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Top 10 Linebackers in the 2018 NFL Draft

Top Linebackers!
Publish Date: 04/20/2018
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster

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1. Roquan Smith – Georgia – 6’ 236

Roquan Smith had 137 tackles including 14 for a loss and 6.5 sacks for the Bulldogs in 2017.

Smith is an excellent middle backer prospect who plays well against both the run and the pass. He has excellent speed and an even better burst as he approaches the ball carrier. He is a good tackler, who makes hits with authority. He is smaller than is desirable for NFL linebackers, but has never-the-less thrived at a high level of college play. His feet can get a bit crazy at times, which makes it hard for him to transition. This is mostly on play action passes and misdirection plays.

Strengths:

  • Excellent closing speed

  • Bigger hitter

  • Matches up with receivers well in the pass game

Weaknesses:

  • Funky footwork

  • Undersized

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2. Leighton Vander Esch – Boise State – 6’4” 256

Leighton Vander Esch had 141 tackles including 8.5 for a loss in 2017.Β  He added 4 sacks and 2 interceptions on the season.

Vander Esch is a turnover machine who makes interceptions and causes fumbles. He is strong in coverage, but at times seems lost. Vander Esch has the desired size and athletic ability to be a star in the NFL. He needs to work on using his hands when engaging with blockers, which will help him disengage from blockers. He only started one season in college and it was not against top competition.

Strengths:

  • Good coverage skills

  • Causes turnovers left and right

  • Great size and athletic profile

Weaknesses:

  • Needs to improve at disengaging from blocks

  • Seems lost in coverage at times

  • Only started for one season

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3. Rashaan Evans – Alabama – 6’1” 232

Rashaan Evans had 74 tackles including 13 for a loss and 6 sacks in 2017.

Evans is a fast-flow gap shooting Mike linebacker. He has the desired size and is an excellent athlete. He is a sure tackler who brings a big hit every time. He has had success as a pass rusher, but he may not have the size or tools to do this at the NFL level. He needs to work on his coverage skills and his ability to get off of blocks.

Strengths:

  • Explosive athlete

  • Has had success as a pass rusher

  • Excellent tackler

  • Makes good reads

Weaknesses:

  • Not great in coverage

  • Does not use hands to get off blocks

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4. Tremaine Edmunds – Virginia Tech – 6’4” 253

Tremaine Edmunds had 108 tackles including 14 for a loss and 5.5 sacks in his final season at Virginia Tech.

Edmunds has the size and athletic profile to be a stud in the NFL. He has performed well in college, but still has a lot of room to grow. He has excellent speed and burst when closing on a ball-carrier. He can throttle down and get his body under control to make a tackle and avoid getting juked, but at times will get off-balance. His size projects him as someone who should be able to use his length to shock and disengage from blocks, but he does not demonstrate this on the field. He also projects as someone who should be excellent in coverage and be able to man up on big slots and tight ends, but he has not been in a situation to demonstrate if he can do this.

Strengths:

  • Shows great body control

  • Has a great burst

  • Elite size

Weaknesses:

  • Can play off balance at times

  • Needs to work on disengaging from blocks

  • Has not demonstrated projected coverage ability

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5. Fred Warner – BYU – 6’3” 236

Over the last two seasons Fred Warner has had 173 tackles including 19.5 tackles for a loss. In the same time span he had four interceptions.

Warner is an exciting player who brings a lot of positives. Is is a strong tackler, but needs to do a better job of getting off of blocks. He is built a bit thin and lacks ideal strength. He is excellent in pass coverage and breaks on the ball with great speed. He seems to have a competitive drive that could help him overcome some of his deficits. He did not play at a particularly high level of competition, and may have trouble adapting to the strength and size of NFL players.

Strengths:

  • Plays with passion and energy

  • Relentless tackler

  • Explosive athlete

  • Excellent coverage skills

Weaknesses:

  • Can get pushed back and outmuscled in the run game

  • Does not get off blocks well

  • Backside pursuit leaves something to be desired

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6. Christian Sam – Arizona State – 6’1” 244

Christian Sam had 127 tackles including 9.5 for a loss and 3 sacks for the Sun Devils last season.

Sam was an extremely productive college player who has the tools needed to succeed in the NFL. He has excellent size and more speed than his clocked time would lead you to believe. Sam has very good closing speed and plays well against both the run and the pass. He makes excellent reads, but at times gets himself in a poor position with his erratic footwork. As a pass defender, he has the ability to jump routes and make a play on the ball. Sam plays needs to work on using his hands to get off of blocks.

Strengths:

  • Super productive in 2017

  • Great closing speed

  • Excellent reads and breaks in pass coverage

  • Smart player who makes good reads

Weaknesses:

  • Needs to do a better job getting off of blocks

  • Can get crazy feet at times

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7. Malik Jefferson – Texas – 6’2” 236

Last season Malik Jefferson had 110 tackles including 10 for a loss and four sacks.

Jefferson was a top high school talent who took a long time to blossom at Texas and still has room to grow. He is an incredible athlete who can track a rusher from sideline to sideline and run down plays that break in the other direction. His tackling is somewhat inconsistent, but when when he is on it is excellent. He does not always play up to his ability. He does not seem to be overly intense or aggressive.

Strengths:

  • Great athletic ability

  • Explosive tackler

  • Had a great burst

  • Can mirror and delay blitz quarterback effectively.

Weaknesses:

  • Misses too many tackles

  • Does not play with much intensity

  • Looks lost in coverage

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8. Genard Avery – Memphis – 6’ 248

Genard Avery had 80 tackles including 22 for a loss and 8.5 sacks last season.

Avery is a bowling ball with the strength to bull rush and great burst. He can has played both on the line and as a middle linebacker. He fills gaps in the backfield, but can get caught up on play action passes. He lacks the knowhow to be very good in zone and the athletic ability to be effective in man outside of shorter back routes. He can rush the passer, but will need to develop this skill.

Strengths:

  • Quick and agile in tight spaces

  • Fills gaps downhill

  • Has some pass rush ability

  • Strong, can defeat blocks when he uses his hands

Weaknesses:

  • Matches up well in man coverage, but seems to lack direction in zone

  • Long speed is just adequate

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9. Matthew Thomas – Florida State – 6’4” 227

Matthew Thomas had 161 tackles including 21 for a loss over the last two seasons for the Seminoles.

Thomas is an interesting prospect. He has excellent athleticism and can break with great speed, but he looks stiff and awkward in his transitions at times. He gets pushed around at times, but he is tall and lean and looks like he could add to his frame. He seems to float around in coverage. He can shoot the gap and make plays in the backfield, but will scrape more often than he should. Thomas does some very good things and has a lot of athletic potential, but will need some time to develop.

Strengths:

  • Breaks on the ball with great speed

  • Explosive tackler

  • Can shoot the gap with great speed

Weaknesses:

  • Transitions awkwardly at times

  • Needs to add strength

  • Seems lost in coverage

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10. Tegray Scales – Indiana – 6’ 230

Tegray Scales had 89 tackles for the Hoosiers in 2017, but his best season was 2016. That year he had 125 tackles including 24 for a loss and 7 sacks.

Scales is a productive Big 10 linebacker with some very positive traits. He has enough size for the position. He prefers to run around blocks, rather than take them on, which can cause problems with the integrity of the defense. He does make good reads, and has the athletic ability to get where he needs to be, but he does not have great burst. His ability to contribute on special teams will help him make a roster and give him a chance to develop as a defensive player.

Strengths:

  • Good size and speed

  • Makes good reads

  • Productive and experienced

  • Demonstrated ability to contribute on special teams

Weaknesses:

  • Slumped in 2017 after a super productive 2016 season

  • Lacks a second gear

  • A bit passive disengaging from blocks

Β 
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