NFL Draft: Rating the NFL draft prospects: Linebackers
From Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel
~The Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn assesses the top linebackers in the draft this week. Included is each player’s height, weight, 40-yard dash time and projected round.
1. BENARDRICK McKINNEY, Mississippi State (6-4, 247, 4.65, 1-2): Fourth-year junior from Tunica, Miss. “I like him just because he’s a bigger guy,” one scout said. “I could see him filling that Dont’a Hightower role. Being that big ol’ guy taking on guards.” High-school QB started at OLB in 2012 and at MLB in 2013-’14. “Great kid, great character,” a second scout said. “Brandon Spikes wasn’t the athlete but same kind of player. Benardrick has to prove he can be impactful on third (down) and sub. Is he going to be Lavonte David or Mychal Kendricks on first and second downs as well as play third down? He’s definitely a stud vs. the run.” Finished with 243 tackles (19½ for loss), 7½ sacks often rushing from a three-point stance in sub and seven big plays (combination of interceptions, fumbles forced and fumbles recovered). “Stiff in coverage,” another scout said. “Straight-line fast. First- and second-down thumper. He can take you on.” Led ILBs in vertical jump (40½ inches). Scored 14 on the 50-question Wonderlic intelligence test.
2. STEPHONE ANTHONY, Clemson (6-2 ½, 243, 4.56, 1-2): Three-year starter from Polkton, N.C. “Runs well,” one scout said. “Really heavy downhill guy when he hits it right. He’s athletic enough to be a three-down ‘mike.’ There’s a little stiffness to him.” Started 35 of 52 games, finishing with 255 tackles (33½ for loss), 9 ½ sacks and nine big plays. “He’s a willing hitter,” a second scout said. “He doesn’t quite show up with all the flashy play-making you would think for somebody who worked out and looked as good as he did. The physicality part is not a weakness.” Some scouts say he can play three downs, others say he can’t. “Change of direction was a little bit of an issue,” a third scout said. “But he’s strong and can knock you back. He can run through gaps. I liked him. I didn’t love him.” Wonderlic of 23.
3. ERIC KENDRICKS, UCLA (6-0, 234, 4.60, 1-2): Made 42 starts. “Tough, quick, sudden, plays fast,” one scout said. “Just hurt all the time. He can blow stuff up if he wants to. He may be blown up, too.” His brother, Mychal, was a mid-second round pick by the Eagles in 2012 and has started ever since. Eric scored 32 on the Wonderlic compared to 14 for Mychal. “He can run but he’s not his brother (he ran 4.46),” a second scout said. “He probably can play three downs effectively.” Started at RILB in coach Jim Mora’s 3-4 defense. “He’s too small to thrive in a 3-4,” a third scout said. “Between his instincts and his willingness, he can do it. But you wouldn’t be playing to his strengths if you made him play uncovered in a 3-4.” Finished with UCLA-record 480 tackles (26 for loss), 10 sacks and 11 big plays. “He’s really, really small,” a fourth scout said. “Perryman is small, too, but he’s thick. Kendricks has a different sort of body type.” Rejected medically by one team (knee). From Fresno, Calif. His father, Marv, was Bruins’ leading rusher in 1970-’71.
4. DENZEL PERRYMAN, Miami (5-11, 238, 4.71, 1-2): Three-year starter from Coral Gables, Fla. “Lots of similarities to Chris Borland (5-11½, 247, 4.83),” one scout said. “Very good feet laterally in the box. Not great long speed. Very physical. Very similar. Borland should have gone second round.” Played outside in 2012-’13, moved to MLB in ’14. “He’s sort of a 4-3 backer but he could play weak inside if you get him clean maybe,” another scout said. “He’s not big enough, he’s not fast enough but he’s a good player. He’ll hit you in half. He ain’t getting taller. He is what he is.” Finished with 351 tackles (27 for loss), 4½ sacks and nine big plays. “Teams will try to play him on all three downs because he’s highly intelligent (Wonderlic of 17) and a leader,” a third scout said. “I’m mixed on him. I like him, but he’s short and doesn’t run particularly well. (Stephen) Tulloch could run. This guy’s 4.7. I think he’s a two-down player in a perfect world. You can get by with him but he’s going to have space limitations.”
5. PAUL DAWSON, Texas Christian (6-0, 232, 4.79, 1-2): Junior-college prospect from Dallas (Skyline High). “He’s the best pure linebacker I saw all season,” one scout said. “All he does is make every play. You’ve got to be disciplined to play for Gary Patterson, who’s probably the best defensive coach in the country. Gary really likes this guy, and Gary doesn’t say very many nice things about people. But, he’s short and slow.” Ran an out-of-shape 4.89 at the combine, then was a little faster March 27 at pro day. “He just doesn’t love to prepare,” another scout said. “But on Saturday they love him.” Three scouts described him as “surly” in interviews. Regarded as significant character risk by several teams. “Late for meetings type of thing,” a third scout said. “It’s like he reads every play before it happens. He’s at the ball carrier before blockers can get to him. He’s so freaking instinctive.” Finished with 241 tackles (31 for loss), 6½ sacks and 11 big plays. Wonderlic of 20. Added a fourth scout: “He’s not incorrigible. He’s immature.”
6. JORDAN HICKS, Texas (6-1 ½, 234, 4.65, 2-3): Suffered a broken foot, hip flexor and torn Achilles in a five-year career. Healthy in 2014 and had finest season. “He’s got feet for the passing game,” one scout said. “He is physical. He can run. And he’s really smart (Wonderlic of 28). He grew as the season went on.” Started 28 of 45 games, finishing with 299 tackles (24 for loss), 5½ sacks and three big plays. “Good lateral player but he’s not a take-on guy at all,” another scout said. “Drops (into coverage) easy. He’s a space guy. Sit and catch.” From Cincinnati.
7. JAKE RYAN, Michigan (6-2 ½, 240, 4.65, 3-4): Started at SOLB for two years in a 3-4 before suffering a torn ACL in March 2013. Returned as MLB in mid-’13 and was Wolverines’ MVP playing there last season. “Most people pooh-pooh him a little bit,” said one scout. “Pretty good player.” Old-fashioned type with 41 starts in 46 games. “Sort of old-school tough guy,” another scout said. Finished with 267 tackles (45 ½ for loss), 9 ½ sacks and 11 big plays. “He’s smart (Wonderlic of 22) but there’s nothing special about him,” a third scout said. “He will have some cover limitations and he’s not a great open-field tackler, either.” From Westlake, Ohio.
8. RAMIK WILSON, Georgia (6-2, 237, 4.68, 4): Two-year starter. “He can really turn and run,” one scout said. “In a confined area he struggles because he’s a long strider. He’s best suited as a ‘will’ in a 4-3 where he can be an old hit and run linebacker. That’s more of his thing. Not the most physical guy at the point of attack.” Finished with 253 tackles (19 for loss), six sacks and two big plays. “Long kid (33-inch arms),” another scout said. “Does have some strength. The toughness is real inconsistent. He’s a little stiff.” From Tampa.
9. HAYES PULLARD, Southern California (6-0 ½, 237, 4.73, 4): Started three seasons, including the last two in the middle. “He steps up, takes ’em on, sheds ’em,” one scout said. “Smooth and fluid getting back in the pass drop. He has a quick plant and break to the receiver or ball carrier. Quietly, he is a really, really good football player. He was the one that kind of kept that defense together.” Finished with 377 tackles (25½ for loss), six sacks and seven big plays. “Good kid, plays hard, can’t run, kind of stiff,” another scout said. From Inglewood, Calif.
10. TREY DePRIEST, Alabama (6-0 ½, 256, 4.93, 6): Started three straight years at MLB for coach Nick Saban. “He ran the whole defense,” one scout said. Ran and tested poorly at the combine. Finished with 237 tackles (17 ½ for loss), two sacks and four big plays. “I over-graded him a year ago,” another scout said. “He let himself get fat and messy. I was hoping he’d be a Vontaze Burfict guy, a guy who didn’t run fast but wound up being a good player.” From Springfield, Ohio.
OTHERS: Ben Heeney, Kansas; Damien Wilson, Minnesota; Bryce Hager, Baylor; Mike Hull, Penn State; Taiwan Jones, Michigan State; Amarlo Herrera, Georgia; Curtis Grant, Ohio State; Jeff Luc, Cincinnati; Zach Vigil, Colorado State.
1. DANTE FOWLER, Florida (6-2 ½, 263, 4.59, 1): Third-year junior from St. Petersburg, Fla. “Real tough guy,” one scout said. “Plays hard. Can run. Really heavy hands. He’s not elite at anything, but you like the kid and the effort and the toughness. He’s not a Khalil Mack type athlete.” Two-year starter with 33 3/4-inch arms. “They had him doing so much there,” another scout said. “People truly didn’t get to see him just take off and be what he’s going to be in the NFL. He’s a lot like Clay (Matthews). They just have that relentless approach. He’s wired the right way. The big-time rushers are those guys that can put their hand in the ground and drive them back. That’s Clay, Julius (Peppers), Mario (Williams), Dwight (Freeney). Dante has a power game, too.” Two-year starter with 140 tackles (33½ for loss), 14½ sacks and seven big plays. “He brings that (Robert) Quinn type ability,” a third scout said. “He has the ability to accelerate his feet as he works his hands. Those guys are rare. He’ll have to be taught to play the run.” Wonderlic of 16.
2. RANDY GREGORY, Nebraska (6-5, 235, 4.62, 1): Played two seasons in junior college and two at DE for the Cornhuskers. “He is the best natural pass rusher,” one scout said. “There’s no question. He also has the biggest chance to bust. He’s a freak. (Tall), tremendous feet and burst.” Finished with 120 tackles (25½) for loss, 17½ sacks and five big plays. “He’s got great get-off, flexibility and is extremely disruptive,” a second scout said. “He has the ability to affect the game like Jevon Kearse (6-5, 262, 4.48).” Said he played as high as 258 pounds but was 235 at the combine, 238 at pro day March 5 and 228 on a team visit within the last 10 days. “He’s got a light load,” a third scout said. “He gets his (expletive) kicked around in the run game. Dropping into coverage will be a little bit of an issue. He hasn’t done that. The only thing you can do with him is be a designated pass rusher.” Part of a military family, he lived in several states before attending high school in Fishers, Ind. Missed time with several major injuries starting in 2011. Wonderlic of 28.
3. VIC BEASLEY, Clemson (6-3, 246, 4.53, 1): Phenomenal combine with fast 40, vertical jump of 41 inches, broad jump of 10-10, LB-leading 35 reps on the bench press and Wonderlic of 29. “Dante Fowler’s bigger and more powerful,” one scout said. “Vic’s a twitch speed guy. If he plays with proper leverage he can for short periods hold the point. He’s more sudden than Dante. These pure speed guys always concern me because they’re rarely successful in the league.” Weighed just 220 a year ago. “He’s a flame-thrower,” another scout said. “He just comes up field. He’s more athletic than (Shane) Ray. I just don’t like the strength. He could bust because he’s a little one-dimensional.” Started 25 of 48 games, finishing with 101 tackles (52 ½ for loss), 33 sacks and nine big plays. “If you’re trying to pick a guy you hope he becomes, you hope he becomes (Robert) Mathis,” said a third scout. From Adairsville, Ga. “He’s not a good run defender, but he’s a pass rusher extraordinaire,” a fourth scout said. “He’s going to get pushed around a little bit on first down but be outstanding on third.”
4. SHANE RAY, Missouri (6-2 ½, 247, 4.67, 1): Fourth-year junior from a rough section of Kansas City. Backed up Kony Ealy and Michael Sam for two years before breaking out with 14½ sacks in ’14. “One of the best first steps I’ve seen in recent memory,” one scout said. “He’s the best since Von Miller as far as explosiveness. He doesn’t have that Gumby bend around the corner but his first step is pretty dang good.” Finished with 120 tackles (34 for loss), 19 sacks and six big plays. “He’ll get swallowed up some but so will Beasley,” another scout said. “They all will. He’s got violent hands and great technique. Plays angry. Not the physical freak some of the others are.” Two scouts said he was better than Ealy. “What special quality does he have?” another scout said. “He’s not real big and physical. He doesn’t have great athletic skills. But he’s a good player.” Wonderlic of 20. Played DE at Mizzou. “No way in hell he can be an outside backer,” a fourth scout said. “He has a degree of stiffness.” Ray reportedly was cited Monday morning for possession of marijuana (less than 35 grams) and a lane violation in Cooper County, Missouri.
5. BUD DUPREE, Kentucky (6-4, 268, 4.61, 1): Played OLB in 2011-’12 (15 starts) before switching to DE (23 starts) in 2013-’14. “He didn’t do a lot on tape this year but he’s the rarest of the size-speed-movement guys,” one scout said. “In terms of rare NFL body, he’s probably No. 1 on the board. He’s not Terrell Suggs’ personality.” Extremely mild-mannered and soft-spoken to the point he’s difficult to hear. “Something’s missing with this guy,” a second scout said. “He’s a tight end playing defense. When he busts he can play tight end. You’ve got to put his hand down and let him rush. Don’t ask him to do anything else.” Scored 12 and then 13 on the Wonderlic. “I just don’t think he’s real smart,” a third scout said. “He’s got no instincts.” Finished with 247 tackles (37 for loss), 23 ½ sacks and six big plays. His jumps (42 vertical, 11-6 broad) paced LBs. “He’s an enigma,” said a fourth scout. “Some games he just didn’t show up. He came in as a tight end, and he probably could be one. But he put on a show at pro day. He showed first-step explosion, pass rush, ability to drop, redirect in space. Good kid. Got too many good qualities not to make it.” From Irwinton, Ga.
6. SHAQ THOMPSON, Washington (6-0, 228, 4.59, 2): Won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player. “He’s played running back, safety, linebacker,” one scout said. “He hasn’t played linebacker very much. Lavonte David was much more instinctive. You hope if he just sticks to one position he can learn how to use his hands, which he doesn’t now.” Despite averaging 7.5 yards in 61 rushes, he has told teams he wants to play only LB. “I don’t see him as a backer,” another scout said. “Once he sees the ball he is so quick and so explosive he can make plays, but I don’t think he’s instinctive.” Finished with 233 tackles (15 for loss), 3½ sacks and 13 big plays (four defensive TDs in ’14). “I think he’s another Adam Archuleta,” a third scout said. “Archuleta played linebacker and they moved him to box safety and blitzed him. Same guy.” Had an unsuccessful stint in 2012 as a minor-league outfielder. Third-year junior. “They (Husky coaches) were so tired of him they virtually said to him, ‘You’ve got a great shot. It’s probably best for you to go this year,'” a scout said. “He made a lot of stupid 15-yard penalties. I was surprised (coach) Chris Petersen put up with him.” From Sacramento.
7. NATE ORCHARD, Utah (6-3 ½, 250, 4.84, 2): Started 36 of 50 games at DE. “Plays his (expletive) off,” said one scout. “Highly productive. The (40) is the only negative.” Former WR with long arms (33¾). “As a 3-4 outside backer he could choke down a tight end,” said another scout. “He’d be good enough to drop in the flat for a 3-4 team. He’s physical on pass rush. Good leverage rusher. On run he didn’t play great all the time.” Finished with 186 tackles (38½ for loss), 25 sacks and 13 big plays. “Long, thin arms and legs…but really well-defined,” a third scout said. “Smart (Wonderlic of 21), instinctive player. Strings play out along the line of scrimmage. Kind of a quiet guy. Lots of room to get better in this player.” From Salt Lake City.
8. KWON ALEXANDER, Louisiana State (6-0 ½, 227, 4.56, 2-3): Made to order for weak side in a 4-3. “I don’t think he could be a ‘mike,'” one scout said. “He’s not instinctive enough. But as a backside chase player, that’s his cup of tea. He can run.” Started 23 of 32 games, finishing with 156 tackles (15 for loss), 1½ sacks and five big plays. “Good football player,” another scout said. “Run and chase guy.” Third-year junior from Oxford, Ala.
9. HAU’OLI KIKAHA, Washington (6-2 ½, 251, 4.92, 3): Led the nation in sacks last season with 19. “He’s a really polished guy,” one scout said. “Plays really, really hard. Don’t know how innately gifted he is but a pretty good player.” Played DE from 2010-’13, but his ’11 and ’12 seasons were cut short by a torn left ACL. Several teams said the knee isn’t an issue now. “I don’t know if he’s got the agility and the athleticism to stand up and play backer,” a second scout said. “Very smart (Wonderlic of 29). He’s a situational pass rusher is what he is.” Finished with 206 tackles (51½ for loss), 36 sacks and eight big plays. From Hau’ula, Hawaii.
10. LORENZO MAULDIN, Louisville (6-3 ½, 255, 4.83, 3-4): Played alongside Marcus Smith, the Eagles’ surprising and disappointing first-round pick (No. 26) last year, for three seasons. “He’s a better player than Smith,” one scout said. “He’s got some bulk. He played kind of a defensive end this year but he played linebacker in the Senior Bowl and didn’t look completely out of place. He’s more physically equipped than Smith.” Finished with 113 tackles (31½ for loss), 20½ sacks and five big plays. “He plays hard,” another scout said. From Atlanta.
OTHERS: Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma; Max Valles, Virginia; Davis Tull, Tennessee-Chattanooga; Kyle Emanuel, North Dakota State; Martrell Spaight, Arkansas; Alani Fua, Brigham Young; Zack Hodges, Harvard; Edmond Robinson, Newberry; Mark Nzeocha, Wyoming; Xzavier Dickson, Alabama.
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