2011 NFL Draft: The top 5 NFL Linebackers in the Draft.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 28: Von Miller of Texas A&M works out during the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 28, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

 

If anyone missed me, I am back. Sorry for the past week's leave of absence (not ideal I know), but I am ready to go!

For this write up, I included both the inside middle linebackers and the outside linebackers as one entity. Sorry, I know its not as thorough as you'd probably like, but I did it for three reasons.

1. Unfortunately because I have been on assignment in the Middle East, I ran out of time. The next three posts will get us through the defense. Thankfully BBS's write ups have been so thorough on the offensive line and receivers (The Colts don't need any other position on offense) that he's more than covered it.

2. To be honest, the middle linebacker position is not as deep this year. All the focus, and rightfully so, is on the group that will be blitzing off the edges.

3. I promise I am not trying to short changing you here. I just got back Manama, Bahrain where I didn't have a chance to publish anything, hence reason 1. That being said, let's get cracking on the top 5 linebackers in this year's draft.

1. Von Miller, OLB Texas A&M

Miller might be the hottest linebacking prospect to come out in years. The whole league is buzzing about is potential and there have been more than a few rumors that teams are considering to move into the top 5 to get him. Miller kind of came out of no where. Of course people were talking of him but his draft trajectory took off after many scouts declared him the best player not only on defense but of the entire senior week workouts and game. 

His performance was evidently stunning as he is now considered a near lock to go in the top 5. It's a little disingenuous to say that he wasn't highly touted before. Not true. The guy was the 2010 Butkus Award winner, an honor given to the nation's top linebacker. He was also a consensus All-American in 2010 and led the Big 12 Conference with 10.5 sacks. He did all this despite battling through numerous injuries throughout the season. 

Strengths:

Well, he's big (6 ft. 245) fast (he ran a 4.42 as a linebacker), strong, agile and very good at reaching the quarterback. On top of that he was he defensive captain and is considered to be a strong leader. Not bad. 

He reminds a lot of people of a defensive version of Vernon Davis. He was a sure first round pick before he draft until the Senior Bowl and work outs which helped launch himself into a whole new category as top 10 pick. 

Weaknesses: 

Miller has two weaknesses which he needs to work on. The first is pass coverage. As a tweener DE/OLB Texas A&M coaches drew up a lot of plays for him to blitz and stay around the line of scrimmage, which are his natural strengths. However, in the pros he will be required to do more in coverage and be a more complete player.

Secondly, he will also have to do a better job shedding blocks, especially against bigger more aggressive linemen and  tough fullbacks like Vonta Leach. 

Combine Stats:

I would be surprised if Miller fell out of the top five and shocked if he dropped below 10. He is too good of a player and has too much upside.

Combine Invite: Yes
Height: 6025
Weight: 246
40 Yrd Dash: 4.42
20 Yrd Dash: 2.57
10 Yrd Dash: 1.57  
Vertical Jump: 37
Broad Jump: 10'06"
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.06
3-Cone Drill: 6.70
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 21

Impressive.

2. Akeem Ayers, OLB UCLA

Similar to questions that continue to dog college defensive teammate Rahim Moore, Ayers has to account for why the UCLA defense was so terrible last season if Ayers and Moore are considered such standout prospects. The knock will be more geared towards his leadership capabilities because Ayers can flat out play. While not as explosive as Miller  and not on his same level athletically, Ayers still posted 14.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles blitzing off the edge.

Strengths:

Ayers possesses good size and strength and has impressed scouts enough with his agility that he could be used as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme or play as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Besides a penchant for making big plays (see above) Ayers is a very disciplined player. He rarely over pursues opposing ball carriers and maintains good positioning in gap schemes. He is also a very physical player which gives him more versatility than just as an outside edge pass rusher.

Weakness:

In saying that however, the question for Ayers is whether he can excel at one certain position. He is adequate at both linebacker positions but in the NFL, to stay on the field as an every down player, you need to create a niche and be better than above average in one area.

Another knock on Ayers, which he has seemingly overcome with his detailed and discipline oriented approach, his a lack of natural instincts. While certainly a hindrance in many ways, it could help Ayers in the long run as he's been forced to rely on smarts and reading plays instead of talent alone.

Combine Stats:

Ayers has won plenty of honors, shown enough promise in workouts and has made enough big plays throughout his three year career (he was redshirted as a freshman) to deserve a mid first round billing. Because he is best suited for a 3-4 defense he could fall lower than that, but don't expect him to drop that far.

Combine Invite: Yes
Height: 6024
Weight: 254
40 Yrd Dash: 4.81
20 Yrd Dash: 2.77
10 Yrd Dash: 1.68   
Vertical Jump: 31
Broad Jump: 09'08"
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.28
3-Cone Drill: 7.49
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 18

3. Bruce Carter, OLB North Carolina

It's extremely risky to rate a guy coming off a torn ACL as the third best prospect, especially considering he is still not healthy. Doing so should tell you how much potential Carter has. Before undergoing surgery on his left knee in December, Carter had been named one of five finalists for the Dick Butkus Award, which is awarded to the nation's top linebacker. He recorded 57 tackles, a blocked punt and an interception, which proves if healthy, Carter should thrive in the NFL.

Strengths:

Greg Cox on Walterfootball.com rated his strengths as:

- Very athletic
- Sideline-to-sideline player
- Speed and strength
- Pursues well
- High football IQ
- Disciplined; stays in position
- Workout warrior
- Special teams factor
- Experience at high level

What more do you need? A laser rocket arm? I mean besides not being a big hitter and being a bit on the lighter side, Carter has it all. He is disciplined and dedicated to his craft, he is athletic enough to compete at the next level and the "workout warrior" tag means he is keen on improving. 

Weaknesses:

His torn ACL might be the only true glaring weakness/question mark he must overcome. Even still, you can't say he is injury prone because its the first and only injury he suffered in college. In fact he played in all 12 games as a freshman (started seven) and then started all 13 games his sophomore and junior seasons so aside from one freak play, he is actually rather durable. Other than the injury worries, he is a bit small at 6-2 and only 241 lbs and needs to work on shedding blocks better.

Combine Stats: NA

He did managed 25 bench reps at the set weight of 225 lbs. which was impressive. But otherwise he has still not recovered enough to fully test his knee in sprints.

A one time first or second round lock, Carter will probably slide into the fourth round. However, if healthy he could be a serious steal for whatever team takes a chance on him.

4. Greg Jones, ILB Michigan State

Michigan State's Jones was one of 10 players in the nation to earn unanimous first-team All-American honors from a host of voting committees. He was also the only repeat selection from the 2009 AP All-America Team list. Besides that, he was named to the All-Big Ten for the third straight year and earned MSU's Governor's Award for Team MVP.

So why he seems to be sliding down draft boards is beyond me.

Strengths:

Jones is a tackling machine recording 108 tackles his senior year. He was also the emotional leader and captain of the defense which shows strong leadership potential. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio lists his natural instincts and pass rushing abilities (as evidence by his 16.5 career sacks) as Jone's best attributes however you aren't the only repeat selection to an All American team if you rely purely on instincts. Jones is a complete all around player.

Weaknesses:

Jones is a bit small and light - 6-0, 242 - and failed to stand out at the Combine. Scouts point out his inability to shed blocks as a potential problem at the next level, but when you've made as many tackles as Jones has, it should be a mute point.

Combine Stats:

Some think Jones might tumble to the fourth round. Others predict he might sneak all the way up to the second (the Colts perhaps?)

In reality, Jones will probably fall somewhere between the two in the middle third round.

Combine Invite: Yes
Height: 6001
Weight: 242
40 Yrd Dash: 4.75
20 Yrd Dash: 2.69
10 Yrd Dash: 1.68  
Vertical Jump: 31 1/2
Broad Jump: 09'09"
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.27
3-Cone Drill: 7.21
 225 Lb. Bench Reps: 21

5. Martez Wilson, ILB Illinois

Wilson earned first team All-Big Ten honors this year after leading the Illini with 112 tackes, 11.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks, three forced fumbles, four pass breakups, an interception, a fumble recovery, a blocked kick...6000 tweets, 29 hot dogs consumed in one meal, 52 best teammate honors and 27 best tour awards for the admissions office. You get the point... Wilson can do everything.

In fairness, Wilson is a more highly touted prospect. I tend to favor players who have demonstrated consistency (plus Jones is no slouch) but Wilson should be selected several picks higher, somewhere in the early second round.

Strengths:

Wilson has always been a work out warrior but made great improvements on his on the field this past season. He upped his dedication, honed his tackling skills and worked diligently on improving his positioning. The hard work paid off royally.

Weaknesses:

One scout's take on Wilson was that "Martez plays slow. It takes him a while to find the football." For a linebacker, such criticism is damning. Again he has improved in this area, but the biggest knock against Wilson is his explosive workout stats compared to his sometimes passive and tentative play. This past year put a lot of that to rest, but critics apparently still have concerns. Wilson is also coming off a neck injury which could be a red flag for some teams.

Combine Stats:

The favored inside linebacker for most scouts, Wilson shouldn't fall any lower than the end of the second round.

Combine Invite: Yes
Height: 6036
Weight: 250
40 Yrd Dash: 4.42
20 Yrd Dash: 2.53
10 Yrd Dash: 1.56   
Vertical Jump: 36
Broad Jump: 10'04"
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.28
3-Cone Drill: 7.04
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 23

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