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Now its time for my list of top inside linebackers. We have different players who fit into different schemes and some who can play anywhere. This group isn’t a deep group at all to be honest, but here is my top 5 rated guys and an additional 5 to look out for as well.
1. Luke Kuechly 6-3 242lbs Boston College
Strengths: A sure tackler during his 3 years at BC, has good instincts and deciphers the play quickly, which makes up for some of his physical deficiencies. Is very good in zone pass coverage, I can see him fitting perfectly in a Tampa 2 scheme or maybe as a weakside ILB in the 3-4.
Weaknesses: Has trouble taking on and defeating blocks at the point of attack. He would rather slip the blocks instead. While he’s made plenty of tackles at BC, he hasn’t made many big plays (forced fumbles, big hits, plays behind the line of scrimmage).
Grade: Mid first round
2. Dont’a Hightower 6-2 265lbs Alabama
Strengths: Plays with a controlled violence that I love. Exceptional ability to diagnose the play and hits it like man possessed. Played in a 3-4 at Alabama and was coached by one of the greatest defensive minds in football, Nick Saban. He’s ready to come in a start from day one. He spent time on 3rd downs rushing the passer as well, but I see him more as a MLB in a 4-3 and a perfect fit as an ILB on the strong side of a 3-4.
Weaknesses: Lacks top level speed, can be exposed in pass coverage man to man by scat backs and athletic tight ends. I’m not sure if he’s a three down player at ILB, teams may use him to rush the passer a little bit.
Grade: Late first round
3. Mychal Kendricks 5-11 240lbs Cal
Strengths: Is at his best in open space, and on third downs in pass coverage. He has good speed and range, when blockers are kept off of him, he will make plays sideline to sideline.
Weaknesses: Gets swallowed up in traffic and doesn’t take on and defeat blocks well. To be effective, he will need to be in a system in which the DT’s keep him clean. Can get caught out of position when teams run counter plays.
Grade: 3rd round
4. Vontaze Burfict 6-1 248lbs Arizona St.
Strengths: Phsically imposing player. I know he ran slow at the combine, but if you watch the game tape, he plays much faster on the field. When his head is on straight, he displays the natural instincts and ability to see the play and hit it like a bat out of hell. Has good sideline to sideline range and is a knockout artist, can force fumbles and make plays behind the backfield.
Weaknesses: He has a bad temper and allows it to get the best of him. Plays with no discipline too often and has been pulled off of the field for it. Physically and talent wise, he’s the best ILB in the draft, but he’s a head case and showed up out of shape at the combine and has dropped greatly.
Grade: Late 3rd to early 4th round
5. Audie Cole 6-4 248lbs N.C. State
Strengths: A three year starter with good production at the middle linebacker position. Has good play recognition and instincts which has him around the ball at all times. A fit as a ILB in a 3-4 and will be a good special teams player as well.
Weaknesses: Below average speed and explosiveness. Not a powerful tackler for a man his size. Gets exposed in open space against RB’s and TE’s after the catch.
Grade: 5th round
Next 5: Bobby Wagner 6-0 241lbs Utah St., James-Micheal Johnson 6-1 241lbs Nevada, Emmanuel Acho 6-2 238lbs Texas, Ryan Baker 5-11 232lbs LSU, Najee Goode 6-0 244lbs