By College Football Analyst Josh Buchanan for TonySoftli.com
Below is a look at each of the projected top 5 inside and outside linebackers with complete position rankings below for the 2014 NFL Draft. This is a very deep linebacker class who could see 7 drafted and three or four of these guys could last 7 or more years in the NFL. NFL teams will surely get quality NFL starters and special teamers from this class.
- Jordan Tripp, Montana
Tripp is the ideal linebacker prospect with good length, great range, and the speed to track down running backs from either side of the field, along with the ability to drop and cover. He can play inside or outside at 6’3, 235 pounds with 4.6 speed. His ability to long snap and play special teams makes him someone who could go as high as the 3rd round. He is a three-time All-Big Sky selection and two-time All-American. Expect him to be a 3rd or 4th round pick.
- Howard Jones, Shepherd
Don’t be shocked if Jones is a mid round pick instead of the late round projection most had him a while back. While he played end for Shepherd and did not quite dominate like you want as a senior he was a very good player over his career who earned All-Conference honors all four years. He finished with 34 tackles for 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks as a senior. He’s got very good length at 6’2 ½, 234 pounds and runs well (4.5 40) but needs to get stronger and will have to get use to standing up full-time and playing outside linebacker. Expect him to be a 5th or 6th round pick.
- Tyler Starr, South Dakota
You don’t see it but I keep draft ratings for three years in advance and no player has bounced up and down more than Starr has. I was tipped off about him prior to the 2011 season and saw him early, putting a 5th round estimate on him in 2011. He then moved down to a priority free agent after his junior year and then back to a 6th-7th round pick as a senior. When he ran poorly at the NFL Combine, I dropped him from 6th-7th round to priority free agent and now settled him in to the 7th round after running a 4.5 40 at 6’4, 249 pounds during his pro day. He has played end, linebacker, and showed the ability to drop into coverage in his career. Some of his better tape outside of the MVFC was against Air Force as an underclassmen showing he can stop the run very well. He’s a guy who can get in the backfield and wreak havoc. Keep an eye on him in the late rounds as someone who could play end or outside linebacker, depending on who drafts him.
- Carlos Fields Jr., Winston Salem State
I really liked the junior tape of Fields but during his senior year was up and down. At times he looked like a 4th or 5th round pick but others you couldn’t find him on the field. He can do things most can’t do though with 4.5 speed at 6’1, 238 pounds. He is a two-time CIAA Defensive Player of the year and three-time All-CIAA selection who has the range to run sideline to sideline, drop and cover, and the speed to fly downhill to make plays in the backfield. With his athletic ability though you would expect more than 93 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss, which is why he will probably be a 7th round pick instead of a 4th rounder.
- Colton Underwood, Illinois State
Like Starr, Underwood has played defensive end in college but projects as a linebacker after showing as a senior and in workouts that he can stand up and rush the passer or drop into coverage. I like him as a 3-4 outside linebacker who can rush the passer at 6’2 ½, 256 pounds. He’s a two time-All-American who had a solid senior year with 66 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and three sacks. While he may sneak into the 7th round, keep an eye on him as a priority free agent who I believe will make a team.
- Brock Coyle, Montana
Coyle was overshadowed by teammate Jordan Tripp but has taken full advantage of every opportunity. He ran a 4.6 40 at 6’1, 235 pounds at his pro day after a very good week at the NFLPA Game. He can run better than most inside linebackers and has the intelligence and tackling ability to wreak havoc on the inside for a 4-3 team. The two-time All-Big Sky linebacker has been very productive in his career and should be taken in the 6th or 7th round.
- Brandon Denmark, Florida A&M
FAMU often has a player sneak into the 7th round and this year Denmark is the guy who may. The former Illinois transfer never quite lived up to the hype in terms of awards but as an outside linebacker in the Rattlers’ scheme you could see flashes of a very good player. His best position is inside and likely will mean he is a better pro than collegiate player. Denmark measured 6’3 ¼, 244 pounds and ran a 4.6 40 with 28 bench reps, 1.55 10-yard, 40 inch vertical, and 11’3 broad jump that could make a team take a flyer on him late in the 7th round.
- Cqulin Hubert, Southeastern Louisiana
The former Texas Tech transfer was just a notch below the speed you look for in a starting Big 12 linebacker so he left and saw playing time at SLU. He was the Southland Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 with 90 tackles and 11 tackles for loss. While he doesn’t show great speed on tape he is a decent tackler who fills gaps and plays smart. He’s more of a 3-4 inside linebacker because of his lack of great range but the fact he is 6’1 3/8, 237 pounds with 4.9 speed.
- Tavarius Wilson, North Alabama
The undersized but highly productive D2 linebacker had a very good pro day workout to reinforce the athleticism you find on tape. There wasn’t a huge buzz on him during the fall but I think scouts started to notice him as they looked at Dimitri Orr, whose measurables are ideal, and came away liking Wilson as a free agent after he put up 123 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, four picks, and four sacks while returning two picks for touchdowns. He was named the Gulf South Defensive Player of the Year and AFCA All-American but his lack of ideal size (5’11, 239) will prevent him from getting drafted. He did run in the high 4.7s, bench 26 reps, jump 36 ½ inches, and broad jump a 9’6 at his pro day that likely cemented him getting a contract.
- Ben Johnson, UT Martin
The two-time All-OVC linebacker had 102 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss in 2013 running a 4.8 40 at 6’0 ½, 234 pounds. On tape he plays pretty smart but is just a notch off what you are looking for in someone who stands out enough to get drafted. I think he makes a very good free agent pickup who would need the right situation.
OVERRATED: Johnny Millard, Cal Poly
He was a three-time All-Conference pick and the son of a 10-year NFL veteran with 4.8 speed at 6’2, 232 pounds so he received numerous invites and ratings as a priority free agent. When watching his tape he did not show out like someone you would expect to receive so many accolades and is considered a camp body.
UNDERRATED: Brock Coyle, Montana
Coyle didn’t really get the attention from the media until his pro day workout but NFL teams were giving him late round grades during the fall and he continued to show draftable ability at the NFLPA Game. He’s a very good player who could play 5-10 years in the NFL.
SLEEPER: Ryan Jones, Montana Tech
Jones is a lot like Brandon Denmark in that he is the ideal looking player for his position with very good athleticism. At 6’3 ¼, 249 pounds he runs a high 4.6 40 and puts up 28 bench reps with a 34 inch vertical and 10’0 broad jump. While he was not a high impact player at the NAIA level he can be a good special teamer and has the upside to become a quality reserve. If he were to come back next year he would likely rate among the top 50 small school prospects in the preseason. Remember that he did not play in 2012 so for a player coming off an injury he did pretty well and his best football is ahead of him.
RISER: Carlos Fields, Winston Salem State
This was an easy pick after considered a priority free agent you could get for a fair price after the draft who probably caused a team to take him in the 6th or 7th round after running a 4.5 40, 38 inch vertical, and 17 reps, 10’8 broad jump, 7.04 3-cone, and 4.22 short shuttle at 6’1, 238 pounds at the Wake Forest Pro Day.
FALLER: Nate Dreiling, Pittsburg State
This was tough to pick but nobody has really hurt themselves this year. Dreiling makes the list but probably could have been listed as overrated just as much. He got a Shrine invite and was highly touted, even beating out Shaquil Barrett for MIAA Freshman of the Year honors in 2010, but his 5.1 speed at 6’3, 230 pounds and subpar performance in the Shrine showed why NFL teams and myself have had him as a camp grade, who now may not get more than a tryout due to his pro day. He only did 8 reps on the bench along with a 25 ½ inch vertical, 8’6 broad jump, and 7.25 3-cone at his pro day.
INTRIGUING: Nick DiMarco, William Penn
This pick will surprise many because most have not seen him on tape but DiMarco is fun to watch. He played end for William Penn but at 6’2, 250 pounds with 4.7 speed he is a projected 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL. He’s got good explosion, can bend and dip, and was productive in college as a defensive end. He had 55 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, and 13 sacks in 2013 to earn All-MSFA Midwest honors for the second consecutive year. Expect him to get a contract after the draft.
SMALL SCHOOL LINEBACKER RANKINGS
|Pos Rank||First Name||Last Name||School||Round|
|4||Carlos||Fields Jr.||Winston Salem State||7th|
|12||Joe||Thomas||South Carolina State||FA|
|13||Bryan||Johnson||West Texas A&M||FA|
|14||Nick||DiMarco||William Penn (IA)||Tryout|
|24||Brendan “B.J.”||Stevens||California PA||Tryout|
|26||Stanley “Stan”||Langlow||Central Washington||Tryout|
|27||Jason||Gladfelder||Grand View (IA)||Tryout|
|30||Andrew||Weaver||Sam Houston State||Tryout|
|33||Gregory “Greg”||Barksdale||Tennessee State||Tryout|
|Pos Rank||First Name||Last Name||School||Round|
|12||Taylor||McCuller||West Texas A&M||Tryout|
|17||Tanner||Brock||Sam Houston State||Tryout|
|18||Grant||Olson||North Dakota State||Tryout|
|28||Ibe||Nduka||New Mexico Highlands||Tryout|
|29||Weston||Hazelhurst||University of Cumberlands (KY)||Tryout|
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