Positional Analysis: Outside Linebackers

In this year's draft, there are probably only two outside linebackers worthy of first-round selections, but the Vikings may be in a position to get the top one at No. 19. We break down the positives, negatives and measurables of the top 11 OLBs in the draft.

VIKINGS' OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS — Chris Claiborne, Henri Crockett, Raonall Smith, Mike Nattiel.

VIKINGS' NEED — As with the need at middle linebacker, the need at outside linebacker is predicated on two things. First is whether current MLB E.J. Henderson is going to be moved outside, which would effectively negate the early-round need for an outside linebacker. The second factor is new defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell. He has made a name for himself among defensive coordinators by running 3-4 defenses. The Vikings have always run with a 4-3 as their almost exclusive base formation. Depending on those two factors — something the Vikings could be waiting until after the draft to decide themselves — it's as difficult to gauge this position and its draft status as any. It will be the "X-Factor" position of the 2004 draft for the Vikes. Either way, it's a good bet they will be searching for outside linebackers in some capacity.

THE CLASS OF 2004 — Not as weak as the middle linebacker crop, which is arguably pathetic, there is some talent to be had in this class in the early rounds. Miami's D.J. Williams and Karlos Dansby of Auburn are both first-round talents and there are some intriguing early-round prospects that include Michael Boulware of Florida State — the brother of the Ravens' Peter Boulware — and Oklahoma's Teddy Lehman. All four could draw serious consideration from the Vikings in the first two rounds — if they opt to go that route.


D.J. Williams, Miami, 6-1, 250 —
vFourth-year senior and former USA Today High School Defensive Player of the Year…Three-year starter who spent freshman year playing fullback…In three seasons, he had 241 tackles, 28 for a loss and 10 sacks…Excellent speed for his size — he's one of the biggest LBs by weight in this year's class…Explosive burst up the middle on run plays…Very strong in coverage thanks to his speed…Could add 15-20 pounds and not lose much in the way of speed…Aggression often takes him out of plays…A little short…Bites on too many play fakes…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.58 40 with a 38-inch vertical jump and a Wonderlic score of 21.

PROJECTION: He has all the tools to be great and, if he makes it past the Jets at No. 12, he could be the guy the Vikings take on the first round.

Karlos Dansby, Auburn, 6-3, 249 — Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 239 tackles, 29 for a loss, nine sacks and seven interceptions…Excellent size/speed combination…Makes plays when he blitzes and has good closing speed on the quarterback…Very long arms (35 inches) and huge hands (10-1/2 inches from tip to tip)…Doesn't always play with poise or discipline and tries to make a big play too often and takes himself out of plays…Has trouble shedding tacklers…Doesn't always want to initiate contact and will run around lead blockers…Doesn't always play with the same intensity — even during individual games…Doesn't have great upper body strength — his 15 reps with 225 pounds at the Combine tied for worst among OLBs…Ran a 4.60 40 at the Combine with a 34-1/2 inch vertical jump and Wonderlic score of 15.

PROJECTION: He has the physical tools to be great but needs the right system to thrive. He could be a great fit with Tony Dungy and the Colts at the end of the first round.


Dontarrious Thomas, Auburn, 6-3, 244 —
Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who registered 287 tackles, 27 for a loss and 9-1/2 sacks…Has very good workout numbers, which got a lot of attention at the Combine…Very strong chasing down sweeps and closes in and tackles well…Solid blitzer…Special teams contributor…Doesn't let the motor cool down during the game…Isn't fluid in pass coverage…A little undersized to stuff the inside run…Played MLB as a senior, but isn't a fit there in the NFL because he lacks big-league lower body strength…Doesn't change directions well…Had a monster Combine performance with 26 reps, a 4.54 40, a 39-inch vertical jump, a 10-9 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 22.

PROJECTION: A player who was asked to switch LB positions, he will slide on some boards. But his combination of speed, toughness and athleticism should have him off the board somewhere early to middle of Round 2.

Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma, 6-2, 239 — Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who amassed 318 tackles, 49 for a loss and seven sacks…Extremely physical, he attacks running plays and is very disruptive even if not making the tackle…Can chase plays down — and does…Has experience both inside and outside and could be ideal in a 3-4 set…Doesn't have a good lower base and has had several minor ankle injuries…Isn't at his best covering backs or TEs in the passing game…His 26 reps with 225 pounds at the Combine was third-best among OLBs and he also ran a 4.55 40 with a 34-1/2 inch vertical jump and a tremendous score of 38 on the Wonderlic test.

PROJECTION: He has some athletic limitations that might not make him an every-down linebacker in the NFL, but his productivity and non-stop motor will likely have him going somewhere in the second round.

Michael Boulware, Florida State, 6-2, 227 — Fourth-year senior…Brother of Peter Boulware (Baltimore)…Three-year starter who had 339 tackles, 14 for a loss, five interceptions and five forced fumbles…Extremely athletic specimen who is an excellent open-field tackler and coverage guy…None of this year's linebackers can cover RBs in the pass game as well as he can…Strong at shutting down cutback lanes and chasing plays to the other side of the field…Doesn't have good upper body strength — his 15 reps at the Combine tied for worst among OLB prospects…Gets engulfed in the middle in run coverage by much bigger blockers…Doesn't always give a consistent effort and doesn't work hard to improve on the subtle aspects of the game…His 4.47 40 time at the Combine was the best among OLBs, along with an impressive 39-1/2 inch vertical jump and a 24 Wonderlic score.

PROJECTION: He's undersized but could be a star in the NFL. But he hasn't worked as hard as he could have to eliminate his weaknesses — he's been able to succeed on athletic ability alone — so he will fall deep into the second round. He looks like a natural fit to end up with the Raiders.

Demorrio Williams, Nebraska, 6-1, 232 — Fifth-year senior who spent two years at junior college before joining the Cornhuskers…In two years, he had 220 tackles, 27 for a loss and 12 sacks — 11 of those last year…Excellent run-pass recognition skills and rarely gets caught biting on fakes and double moves…Hard worker who chases plays sideline to sideline…Solid special teams contributor…Has good closing speed on the blitz…Doesn't have good upper body strength — his 16 reps at the Combine was just one short of the lowest total recorded for OLB prospects…Isn't as effective on plays coming his way as he is taking angles…Ran a solid 4.5 40 at the Combine with a 37-inch vertical jump.

PROJECTION: Unless he can add some bulk and upper body strength, he will only be a situational player. But his upside is pretty good — enough to have him off the board in the third round.

Keyaron Fox, Georgia Tech, 6-2, 228 — Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 343 tackles, 39 for a loss and nine sacks…Has long arms and extremely good upper body strength — his 28 reps with 225 pounds at the Combine was second among all OLB prospects…An excellent leaper, he posted a 36-1/2 inch vertical jump at the Combine…Loves to lay the big hit on running backs and take them out of their game…His strength is in the open field chasing down the run…Seals off cutback lanes very effectively…Doesn't have the bulk or lower body strength to take on big lead blockers or blow up runs over the middle…Undersized…Injuries in college were a recurring theme and, while none were extremely serious, the number of them might be to some teams.

PROJECTION: If he was a little bigger and thicker, he would be a late first-round pick. As it is, he's hoping to be off the board on Day One.


Marquis Cooper, Washington, 6-3, 223 —
Fourth-year senior and two-year starter who had 189 tackles, 21-1/2 for a loss and seven sacks in his final two years…Good instincts and recognition skills…Has speed and agility to play from sideline to sideline…Depending on who drafts him, he has the ability to play weakside or strongside in the NFL…Solid in pass coverage and does a nice job blanketing tight ends…Is much too small, despite being one of the taller linebackers in the draft…Doesn't have good lower body strength…Did 25 reps with 225 pounds at the Combine with a 4.54 40, a 36-1/2 inch vertical jump and a Wonderlic score of 29 — second-best among the OLB prospects…A developmental prospect who could be special if he gets into a program that allows him to add about 20 pounds of bulk and muscle — which his body appears to be able to handle — but that waiting game will drop him into Day 2 of the draft.

Landon Johnson, Purdue, 6-2, 225 — Fifth-year senior and four-year starter with 345 tackles, 26 for a loss and 8-1/2 sacks…Has a wealth of game experience vs. very solid competition in the Big Ten…Good speed and motor — he chases plays down everywhere on the field…Has good cover skills — to the point some teams might look at him as a safety...Nasty player and big hitter who can force fumbles...Much too small and wiry...Doesn't have good lower body strength…Injuries are a big question with back and shoulder problems, forcing him to miss time in college…Did 20 reps with 225 pounds at the Combine, a 4.52 40, a 34-1/2 inch vertical jump and a Wonderlic score of 27…If he wasn't so small, his experience and big-play ability would have him off the board in the second round, but his lack of size and bulk will make him a Day 2 selection who may never be more than a situational player and special teamer.

Brandon Chillar, UCLA, 6-3, 253 — Fourth-year senior and three-year starter…In his final two years, he had 207 tackles, 19-1/2 tackles for a loss and seven sacks…Very good size — he was at the top of both the height and weight measurements at the Combine — and has room to get even bigger…Is solid in pass coverage taking tight ends up the field…Good open-field tackler…Doesn't have good strength, especially in his lower body…Has difficulty chasing down backs in coverage…Doesn't have great speed or closing burst…Did 23 reps at the Combine, with a sub-par 4.73 40 and a 33-inch vertical jump…Has the size and growth potential to be a solid run stuffer, but his lack of speed will drop him well into the second day, since some teams are convinced he's as good now as he's ever going to be.

Kendyll Pope, Florida State, 6-1, 226 — Fifth-year senior who came to FSU as a high school All-American…Three-year starter who had 202 tackles, 26 tackles for a loss and seven sacks…Good sideline-to-sideline range chasing down the run…Big hitter capable of knocking the ball loose…Good tackler…Undersized…Past shoulder injuries are a concern…Isn't a threat with the blitz…Did 18 reps at the Combine and ran a 4.57 40…Doesn't have the size or bulk to be a starter in the NFL, but could be a situational player and special teamer — which should take him off the board in the later rounds.

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