This year’s crop of outside linebackers have the potential to be game changers. Explosiveness and the ability to rush the passer are what NFL scouts look for. This group definitely has that skill set and should be taken by the third round.
1. KHALIL MACK (BUFFALO) 6-3/251
Some experts believe Khalil Mack is a better prospect than Jadeveon Clowney. He reminds me of Von Miller coming out of Texas A&M who was a hybrid defensive end and outside linebacker. Mack would preferably be more productive in a 3-4 scheme being able to rush the passer and also drop in coverage. He has a high motor and plays with a chip on his shoulder. He hasn’t always been the anointed, elite prospect since high school a la Clowney. The only thing that scares me is that he did not consistently play against top competition but he did show his raw talent against Ohio State this past season.
2. ANTHONY BARR (UCLA) 6-5/255
This former running back turned outside backer is an imposing figure at 6-5 and 255 pounds. Anthony Barr is still rough around the edges but he showed enough at UCLA to be a top 10 pick. What stands out is his closing speed and agility which helps him wreak havoc in the backfield. Stand him up in a 3-4 defense and turn him loose. Barr is still improving as a run defender but that will come with time. His running back days definitely give him a natural burst off the snap that is a plus. Bottom line, in three more seasons Barr can end up being the best outside linebacker coming out of this draft class.
3. KYLE VAN NOY (BYU) 6-3/243
Put on Van Noy’s tape and you will witness an instinctive and explosive linebacker who knows how to bring down the ball carrier at all costs. His reaction skills are elite even though some scouts think his athleticism is not at the standard as some of the other prospects. I disagree. Van Noy can reads offenses well and can stop the run while being savvy in pass coverage. He earned even more respect by returning for his senior season and battled late season injuries to keep playing, an absolute leader on defense. Van Noy is a mid-round sleeper who will make an NFL team with no problems.
4. RYAN SHAZIER (OHIO STATE) 6-1/237
Ryan Shazier looks like a safety but hits like a backer. He is undersized and his frame is leaner than most at his position. Despite his size, he makes plays and uses speed to get to the ball. Reminds me of Lavonte David who has been productive for Tampa Bay so far in his young career. David also has acceleration and burst which helps him blitz with ease through any gap. We will see how tough he is at the next level where blockers are much larger and more physical. Shazier’s stock has been soaring because of his impressive combine and pro day numbers.
5. MARCUS SMITH (LOUISVILLE) 6-3/251
Marcus Smith played quarterback in high school before converting to linebacker as a true freshman. Smith is raw and is a definite sleeper because of his pass rush ability. Racked up 14.5 sacks in 2013 and projects to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. His QB experience has helped him on the other side of the ball and must be coachable since he did change positions. Must get stronger to go against NFL offensive linemen so he may start out as a situational pass rusher. In this day and age, it doesn’t hurt to have a few of those on your depth chart.