Positional Analysis: Inside linebackers

With E.J. Henderson and backup Heath Farwell returning, the Vikings have little need for drafting an inside linebacker. However, with linebacker being an important special teams position, they could look for a late-round steal. John Holler goes in-depth with statistics, measurables, analysis and projections on the top 10 inside linebacker.

Vikings Inside Linebackers – E.J. Henderson, Heath Farwell.

Vikings Draft Outlook – The Vikings suffered mightily when both Henderson and Farwell were lost for the season due to injuries. With both back and healthy, this position is expected to be a strength, not a weakness. Many believe Henderson was primed for a breakout season in 2008 that would get the attention of the entire NFL, while the team was also planning to let Farwell see more time on the defensive side of the ball. Both of those plans got scuttled last year, but with both players back, this doesn't look like a position of need on draft day.

The Class of 2009 – For the last few years, the middle linebacker crop has been pretty weak. This year the depth isn't there, but there are a couple of true blue-chip first-rounders in USC's Rey Maualuga and Ohio State's James Laurinaitis. Both should be first-round selections that should be able to step in immediately and make an impact. The talent level drops off quickly from there, but, with so many teams running the 3-4 defense, inside linebackers will consistently be coming off the board in each round.

CREAM OF THE CROP

Rey Maualuga, USC, 6-1¾, 249 –
Fourth-year senior … Decorated high school player who was named to both the Parade and USA Today All-America teams … Played the 2005 season under a black cloud after losing his father to brain cancer … Has had an injury history that included a broken ring finger, a severe hip pointer and a right knee sprain … In three years as a starter, he had 236 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, 10 passes broken up and four interceptions … Has very good overall body strength and looks like a prototypical middle linebacker … Is a leader on and off the field … Has good read-and-react skills vs. the run and fills the hole quickly … Has the range to chase plays to the sidelines … Is a big hitter who has good tackling technique and is a consistent finisher … Has a good hand punch … Has the agility to work laterally and cut off runners on the edge … Keeps blockers away from his knees and rarely gets his legs cut out from under him … Takes too many chances and will get caught out of position … Is not an exceptional blitzer and typically arrives an instant too late … Will be too aggressive at times and miss tackles or take himself out of plays … Is not the most effective tackler in the open field and will make mistakes in pursuit angles … Ran a 4.86 40 at the Combine with 23 reps of 225 pounds and an 8-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: He has drawn comparisons to USC great Junior Seau – high praise indeed. While he may not reach that level of NFL success, he is going to be the first inside linebacker off the board and his name will likely get called in the middle of the first round.

James Laurinaitis, Ohio State, 6-2¼, 244 – Fourth-year senior … The son of professional wrestler Joe Laurinaitis, who came to fame as Animal of the Road Warriors … Was named Minnesota's Mr. Football as a high school senior … Started all 39 games in the final three years of his college career … In that span, he had 366 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks and 10 interceptions … Won the Butkus Award in 2007, given annually to college football's top linebacker, as well as being named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year … Two-time All-America … Set a BSC Championship Game record vs. LSU in early 2008 with 18 tackles … Is a very smart player with a motor that runs at high speed all the time … Has very good read and react skills and doesn't get sucked in with play-action or misdirection … Fills holes on the inside running game with power … Has tremendous, consistent production and was always around the ball … Doesn't get wrapped up by blockers easily and keeps fighting until the whistle … Is a good run blitzer who can shoot gaps with short-area burst … Durability has never been a question … Does not have great lower-body strength and will get pushed around when big blockers get hold of him … Does not have either top-end speed or strength … Struggles at times in man coverage with tight ends down the seam … Does not have a powerful hand punch … Has skinny legs and ankles and will get tripped up too often … Ran a 4.72 40 at the Combine with 22 reps, a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: While he isn't the most athletically gifted linebacker in the class, his work ethic and production will make him one of the safest picks in the draft. The team who gets him will get a player that will give everything he has on every play. Some draftniks believe he will slip into the early stages of the second round, but we have a hard time believing he will get past both Miami and Baltimore at the end of the first round.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Jason Phillips, Texas Christian, 6-0½, 239 –
Fifth-year senior … Four-year starter who made starts in all 50 games of his college career … Enrolled at TCU as a fullback and didn't move to linebacker until spring practices in 2005 … Played the second half of last season with a torn rotator cuff that needed surgery after the season … Finished his career with 313 tackles, 41 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and two interceptions … An extremely hard-working player who has a good football I.Q … .Has excellent production … Has quick read-and-react skills … Has good short-area speed to hit seams and blow up inside running plays … Durability and willingness to play through injuries are a big plus … Is strong in zone coverage in the passing game … Is short and looked a little overmatched during the practice week at the East-West Shrine Game … Doesn't have ideal size of the body frame that will allow to get much bigger … Does not have elite upper-body strength (see below) … The farther he has to go to makes plays, the worse his production gets … Is not a player who consistently chases plays down and makes tackles at the sidelines … Will often stop his legs moving when he makes contact with blockers … Not a consistently effective blitzer … Ran a 4.61 40 at the Combine with 20 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: An undersized player who has a lot of physical limitations that will be much more exposed at the pro level, what will make him a second-round pick is his production and desire to be the best he can. He may never be mentioned among the top LBs in the game, but a team with a need won't let him make it out of the second round.

Darry Beckwith, LSU, 6-0¼, 234 – Fourth-year senior … Three-year starter who had 181 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and two interceptions in that span … Has missed time in each season due to injury, including two left knee surgeries and a shoulder injury … Has good speed and playing speed … Can make plays all over the field and aggressively chases the ball even if it looks as though he's out of the play … Is solid in pass coverage and blankets tight ends deep down the field … Has quick read-and-react skills and has the speed to make up for a misstep … Has good closing speed and will deliver a big hit … Is undersized and can't get much bigger … Gets swallowed by offensive linemen trying to cut through blocks … Didn't have great production, but some of that was due to the power of the Tigers' defensive line … Is not a good blitzer and doesn't time them consistently well … Durability is a big concern, especially considering his balky left knee has given him trouble every year of college … Had the worst vertical jump among linebackers at the Combine … Ran a 4.63 40 at the Combine, with 23 reps, a 26½-inch vertical jump and a 9-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: A veteran on a very good team, his learning curve to the pros will be much less than most and will likely get a shot to be a starting middle or inside linebacker. However, his injury history and lack of translatable skills to the pro level will likely keep him on the board into the second day of the draft or very late in Round Two.

Dannell Ellerbe, Georgia, 6-1, 236 Fifth-year senior … Has a litany of pretty serious injuries, losing time as a redshirt freshman with an Achilles strain, injuring his left MCL as a senior and not being able to lift at the Combine because of a torn pectoral muscle … A two-year starter who started 11 games as a junior – seven at middle linebacker, three on the weakside and one on the strongside – and started nine games at middle linebacker last year … In two seasons as a starter, he recorded 132 tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks and one interception … Has very good field speed and hits holes in a blink … Is a solid blitzer and has good closing speed … Makes plays all the way to the sideline in both passing and running situations … Is versatile, having played and made starts at all three linebacker positions … Reads plays quickly, diagnoses and has a great first step heading to the ball … Will take on lead blockers head-up … Is adept at shedding tackles … With deliver the knockout blow when he gets the chance … Is not overly physical and will look to avoid contact with bigger blockers … Is little undersized and doesn't have long arms … Isn't a consistent playmaker with just 3.5 sacks and one interception in two years … Will bite too often on play-fakes and will get himself out of position and take himself out of plays … Gets buried by bigger run blockers … Had some serious off-field incidents, including being arrested for felony car theft – a charge that was later dropped, but he was convicted of a DUI and underage possession of alcohol … Was better as a junior than a senior … Ran a 4.66 40 at the Combine, didn't lift because of a pectoral injury, had a 35-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: His combination of pure speed and experience at all of the linebacker positions will likely make him a premium pick that will go early on the second day of the draft when the dust has settled on Day One and teams start drafting for need.

Scott McKillop, Pittsburgh, 6-1, 244 – Fifth-year senior … Two year starter who had 288 tackles, 26.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, 11 passes broken up and three interceptions in that span … His brother Chris was a defensive tackle with Carolina from 2003-07 … Led the nation in tackles in 2007 with 151 and led the Big East in tackles last year with 137 … Incredible production, he averaged more than 11 tackles a game over the last two years … A very good wrap-up tackler who is a consistent finisher … An intelligent player who was counted on to make defensive calls his last two seasons … Has very good short-area quickness and reacts quickly once he gets a read on a play … Spends hours in the film room improving his own game and scouting looks he may see … Is a very good jumper (see below) and times his jump to disrupt throwing lanes … Is a tough guy who takes on lead blockers head on … Has good upper-body strength (see below) … Does not have good lower-body strength and gets pushed around and mauled when blocked by linemen … Gives up valuable yards to get away from blockers … Tries to go around blockers rather than going through them … Doesn't have long arms and blockers can get into his body … Doesn't change directions quickly … Ran a 4.73 40 at the Combine with 27 reps, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: His production over the last couple of years was unmatched. But, he didn't show up when he needed to at the Senior Bowl and he is viewed by some as being little more than a special teams ace. If enough teams feel that way, he'll be on the board into the fourth round.

BEST OF THE REST

Jasper Brinkley, South Carolina, 6-1¾, 252 –
Fifth-year senior … Spent two years at Georgia Military College before coming to the Gamecocks … Has a twin brother named Casper … As a junior in 2006, he led all SEC linebackers with 107 tackles, along with 14.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks … Started the first four games, but tore his right lateral collateral ligament that required surgery and was granted a medical redshirt … Returned last year to post 65 tackles, five tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks … Is a big player who has very good upper-body strength … Has good agility and can flow up and down the line … Hits the running lanes quick and hard and is willing to take on lead blockers … Is a good finisher who brings ball carriers down when he gets his hands on them … A very good leaper who is disruptive in passing lanes … Does not have an outstanding football I.Q. and may take more time … Is best suited to play between the tackles, because he is very spotty on the edge … In space, he tries to get too cute and move around blockers rather than drive them off the ball and will too often take himself out of plays … His knee may be a concern to some teams, since his junior season was much more productive than his senior season … Did not stand out at the Senior Bowl, despite being 10 pounds lighter … Ran a 4.67 40 at the Combine with 26 reps of 225 pounds and a 35½-inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: He is a riser after putting in some impressive individual workouts and allaying some of the fears that his knee wasn't 100 percent. He is best suited to be an inside LB for a 3-4 defense where his assignments are limited. That pigeon-holing may be enough to push him into the fourth round.

Worrell Williams, California, 5-11¼, 240 – Fifth-year senior … His brother D.J. Williams is a linebacker for the Denver Broncos … A three-year starter who had 220 tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, 10 passes broken up and one interception … Was benched the last two games of the 2007 season after the Bears got rolled for 573 rushing yards against USC … As a sophomore, he started 12 games at weakside linebacker, but started his last 24 games at middle linebacker … Suffered a hip injury at the Combine that prevented him from running the shuttles – an important discipline for linebackers … Has good athleticism and agility … Has good versatility having started both inside and outside … Has an excellent vertical jump (see below) and disrupts passing lanes … Has a good burst off the snap and can get into a hole quickly … Is able to flip his hips and run with backs and tight ends in pass coverage … Is undersized and especially short for NFL LB standards … Gets thrown around by offensive linemen when they get their hands on him and wash him out of plays … Once he's blocked, he stays blocked … Is not good at chasing plays to the sidelines and will consistently take a short angle and get beaten on the edge … Could do a better job of finishing tackles … Ran a 4.75 40 at the Combine with 23 reps, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 9-3 broad jump. PROJECTION: Is not as talented as his brother D.J., but, like Erin Henderson, is an undersized linebacker with ability. His lack of tangible instincts for the game will probably keep him on the board well into the later rounds, but he could be a surprise in the right system.

Antonio Appleby, Virginia, 6-3½, 243 – Fourth-year senior … A versatile prep athlete who excelled at football, basketball and track … Started two games as a true freshman and 35 games over his final three seasons … In his three full years as a starter, he had 200 tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and one interception … Has almost prototypical linebacker size … Is strong and occupies blockers to clog running lanes … Has the speed and agility to make plays to the sidelines … Has good tackling technique and is a very good finisher … Has the strength to shoot gaps on a bull rush from the edge … Has some versatility at multiple linebacker spots in a 3-4 set … Does not play to a level of consistency most coaches look for … Is very raw in terms of football intelligence and reaction on plays to the side of him … Doesn't use his hands well and will get engulfed by offensive linemen blocking to the edge … Will go long periods of time without making an impact play … Is not a powerful tackler and must depend on brute strength … Did not work out at the Combine. PROJECTION: A risky pick whose attitude has been questioned, he could excel in a 3-4 defense, but has never showed the necessary passion for the game so many players at his position have. However, with prototypical size and good strength, he will likely be a boom-bust pick somewhere around the fifth round for a team that runs a 3-4.

Josh Mauga, Nevada, 6-1½, 243 – Fourth-year senior … Started 39 of the 45 games he played in his college career, finishing with 224 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and four interceptions … Started nine games at weakside linebacker as a true freshman before moving inside … Was sidelined for half of his junior season after tearing his left MCL … Played middle linebacker as a senior when Nevada switched from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 … Tore a pectoral muscle late in the 2008 season and had to have surgery to fix it, which meant he missed both the East-West Shrine Game and the Combine while recovering … Has most of the prerequisite intangibles for a linebacker … Has a lot of versatility, having played outside LB, inside LB in a 3-4 alignment and middle linebacker in a 4-3 set … Consistently is moving before most on the snap of the ball … Makes his money between the hashes … Has good straight-line speed and has an excellent short-area burst … Can work his way through the garbage and consistently get to the player with the ball … Doesn't play up to his size and isn't as intimidating as he should be … Doesn't use his hands well and will get engulfed by big blockers … Is too aggressive and will take himself out of plays with missteps and biting on fakes … Does not play with a lot of emotion or passion … Doesn't have great closing speed and will get beat trying to take angles to the edge … Did not work out at the Combine. PROJECTION: A veteran player with good versatility, but his lack of football intelligence and inability to play disciplined will really hurt his stock on draft weekend. He will likely be on the board until the middle of the second day.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Stanley Arnoux, Wake Forest, 6-0, 237
Rashad Bobino, Texas, 5-9, 230
Mortty Ivy, West Virginia, 6-1¾, 239
Gerald McRath, Southern Mississippi, 6-2, 230
Mark Paschal, North Carolina, 6-0¼, 231
Dave Philsten, Maryland, 6-1¼, 228
Michael Tauliili, Duke, 5-11, 237
Reggie Walker, Kansas State, 6-0¼, 240




Viking Update Top Stories

\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":" Vikings Inside Linebackers – E.J. Henderson, Heath Farwell.

Vikings Draft Outlook – The Vikings suffered mightily when both Henderson and Farwell were lost for the season due to injuries. With both back and healthy, this position is expected to be a strength, not a weakness. Many believe Henderson was primed for a breakout season in 2008 that would get the attention of the entire NFL, while the team was also planning to let Farwell see more time on the defensive side of the ball. Both of those plans got scuttled last year, but with both players back, this doesn't look like a position of need on draft day.

The Class of 2009 – For the last few years, the middle linebacker crop has been pretty weak. This year the depth isn't there, but there are a couple of true blue-chip first-rounders in USC's Rey Maualuga and Ohio State's James Laurinaitis. Both should be first-round selections that should be able to step in immediately and make an impact. The talent level drops off quickly from there, but, with so many teams running the 3-4 defense, inside linebackers will consistently be coming off the board in each round.

CREAM OF THE CROP

Rey Maualuga, USC, 6-1¾, 249 –
Fourth-year senior … Decorated high school player who was named to both the Parade and USA Today All-America teams … Played the 2005 season under a black cloud after losing his father to brain cancer … Has had an injury history that included a broken ring finger, a severe hip pointer and a right knee sprain … In three years as a starter, he had 236 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, 10 passes broken up and four interceptions … Has very good overall body strength and looks like a prototypical middle linebacker … Is a leader on and off the field … Has good read-and-react skills vs. the run and fills the hole quickly … Has the range to chase plays to the sidelines … Is a big hitter who has good tackling technique and is a consistent finisher … Has a good hand punch … Has the agility to work laterally and cut off runners on the edge … Keeps blockers away from his knees and rarely gets his legs cut out from under him … Takes too many chances and will get caught out of position … Is not an exceptional blitzer and typically arrives an instant too late … Will be too aggressive at times and miss tackles or take himself out of plays … Is not the most effective tackler in the open field and will make mistakes in pursuit angles … Ran a 4.86 40 at the Combine with 23 reps of 225 pounds and an 8-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: He has drawn comparisons to USC great Junior Seau – high praise indeed. While he may not reach that level of NFL success, he is going to be the first inside linebacker off the board and his name will likely get called in the middle of the first round.

James Laurinaitis, Ohio State, 6-2¼, 244 – Fourth-year senior … The son of professional wrestler Joe Laurinaitis, who came to fame as Animal of the Road Warriors … Was named Minnesota's Mr. Football as a high school senior … Started all 39 games in the final three years of his college career … In that span, he had 366 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks and 10 interceptions … Won the Butkus Award in 2007, given annually to college football's top linebacker, as well as being named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year … Two-time All-America … Set a BSC Championship Game record vs. LSU in early 2008 with 18 tackles … Is a very smart player with a motor that runs at high speed all the time … Has very good read and react skills and doesn't get sucked in with play-action or misdirection … Fills holes on the inside running game with power … Has tremendous, consistent production and was always around the ball … Doesn't get wrapped up by blockers easily and keeps fighting until the whistle … Is a good run blitzer who can shoot gaps with short-area burst … Durability has never been a question … Does not have great lower-body strength and will get pushed around when big blockers get hold of him … Does not have either top-end speed or strength … Struggles at times in man coverage with tight ends down the seam … Does not have a powerful hand punch … Has skinny legs and ankles and will get tripped up too often … Ran a 4.72 40 at the Combine with 22 reps, a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: While he isn't the most athletically gifted linebacker in the class, his work ethic and production will make him one of the safest picks in the draft. The team who gets him will get a player that will give everything he has on every play. Some draftniks believe he will slip into the early stages of the second round, but we have a hard time believing he will get past both Miami and Baltimore at the end of the first round.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Jason Phillips, Texas Christian, 6-0½, 239 –
Fifth-year senior … Four-year starter who made starts in all 50 games of his college career … Enrolled at TCU as a fullback and didn't move to linebacker until spring practices in 2005 … Played the second half of last season with a torn rotator cuff that needed surgery after the season … Finished his career with 313 tackles, 41 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and two interceptions … An extremely hard-working player who has a good football I.Q … .Has excellent production … Has quick read-and-react skills … Has good short-area speed to hit seams and blow up inside running plays … Durability and willingness to play through injuries are a big plus … Is strong in zone coverage in the passing game … Is short and looked a little overmatched during the practice week at the East-West Shrine Game … Doesn't have ideal size of the body frame that will allow to get much bigger … Does not have elite upper-body strength (see below) … The farther he has to go to makes plays, the worse his production gets … Is not a player who consistently chases plays down and makes tackles at the sidelines … Will often stop his legs moving when he makes contact with blockers … Not a consistently effective blitzer … Ran a 4.61 40 at the Combine with 20 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: An undersized player who has a lot of physical limitations that will be much more exposed at the pro level, what will make him a second-round pick is his production and desire to be the best he can. He may never be mentioned among the top LBs in the game, but a team with a need won't let him make it out of the second round.

Darry Beckwith, LSU, 6-0¼, 234 – Fourth-year senior … Three-year starter who had 181 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and two interceptions in that span … Has missed time in each season due to injury, including two left knee surgeries and a shoulder injury … Has good speed and playing speed … Can make plays all over the field and aggressively chases the ball even if it looks as though he's out of the play … Is solid in pass coverage and blankets tight ends deep down the field … Has quick read-and-react skills and has the speed to make up for a misstep … Has good closing speed and will deliver a big hit … Is undersized and can't get much bigger … Gets swallowed by offensive linemen trying to cut through blocks … Didn't have great production, but some of that was due to the power of the Tigers' defensive line … Is not a good blitzer and doesn't time them consistently well … Durability is a big concern, especially considering his balky left knee has given him trouble every year of college … Had the worst vertical jump among linebackers at the Combine … Ran a 4.63 40 at the Combine, with 23 reps, a 26½-inch vertical jump and a 9-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: A veteran on a very good team, his learning curve to the pros will be much less than most and will likely get a shot to be a starting middle or inside linebacker. However, his injury history and lack of translatable skills to the pro level will likely keep him on the board into the second day of the draft or very late in Round Two.

Dannell Ellerbe, Georgia, 6-1, 236 Fifth-year senior … Has a litany of pretty serious injuries, losing time as a redshirt freshman with an Achilles strain, injuring his left MCL as a senior and not being able to lift at the Combine because of a torn pectoral muscle … A two-year starter who started 11 games as a junior – seven at middle linebacker, three on the weakside and one on the strongside – and started nine games at middle linebacker last year … In two seasons as a starter, he recorded 132 tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks and one interception … Has very good field speed and hits holes in a blink … Is a solid blitzer and has good closing speed … Makes plays all the way to the sideline in both passing and running situations … Is versatile, having played and made starts at all three linebacker positions … Reads plays quickly, diagnoses and has a great first step heading to the ball … Will take on lead blockers head-up … Is adept at shedding tackles … With deliver the knockout blow when he gets the chance … Is not overly physical and will look to avoid contact with bigger blockers … Is little undersized and doesn't have long arms … Isn't a consistent playmaker with just 3.5 sacks and one interception in two years … Will bite too often on play-fakes and will get himself out of position and take himself out of plays … Gets buried by bigger run blockers … Had some serious off-field incidents, including being arrested for felony car theft – a charge that was later dropped, but he was convicted of a DUI and underage possession of alcohol … Was better as a junior than a senior … Ran a 4.66 40 at the Combine, didn't lift because of a pectoral injury, had a 35-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: His combination of pure speed and experience at all of the linebacker positions will likely make him a premium pick that will go early on the second day of the draft when the dust has settled on Day One and teams start drafting for need.

Scott McKillop, Pittsburgh, 6-1, 244 – Fifth-year senior … Two year starter who had 288 tackles, 26.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, 11 passes broken up and three interceptions in that span … His brother Chris was a defensive tackle with Carolina from 2003-07 … Led the nation in tackles in 2007 with 151 and led the Big East in tackles last year with 137 … Incredible production, he averaged more than 11 tackles a game over the last two years … A very good wrap-up tackler who is a consistent finisher … An intelligent player who was counted on to make defensive calls his last two seasons … Has very good short-area quickness and reacts quickly once he gets a read on a play … Spends hours in the film room improving his own game and scouting looks he may see … Is a very good jumper (see below) and times his jump to disrupt throwing lanes … Is a tough guy who takes on lead blockers head on … Has good upper-body strength (see below) … Does not have good lower-body strength and gets pushed around and mauled when blocked by linemen … Gives up valuable yards to get away from blockers … Tries to go around blockers rather than going through them … Doesn't have long arms and blockers can get into his body … Doesn't change directions quickly … Ran a 4.73 40 at the Combine with 27 reps, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: His production over the last couple of years was unmatched. But, he didn't show up when he needed to at the Senior Bowl and he is viewed by some as being little more than a special teams ace. If enough teams feel that way, he'll be on the board into the fourth round.

BEST OF THE REST

Jasper Brinkley, South Carolina, 6-1¾, 252 –
Fifth-year senior … Spent two years at Georgia Military College before coming to the Gamecocks … Has a twin brother named Casper … As a junior in 2006, he led all SEC linebackers with 107 tackles, along with 14.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks … Started the first four games, but tore his right lateral collateral ligament that required surgery and was granted a medical redshirt … Returned last year to post 65 tackles, five tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks … Is a big player who has very good upper-body strength … Has good agility and can flow up and down the line … Hits the running lanes quick and hard and is willing to take on lead blockers … Is a good finisher who brings ball carriers down when he gets his hands on them … A very good leaper who is disruptive in passing lanes … Does not have an outstanding football I.Q. and may take more time … Is best suited to play between the tackles, because he is very spotty on the edge … In space, he tries to get too cute and move around blockers rather than drive them off the ball and will too often take himself out of plays … His knee may be a concern to some teams, since his junior season was much more productive than his senior season … Did not stand out at the Senior Bowl, despite being 10 pounds lighter … Ran a 4.67 40 at the Combine with 26 reps of 225 pounds and a 35½-inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: He is a riser after putting in some impressive individual workouts and allaying some of the fears that his knee wasn't 100 percent. He is best suited to be an inside LB for a 3-4 defense where his assignments are limited. That pigeon-holing may be enough to push him into the fourth round.

Worrell Williams, California, 5-11¼, 240 – Fifth-year senior … His brother D.J. Williams is a linebacker for the Denver Broncos … A three-year starter who had 220 tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, 10 passes broken up and one interception … Was benched the last two games of the 2007 season after the Bears got rolled for 573 rushing yards against USC … As a sophomore, he started 12 games at weakside linebacker, but started his last 24 games at middle linebacker … Suffered a hip injury at the Combine that prevented him from running the shuttles – an important discipline for linebackers … Has good athleticism and agility … Has good versatility having started both inside and outside … Has an excellent vertical jump (see below) and disrupts passing lanes … Has a good burst off the snap and can get into a hole quickly … Is able to flip his hips and run with backs and tight ends in pass coverage … Is undersized and especially short for NFL LB standards … Gets thrown around by offensive linemen when they get their hands on him and wash him out of plays … Once he's blocked, he stays blocked … Is not good at chasing plays to the sidelines and will consistently take a short angle and get beaten on the edge … Could do a better job of finishing tackles … Ran a 4.75 40 at the Combine with 23 reps, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 9-3 broad jump. PROJECTION: Is not as talented as his brother D.J., but, like Erin Henderson, is an undersized linebacker with ability. His lack of tangible instincts for the game will probably keep him on the board well into the later rounds, but he could be a surprise in the right system.

Antonio Appleby, Virginia, 6-3½, 243 – Fourth-year senior … A versatile prep athlete who excelled at football, basketball and track … Started two games as a true freshman and 35 games over his final three seasons … In his three full years as a starter, he had 200 tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and one interception … Has almost prototypical linebacker size … Is strong and occupies blockers to clog running lanes … Has the speed and agility to make plays to the sidelines … Has good tackling technique and is a very good finisher … Has the strength to shoot gaps on a bull rush from the edge … Has some versatility at multiple linebacker spots in a 3-4 set … Does not play to a level of consistency most coaches look for … Is very raw in terms of football intelligence and reaction on plays to the side of him … Doesn't use his hands well and will get engulfed by offensive linemen blocking to the edge … Will go long periods of time without making an impact play … Is not a powerful tackler and must depend on brute strength … Did not work out at the Combine. PROJECTION: A risky pick whose attitude has been questioned, he could excel in a 3-4 defense, but has never showed the necessary passion for the game so many players at his position have. However, with prototypical size and good strength, he will likely be a boom-bust pick somewhere around the fifth round for a team that runs a 3-4.

Josh Mauga, Nevada, 6-1½, 243 – Fourth-year senior … Started 39 of the 45 games he played in his college career, finishing with 224 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and four interceptions … Started nine games at weakside linebacker as a true freshman before moving inside … Was sidelined for half of his junior season after tearing his left MCL … Played middle linebacker as a senior when Nevada switched from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 … Tore a pectoral muscle late in the 2008 season and had to have surgery to fix it, which meant he missed both the East-West Shrine Game and the Combine while recovering … Has most of the prerequisite intangibles for a linebacker … Has a lot of versatility, having played outside LB, inside LB in a 3-4 alignment and middle linebacker in a 4-3 set … Consistently is moving before most on the snap of the ball … Makes his money between the hashes … Has good straight-line speed and has an excellent short-area burst … Can work his way through the garbage and consistently get to the player with the ball … Doesn't play up to his size and isn't as intimidating as he should be … Doesn't use his hands well and will get engulfed by big blockers … Is too aggressive and will take himself out of plays with missteps and biting on fakes … Does not play with a lot of emotion or passion … Doesn't have great closing speed and will get beat trying to take angles to the edge … Did not work out at the Combine. PROJECTION: A veteran player with good versatility, but his lack of football intelligence and inability to play disciplined will really hurt his stock on draft weekend. He will likely be on the board until the middle of the second day.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Stanley Arnoux, Wake Forest, 6-0, 237
Rashad Bobino, Texas, 5-9, 230
Mortty Ivy, West Virginia, 6-1¾, 239
Gerald McRath, Southern Mississippi, 6-2, 230
Mark Paschal, North Carolina, 6-0¼, 231
Dave Philsten, Maryland, 6-1¼, 228
Michael Tauliili, Duke, 5-11, 237
Reggie Walker, Kansas State, 6-0¼, 240



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