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2014 Draft Preview: Outside Linebacker

Posted May 2, 2014

Khalil Mack from the University of Buffalo stands out as the top prospect at the position, and he’s likely to become the first outside linebacker since Von Miller was chosen second overall in 2011 to be a top-five pick.


In terms of both depth and top-end talent, this appears to be one of the best drafts for outside linebackers in several years. After only one pure outside linebacker was taken in the first round in 2013, three are considered likely first-round selections this year and another three or four stand a good chance of getting drafted before the end of Round 2.

Khalil Mack from the University of Buffalo stands out as the top prospect at the position, and he’s likely to become the first outside linebacker since Von Miller was chosen second overall in 2011 to be a top-five pick. Anthony Barr from UCLA and Ryan Shazier from Ohio State are the other two college outside linebackers expected to be first-round picks. As always, the draft also will feature several college defensive ends whose skill set and physical dimensions will lead to a switch to outside linebacker in the NFL.

The Dolphins have selected five outside linebackers in the past four drafts, including Koa Misi in the second round in 2010 and Jelani Jenkins in the fourth round last year. The Dolphins have drafted three outside linebackers in the first round, including two in 1976 when they selected Larry Gordon and Kim Bokamper with the 17th and 18th picks. The other was Marco Coleman in 1992 when he was the second of two first-round picks after the Dolphins had taken cornerback Troy Vincent.

BREAKING DOWN THE TOP OUTSIDE LINEBACKER PROSPECTS (In Alphabetical Order)

Jeremiah Attaochu played both outside linebacker and defensive end at Georgia Tech, and even got snaps at inside linebacker. His ideal projection as an NFL player is as a 3-4 outside linebacker, with a focus on getting after the quarterback. Attaochu showed that ability in college, setting a Georgia Tech career record with 31.5 sacks after reaching double digits each of the last two seasons. A native of Nigeria, Attaochu didn’t begin playing football until his freshman year of high school, explaining that he “got tired of just watching it.” Attaochu played outside linebacker in a 3-4 in 2011 and 2012 before moving to defensive end last season. He earned All-American honors last fall and was voted by his teammates as the Georgia Tech player “most likely to be an NFL star.”

One of the top high school recruits in the country, Anthony Barr decided to attend UCLA after being promised he’d get to play running back. But after two seasons as a fullback, Barr moved to outside linebacker in the spring in 2012 after new head coach Jim Mora brought up the idea. The move obviously paid off in a big way, both for UCLA and for Barr. It didn’t take long for Barr to show dynamic playmaking ability at linebacker as he recorded 13.5 sacks in 2012 while earning second-team All-American honors. Barr showed last fall that performance was no fluke, finishing with 10 sacks and this time being named first-team All-American. Barr has great size and long arms, and he’s clearly got a lot of natural ability. He’s also considered versatile enough to be able to line up in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. The only reason Barr isn’t a sure top-10 pick is his relative lack of experience on defense. But he’s got the potential to develop into a Pro Bowl type of player in the NFL.

Even though Khalil Mack was good enough as a high school senior in Fort Pierce to earn third-team all-state honors in Florida, the University of Buffalo was the only FBS school to show much interest in him. Five years later, Mack is considered one of the best defensive players available in the NFL draft. In fact, he’s considered by some to be the safest pick because of his college accomplishments and his pro potential. Mack dominated the MAC from the time he stepped onto the field after a redshirt season, but really gained national attention with a tremendous performance in the 2013 season opener against perennial power Ohio State. Mack had nine tackles that day, including 2.5 sacks, and he returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown that cut Ohio State’s lead to 23-15 in the second quarter before the Buckeyes pulled away for a 40-20 victory. Mack, who set an NCAA career record with 16 forced fumbles and tied the career record with 75 tackles for loss, is a dynamic pass rusher who also has shown the ability to make plays in coverage.

A native of Fort Lauderdale, Ryan Shazier made a quick impact at Ohio State when he started three games in 2011 and made 57 tackles, the highest total by a Buckeyes true freshman since 1996. Shazier only got better from that point on while seeing action at both inside and outside linebacker. On his way to earning first-team Associated Press All-America honors last fall, Shazier tied a record by being named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week three times in the same season. A relentless playmaker with speed and athletic ability, Shazier had 15 games at Ohio State with 10 or more tackles, including a 20-tackle performance against Indiana in 2013 where five of those stops were behind the line of scrimmage. Because of his lack of prototypical size, Shazier appears best suited to play weakside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, although he also could be used as an edge pass rusher in a 3-4.

It was considered a surprise that Kyle Van Noy returned to BYU for his senior season after he recorded 13 sacks and 22 tackles for loss in 2012, but he did nothing to hurt this draft stock last fall. Even though he wasn’t able to match those numbers — he had four sacks and 17 tackles for loss — Van Noy played well enough to be named the FBS Independent Defensive Player of the Year. He beat out, among others, highly touted Notre Dame draft prospects Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. Van Noy not only was a standout linebacker in high school but he was a prolific wide receiver as well, scoring 31 touchdowns over his final two seasons. He played only linebacker at BYU and developed into a well-rounded and technically sound defender who should be equally effective in a 3-4 or a 4-3 scheme.

THE BEST OF THE REST (In Alphabetical Order)

Carl Bradford
6-1, 250
Arizona State

Adrian Hubbard
6-6, 255
Alabama

Trevor Reilly
6-3, 235
Utah

Telvin Smith
6-3, 220
Florida State

Jordan Tripp
6-3, 235
Montana

BREAKING DOWN THE OUTSIDE LINEBACKER CLASS

Other small-school prospects to watch: Howard Jones, Shepherd; Jonathan Newsome, Ball State; Tyler Starr, South Dakota

NFL bloodlines: USC’s Devon Kennard is the son of Derek Kennard, who played in the NFL as a guard for 11 seasons with the Cardinals, Saints and Cowboys … UCLA’s Anthony Barr is the son of Tony Brooks, a running back who was a fourth-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1992 draft.

Long shot to watch: Ronald Powell arrived at the University of Florida in 2010 rated as the No. 1 overall recruit in the country by Rivals.com, but was never able to live up to that billing for the Gators. Powell saw action as a true freshman and started to come on as a sophomore when he recorded six sacks, but his progress was slowed by a torn ACL that forced him to miss the entire 2012 season. Powell came back last season but finished with only four sacks as he continued to work his way back from the knee injury. The question is whether Powell ever will be able to live up to his vast potential.

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