POSITION OVERVIEW: The middle linebacker position is always a key to any defense and, when good ones like Brian Urlacher come around, they are a premium commodity. However, this year, there will likely be no MLBs taken in the first round and likely less than a handful taken on the entire first day of the draft.
Fortunately, the Vikings feel Henri Crockett can replace Kailee Wong effectively, so MLB isn't a main priority, but, with this crop, they may not have to worry too much about it anyway.
THE TOP OF THE HEAP
Robert Thomas, UCLA, 6-0, 232 — Fourth-year senior who comes from an athletic family — his brother Stan Thomas was a first-round pick of the Bears at OT in 1991...Was one the most recruited players in the country after posting a whopping 600 tackles in his high school career...Started eight games as a sophomore and became a starter from that point on...In his final two seasons, he had 191 tackles, 34 tackles for a loss and 6-1/2 sacks, despite playing most of his junior season with a stress fracture in his foot...Two-time All-Pac 10, Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2001 and an All-American as a senior...Student of the game who goes the extra mile to improve...Runs down plays sideline to sideline...Is seen as too small to be a pure middle linebacker...Needs to play behind huge DTs to be successful...Improved stock immensely at the Combine, running a 4.45 40-yard dash, doing 21 repetitions with 225-pound weights and posting a 34-inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: Size is a big downside and may require that he play with a 3-4 defense, which are few and far between. However, much like Ed McDaniel, makes plays and could get snagged in the second round.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Levar Fisher, North Carolina State, 6-1, 233 — Fourth-year senior who became a starter early in his true freshman season...Hasn't missed a game in four years...All-ACC and All-America honors as a senior...First major injury came in his final game — a fracture of a bone near his left elbow...In three full seasons with the Wolfpack, he had 418 tackles, 30 tackles for a loss and 8-1/2 sacks...All-American, ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award last year...Impressive weight room man who bench presses 450 pounds and squats 500 but, because of his elbow injury, did not lift at the Combine...Looks like a natural and has played through injuries...A little on the small side and doesn't attack plays — he tends to take the round-about route to get to a ball carrier. PROJECTION: Plays through injuries, but has experienced several, which is also a concern. If the elbow checks out, he will likely be a late second-round or early third-round pick.
Justin Ena, BYU, 6-3 248 — A fifth-year senior who went on a Morman mission after high school, which means he'll turn 25 during the 2002 season...Became a starter as a junior after Rob Morris went to the Colts...In two years as a starter, he had 208 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss and six sacks...Better size than those rated ahead of him at MLB...Fierce competitor who was a team captain and leader on and off the field...Has excellent balance, which some attribute to a karate background...Doesn't have the best functional football strength...Not especially strong in pass coverage, he tends to be a run-stopper first and last...Did 20 reps at the Combine and showed off a 34-inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: Age may be a factor for some teams, but he is a mature player who can make an impact because of his size and may find his way into the end of the second round.
Andra Davis, Florida, 6-1, 245 — Fifth-year senior who was a two-year starter for the Gators, because he missed the 2000 season with a torn MCL...In two full seasons, he had 216 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, five sacks and one interception...Once played at 260 pounds, but shedding 15 pounds gave him more speed and burst without weakening his hitting ability...All-SEC and some All-American lists as a senior...Durability is a question, as is his knee injury, which almost automatically lowers his value...Did 20 reps at the Combine. PROJECTION: Has been seen by a lot of scouts playing with the Gators and has some natural ability, but injury history and concerns over a recurrence may drop him into the third round.
Ben Taylor, Virginia Tech, 6-2, 237 — Had shoulder surgery before entering Va Tech and was a fourth-year senior last year after sitting out 1997...Three-year starter who began his career as an outside linebacker and started the last two years as an inside LB...In three years as a starter, he had 295 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss (18 of those last year) and seven sacks...His production went up each of his final three seasons...Became a real difference maker at the line of scrimmage and in the opponents' backfield...Doesn't have great upper body strength or ideal size...Never stops moving and is always around the ball, whether it is coming his way or not...Doesn't have powerful legs, which could be a detriment in the pros...At the Combine, he ran a disappointing 4.86 40, did 19 reps, but had a 35-1/2 inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: Has a chance to be an NFL LB, but will have to improve on a lot of aspects of his game to get there. More likely a backup project and special teamer who will likely go late in the third round if he goes on the first day of the draft.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Tyreo Harrison, Notre Dame, 6-2, 232
Trev Faulk, LSU, 6-3, 241
Josh Thornhill, Michigan State, 6-2, 238
Larry Foote, Michigan, 6-1, 231
Quincy Monk, North Carolina, 6-3, 250
Billy Silva, Northwestern, 6-3, 244
Bradley Jennings, Florida State, 6-3, 255
Nick Greisen, Wisconsin, 6-2, 242
VU Draft Profiles: MLB
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