Gil Brandt's Analysis By Position: Linebackers

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Over the past five drafts (2001-05) only nine linebackers were drafted in the first round. (Terrell Suggs, Jason Babin and DeMarcus Ware played defensive end in college but converted to linebacker in the NFL.) Over the past 10 years, 30 linebackers have been selected in Round 1, with seven first-rounder in 2000 setting the high-water mark. Over this 10-year period, only five were selected in the first 10 picks of Round 1 (LaVar Arrington, Chris Claiborne, James Farrior, Kevin Hardy and Brian Urlacher). Another name, Ohio State's A.J. Hawk, most likely will be added to the list in 2006.

The 2006 crop of linebackers is very fast with eight running under 4.6. The average time of 38 linebackers at the combine was 4.69 with Stanford's Jon Alston running under 4.5 (4.40 and 4.46).

With more teams going to the 3-4 defense, we are going to see teams draft players who played on the defensive line and try to convert them to players who can play down and rush the passer, and also play up and play in space. Last year, Dallas (DeMarcus Ware) and San Diego (Shawne Merriman) played defensive end in college, but were switched to outside linebacker. Merriman was selected to play in the 2006 Pro Bowl.

Many colleges are recruiting tight ends and running backs to play linebacker. I think this is the reason we have so much speed at this position in the draft. Top players like Ernie Sims (Florida State), Freddie Keiaho (San Diego State) and Tim McGarigle (Northwestern) all were running backs in high school.

It is very important that linebackers are good special-teams players, especially on coverage teams.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

1. A.J. Hawk, Ohio State (6-1, 248; 4.63)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.59 and 4.66 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 3.96 and the three-cone drill in 6.82. In addition, he had a 40-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-7 broad jump and 24 bench presses. In high school, he played linebacker and punted. He also was the point guard on the basketball team. At Ohio State, he played as a true freshman in 2002; he started against Penn State and intercepted a pass on the game's first possession. He started 36 games in the past three years and had seven interceptions. To be a great linebacker, you need t have outstanding instincts, be a great competitor, be able to get off blocks, drop into coverage, and be a good tackler. Hawk has them all, plus outstanding character. This is a very intense player with great work habits. He did not miss a practice or game at Ohio State. He's only 6-1, but Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary was under 6 feet.

2. Ernie Sims, Florida State (5-11 1/8, 231; 4.55)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.50 and 4.59 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.22 and the three-cone drill in 7.31. In addition, he had a 41-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-5 broad jump and 25 bench presses. In high school, he played linebacker and running back. He gained over 9 yards per carry and scored 23 touchdowns. He earned a varsity letter when he was in the eighth grade, and his team won four state titles. He also ran track. At FSU, he played as a true freshman in 2003, then started 24 games over the next two seasons. He worked out as a safety and a linebacker at the Combine. He's a very tough, physical player who can cover backs or receivers, but he had no interceptions at FSU. He's a strong tackler and a great leader with an outstanding football temperament. Though he plays undisciplined at times, he should be a Pro Bowl type of player.

3. Chad Greenway, Iowa (6-21/2, 242; 4.76)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He twice ran the 40-yard dash in 4.76 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.22 and the three-cone drill in 7.00. In addition, he had a 331/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-9 broad jump and 16 bench presses. In high school (they play nine-man football where he's from), he played quarterback, safety and returned kicks. He had 23 interceptions. He also ran track, and played basketball and baseball. At Iowa, he redshirted in 2001 and had major reconstructive surgery on the knee he injured in 2002 during spring practice. He started 36 games over the next three years. He's a very good athlete, a great competitor and very intelligent. He makes plays all over the field. He can cover the slot receiver and is a good blitzer. He will need to get stronger and work on getting out of blocks quicker. He will be a very good player for a long time. He's a farm kid from South Dakota and a great person.

4. Bobby Carpenter, Ohio State (6-21/2, 255; 4.70)

He did not work out at the Combine because of injury, but he did everything at OSU's Pro Day although he was only 90 percent healthy. He ran two 40s on a fast track in 4.62 and 4.67. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.30 and the three-cone drill in 6.82. In addition, he had a 341/2-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-4 broad jump and 20 bench presses. In high school, he played linebacker and also was on the swimming team. At OSU, he played as a true freshman in 2002. He started three games in 2003, then 23 more over the next two seasons. He has pass-rush ability, so can play in a 3-4 defense or a 4-3. He moved to end when the Buckeyes put out a nickel package. He had eight sacks in 2005. He's a tough, hard-nosed player who plays with a passion and works hard. You have to question his pass-coverage ability. He was a very good special-teams player at OSU. He will be a solid player in the NFL, kind of like Tedy Bruschi.

5. DeMeco Ryans, Alabama (6-11/4, 236; 4.68)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.65 and 4.72 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.17 and the three-cone drill in 7.19. In addition, he had a 39-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-9 broad jump and 23 bench presses. In high school, he played linebacker and made the academic all-state team. At Alabama, he was a three-time member of the SEC all-academic team. He played as a true freshman with one start, then started 36 of 37 games over the next three seasons. He set a school record with 25 tackles against Arkansas in 2003. He's a very instinctive player. He has good range and makes plays all over the field (307 career tackles). He's an outstanding competitor with a great passion for the game. He has great character and works hard to be the best. He's a good, but not great, athlete who's not real big. But he's very smarter and should be a solid pro.

6. Roger McIntosh, Miami (Fla.) (6-2 1/8, 237; 4.65)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.63 and 4.66. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.31 and the three-cone drill in 7.32. He also had a 411/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-11 broad jump and 15 bench presses. He played high school football in South Carolina as a linebacker. At Miami, he redshirted as a freshman in 2001. He started six games as the "Sam" linebacker in 2002. He played but didn't start in 2003 because of a knee injury. He started nine games in 2004 -- six at "Sam"; three at MLB -- and 11 in 2005. He's an instinctive player who makes plays all over the field. He has coverage ability and is a good tackler. He has good athletic ability and is an outstanding special-teams player. He needs to get stronger; he did not lift at the Combine or at Miami's Pro Day. He has a history of injuries.

7. Thomas Howard, Texas-El Paso (6-31/4, 239; 4.45)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.44 and 4.47 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.26 and the three-cone drill in 6.696. He had a 39-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-4 broad jump and 21 bench presses. In high school, he played defensive back for a poor team in Lubbock that went 1-9 when he was a senior. He also ran track. He walked on at UTEP when he weighed 190 pounds. He redshirted in 2001 and started four games as a weak-side linebacker in 2002. He started 34 games over the next three seasons. He has very good athletic ability with great speed for the position. He can line up and cover a slot receiver without any trouble. He needs to do a better job taking on blockers. For now, he lacks the really good instincts for the position, but he has lots of upside.

8. Clint Ingram, Oklahoma (6-13/4, 244; 4.66)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.65 and 4.67. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.13 and the three-cone drill in 7.12. In addition, he had a 41-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-8 broad jump and 22 lifts. He played linebacker in high school in Hallsville, Texas. At Oklahoma, he redshirted in 2001. He was injured and did not played in 2002 and 2003. He started 11 games as a strong-side linebacker in 2004. In 2005, he started 11 games and had four interceptions and five sacks. He's a very good athlete with the strength you want for the position. He's very competitive. He has everything you like for the position except awareness. He should be a good special-teams player.

9. Jon Alston, Stanford (6-03/4, 223; 4.48)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.49 and 4.47. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.15, the three-cone drill in 6.90 and 30 bench presses. In high school, he played running back, tight end, safety and linebacker. At Stanford, he redshirted in 2001. He played outside linebacker in 2002 and started five games. He did not start in 2003, but started 22 over the next two years. He was a strong-side linebacker in 2005. He had 31 sacks at Stanford coming off the edge. He worked out at linebacker and safety at the Combine. He's not as tall as you would like for a linebacker, and he has small hands. He's very strong with good moves (quickness and agility) and he's a good tackler. He has a hard time getting off his blocker. He's a player that would do well for Tampa Bay or Indianapolis.

10. James Anderson, Virginia Tech (6-23/4, 229; 4.65)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.64 and 4.65. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.07 and the three-cone drill in 6.67. In addition, he had a 41-inch vertical jump, and a 10-foot-1 broad jump. In high school, besides playing linebacker, he also played basketball and ran track. He had a high jump of 6 feet 6 inches and finished sixth in the state in the shot put. At Virginia Tech, he redshirted in 2001. He started four games in 2002, none in 2003, then 25 over the next two seasons. He's a very good athlete with coverage ability. He has very good football speed; he plays faster than his timed speed. He's a nickel-linebacker type. He's not real strong or physical; he's a drag-down tackler. He will be a very good special-teams player. He's an Indianapolis type of player on defense.

*The following players are listed in alphabetical order. Every player listed below has some ability to play in the NFL. *

Ricky Brown, Boston College (6-2, 230; 4.55)

He was not invited to the Combine. At his Pro Day on March 15, he ran two 40s in 4.46 and 4.49 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 3.96 and the three-cone drill in 6.99. In addition, he had a 32-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot broad jump and 18 bench presses. He played defensive back in high school. At Boston College, he played as a true freshman in 2002 as a linebacker and wound up a two-year starter. He gives a very good effort, but he's not real instinctive. He should be a good special-teams player. He seems to be a Day 2 player with upside.

Keith Ellison, Oregon State (6-11/2, 235; 4.80)

He worked out at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.78 and 4.82 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.16 and the three-cone drill in 7.22. In addition, he had a 321/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-7 broad jump and 24 bench presses. He started college ball at San Diego State and played safety as a freshman. He transferred to Oregon State and started the past two seasons. He ran better March 15 at Oregon State's Pro Day -- 4.71 and 4.73.

Omar Gaither, Tennessee (6-1, 234; 4.80)

He worked out at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.78 and 4.81. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.26 and the three-cone drill in 7.22. In addition, he had a 37-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-8 broad jump and 24 bench presses. He's a very good athlete who earned 12 letters in high school. At Tennessee, he played as a true freshman and was a two-year starter. He plays faster than his timed speed and has good intangibles.

Brian Iwuh, Colorado (6-0, 224; 4.66)

A hamstring injury prevented him from working out at the Combine. At Colorado's Pro Day on March 17, he did position drills only. On March 26, he worked out at Houston's Pro Day, where he ran two 40s in 4.66 and 4.66. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.32 and the three-cone drill in 7.27. In addition, he had a 34-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-10 broad jump and 20 bench presses. He played safety his first two years at Colorado, then played linebacker in 2004-05. He played linebacker at the Senior Bowl. He doesn't have the ideal height for the position, but he's tough and instinctive. He should be a very good special-teams player.

Brandon Johnson, Louisville (6-4 7/8, 228; 4.53)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.49 and 4.56. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.34 and the three-cone drill in 7.17. In addition, he had a 37-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-10 broad jump and 11 bench presses. He's a very good athlete with speed. However, he's thin. He played basketball in high school, and still looks more like a basketball player than a football player. He needs to get stronger.

William Kershaw, Maryland (6-23/4, 240; 4.67)

He worked out at the Combine, where he ran two 40s in 4.65 and 4.69 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.17 and the three-cone drill in 6.95. In addition, he had a 37-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-3 broad jump and 21 bench presses. He played as a true freshman and was a two-year starter. He's a good, but not great, athlete who works hard and is a very good competitor.

Terna Nande, Miami (Ohio) (6-0 1/8, 232; 4.54)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He twice ran the 40 in 4.54 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.11 and the three-cone drill in 6.97. In addition, he had a 39-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-4 broad jump and 41 bench presses. He started nine games as a true freshman. He also was a starter in 2003 and 2004, but suffered a liver injury in 2005 and played only three games. He should be a very good special-teams player. He's undersized but an overachiever. His family is from Nigeria.

A.J. Nicholson, Florida State (6-03/4, 252; 4.90)

He worked out at the Combine, where he twice ran the 40 in 4.90 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.43 and the three-cone drill in 7.37. In addition, he had a 9-foot-8 broad jump. At Florida State's Pro Day on March 16, he ran his 40s faster (4.77, 4.78) and had a 33-inch vertical jump. One reason for the faster times was that he dropped his weight from 252 to 242. He does a good job in coverage and led his team in tackles in 2004. He has had some off-the-field problems.

Jamar Williams, Arizona State (6-01/4, 236; 4.64)

He worked out at the Combine, where he ran two 40s in 4.61 and 4.66 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.28 and the three-cone drill in 7.03. In addition, he had a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot broad jump. He played linebacker and running back in high school. He started 35 games for Arizona State. He's a very good athlete with cover skills. He should be a good special-teams player.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

1. D'Qwell Jackson, Maryland (6-01/2, 230; 4.77)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.73 and 4.80. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.36 and the three-cone drill in 7.05. In addition, he had a 37-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-8 broad jump and 19 bench presses. In high school, he played quarterback, linebacker, punter and running back (950 yards and 13 touchdowns his senior season). At Maryland, he played in every game in 2002 as a true freshman. He started 34 games over the next three seasons. He missed the Temple game in 2005 with an injury. He had six interceptions in three seasons. A great competitor who had outstanding production at Maryland; he was the team's leading tackler for three consecutive seasons. He has great instincts and plays smart. He's small for his height and weight by NFL standards, but he gets the job done. He can play inside or on the weak side. This is a very good player.

2. Gerris Wilkinson, Georgia Tech (6-3, 233; 4.68)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.65 and 4.70 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.17 and the three-cone drill in 7.21. In addition, he had a 39-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-2 broad jump and 19 bench presses. In high school in Oakland, Calif., he played linebacker. His dad is a fireman in Atlanta, hence his decision to attend Georgia Tech. After redshirting in 2001, he played but did not started in 2002 at outside linebacker. He moved to defensive end in 2003 and started 13 games. He moved back to linebacker in 2004 and started every game. He played linebacker in 2005 and started 12 games. He's a very smart player with very good athletic ability, but he needs to get stronger. With his quickness, he can play coverage, and he had three interceptions over his last two seasons. He should be a good special-teams player. He will help his team on and off the field.

3. Freddie Keiaho, San Diego State (5-111/4, 230; 4.70)

He was at the Combine but did not run because of back spasms. He ran the short shuttle in 4.12 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.01. He also had a 36-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-5 broad jump and 15 bench presses. On March 11 at San Diego State, he ran two 40s on FieldTurf in 4.68 and 4.71. In high school, he played running back and linebacker. He rushed for 4,165 yards (8.7 per carry) and 57 touchdowns. At SDSU, he redshirted in 2001. He played on special teams in 2002 (22.3-yard average on kickoff returns; two blocked kicks). He started 11 games as middle linebacker in 2005 and had 113 tackles. He's smart and very competitive. He had a great game against Ohio State on Sept. 17, 2005. He lacks upper-body strength. Perhaps he could lose 10 pounds and play safety?

4. Abdul Hodge, Iowa (6-0 3/8, 235; 4.80)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.75 and 4.85 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.30 and the three-cone drill in 7.09. In addition, he had a 31-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot broad jump and 25 bench presses. On Iowa's Pro Day on March 20, he ran 4.66 and 4.69. He was a linebacker in high school, where he ran track and played basketball. At Iowa, he redshirted in 2001. In 2002, he played but did not start. He started in 2003 and led the Big Ten in tackles. He started every game the next three seasons (37 games). He has a very good feel for the position and is a big, explosive hitter. He plays hard every play. He's not real big; his lower-body size is not ideal for his position. He has played well in a great program. He should be a good special-teams player.

5. Leon Williams, Miami (Fla.) (6-3, 245; 4.60)

He worked out at the Combine but did no shuttles or jumps. He ran two 40s in 4.56 and 4.63 seconds. He had a 34-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-9 broad jump and a 7.08 in the three-cone drill. He played high school football in Brooklyn. He played tight end and linebacker, and was said to be the best high school player in New York City in 25 years. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of New York. At Miami, he redshirted in 2001. He played but did not start in 2002 and 2003. He started five games in 2004 and one in 2005. He made all the NFL people turn their heads and ask, "Who is that?" at the Combine. He's a gifted athlete who seems to lack football knowledge. He will support the run, but his pass coverage is suspect. He will be a great special-teams player, but I'm not sure how much he will help on non-special-teams duty. In the right situation, he might be special, but the odds are not that good. He could be a gamble.

*The following players are listed in alphabetical order. Every player listed below has some ability to play in the NFL. *

Tim Dobbins, Iowa State (6-1 1/8, 246; 4.63)

He worked out at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.61 and 4.64 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.16 and the three-cone drill in 7.25. In addition, he had a 351/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-7 broad jump and 23 bench presses. He played running back and linebacker in high school. He played in junior college, then transferred to Iowa State in 2004 and started 24 games. He has toughness, and he's married.

Tim McGarigle, Northwestern (6-0 5/8, 242; 4.75)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.73 and 4.76. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.07. In addition, he had a 38-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-10 broad jump. At his Pro Day, he had 20 bench presses. He started 40 games in four years -- five as a true freshman. He's a very smart player with very good instincts for the position, but he has short arms. He will be a good special-teams player.

Kai Parham, Virginia (6-3, 256; 5.05)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 5.03 and 5.07 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.33 and the three-cone drill in 7.49. In addition, he had a 35-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-8 broad jump and 30 bench presses. He was a three-year starter as an inside linebacker. He graduated from college in 31/2 years. He seems to pay faster than his timed speed. He ran 4.99 and 4.91 at Virginia's Pro Day.

Dale Robinson, Arizona State (6-0 3/8, 231; 4.88)

He worked out at the Combine. He ran two 40s in 4.85 and 4.90. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.30 and the three-cone drill in 7.29. In addition, he had a 33-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot broad jump and 18 bench presses. After playing in junior college, he started 23 games in two seasons at ASU. He was the Pac-10's leading tackler in 2005. He's a good athlete who will be a very good special-teams player.

Kevin Schimmelmann, Stanford (6-21/2, 228; 4.73)

He was not invited to the Combine. He worked out March 15 at Stanford's Pro Day. He ran two 40s in 4.72 and 4.73 seconds. He also had a 351/2-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot 51/2-inch broad jump and 24 bench presses. In high school, he played strong safety and wide receiver. At Stanford, he started the past two seasons at inside linebacker. He was very good athletic ability but a very thin build. He's a nickel-linebacker type who should be a very good special-teams player.

Anthony Schlegel, Ohio State (6-01/2, 250; 4.86)

He had a complete workout at the Combine. He twice ran the 40 in 4.85 seconds. He also ran the short shuttle in 4.38 and the three-cone drill in 7.69. In addition, he had a 32-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot-3 broad jump and 21 bench presses. He played linebacker in high school. He set two world records in the dead lift in the 19-and-under, 220-240 pound division. He started his college career at Air Force and started six games as a freshman. He was elected captain as a sophomore and started 13 games, including a 19-tackle performance at Notre Dame. He transferred to Ohio State and didn't play in 2003. He started seven games for Ohio State in 2004 and 12 games in 2005. He is a winner; he's a great competitor with great work habits. He's smart and plays hard every play. He's a good but not great athlete with short arms (30 inches). He might have a tough time in coverage. He will help on special teams and be a very good inside linebacker.

What scouts look for when grading linebackers:

Critical factors

  1. Character
  1. Ability to learn football
  1. Competitive toughness
  1. Work habits
  1. Athletic ability

Position specifics

  1. Reactions
  1. Range
  1. Pass defense
  1. Hands (catching)
  1. Strength at point
  1. Stays on feet
  1. Use of hands
  1. Tackling ability
  1. Pass rush

Did You Know?

Bobby Carpenter's father Rob was drafted in 1977 by the Houston Oilers in Round 3. In 10 seasons, he played 118 games and had 4,363 rushing yards, 1,707 receiving yards and 34 touchdowns.

Ernie Sims' mother, Alice Bennett, was an All-American sprinter on the Florida State track team from 1980-83.

No. 34 at Florida State had been retired in honor of Ron Sellers. With Sellers' permission the number was brought out of retirement so Ernie Sims could wear it. Sellers was a first-round pick in 1969.

Thomas Howard's father Tom was drafted in 1977 by Kansas City in Round 3. In nine seasons, he played 113 games in the NFL.

A.J. Nicholson's father Darnell was drafted in 1982 by the New York Giants in Round 6 (No. 156).

Looking Ahead

Here is an alphabetical list of linebacker prospects for the 2007 draft that you should keep your eyes on.

Rufus Alexander, Oklahoma

Desmond Bishop, California

H.B. Blades, Pittsburgh

Buster Davis, Florida State

Earl Everett, Florida

David Harris, Michigan

Oscar Lua, USC

Paul Posluszny, Penn State

Anthony Waters, Clemson

Patrick Willis, Mississippi

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