2014 Draft Preview: Inside Linebackers

Posted Apr 18, 2014

It's probable that there will be significantly fewer inside linebackers taken in the first two rounds than the six last year.

Two inside linebackers have been considered special enough in the last four drafts to get selected among the first 10 picks, and C.J. Mosley of Alabama has a chance to make it three out of five years this May. The two top 10 picks of the last four years have produced much different results, with 2012 ninth overall selection Luke Kuechly now one of the top defensive players in the league and 2010 eighth overall pick Rolando McClain looking to work his way back into the NFL.

Mosley clearly stands out in what appears to be a fairly thin crop of inside linebacker prospects. Mosley likely will be the only first-round pick in the group and it’s also probable that there will be significantly fewer inside linebackers taken in the first two rounds than the six last year.

The Dolphins last drafted a pure inside linebacker in 2010 when they selected Austin Spitler from Ohio State in the seventh round. The Dolphins have drafted one inside linebacker in the first round, Jackie Shipp in 1984. The Dolphins actually moved up from 26th to 14th in the first round that year to get Shipp. Miami drafted another inside linebacker, Jay Brophy, in Round 2 that year.


This is a prospect who should interest Dolphins fans because there’s an awful lot about Chris Borland and his game that brings to mind Zach Thomas. Like Thomas, Borland is a prospect lacking ideal height or elite athletic ability who nonetheless just makes play after play. A three-time All-Big Ten selection and a second-team Associated Press All-America selection in 2013, Borland left Wisconsin as the school’s career leader with 14 forced fumbles. Like Thomas, Borland makes up for his physical limitations (he also has short arms) with great intangibles. The Dolphins were able to get Thomas in the fifth round in 1996, but his great NFL success should pave the way for Borland to get selected earlier.

A physical tackler, Preston Brown certainly looks the part of a middle linebacker. He led Louisville with 98 tackles last season and also had a 48-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Memphis. A three-year starter at Louisville, Brown earned second-team all-conference honors the past two seasons — in the Big East in 2012 and in the new American Athletic Conference in 2013. Brown is considered better against the run than in pass coverage at this stage of his development.

If the last name sounds familiar, it’s because Max Bullough’s uncle, Chuck Bullough, played two seasons for the Dolphins in the mid-1990s. Max Bullough actually comes from a long line of football players, with his grandfather (Hank) and his father (Shane) playing at Michigan State before him. Max Bullough was a two-time team captain and a two-time Academic All-American, so he clearly possesses great intangibles. Bullough, however, was suspended for the Rose Bowl following his senior season, although he did address the issue with teams at the scouting combine. A two-time All-Big Ten first-team selection, Bullough is an active linebacker who makes up for his lack of elite athletic skills with great instincts.

A mainstay on the Alabama defense from the time he made three starts as a true freshman in 2010, C.J. Mosley is considered one of the safest prospects at any position in this year’s draft. Mosley earned first-team All-American honors the last two years, adding the Butkus Award to his resume in 2013. Mosley is equally adept against the run or in pass coverage and he’s one of the rare players in this group of inside linebackers who also could line up outside and be equally effective. Mosley showed at Alabama a knack for coming up big in big games — he had an interception in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game against LSU; he had eight tackles, including one for loss, in the 2012 title game against Notre Dame. In addition to his work on defense, Mosley is very good on kick coverage teams.

A five-star recruit out of New York, Shayne Skov saw his career at Stanford interrupted by a torn ACL in the third game of his junior year in 2011. Skov was able to come back in 2012 after missing the season opener, but it wasn’t until last fall that he looked like his old self. Skov earned second-team AP All-America honors in 2013 after leading Stanford with 109 tackles and adding 13 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Skov is an aggressive run defender with great instincts who should be able to make an impact on special teams early in his NFL career. Skov, who is fluent in Spanish, isn’t afraid to throw his body around but has limitations in pass coverage.

THE BEST OF THE REST (In Alphabetical Order)

Lamin Barrow
6-1, 235

Christian Jones
6-3, 240
Florida State

James Morris
6-1, 240

Yawin Smallwood
6-2, 245

Avery Williamson
6-1, 245


Other small-school prospects to watch: Small-school prospects to watch: Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky; Nate Dreiling, Pittsburg State

NFL bloodlines: BYU’s Uani’ Unga is the cousin of former Chicago Bears running back Harvey Unga … Cal Poly’s Johnny Millard is the son of longtime Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Keith Millard.

Long shot to watch: Long shot to watch: Jordan Zumwalt didn’t rack up accolades during his time at UCLA, but he closed out his collegiate career with a couple of highlight-reel plays in the Sun Bowl against Virginia Tech when he delivered a huge hit on quarterback Logan Thomas and also returned an interception 43 yards.