As we get closer to draft night on the 25th of this month, Turn On The Jets lead NFL Draft Editor, Chris Gross, 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 outside linebacker prospects. Be sure to check our previous installment of our top 10 defensive tackle 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.
Note: This list covers players who will best fit as Outside Linebackers at the next level. Some players can also be considered defensive ends, but based on where we see their best fit, they may be listed here as well. Some players may fit well in either scheme, but may be listed here because of where we see them excelling the most in the NFL.
1.) Barkevious Mingo, LSU, 6’4″ 241 lbs - The top of this position group is one of the most heavily debated topics heading into the draft, but I have no issue placing Mingo at the top of this list. While he may not have the statistics and production numbers of a player like Jarvis Jones, schematics during his 2012 season at LSU relied on him to play in more of a contain type role than a “pin your ears back and create havoc in the backfield” type role.
While he was asked to keep the athletic quarterbacks and speedy running backs of the SEC in check for the better part of last year, Mingo’s 2011 tape reveals him to be a player who can dominate the perimeter as a pass rusher and attack style defensive end/outside linebacker. LSU’s contest against Clemson from 2012 is an excellent demonstration of what Mingo is capable of when he is given more of an attack style assignment – he totaled 5 tackles and half a sack, but was an extremely disruptive force that Clemson did not have an answer for.
Beyond that, Mingo’s superior athleticism, speed, agility, length, and elite first step combine with excellent hand skills, the ability to play with leverage, a wide variety of pass rush moves, and a knack for swatting passes at the line of scrimmage to make him the premier player at the position this year.
2.) Dion Jordan, Oregon, 6’6″ 248 lbs - Jordan, like Mingo, has all the upside in the world as he transitions to the NFL. He has excellent length and athleticism, has very fluid hips, and a motor that doesn’t quit. While he does not possess the variety of pass rush moves that Mingo has displayed, he has an excellent first step and burst off the line of scrimmage. However, unlike Mingo, Jordan does not look comfortable when asked to switch to a 3 point stance, rather than a 2 point stance. Depending on scheme, this could be an issue, but the size he has will allow him to grow into a role where he should be quite interchangeable in a 3-4 scheme. Coverage wise, he is arguably the most natural and comfortable, along with Georgia’s Jarvis Jones. If drafted to a 4-3 scheme, he may not be as good as a fit as he would in a 3-4, but I would still expect him to develop into a highly productive outside linebacker. I do not see him playing a pure defensive end in any scheme at the next level.
3.) Sio Moore, Connecticut, 6’1″ 245 lbs - Moore is a player who I think has serious star potential for this league. Having played in multiple roles at UConn, seeing time as a defensive end, outside linebacker, and middle linebacker, his versatility is off the charts, and it is extremely difficult to see where he struggles. He is incredibly tenacious, has a relentless motor, a fantastic first step in his rush, the flexibility to dip his shoulder on the edge and run the circle, and a tremendous ability to shed blocks through quick and aggressive hand technique. He reads and reacts extremely well, whether reading routes, run scheme, or blocking technique from the various spots he has played in.
Moore is incredibly quick, and plays with the exact attitude that you’d want from anyone in the defensive front seven. His versatility will allow him to excel in any scheme. I could realistically see him being a difference maker as a 3-4 OLB, a 4-3 OLB, or an inside backer in either scheme. I think Moore is a guy who slips into the second round due to the fact that he did not necessarily play against the level of competition as his counterparts coming from the elite college conferences, but becomes one of those prospects who you look back on with disbelief that they were not taken earlier.
4.) Jarvis Jones, Georgia, 6’2″ 245 lbs - Jones was an extremely productive player in college. He has a great motor, plays well in coverage, and has a knack for evading blockers to get to the ball carrier. However, his elusiveness seems to be relied upon more than any type of physicality as he constantly looks to avoid blocks and get around them, rather than engaging and shedding. With how he plays, this has been both beneficial and harmful to him at times, but if will be asked to be a 3-4 OLB at the next level, he is going to need to improve upon this area of play. His first step and get off is adequate, but not quite as good as the players aforementioned. He lacks a counter move in his pass rush and struggles to get to the edge if the opposing offensive lineman can engage with him. Like Jordan, he is a pure OLB and nothing else, with his best fit being a 4-3 scheme.
5.) Arthur Brown, Kansas State, 6’0″ 241 lbs - Brown is similar to Jones in the sense that he is very good at evading opposing blockers. He gets downhill with lightning quickness, often able to beat blockers to the point of attack and has a knack for slipping in between gaps to get to the ball carrier. He is a very smooth athlete with fluid hips that allow him to look very comfortable in coverage, as he makes seamless transitions in and out of his breaks. Like Jones, he can get engulfed by an opposing offensive lineman when engaged, and doesn’t necessarily show a great ability to fight off blocks if he gets tangled up. Unlike Jones, however, he does not appear to shy away from meeting blockers head on, as he often screams downhill aggressively to take them on. It is just a matter of whether or not he can beat them to that point of attack and evade them. He does not avoid contact, but is better when he can get to where he is going without any. Should be a very good fit as an OLB in a 4-3 scheme.
6.) Chase Thomas, Stanford, 6’3″ 244 lbs - Thomas is a player who isn’t going to wow you with speed, burst, and overall athleticism, but he is deceptively explosive, particularly out of a 3 point stance, and seems to have adequate athleticism to match up with backs out of the backfield and tight ends. Thomas has tremendous instincts as shown through his ability to read, react, and get downhill very fast. His most impressive attribute is the violent hands he plays with. He excels at engaging a blocker and shedding via push/pull, club, rip, or swim when defending the run or rushing the passer. He may not be a guy who will get 10-12 sacks per year, although that is not out of the realm of possibilities, but he is more an outside linebacker who will do a tremendous job of setting the edge, providing a pass rush threat, and playing disciplined to his assignment within the scheme. He has a great feel for where the quarterback is in the pocket, as he rarely runs too far upfield, instead often squeezing or spinning back underneath. Thomas is a guy who you will know what you’re getting from on every snap of every game. Very hard nosed player who could fit well as a 3-4 OLB. Similar to Connor Barwin or a pre-aged Calvin Pace.
7.) Khaseem Greene, Rutgers, 6’1″ 241 lbs - Greene is another very hard nosed linebacker with a knack for getting downhill and aggressively taking on blockers and filling gaps. He does a very good job of both shedding and avoiding blocks and is, for the most part, a very good tackler in the open field. His pass rush isn’t quite as good as some of the players on this list, but he wasn’t necessarily asked to play that role at Rutgers, and was more than adequate when asked to blitz. He seems comfortable and aware in coverage, and projects as a natural SAM linebacker in a 4-3 scheme.
8.) Corey Lemonier, Auburn, 6’3″ 255 lbs - Lemonier is one of those “tweeners” who played primarily as a defensive end in college, but is probably best suited as a 3-4 OLB at the next level, rather than a 4-3 DE. He excels in his ability to get off the ball and close the gap between him and the opposing blockers very fast, has a nice balance of lower and upper body strength, and uses his hands very well to create separation and dictate what he is going to do. He has excellent closing speed, and has shown a good variety of pass rush moves. He reads blocks very well and his reaction time appears very natural.
The question for him will whether he can be sufficient in an every down role as an outside linebacker. He is inexperienced in coverage and, while he looked athletic in the linebacker drills at his pro day, he clearly needs work changing direction and reacting with his eyes, rather than feeling things out with his hands. Lemonier’s pass rush abilities should allow him to contribute in that area early, while he develops into a full time role, something I feel comfortable about him succeeding in. From a Jets standpoint, it is interesting to note that Lemonier’s defensive coordinator at Auburn is now with New York as the Jets linebackers coach.
9.) Jamie Collins, Southern Miss, 6’3″ 250 lbs - Collins is an extremely intriguing prospect with upside through the roof. He is very strong at the point of attack, uses his hands well to shed blockers, and plays with very good leverage for the most part. He is quick, athletic, and explosive off the line of scrimmage, and demonstrates a decent amount of pass rush moves. He is a bit raw, however, as he isn’t nearly as polished in coverage as some of the other players on this list, and seems a bit unsure of himself at times, suggesting, instinctually, he has some growing to do. Phyiscially, he is a complete freak who can develop into a dominant edge rusher at the next level. Working on the little things, and dedicating time to the film room, will be key for his development. Likely a 3-4 OLB at the next level, the right coaching can help Collins grow into an excellent player.
10.) Brandon Jenkins, Florida State, 6’2″ 251 lbs - Jenkins, to me, would have been a sure bet to go in one of the first two rounds if he hadn’t sustained a season ending Lisfranc injury last year. He has an excellent burst off the line of scrimmage with an elite first step. His pass rush arsenal is quite extensive, as he does a good job of working speed and power moves, often keeping the opposing lineman guessing. The question marks are his health and ability to transition into a full time linebacker role. Like most of the players on this list, he projects best as a pass rushing 3-4 OLB. If he develops into the type of player he was before injury, he will end up being a steal in this class.