Sep 14, 2013; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles linebacker Telvin Smith (22) during the first half of the game at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
In an NFL defense, the linebacker still represents the staple and leader of the unit. The offensive revolution necessitates athletic, versatile linebacker who can move around and play in all facets of the game. This is a rankings of linebackers I feel best are suited as 4-3 linebackers or inside linebackers in a 3-4.
- CJ Mosley (Alabama): Mosley has held down the Tide defense the past two years and has been one of the best linebackers in the country. He is an incredibly smart player and is always around the play. He does a great job attacking in the run game, but his best asset is his work in coverage. He is an instinctual, quick player who does a great job in man coverage and plays well in zones. He is an every down linebacker and can even add value as a blitzer. A top five talent and one of the best linebackers to come out in recent years. Could play multiple positions in the NFL.
- Khalil Mack (Buffalo): Mack is a versatile weapon who primarily served as an edge rusher at Buffalo. He is talented as a pass rusher, but his style of play is more conducive to an off the line, linebacker. He is very fluid in coverage and can play the run very well. His value in those areas combined with his very good pass rushing ability make him a versatile play who can wreak havoc from all over the formation.
- Telvin Smith (FSU): There are lots of concerns about Smith’s size, but he is no smaller than Lavonte David was coming into the NFL, and he turned out ok. Smith is a phenomenal athlete at the position and it shows in how well he plays in coverage. He is attacking in the run game and does a better job taking on blocks than his size would indicate. He flies all over the field and his ability in coverage is going to make him very appealing to every team. His best fit is a weak side linebacker where he can play in coverage and attack the back end of a play.
- Yawin Smallwood (UConn): Smallwood is not going to blow anyone away with athletic ability, but he is a very smart, attacking linebacker. He does a great job of recognizing the play and coming down hill to attack runners at the line of scrimmage. In coverage, he makes up for athletic ability with intelligence. He flows to the ball very well and can attack it in the air. His best fit is a strong side linebacker where he can attack the play directly.
- Ryan Shazier (Ohio State): Shazier is another great athlete, and he is a high motor player who attacks anything and everything. However, his size does limit his ability to take on blocks, so putting him in a position where he has free shots at a play is ideal. He is very able in coverage as well and his first step makes him a valuable blitzer. Best suited as a weak side linebacker where he can use his speed to chase down the plays and protect him from getting washed out.
- Kyle Van Noy (BYU): Van Noy was a moveable chess piece at BYU and simply because he could do it all. Very aware in coverage and moves very well. He can play the run and was a phenomenal pass rusher in college. He wins with high motor, quickness and very good technique, but I don’t think he wins consistently off the edge in the NFL. He could play either outside linebacker spot in a 4-3 defense and could even play inside of a 3-4.
- Chris Borland (Wisconsin): Borland is the type of linebacker who just wants to hit things. He may be diminutive in stature, but his aggressive mentality on the field paired with his strength set up for a very good player. He is great coming downhill but can also go sideline to sideline as a run defender. He has great short area quickness that is valuable in coverage and though inexperienced there, he has potential. He is also a very adept blitzer, using anticipation, a mean first step and great strength at the point of attack to defeat blocks. Could play either outside position in a 4-3. He is strong enough to take on blocks, but his explosiveness may want to be put out in space more.
- Shayne Skov (Stanford): Skov is a phenomenally smart player, but his play still seems as if his prior knee injury is still affecting it. He is incredibly smart, flows to the ball very well coming down hill, he is a strong tackler and a smart blitzer. His change of direction ability is questionable, he needs to improve taking on blocks and he is very limited in coverage. This is not a knock on his health, but it seems he may have been changed by his knee injury. If he can return to pre injury form, he will be a very good linebacker for years to come.
- Anthony Barr (UCLA): What?! The ultra athletic, super productive pass rusher out of UCLA? Yeah. That one. Barr is a great straight line athlete, but he is very stiff and not overly strong. I do not think he is a prototypical NFL pass rusher. He has a lot of physical flaws that make him a better fit at weak side linebacker. There, he could use his speed to attack plays in space and give him opportunities to rush the passer on occasion. Speed is a valuable thing in the NFL, but he is very raw mentally on defense wand will need time before he is an every down linebacker.
- Christian Jones (FSU): Jones is another player without a position. He has played outside in a 4-3, inside of a 3-4 and even was put at edge rusher a few times. Jones is a phenomenal athlete who has shown some really nice things in coverage and has the speed and strength to come downhill in the run game. He is still very raw, but I love his potential at any linebacker spot.