Positional Analysis: Outside linebackers

As you might expect with 3-4 and 4-3 defenses in the NFL, there is a wide variety of linebackers available to those systems in the draft. There are pure linebackers, defensive ends expected to make the transition, and players of good and questionable character. John Holler breaks down the top 10 options at outside linebacker with statistics, analysis and projections.

VIKINGS OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS — Chad Greenway, Ben Leber, Heath Farwell, Kenny Onatolu, Erin Henderson, J Leman.

VIKINGS NEEDS — This has been a strength area for the Vikings with Greenway and Leber atop the depth chart and special teams aces Farwell and Onatolu providing big contributions in the "third phase" of the game. There is the potential the Vikings will add a linebacker for depth purposes, but the chances of using a high pick on linebacker doesn't seem in the cards, but anything past the first round might be fair game.

THE CLASS OF 2010 — There aren't any Lawrence Taylor-type players in this year's draft crop, but some have made the comparisons between Sergio Kindle of Texas and Chargers great Shawne Merriman. There are likely only to be two first-rounders to come from this position – Kindle and Missouri's Sean Weatherspoon – but there will be several linebackers coming off the board in the second and third rounds, making this a relatively deep and productive draft class.


Sergio Kindle, Texas, 6-3, 250 — Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 115 tackles, 34.5 tackles for a loss, 15.5 sacks and six passes broken up…Parade All-American in high school…Abandoned by his birth mother as a toddler…Arrested in July 2007 for DWI and suffered a concussion in 2009 when he was driving a car that ran into an apartment building…The first player in college history to be a finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the best linebacker, and the Hendricks Award, given to the best defensive end, in the same season…Started nine games at OLB and two at DE in 2008 and all 14 games at DE in 2009…Prototype size and upper-body muscle mass for the NFL…Strong run defender who can shoot gaps…Has great speed around the edge to get to the quarterback…Can cover backs and tight ends down the field…Chases down plays to the sidelines…Has good versatility…Needs to work on his lateral movements – will get his feet tied up at times…Doesn't have many pass-rush moves and relied almost exclusively on his speed…Doesn't have much experience in man coverage in the passing game…Has some character issues and alcohol-related problems in his past…Wasn't a vocal defensive leader…Ran a 4.70 40 at the Combine with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 36½-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: An athletic playmaker, he would be an immediate impact player as an outside rush linebacker in a 3-4 system. As a result, he likely won't be on the board by the time the final third of the first round unfolds.

Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri, 6-1¼, 239 — Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who started all 41 games in that span, notching 393 tackles, 42.5 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks, 17 passes broken up and four interceptions…Had surgery on his left shoulder after tearing his labrum during practices in spring 2008…A team captain…Led the team in tackles each of the last three seasons…Has excellent straight-line speed and measurables – wowed scouts at the Combine with his workout numbers…Has an explosive first couple of steps…Can play to the sidelines and has a nice closing burst when he gets close to the ball…Outstanding, consistent tackle production…Is a physical tackler who drives players backward…Is smooth dropping into coverage and can handle tight ends and running backs with relative ease…Is a little short by NFL standards and has short arms (31½ inches)…Needs to improve on recognition on inside running plays…Doesn't always play to his timed speed…Is not adept at changing direction and will take himself out of plays…Is cocky and didn't interview well at the Combine, leading some to believe he could potentially be a locker-room cancer…Ran a 4.69 40 at the Combine with an impressive 34 reps, a 40-inch vertical jump and a 10-3 broad jump. PROJECTION: Nobody questions Weatherspoon's playmaking ability, but his attitude is going to be his biggest hurdle to overcome. He could play inside in a 3-4 or outside in either a 3-4 of 4-3, so he will have a lot of suitors. He shouldn't make it out of the first round, but that pick may come to the Saints with the 32nd pick.


Jerry Hughes, TCU, 6-1¾, 255 — Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 100 tackles, 36 tackles for a loss, 26.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles in that span…Started both years at defensive end…Won the Hendricks Award and Lott Trophy as a senior…Has excellent quickness, off-the-snap burst and agility to work through traffic to get to the ball…Reads and reacts quickly and doesn't bite on play action or misdirection…Has aggressive hand use…Has good closing speed and the ability to chase down plays on the other side of the field…Knifes through blocks with ease…Is too short to play defensive end in the NFL and will need time to adjust to his new position…Did not post consistent numbers and his production was streaky from game to game…Doesn't have great lower-body strength, which will also hurt his chances to stay at defensive end in the NFL…Got eliminated too often when facing double-teams and chips from tight ends…Has a problem shedding blockers when they get into his body…Didn't jump at the Combine, but ran a 4.67 40 with 26 reps of 225 pounds. PROJECTION: A ‘tweener who will likely have to move to OLB in a 3-4 scheme, his athleticism and playmaking ability will have him off the board late in the first round or, at the worst, in the first half of the second round.

Daryl Washington, TCU, 6-1¾, 230 — Fourth-year senior…Started just two games prior to the 2009 season…Exploded as a senior with 109 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, two sacks and three interceptions…Has very long arms (34½ inches)…Has the speed to make plays to the sidelines…Is quick to read plays and react aggressively…Has great lateral speed and can run plays down the line from his strong-side position…Is a big tackler who drives players backward…Has agility to change directions without dialing down…Is willing to fill in lanes between the tackles and bring the big hit…Has a thin frame and will have difficulty adding too much bulk without losing speed…Will have problems making plays between the tackles at the next level…Bites too often on play fakes and misdirection…Launches himself too often and whiffs too often, allowing plays to continue…Doesn't have an explosive hand punch and gets clutched too often by blockers, who have the ability to steer him out of the way…Gets his legs cut out from under him too often…Just a one-year full-time starter, so he will have a learning curve in front of him…Ran a 4.65 40 at the Combine with a position-worst 17 reps and a pedestrian 31-inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: Viewed by most scouts as a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, he has the skills to be a playmaker, but his size and strength limitations will likely keep him on the board well into the second round.

Sean Lee, Penn State, 6-2¼, 236 — Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who started 34 of his final 36 games…In those three seasons, he had 313 tackles, 29.5 tackles for a loss 11 sacks, 17 passes broken up and three interceptions…Was scheduled to play middle linebacker in 2008, but tore his right ACL during the spring game and missed the season…Played outside linebacker for two years (26 starts) and inside in 2009 (eight starts)…Uses his hands well to get away from blockers and make plays…Is very smart and aware of his surroundings…Plays with good leverage and can get inside blocks to make tackles…Can chase plays to the sidelines and has good lateral agility…Takes good angles…Is a good tackler who rarely lets the ballcarrier get away once he gets his hands on him…Versatility with experience both inside and outside…Is not a big hitter and doesn't have great upper- or lower-body strength…Doesn't have explosive speed or a closing burst…Is limited in man coverage skills in the passing game…Not a top-end blitzer…Gets neutralized too often when blockers get into his body…Ran a 4.74 40 at the Combine with 24 reps, a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: A three-year starter for a big-time program, Lee is a coachable prospect who gives everything he has, which isn't lost on scouts or coaches. But his numbers dropped after coming back from his ACL injury, which might scare off some teams. His positives will likely have him coming off the board in the second round.

Ricky Sapp, Clemson, 6-4, 242 — Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who started 36 of his final 37 collegiate games…An exceptional track athlete who won a state high school title in the 100 meters with a time of 10.76 seconds and 21.0 in the 200 meters…Played through injuries in 2008, but was sidelined with a ruptured bursa sac in his right knee and, later in the season, tore his right ACL…Given the team's "Iron Man Award" for playing through injuries and staying on the field and being productive…Has ideal build and speed for an outside linebacker in the NFL…Very good in run coverage from his DE position in college…Has good speed and closing burst on the ball…Has good agility and will chase plays to the opposite sideline…An excellent pass rusher who disrupts a lot of plays even when he doesn't get a sack…Has good read-and-react diagnosis skills…Is not overly physical…Doesn't have elite upper-body strength…Played a position ("Bandit End") that is a hybrid position that doesn't exist in the NFL and will have to change up a lot of what he has done in college…Takes himself out of too many plays with his own aggression…Struggles to disengage from blockers once they get into his body…Durability could be a question since he has a history of knee-related injuries dating back to his freshman year…Ran a 4.66 40 at the Combine with 23 reps, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: A college end who will have to move to outside linebacker in the pros. Because his skill set is much more in keeping with pass-rushing OLB in a 3-4, his potential is limited somewhat, which should drop him to the bottom half of the second round or into the third on draft weekend.


Navorro Bowman, Penn State, 6-0½, 242 — Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who made starts in 21 of 24 games in that span, totaling 209 tackles, 33.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and three interceptions…Had surgery on his right shoulder as a high school senior…Charged with felony assault in October 2007 after a fraternity fight in which a student was badly beaten by several men; pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to one-year probation…Had another year of probation added in 2009 when he admitted to smoking marijuana while on probation…Has all the physical tools scouts look for – a muscular upper body, long arms and good lower-body strength…Has good agility and can run with tight ends and running backs in the short passing game…Has good redirection skills and recovery speed…Is a solid tackler who rarely lets the ballcarrier get away…Has good, strong hand punch and pushes defenders out of the way…Needs to add more muscle for the NFL because he is a little lean by NFL standards…His athleticism doesn't always translate to the field…Has a tendency to stop his feet on contact with blockers and can get redirected…Didn't have as good a Combine performance as expected, especially in terms of coming off as cocky in interviews…Ran a 4.73 40 at the Combine with 26 reps of 225 pounds, a weak 29½-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: An impressive college weakside linebacker who could play the outside in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. He looks the part, but durability concerns and the perception of him being a selfish "me-first" type of player will likely drop him into the end of the second round or into the third.

Eric Norwood, South Carolina, 6-1, 245 — Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who played in 51 career games – starting the final 38 games over the last three years, amassing 225 tackles, 45.5 tackles for a loss, 22 sacks and two interceptions in that span…Played his first two seasons at defensive end and moving to the weak side in 2008…Has the Gamecocks career records for sacks (29) and tackles for a loss (55) …Built like a truck and is quick to read and diagnose plays and fill gaps…Has very good hand strength and uses them to keep blockers away from his body…Brings good versatility with experience as a solid defensive end as well as a linebacker playing both inside and outside…Has good agility to knife through linemen and get to the ball…Works well through a crowd in pursuit and rarely gets his legs cut…Is adept at sniffing out screen passes and making them pay for it…A solid blitzer…Plays with a mean streak and a lot of intensity…Production was solid and he became a vocal team leader…Is too small for the DE position in the NFL and, at best, could only be a situational pass rusher…Doesn't have top-end intangibles, although he is a good leaper (see below)…Isn't a dominant run defender…Doesn't have explosive speed off the snap and will allow blockers to get into his body…Doesn't have great coverage ability to run with backs or tight ends deep down the field…Doesn't play with great leverage and will take himself out of plays…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.81 40 with a 36½-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: He will likely be forced to play linebacker because of his size limitations, but his versatility will have him off the board by the end of the third round with the potential of being an immediate contributor and the potential to become a starter quickly.

Koa Misi, Utah, 6-2¾, 251 — Fourth-year senior…After spending a year at Santa Rosa (Calif) Community College to get his grades up, he started 36 of 38 games as a three-year starter at Utah…In his career, he had 206 tackles, 26 tackles for a loss. 10.5 sacks and six forced fumbles…Started 11 games at defensive tackle in 2007, 13 games at left defensive end in 2008 and 12 games at right end in 2009…Good height and the kind of body that could add more bulk if asked to…Has a very quick first two steps and good instincts…Is versatile, having played three different defensive line positions…Plays with a lot of energy and passion…A big hitter who drives players backward on contact…Durable team leader who is very coachable…Has good flexibility and can change directions fast without wasting motion or time…Has good pursuit speed and closing burst…Didn't consistently play top competition…Doesn't translate as a lineman in the NFL and has no experience as a standup rush linebacker…Doesn't have great upper-body strength or anchor strength and will need to spend a lot of time in the weight room to improve on that…Doesn't have much in the way of pass-rush moves other than a bull rush…Misses too many tackles…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.75 40 with an impressive 38-inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: A durable three-year starter who was willing to move positions to help his team, Misi earned the respect of teammates and coaches and has good football character. But, to make it in the NFL, he is going to have to change positions for the fourth time in four years, which is a big question mark. Because some may view him as a project or work in progress, he will likely drop into the third round.

Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State, 6-2, 243 — Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who had 71 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss and nine sacks in that span…Played both linebacker and defensive end for OSU…Has great burst around the edge and poses matchup problems for tackles trying to hook him…Has good size (for a linebacker) with long arms and the kind of frame that could add 10 to 20 pounds without losing too much speed…Is an explosive tackler who looks for contact,, whether to blow up a lead blocker or make a tackle…Uses his hands extremely well…Has good upper-body strength (see below)…Great closing speed…Had a strong showing at the Combine…Very raw in his technique and took himself out of too many plays…Has versatility, but hasn't mastered a position that translates immediately to the NFL…Is slow to recognize run/pass situations and bites too often on playfakes and has to make up ground immediately and too often is out of position…Has difficulty when he has to turn and run in coverage…Didn't have much in the way of pass-rush moves other than using pure speed…Would line up in the wrong position at the wrong angle too often and needed to be corrected by a teammate too often…Ran a 4.79 40 at the Combine with 32 reps of 225 pounds with a 32-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: A 'tweener type who turned some heads with his workouts in the linebacker drills at the Combine. He could have helped his cause considerably by staying for another year, because with him likely to be reduced almost exclusively to teams that run a 3-4 he may be waiting until the end of the second day of the draft before getting his name called.

Rennie Curran, Georgia, 5-10¾, 235
Dexter Davis, Arizona State, 6-1½, 244
Roddrick Muckelroy, Texas, 6-1¾, 246
Perry Riley, LSU, 6-1, 239
O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin, 6-2¼, 221
Cameron Sheffield, Troy, 6-2½, 257
Dekoda Watson, Florida State, 6-1½, 240

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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