran a 4.47 40 at the Combine with 17 reps of 225 pounds, a 35½-inch vertical jump and an 11-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Lee is an elite athlete, but will need to be in the right system because he isn’t a glass-eater who is constantly looking to blow up plays. He will need to take advantage of the strengths he has because his game will need to be more physical. A prospect for the middle of the first round.
Leonard Floyd, Georgia, 6-5¾, 244 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 127 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, 10½ sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in that span…Is very good in many aspects of his game, especially cutting off angles in pursuit…Is powerful at the point of attack and has good burst and closing speed when coming off the edge…A strong wrap-up tackler who rarely lets a ball carrier get away when he closes in…Has good coverage skills and excels in space…Doesn’t have ideal bulk and muscle for a player as big and long as he is…Durability will be a question mark at the next after having shoulder surgery following his freshman season…Doesn’t have elite vision and will get caught up by blockers…Did not lift at the Combine with a left pectoral injury and pulled a hamstring during the 40-yard dash, but finished with a 4.60 40, a 39½-inch vertical jump and a 10-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: For a player with some durability questions, having two separate injuries at the Combine didn’t help his case. He has a body that has maxed out its size potential, but he is a natural playmaker who shouldn’t make it out of the first round.
Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky, 6-2½, 251 – Fourth-year senior…Was one of Urban Meyer’s first top recruits and started all 13 games in 2013, recording 50 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 7½ sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery…Kicked off the team at OSU for multiple failed drug tests while admitting he was a regular user of Ecstasy since high school, he had to sit out a season before being able to play for EKU…In his one season there, he had 63 tackles, 22½ tackles for a loss, 11½ sacks, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries…Has very good quickness, especially his closing speed when he gets near the ball…Has very good body control, quickness and versatility, having played on both sides of the line at defensive end and as a stand-up edge rusher…Doesn’t often get his legs cut out from under him and keeps blockers away from his body…His failed drug tests will be a giant red flag for a lot of organizations…Is not a strong anchor against the run, which will likely limit his primary interest coming from 3-4 teams as an outside linebacker…Doesn’t get as physical as his body would indicate he should and doesn’t use his hands violently to his advantage…Worked out in drills with defensive linemen at the Combine, running a 4.80 40 with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: If based purely on athletic ability, Spence would go in the top half of the first round. But some teams may take him off their boards completely and just about everyone will be leery given his drug history, which should drop him to the end of the first day or into Day 2 before someone is willing to gamble on greatness.
Deion Jones, LSU, 6-1, 222 – Fourth-year senior…One-year full-time starter who had 100 tackles, 13½ tackles for a loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions – one returned for a touchdown…Explosive off the snap and hits holes quickly when moving downhill…Very instinctive and has the skill set to be a three-down linebacker in the NFL…Sheds blockers with good, powerful hand placement and doesn’t get caught up in the garbage often…Is very undersized by usual NFL linebacker standards…Has depended too much on his ability to use his speed to run around tacklers because he doesn’t go face-up with them as much as he will have to in the NFL…Gets engulfed by offensive linemen when they get their hands on him…Chose not to lift or run shuttles or the 3-cone drill at the Combine, but ran a 4.59 40 with a 33-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He is one of the players in this year’s draft that you need to watch tape to get the true measure of the man. He looks more like a safety given his height and weight, but he consistently plays bigger than his numbers indicate. Teams will be a little wary of expecting him to be an elite outside linebacker in the NFL, but his talent jumps off the film, which should be enough to get him drafted in the second round.
Su'a Cravens, USC, 6-0¾, 225 – Third-year junior who started all 40 games of his college career, finishing with 206 tackles, 33½ tackles for a loss, 10½ sacks, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and nine interceptions playing primarily at safety…An elite athlete with good speed and natural pursuit skills…Is adept vs. the run, sifting his way through traffic naturally to get to the ball with very good closing speed…A good tackler who spent most of his time close to the line of scrimmage…Is undersized for an NFL linebacker, but his history at USC was more as a linebacker than a safety…Does not often take on blockers; he typically uses his speed to avoid them…Doesn’t have ideal functional strength for a linebacker at the next level…Didn’t run the 40, shuttles or 3-cone drill at the Combine, but had 16 reps of 225 pounds, with a 27-inch vertical jump and a 9-6 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player who had a position carved out for him at USC as a hybrid safety/outside linebacker, he will be a classic NFL ’tweener. A defensive-minded organization may have to create a role for him like the Cardinals do. As a result of being viewed by some as a linebacker and others as a safety, his value could drop well into Day 2.
BEST OF THE REST
Kamalei Correa, Boise State, 6-2¾, 243 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter at defensive end who amassed 95 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss, 18 sacks and two forced fumbles in that span…Has a very athletic frame with the ability to add more weight to an already-strong body…Has a very good burst off the snap and good closing speed to finish off plays…A versatile edge-rush specialist who combines speed, strength, athleticism and balance…Played defensive end in college, so there will be a learning curve translating his game to the outside linebacker position – most likely in a 4-3 defense…Gets neutralized too often when blockers get their hands on him…Is not adept playing in zone coverage…Worked out with defensive linemen at the Combine, running a 4.69 40 with 21 reps of 225 pounds, a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-0 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Another ’tweener type who didn’t play outside linebacker at the college level but projects there, he has the athleticism and work ethic to potentially develop into a three-down linebacker, but he will take time, which should push him to the end of Day 2 of the draft.
Jordan Jenkins, Georgia, 6-2¾, 259 – Fourth-year senior…Started 42 of 52 career games, finishing with 205 tackles, 40 tackles for a loss, 18 sacks, six forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries…Very good power at the point of attack and uses his hands well…A versatile athlete who was used as an edge rusher and a hand-in-the-ground defensive end…Is consistently the first guy moving off the snap and has good natural instincts post-snap…Has not been asked to play a lot in pass coverage with backs and tight ends…Is a true ’tweener that may struggle as a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 coverage linebacker…Is not consistent in his pad level and will lose leverage battles too often…Ran a 4.80 40 at the Combine with 16 reps, a 36½-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He has put a lot of good things on tape and is a strong player, but the questions about his role in the NFL will be something that teams will evaluate individually, which could drop him to the end of the third round.
Kyler Fackrell, Utah State, 6-5, 245 – Fifth-year senior…Started all 41 games he played, recording 253 tackles, 36 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks, four forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and four interceptions…Missed all but one game in the 2014 season after suffering a torn ACL…Is a very smart and instinctive player and consistently makes the right reads…Is a long strider with good agility and redirection skills to close quickly…Is solid in both the run and dropping into coverage…Does not consistently take on blockers and will run around them because he is high-cut and can get his legs cut out from him…Needs to improve his strength to take on blockers at the point of attack…Needs to improve his gap discipline and not freelance so much…Ran a 4.72 40 at the Combine with 15 reps of 225 pounds, a 34 ½-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A talented player who has a lot of experience and skills, he doesn’t stand out as much as one would think he should with the level of competition he faced. He has the potential to be a solid pro, but he may not be drafted until Day 3.
Joshua Perry, Ohio State, 6-3¾, 254 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 293 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and one interception…Has very sound read-and-react skills…Has a motor that never stops and plays to the whistle on every play…Has a nice combination of play speed, initial burst and power…Isn’t adept in pass coverage and likely won’t be a three-down linebacker in the NFL…Will be overaggressive at times and will take himself out of plays…Does not have ideal change-of-direction skills without losing a step…Ran a 4.69 40 at the Combine with 20 reps, a 33½-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player some scouts see as an inside linebacker and others view as an outside linebacker. While his skill set can fit in any defense, he likely will go to a team looking to add a 3-4 inside linebacker, despite more teams looking at him as an OLB in the pros.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Jatavis Brown, Akron, 5-11, 225
De'Vondre Campbell, Minnesota, 6-3¾, 232
James Cowser, Southern Utah, 6-3¼, 248
Travis Feeney, Washington, 6-3¾, 230
Tyrone Holmes, Montana, 6-3, 253
Antonio Morrison, Florida, 6-1¼, 232
Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland, 6-2, 252
Dadi Nicolas, Virginia Tech, 6-3, 235
Victor Ochi, Stony Brook, 6-1¼, 246
Joe Schobert, Wisconsin, 6-1½, 244
Ian Seau, Nevada, 6-2, 259
Terrance Smith, Florida State, 6-3, 235
Eric Striker, Oklahoma, 5-11½, 227
Antwione Williams, Georgia Southern, 6-3¼, 247