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1. Khalil Mack, Buffalo
While Mack didn’t blowup the combine as many thought he would, he’s still an explosive athlete with freakish ability. His versatility compares with Denver’s Von Miller. In fact, a 4-3 team may utilize him in a similar fashion. He could standup and play outside linebacker in base packages. In sub packages, he could put his hand in the dirt and rush the quarterback. He’s also capable of playing 3-4 outside linebacker. As a pass rusher, he has the power to drive offensive lineman back into the pocket, but he also demonstrates the quickness to get around the corner. He’s a discipline run defender. Overall, Mack has the measurables, production, and work ethic to emerge as a star. He is the type of talent you build your entire defense around, regardless of scheme.
2. Kyle Van Noy, BYU
Defenses can use Van Noy in a variety of ways. He could rush the quarterback as a 3-4 outside linebacker or even play SAM in a 4-3 defense. In some schemes, he could even kick inside and play inside linebacker. Van Noy is one of the most productive defensive players in BYU history. He’s a good tackler and displays excellent pursuit. His 2013 season failed to live up to the standard he set after a monster 2012 campaign. Nonetheless, Van Noy is a solid all around player capable of starting for multiple teams immediately.
3. Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
Shazier is a phenomenal athlete, displaying great pursuit and making plays in the backfield. Because he lacks the bulk (222 pounds) 3-4 teams prefer in their outside linebackers, Shazier projects as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or an outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. More specifically, he is ideally suited for a Tampa 2 system, where he can lean on his athleticism.
4. Christian Jones, Florida State
Versatile enough to play inside or outside, Jones was a three-year starter for Florida State. He has the athleticism and size to develop into a starter and does a nice job of timing his blitzes. He is fluid in space, showing terrific pursuit. He also does a nice job of containing the outside. At worst, he’ll develop into a core special teams player. At best, he’ll develop into an every-down linebacker capable of rushing the quarterback. I’d bet on the latter.
5. Telvin Smith, Florida State
Undersized at 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, Smith is ideally suited to play weakside linebacker in a Tampa 2 defense. He’s a good athlete, using his athleticism to bolt from sideline-to-sideline. He’s a good tackler, reads and reacts well, and does a nice job of tracking down ball carriers. He can also cover the flats.
6. Trevor Reilly, Utah
Reilly is an intriguing prospect because of his size (6-foot-5, 245 pounds) and versatility. He runs to the ball well, displays good tackling fundamentals, and fights through blocks. His athleticism is average, however, and he could stand to play with more power. He has the size and physicality to combat tight ends, which will make him valuable as an outside linebacker in a 43 defense. He was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2013.
7. Jordan Tripp, Montana
Tripp tested well at the combine. He struggles in coverage, however, limiting his upside. He’s an intense player and does a nice job of reading and reacting. Overall, Tripp is an outstanding run-stopping linebacker. His pass coverage woes may cost him a round or two, but he has the ability to contribute on defense and special teams.
8. Christian Kirksey, Iowa
Kirksey can cover the flats, but he lacks the straight-line speed to turn and run with tight ends. He has good tackling fundamentals, though, and brings immense experience to the position. While he’ll make an occasional start, he’s likely to go down as a better college player than pro.
9. Boseko Lokombo, Oregon
Possessing the ability to cover gives Lokombo a chance at the next level. He’s undersized (6-foot-2, 225 pounds), but plays well in space. He needs to improve his tackling skills and his size limits him to the 4-3. He is a mid to late-round prospect.
10. Denicos Allen, Michigan State
Last season Allen led Michigan State’s defense in tackles. He is physical, consistently fighting through blockers. He also shows great pursuit. His lack of athleticism limits his potential, but Allen is a tough player who will compete for a roster spot.
Best of the Rest
Khairi Fortt, California
Howard Jones, Shepherd
Shaun Lewis, Oklahoma State
Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College
Jonathan Newsome, Ball State