2014 NFL Draft: Final Linebacker Rankings


Jan 2, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley (32) runs toward Oklahoma Sooners ball carrier during the second half of the Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Here the final rankings for linebackers in the upcoming draft for all three spots in the 4-3 as well as the two inside linebacker positions in the 3-4.  Only the players I have broken down are included.

4-3 Middle Linebacker

1. C.J. Mosley, Alabama – Mosley is the best pure linebacker in this class.  He can play the run, help in pass coverage and has shown he can be a playmaker.  The one concern with Mosley is the medical and specifically his shoulder.  That is the one issue that could hurt him in the draft.

2. Jordan Tripp, Montana – Tripp was basically the FCS version of Mosley.  Not only was he great as a middle linebacker, but was able to move around and play different spots depending on the formation and situation.

3. Avery Williamson, Kentucky – So many of the players that could end up going on day three of the draft are sub package type plays that specialize in a certain area.  Williamson can do everything but just needs to keep getting better at them.  He can play the run, will take on blocks and fight through them as well as showing some tools in coverage.  Williamson is the type of player that might take a year or two, but could end up being a star down the road.

4. Chris Borland, Wisconsin – Borland is an old school MIKE that thrives playing in a phone booth and fighting to get to the football with remarkable strength.  He shows some ability to help in short zone, but he is best suited to be a 2-down run stopping specialist.  His lack of length as well as a lingering shoulder concern could be potential stumbling blocks.

5. Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut – Smallwood is a clinician when it comes to playing the run.  He is fantastic at taking on and shedding blocks as well as fighting through trash to get to the ball carrier.  As a result, he has been able to make a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage.  His overall athleticism is questionable and there is still question marks with his ability to play in coverage, but he is outstanding when it comes to understanding how to defend the run.

6. Preston Brown, Louisville – Brown is a big thumper in the middle that looks to blow up the opponent whenever the chance is there.  He shows a good amount of strength, but plays high and it makes it difficult for him to win with leverage and he can have trouble breaking down to make tackles.

4-3 Weak Side Linebacker

1. Ryan Shazier, Ohio State – Shazier is the prototype WILL.  He has the speed and explosiveness to make plays all over the field, can help in coverage as well as against the run and contribute on the blitz.

2. Chris Kirksey, Iowa – Kirksey does not get nearly the attention he should, but he is an outstanding weak side linebacker that looks ready to step in and start for a team immediately.  He is good in coverage and has experience working against slot receivers.  Kirksey is not afraid to take on blocks on his way to the ball carrier, whether it be against the run or as a pass rushing threat.

3. Jordan Tripp, Montana – Tripp has the athleticism and is really impressive in how he gets into his drops for zone.  He has  good sense of spacing and is able to close on the ball quickly.  If he is not playing in the middle, he would be fantastic on the weak side.

4. Telvin Smith, Florida State – Best suited to play nickel at least initially, Smith is undersized and tends to struggle in one on one situations.  He excels in team situations and anticipates plays well so he can stay out of blocks which reduces the amount of an issue that his size brings.  Smith has speed and can cover a lot of ground.

5. Marquis Flowers, Arizona – Flowers played SAM for the Wildcats but a large amount of his responsibilities, including how he was used in coverage, was far more akin to a WILL.  Going to WILL would also make his size less of an issue.  He shows a lot of skill and confidence in playing coverage in man as well as zone.  Flowers is fantastic on the blitz, is able to read and diagnose plays quickly, so he can knife into the backfield before plays get started.  He just needs to improve how quickly he can take on and shed blocks.

6. Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA – Zumwalt’s body type and range makes him more able to contribute at weak side linebacker, but he brings the mentality of a middle linebacker to that spot.  He can contribute in coverage but needs to continue getting better.  Zumwalt brings a ton of intensity and will lay the wood on opponents without losing his tackling form to do it.

7. Christian Jones, Florida State – Jones has played three different positions the last three seasons and really does not have a position right now.  However, in terms of skill set, his best position appears to be at WILL.  He is athletic enough to do the job but just needs to get better at making plays on the ball when it is in the air.

8. Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College – Pierre-Louis is incredibly fast and has a terrific build to play the position.  He needs to get better at diagnosing plays, angles and how he is able to find his way to the ball carrier.  As a raw athlete, he is a really attractive prospect, but he has a lot of work to do technically.

9. Chris Young, Arizona State – Young does his best work when he is able to attack downhill and fly to the football.  He brings a lot of energy but he needs to pay it off better with better technique and fundamentals.

4-3 Strong Side Linebacker 

1. Devon Kennard, USC – While Kennard had an extremely productive career playing more of a rush backer position for the Trojans, the skills that should translate the best to the NFL for Kennard put him at SAM.  He is an extremely smart player that is aggressive, willing to take on blocks, and can work his way through trash to make tackles.  Kennard reads screen passes well and can help on the blitz, but is not a rusher first.

2. Derrell Johnson, East Carolina – Like with Kennard, Johnson played a hybrid rush backer and SAM.  He can rush the passer a little bit, but he is incredibly strong and is accustomed to taking on contact immediately from the snap as he goes to play the run.

3. Marquis Flowers, Arizona – This is the position Flowers played at Arizona, though a different version in their 3-3-5.  He is undersized for that spot and needs to get a little bit bigger so he can hold up better against blocks.  On the plus side, he can diagnose and attack plays before they start and were he to play SAM and be able to hold up, he would give a team a huge advantage in coverage.

4. Christian Jones, Florida State – Jones played this position his sophomore season.  He does not really like taking head on contact and tries to run around blocks as opposed to through them.  A team could look at him here, but this seems like a questionable fit.

3-4 Weak Inside Linebacker 

1. C.J. Mosley, Alabama – Mosley is best utilized where he can fly around and make plays unencumbered, but this is the spot he played for the Tide and he played it extremely well.  Great instincts and would be right at home in terms of scheme.

2. Ryan Shazier, Ohio State – Shazier is not someone suited to take on many blocks but he can blitz from the middle effectively.  Playing here, he can fly around and make plays as long as the defensive line keeps him clean.

3. Chris Kirksey, Iowa – Kirkey is a terrific player and made for the WILL, but he can certainly help from here.  He has shown he can take on and shed blocks pretty well for being a WILL and he would be asked to do that in addition to everything else he has done outside.

4. Jordan Tripp, Montana – This basically is the perfect setup for combining where he excels at MIKE and at WILL.  He is probably better suited for the 4-3, but he could be a terrific player in this role as well.

5. Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA – In many respects, Zumwalt is sort of a tweener in the 4-3.  In the 3-4, he has a natural fit here.  He has decent range and has shown he can generate some power as a tackler.  Zumwalt needs to continue to get better in terms of coverage, but this might be his best fit.

6. Marquis Flowers, Arizona – Flowers’ ability to attack on the delayed blitz could allow him to be a great fit in an aggressive scheme.  His ability to diagnose plays and get there before they can develop would be in great shape from this spot.  Flowers can also help in coverage from here, especially in underneath coverage where he can be really effective.

7. Chris Young, Arizona State – If Young is put into an aggressive, downhill style 3-4 that wants to constantly attack and fly around to the football, Young could work there.  He still has to clean up some fundamentals but this might be where he has his best chance to succeed.

3-4 Strong Inside Linebacker 

1. Avery Williamson, Kentucky – Everything he would be asked to do as a 4-3 middle linebacker, he can do in the 3-4, but have less ground he would need to cover.  This might be his best fit in terms of where he can go at the next level.

2. Chris Borland, Wisconsin – This is the best possible spot for Borland to play.  His lack of length and range would be minimized and he could just be a 3-4 thumper.  His experience as a pass rusher would help him on the blitz as well as working to get to the ball carrier.  And if he can get underneath opposing guards, he is strong enough where he could knock them back into the hole.

3. Devon Kennard, USC – He is accustomed to playing SAM, but his intelligence and awareness combined with the fact he is not afraid to take on contact would make him a great fit here.  And given his experience rushing the passer and his knack for timing on the blitz, he could be really effective attacking the A gap.

4. Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut – Concerns over his lack of athleticism are not nearly as problematic because he will be responsible for less ground.  Smallwood can focus on what he does best, which is playing the run and finding his way to the ball carrier.

5. Derrell Johnson, East Carolina – Johnson is a house in there with an impressive build and strength.  This might be a little out of his comfort zone in terms of what he has done in his career, but his skill set suggests it could end up being the best place for him.