2011 NFL Draft: Top Five Linebackers
This year’s linebacker draft class isn’t particularly strong. There are a handful of 3-4 pass-rushing OLBs that highlight this class, but for teams who need a traditional 4-3 LB, they may opt to wait until the middle rounds.
Selecting the right LB is no easy task as well. Each team uses linebackers in their own way. Some teams utilize a Cover 2 (Tampa, Indy and Chicago) and rely on linebackers who excel at making quick reads and at playing in pass coverage. On the other hand, 3-4 defenses tend to have at least one outside linebacker who specializes at blitzing like Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware or Kansas City’s Tamba Hali.
Finding a star at ILB is even tougher. It’s not every year a player like San Francisco’s Patrick Willis or Carolina’s Jon Beason are available.
1. OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M – (6’2, 237)
Von Miller has solidified himself as a top pick in this draft with his speed, quickness and pass-rushing abilities. He explodes off the line, diagnosing the play quickly and reacting towards the ball-carrier. He’ll need to learn how to disengage from larger linemen better as he’s more apt to elude a blocker than take one head-on. Miller is best fit as a 3-4 OLB. Teams are going to need to be patient teaching him the nuances of playing zone coverage, but he’s more than athletic enough to succeed at it.
2. OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA – (6’2, 254)
The post-combine hype was that Ayers wasn’t athletic enough to merit first-round consideration. For those who still think that way, they haven’t watched much of his game tape. Ayers is versatile, he played multiple positions including defensive end, both strongside and weakside linebacker. Not many players can do this because most don’t have the mental aptitude to do this or the athletic ability. Some of his game tape isn’t that impressive, but it’s the fact that UCLA was asking him to do so many different things, some of which didn’t precisely fit his skill set. Ayers has a lot of potential, that much is for certain.
3. OLB Bruce Carter, North Carolina – (6’2″, 241)
As a traditional 4-3 OLB, Carter could be solid pro starter. He plays sideline to sideline and although he can be caught being overaggressive, he typically makes good reads. He’s a solid tackler but sometimes tries to collision tackle rather than break down and wrap-up. Carter’s big weakness is playing in tight spaces due to a lack of strength. He doesn’t disengage from blockers well either. He’s at best left to roam certain spaces on the field where he can either seal the edge and redirect the ball-carrier or drop back in coverage.
4. OLB Martez Wilson, Illinois – (6’4″, 250)
Wilson is likely the second-most athletic linebacker in this draft, behind Von Miller. The problem for Wilson is that he played defensive end in high school, struggled his first two years and then suffered a herniated disc. In his final year, things really came together for him and he had a very productive year. When things finally clicked, he played smart being able to read the play and react accordingly. Something to keep in mind is that he was just beginning to understand the middle linebacker well at Illinois and was really turning it on at the end of the year. As a prospect, there’s a lot to like for the patient team who can coach him up.
5. ILB Kelvin Sheppard, LSU – (6’2″, 250)
The two issues with Sheppard is that he’s not a great blitzer up the middle and struggles disengaging from blockers. Beyond that, there’s a lot to like. He’s a natural leader in the middle who gets everybody in position. He’s athletic enough and could even afford to shed a few pounds. Sheppard’s fundamentals are great and it’s tough to find situations where he isn’t moving in the right direction for the play. For teams that won’t need him to blitz, he should be a solid pro. But for teams like Philadelphia who bring the blitz, he’s not an option.
6. ILB Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina
7. ILB Mason Foster, Washington
8. OLB Dontay Moch, Nevada
9. OLB Christopher Carter, Fresno State
10. ILB Colin McCarthy, Miami
More 2011 NFL Draft Coverage