Positional Analysis: Inside Linebackers

Lucky for the Vikings, they grabbed their next starting middle linebacker in their trade for Sam Cowart. Lucky, because the inside linebacker draft class has no sure things this year. We take a look at the top-10 prospects' strong suits and weaknesses.

Vikings' Middle Linebackers – Sam Cowart, E.J. Henderson, Rod Davis, Dontarrious Thomas.

Vikings' Needs – In Sam Cowart, the Vikings have an experienced middle linebacker who has struggled with injuries the last few years. In E.J. Henderson, they have a starter from last year who struggled with assignments. The Vikings have a wealth of potential in those two and second-year linebackers Dontarrious Thomas and Rod Davis. But potential hasn't translated into production yet. The Vikings could opt to skip out on a weak class or see if they can find more developmental prospects in the hopes that one of the youngsters becomes a reliable MLB in a few years.

Class of 2005 – The crop of inside linebackers in the 2005 draft is arguably the worst in years. Only two players – Odell Thurman and Channing Crowder – have a chance of being taken in the first round and, by the time the first day of the draft is over, as few as five or six inside linebackers will be off the board. There likely won't even be a mini-flurry of these players going off the board until the fifth round or later, making this position a weak collection for those teams in desperate need.


Odell Thurman, Georgia, 6-0, 233 – Fourth-year senior who was a partial qualifier in 2001 and spent 2002 at Georgia Military Academy…Two-year starter who was two-time All-SEC with 160 tackles, 27 tackles for a loss and 7-1/2 sacks…Suspended for three games in 2004 for violation of team rules…Good speed and finishes tackles…Has the lower-body strength to be effective stopping inside runs…Takes good angles in pursuit…Good blitzer with closing speed…Plays with a mean streak…Doesn't have ideal size for an NFL middle linebacker and will have to get bigger…Takes too long to read plays and gets caught out of position…Isn't as coachable as a lot of the MLB candidates are…Doesn't have great change of direction skills…Ran a 4.56 40 at the Combine with 24 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump, a 9-6 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 12.

PROJECTION: In a typical draft, he would likely be the third or fourth guy to go off the board. But, with the weak crop this year, he could go first and possibly late in the first round or early in the second.

Channing Crowder, Florida, 6-2, 242 – Third-year sophomore and son of former Dolphins defensive lineman Randy Crowder…Two-year starter who had 176 tackles, 13-1/2 tackles for a loss and four sacks…Played weakside linebacker as a redshirt freshman and middle linebacker as a sophomore…First-team All-SEC in 2004…Has a laundry list of run-ins with the law, including criminal mischief and pair of bar fights…Great instincts and quick to read plays…Can chase down plays from sideline to sideline…Very intense and has been likened as a poor man's Ray Lewis…Can play all linebacker positions without a great dropoff…Does well in coverage…Doesn't play with good discipline and gets out of position too often…Tends to run around blockers instead of taking them head on…Has had injuries to each knee that have robbed him of playing time, as well as a foot injury…Doesn't have ideal lower-body strength for an NFL MLB…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.71 40 with a 35-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 10-0 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 30.

PROJECTION: Crowder is raw and a work in progress, but there are enough people that see the potential for another Ray Lewis that one of the team's sitting at the end of the first round might take a chance on greatness. But his character issues and defiance of authority figures could factor into any decision to take him on, which could drop him into the second round.


Alfred Fincher, Connecticut, 6-1, 240 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who amassed 347 tackles, 33-1/2 tackles for a loss and five sacks in that span…Led the Big East in tackles as a senior and was named first team All-Big East…Good linebacker instincts and consistently keeps driving until he finds the ball…Wraps up well on tackles and rarely lets a runner get away from him when he gets his hands on him…Good playing strength…Takes good angles…Allowed to improvise too much and must redefine his technique…Doesn't have great burst…Slow-footed by college standards, much less NFL standards…Ran a slow 4.75 40 at the Combine with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 31-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 9-4 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 21.

PROJECTION: Fincher is a classic college overachiever who loves the game and gives 100 percent on every play. He improved his stock in private workouts and has all the looks of a throw-back old-school middle linebacker in the Brian Urlacher mold. While he has the 40 times of a third- or fourth-round prospect, if enough teams have seen him, he won't make it out of the second round.

Kirk Morrison, San Diego State, 6-1, 234 – Fifth-year senior…Four-year starter who finished his career with 396 tackles, 42 tackles for a loss and 9-1/2 sacks…Three-time first team All-Mountain West Conference selection and two-time conference Defensive Player of the Year…Very good lower-body strength…Hard tackler…Very good recognition skills…Student of the game…Chases down plays…Had a very strong week at the Senior Bowl…Doesn't have ideal size or strength…Doesn't have a great burst off the snap and takes time to get to full speed…Plays upright and can get neutralized because he doesn't have proper leverage…Ran a 4.72 40 at the Combine with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 33-inch vertical jump, a 9-6 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 25.

PROJECTION: A very productive college player who was thought to be a little overmatched for the NFL until the Senior Bowl. But, after his strong showing there and at the Combine, he'll likely go off the board in the third round.

Lance Mitchell, Oklahoma, 6-2, 245 – Fifth-year senior who spent his first two seasons at City College of San Francisco, where his teams went unbeaten and he was a two-time junior college All-American…Signed with Florida but was rejected by conference officials and opted to play for the Sooners…Two-year starter who missed his orginal senior season with a torn left ACL that required surgery…In two years as a full-time starter, he had 202 tackles, 29 tackles for a loss and five sacks…First-team All-Big 12 as a senior…Good combination of size, strength and speed…Good closing speed…Good mechanics and angles on chasing down plays to the outside…Good blitz instincts…Will get caught with pump fakes and play action…Plays a little too high and gets knocked out of position too easily...Was tentative when first returning to action after his torn ACL and had some scouts wondering if he lost some of his edge with the injury…Didn't run or lift at the Combine, but runs an anemic 4.87 40 and had a Wonderlic score of 14.

PROJECTION: Some teams will be scared away by concerns of his durability, but Mitchell is a playmaker who works hard in practice and the film room to improve and should be taken somewhere near the end of the first day.

Lofa Tatupu, USC, 6-0, 240 – Fourth-year junior who played his freshman year at Maine before transferring to USC and sitting out a season...Son of former Patriots RB Mosi Tatupu…In his season off from the game, he had surgery on right knee…Two-year starter who had 202 tackles, 25 tackles for a loss and nine sacks in that span…Had seven interceptions in his two seasons with the Trojans and had three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries as a senior…Consistently comes up with big plays…A hustler who never gives up on plays…Excellent run/pass recognition skills…Good blitzer who picks his spots well…Solid in pass coverage and can adjust instinctively…Doesn't consistently keep up with RBs in coverage…Doesn't have prototype size or speed…Doesn't have great upper body strength or stamina and gets thrown around when he tires…Ran a 4.7 40 at the Combine with 23 reps, a 35-inch vertical jump, a 9-5 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 29.

PROJECTION: A second-generation draftee, Tatupu made a big impression in his time at USC, but his NFL career, if he has one, will likely be as a backup and special teams player, which should drop him to the second day of the draft.


Adam Seward, UNLV, 6-2, 248 – Fifth-year senior who was a high school wrestling champion...Played strongside linebacker as a redshirt freshman, but moved to MLB as a sophomore…Three-year starter who had 373 tackles, 25 tackles for a loss and three sacks in that span…Three-times first team All-Mountain West Conference selection…Had left foot surgery following his junior year that required a screw to be implanted…High energy player with very good upper body strength…Made the defensive calls and audibles…Finishes almost all of his tackles…Never lets up on a play…Doesn't have top speed and is an overachiever…Not as effective chasing down running plays as he is stuffing them up the middle…His lack of speed has been taken advantage of in the short passing game…Ran a 4.56 40 at the Combine, with a whopping 33 reps of 225 pounds, a 36-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 10-0 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 33.

PROJECTION: A limited run-only defender who has been compared to former Viking Greg Biekert by some scouts. He has some good intangibles, but his lack of speed should drop him well into the second day, probably somewhere late in the fifth or into the sixth round.

Robert McCune, Louisville, 6-0, 244 – Fifth-year senior who is 26 years old…Spent three years in the National Guard and had tours of duty in Kuwait and Korea…Two-year starter who began as an outside linebacker and became a starting MLB…In his two seasons as a starter, he had 258 tackles, nine tackles for a loss and six sacks…First team All-Conference USA in 2004…Very good upper body strength – he bench presses 450 pounds…Has good range and closing speed to fill the holes on running plays…Good motor and chases down plays…Too often, he prefers to run around blockers than take them on…Is a liability in man coverage in the passing game…Doesn't have top recognition skills and bites on play action and pump fakes too often…Didn't take part in the Combine, but runs a 4.5 40, did 34 reps with 225 pounds and had a Wonderlic score of 20.

PROJECTION: His numbers belie his lack of pure athleticism, but he is a playmaker who must overcome his age factor. He likely will be around until the final couple of rounds of the draft.

Marcus Lawrence, South Carolina, 6-2, 243 – Fourth-year senior who spent two years at Butler (Kan.) Community College…A two-year starter who had 156 tackles, 11-1/2 tackles for a loss and one sack in that span…At his best shutting down running plays up the middle…Relentless in pursuit and chases plays down…Explosive hitter when coming head on…Doesn't have top speed…Doesn't have top recognition skills and finds himself out of position after playfakes or his own overaggression…Misses a lot of tackles…Ends up on the ground much more than scouts like…Undisciplined…Ran a 4.62 40 at the Combine with 19 reps, a 34-inch vertical jump, a 10-1 broad jump and 21 score on the Wonderlic test.

PROJECTION: A ‘tweener who some think would be better at the weakside, but all of his experience is in the middle. He's a raw prospect who has some good upside and could go anywhere on the second day, but we're guessing his lack of experience will keep him available longer than he thinks.

Boomer Grigsby, Illinois State, 6-0, 249 – Fifth-year senior…Four-year starter who finished his career at ISU with an amazing 580 tackles, 41-1/2 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks…Three-time All-Gateway Conference first team selection…Led the nation in tackles twice – identical seasons of 179 tackles – as a sophomore and a junior…First-team Division I-AA All-American the last two years and Gateway Conference Defensive Player of the Year the last three seasons…Good size and strength…A weightroom rat who is always working to build up his strength…Quick pass/run recognition…Solid tackler who can work his way through traffic…Strong blitzer…Doesn't have ideal height…Doesn't take on as many blockers as he should, often running around them and making it more difficult to make plays…Played against inferior competition…Doesn't have great use of hands or technique…Needs a lot of work in pass coverage…Ran a 4.6 40 at the Combine with 32 reps of 25 pounds, a 35-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 9-4 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 34.

PROJECTION: A small-college Uberbacker who has a chance to make an NFL team as a late-round draftee but is likely to be merely to be a backup and special teams player.

Mike Goolsby, Notre Dame (6-3, 244)
Martin Patterson, TCU (6-1½, 243)
Liam Ezekiel, Northwestern (6-0, 249)
Jonathon Pollard, Oregon State (6-1, 247)
Lionel Turner, LSU (6-2, 258)

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