As we get closer to draft night next week, our draft team will be doing a series of positional rankings that will highlight the top 10 players in this year’s draft, by position. Today, we continue with a look at our top 10 inside linebacker prospects. Be sure to check our previous installments of our top 10 defensive tackle prospects, top 10 outside linebacker prospects, and top 10 defensive end prospects, and make sure to check back, as we will continue our rankings series right through the start of round one in just under a month from now.
1.) Alec Ogletree, Georgia, 6’2″ 242 lbs - A converted safety, Ogeltree has all the physical tools necessary to excel as an inside linebacker at the next level. He plays with an incredibly tenacious attitude, gets downhill extremely fast, and is tremendous from sideline to sideline. He is the most athletic of all his counterparts, and will be a weapon for teams as they look for linebackers with great cover skills in the pass happy NFL, which is beginning to see more and more athletic tight ends. Ogletree needs some work in his ability to shed blocks once engaged, but his speed and quickness gives him the ability to beat lineman to the point of attack before they can get to him. He has had some off the field issues, but from everything I’ve hear, teams feel as though the worst is behind him. Ogletree is an athletic freak who has done a great job of adding the necessary weight to make the transition from safety to linebacker. He has the skill set to become the best pro out of this entire class. As he gains more experience, his instincts and recognition skills should improve as well.
2.) Manti Te’o, Notre Dame, 6’1″ 241 lbs - Regardless of what you believe about the fake girlfriend hoax, there is no denying Te’o's abilities as a player. While he did not necessarily impress with testing numbers, Te’o has rare instincts as an interior linebacker that you just cant teach. While he may not be the fastest player in the 40 yard dash, he plays much faster than his time would indicate as he moves very well from sideline to sideline, is adequate in coverage, and just gets downhill incredibly fast thanks to his elite recognition skills and instincts. He is generally good at getting off blocks, but certainly needs some work in the area. Outside of the Alabama game, there were times in 2012 when he would become engulfed by a bigger interior offensive lineman. When uses his hands to engage, create separation, and shed, he is very good but he just needs to do it more consistently. As a blitzer, he is fantastic at timing the snap count and hitting the gap with lightning quickness.
3.) Kevin Minter, LSU, 5’11″ 246 lbs - Minter may have been a bit overshadowed at LSU due to the talent that surrounded him in the defensive front seven, but make no mistake, he is a very good player. While he has some tendencies to get tangled up with an opposing blocker, similar to Te’o, he has excellent lateral quickness, can read and react very well, and is very aggressive in attacking the lead blocker. He seems to be comfortable in coverage and is just a very tough overall player.
4.) Jon Bostic, Florida, 6’1″ 245 lbs - Bostic has excellent speed for the position and is one of the most tenacious players in this draft. An extremely aggressive linebacker and hard hitter, he also demonstrates fantastic leadership skills shown by his ability to command the defense, as he is constantly communicating coverages to the secondary and shifting the defensive line based on the pre-snap formation of the offense. Bostic is very good in coverage, but does need to improve on his overall block shedding ability and pursuit angles. He is an excellent blitzer and certainly a player who is going to make some highlight reel hits.
5.) Vince Williams, Florida State, 6’0″ 247 lbs - Williams is someone who hasn’t received much attention, presumably due to the immense talent he was surrounded by at Florida State. A combine snub, and late invitee to the Senior Bowl, Williams made the most out of his short week in Mobile by putting together some impressive practice time and a very good game performance. Williams is another linebacker who may not have great top end speed, but makes up for it with excellent quickness and cerebral ability. He is very aggressive, takes on lead blocks well, and sheds blocks just as good as any of his counterparts. He will likely be a day 3 selection where I think he will be an absolute steal.
6.) Kevin Reddick, North Carolina, 6’1″ 243 lbs - Reddick is an incredibly instincitve player and displays some of the best recognition skills in this entire group. He seems to have a great understanding of opposing offensive schemes as well as his assignment within his defensive schemes. He has good take on skills and is aggressive when taking on lead blocks, but is inconsistent with his technique, at times taking them on with the wrong shoulder and creating running lanes. He is good at disengaging from an opposing blocker and shows an uncanny ability to avert blocks while remaining disciplined within the scheme.
7.) Kiko Alonso, Oregon, 6’3″ 248 lbs - Alonso is a very good player whose value will be diminished by a number of off the field incidents at Oregon. However, if drafted into the right situation, he certainly has the talent to be a success at the next level. Alonso is incredibly quick and aggressive, has great hand technique, and sheds blocks very well. He has a fantastic motor, plays well in coverage, and seems to play with a chip on his shoulder. At times, he plays a bit too aggressive and undisciplined, but with the proper coaching, these issues can be ironed out. If he can keep it together off the field, he has the chance to be a very good player at the next level.
8.) Nico Johnson, Alabama, 6’1″ 248 lbs - Johnson is an excellent run defender and seems to have the cerebral ability to be a great defensive leader in the middle. He has the type of football IQ that you’d expect of a Nick Saban pupil, is incredibly tough against lead blocks, and has some of the best block shedding ability in this class. Where he struggles is in his overall athleticism and coverage ability, which will drop his value if teams are unsure of whether or not he can be a three down player at the next level.
9.) AJ Klein, Iowa State, 6’1″ 250 lbs - While athleticism may not be one of Klein’s strengths, he seems to make up with it with his tremendous ability to read, diagnose, and react against the run. He has displayed excellent leadership ability, on and off the field, at Iowa State, plays very strong and displays good take on skills, but doesn’t necessarily show a great ability to avert blocks, which sometimes causes him to get tangled up with an opposing blocker. He is slightly below average in coverage, but seems to have a good understanding of how to read and react to routes. His leverage is a bit inconsistent at times, but that is an issue that can surely be corrected.
10.) Michael Mauti, Penn State, 6’2″ 243 lbs - Mauti has the talent of a great Penn State linebacker, but has had a career that has been hampered by injuries – three total ACL tears over the course of his tenure as a Nittany Lion – one in his right knee, two in his left. Outside of the durability concerns, Mauti has great size for the position and is a very heady middle linebacker with good recognition skills and the ability to locate and get to the ball. He has an adequate ability to take on blocks, but the knee injuries have hurt his lower body strength as he doesn’t display a very strong anchor below the waist, and can get knocked or driven back at times. His range from sideline to sideline is assisted by his ability to recognize, but lacks some burst and overall quickness. Likely a day three selection, but could be a solid contributor to a team if he can find a way to stay healthy and rebuild some lower body strength.