2015 NFL Draft: Top Ten Outside Linebackers

    It’s the NFL Draft from the college perspective with a simple mindset: can the guy play at the next level or not? What are his chances to succeed, and is he worth the time and effort? What’s his value?

    April 24, 2015

    Washington OLB/S Shaq Thompson

    The class is … versatile, depending on which players you truly consider to be outside linebackers. Is Dante Fowler a linebacker or an end? How about Randy Gregory? Eli Harold? The line is blurred depending on the scheme, but it doesn’t matter – there are plenty of pass rushers. 
    The most overrated prospect: Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville 
    The top underrated prospect: Jake Ryan Michigan 
    The deep, deep sleeper: Edmond Robinson, Newberry 
    The best value prospect: Max Valles, Virginia 

    1. Shaq Thompson, Washington 6-0, 228
    – The only question mark is whether or not he can hold up. He’s almost too good to be true in terms of all the things he can bring, but he’s not all that big and he’s not all that strong – that doesn’t really matter, though, considering his athleticism. But what is he? He’s small for a linebacker, he’s not fast enough to be a safety, and he’s not a running back. He’s a football player no matter what he does. 
    – For being an athletic linebacker, he didn’t blow it up at the combine and as is he’s as beefed up as he’ll get. There’s no sure-thing spot for him because he just doesn’t have a fit. There are a slew of reasons to think that he won’t work. 
    Yes or No: It’s going to take some creativity, and he’s going to have to be surrounded by bulk, but and defensive coordinator worth his salt would dream of having a player with Thompson’s talent to work with. 
    Round Value: Second Round

    2. Bud Dupree, Kentucky 6-4, 269
    – Really, really athletic for a big hybrid defender. He could add a little bit of weight and be a devastating pass rushing defensive end, or he could be a very, very big outside linebacker who wreaks havoc. Few 269-pound human beings are this quick, can run a sub-4.6, and can explose with a 42” vertical. There are special tools to work with. 
    – While he needs a ton of polish and might need a season or two of coaching to unlock all of his potential, he’ll pick it up fast. About as high a character prospect as it gets, he’s what coaches dream of as a leader of a locker room and a player who’ll do what’s needed. He’ll make himself into a star. 
    Yes or No: With a wee bit of patience and the right fit, the sky is the limit. He’s too big, too athletic, too smart – it’s all there. 
    Round Value: First Round

    3. Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington 6-2, 253
    – A rough pro day might have dropped his stock down a few pegs. He plays fast and aggressive, and he’s a true fighter who mixes it up with the best of them, but the 4.9 40 and marginal leaps showed a lack of explosion and pop. He not goes from being a demon of a college playmaker to a questionable pro based on his tools – and his knee. 
    – He had problems with a torn ACL throughout his career, and while he can still play, he doesn’t have the suddenness to be what teams are looking for in a draft full of dangerous pass rushers. However, based solely on his college career – including 19 sacks last season – the guy knows how to get into a backfield. 
    Yes or No: Tough, tough call. How long can he hold up? Does he have the talent to overcome the lack of raw tools? The tape is magnificent, but he’s not an inside linebacker, he’s not a defensive end, and he might need to be surrounded by speed to succeed. He’s worth the risk, though. The guy knows how to play. 
    Round Value: Third Round

    4. Kwon Alexander, LSU 6-1, 227
    – Very fast, very smooth, and very explosive, he might be built like a beefed up safety, but he can fly with 4.55 speed and great quickness and explosion. While he might not be built to hold up against the run, that won’t matter if he’s able to turn into a dangerous pass rusher – even if he’s a specialist. 
    – He needs to learn how to be a better linebacker. He’s not great on positioning, diagnosis and angles, making up for his problems with raw speed, but the upside is enormous once he gets it down. 
    Yes or No: Yes, and he could turn out to be a steal. Great guy, great speed, and willing to work, he might have to work in a variety of ways, but he’ll be a disruptive force if surrounded by size. 
    Round Value: Fourth Round

    5. Max Valles, Virginia 6-5, 251
    – While he’s a bit too slow for an outside linebacker, he has intriguing size and the right frame to do some damage. He could turn into a hybrid who sees a little time on the line with a little more weight added, but he’s at his best and most disruptive when working in space. He plays faster than he times. 
    – Still a project, he has the basic tools and the potential is through the roof, but he needs time. He needs coaching and he needs a lot of polish, but he’s smooth, can leap, and has the want-to and upside to become something special given a little bit of time. 
    Yes or No: With the right coaching, yes. It might take a year or so for it all to kick in, but the light will go on and he’ll be outstanding. He could turn into the steal of the outside linebackers if someone is willing to be patient. 
    Round Value: Sixth Round

    6. Jake Ryan, Michigan 6-3, 240
    – He showed in offseason workouts that he’s well past the torn ACL suffered a few years ago, showing great quickness and athleticism to go along with a solid 4.65 at the combine. Throw in his hitting ability and size, and he has almost no bust potential.
    – He needs to work in space. He’s not really the type of mix-it-up linebacker who’ll handle things well when shoved, but get him in the clear and look out. Yeah, he can play inside if needed, but stick him at either outside spot and he’ll be more than fine. 
    Yes or No: A true leader who’ll do whatever is needed to make a play, he’s what every coach wants to work with. While he might not have elite tools, he’s a baller with the quickness to become a dangerous situational pass rusher. 
    Round Value: Fourth Round

    7. Kyle Emanuel, North Dakota State 6-3, 255
    – Great at the combine, he was smooth, explosive and strong, showing off the raw tools to go along with the ability and the FCS resume. Always getting behind the line, he knows how to make big plays if he gets a little bit of space. While he won’t do much against the power running teams, he can play either outside spot. 
    – A dangerous pass rusher and playmaker behind the line at the lower level, he has to bring the speed and cutting ability to eventually become an NFL edge rusher. He might not be powerful against the stronger run blockers, but that’s not going to be his game. 
    Yes or No: He became the hot prospect during the post-season process as he looked like he belonged with the big boys every chance he got. He has the skills to go along with the energy, but he needs a little bit of tweaking on his technique. Set him up outside and watch him roll. 
    Round Value: Fourh Round

    8. Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville 6-4, 259
    – Is he inside or out? Everything is there except for a set position – and fluidity. He’s not really an inside linebacker, and he’s not really an NFL pass rusher. His 4.85 40 is painful, and he’s not quite quick enough, but he knows how to get into a backfield. He’s a better football player than a workout warrior. 
    – Every coach is going to love him because he’ll bring the effort every practice and every play. He’ll make up for several shortcomings on sheer want-to and drive. 
    Yes or No: He’s a tough call mainly because of his lack of raw tools. He’s a good football player who might be better and tougher than the basic numbers, but there are limits on what he can become – he’s just not quick enough. 
    Round Value: Fourth Round

    9. Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma 6-3, 262
    – It all depends on how much time needs to be put in to find him a spot. While he can be used as a pass rusher, and he’s strong enough to hold up against the run, it’s going to take a little bit to figure out exactly what he can do. The problem is that he’s a true tweener, and not in a good way. 
    – Is he a small and strong defensive end or a big and slow linebacker? Not a finished product, he can leap out of the building and he’s a decent athlete, but, can he turn? Can he effortlessly cut in coverage? He’s one of the more interesting prospects considering his upside, but there’s still a lot of scouting to be done. 
    Yes or No: Maybe. There’s enough to like to think that me might be a worthy late round flier with a ton of upside, but he could also be a very quick and easy cut if he doesn’t find a position right away. 
    Round Value: Sixth Round

    10. J.R. Tavai, USC 6-2, 249
    – He’s smooth as silk, and he’s polished when cutting and moving, but he ran a painful 4.91 in the 40 and didn’t explode through the other combine drills. However, he came up with a great pro day and moved well. There’s enough talent there to get by, but he doesn’t have special skills outside of his fight.
    – He’s a strange prospect because he doesn’t play like a natural outside linebacker. He’s not a top-shelf athlete and he was always banged up in one way or another, but he brings the fire and energy to his game. Can his energy and potential overcome the lack of raw tools? 
    Yes or No: He’ll make a roster as a star special teamer and key backup. He was part of a rotation at USC, and he’ll be able to handle the role. 
    Round Value: Sixth Round

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