The 2004 crop of linebackers might be the fastest of any group I can remember. I think the reason we have this speed at the position is because schools are taking high school running backs (D.J. Williams at Miami, Fla., and Teddy Lehman at Oklahoma) and defensive backs (Michael Boulware at Florida State and Demorio Williams at Nebraska) and converting them to linebacker.
You might remember the 2003 crop of linebackers did not look very strong. Only one (Nick Barnett, Green Bay) was selected in the first round. (The Ravens selected Terrell Suggs but converted him to a defensive end.) The 2003 season ended with six rookie linebackers starting four or more games for the teams that drafted them. The past three drafts have produced only four first-round selections; there were seven in the 2000 draft alone. Over the past 10 years, 32 linebackers have been selected in the first round.
Expect to see a run on linebackers in the second and third round this year. Those two rounds produced 13 linebackers in the 2003 draft and 11 in the 2002 draft.
1. D.J. Williams, Miami, Fla. (6-03/4, 250)
He did not work out at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Worked out at Miami's Pro Day and ran his 40s in 4.57 and 4.53. Also had a 38-inch vertical jump and 9-foot-9 broad jump. He ran a 4.05 in the short shuttle and 7.00 in the three-cone drill. He did not lift at the combine or Pro Day. Running back and linebacker in high school. Scored 42 touchdowns his senior year of high school (33 rushing, five receiving, three on punt returns and one on a kickoff return). Played as a true freshman at Miami as a running back before starting his final three years at linebacker. Has very good athletic ability. Works very hard to be the best. Effective in space. Had 74 tackles and four sacks as a senior. Has a nose for the ball, had no interceptions in his three years at linebacker. Should be a Pro Bowl player.
2. Jonathan Vilma, Miami, Fla. (6-01/2, 233)
Did not work out at the combine. Had a complete workout at Miami's Pro Day. Ran his 40s in 4.60 and 4.65, the short shuttle in 4.20 and the three-cone drill in 6.67. He also had a 37-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-1 broad jump and 23 strength lifts. Played on the basketball team in high school in addition to playing linebacker in football. Played as a true freshman at Miami in 2000 and started the next three years. Has great instincts and gives great effort. Very good upper-body development. Lacks size but will take on blockers. Great team leader who leads by example. Can turn and run. Should be able to play on all downs. Plays so hard you worry about him getting hurt.
3. Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma (6-11/2, 240)
Had a complete workout at the combine, running his 40s in 4.53 and 4.57, the short shuttle in 4.06 and the three-cone drill in 6.91. He also had a 341/2-inch vertical jump and 26 strength lifts. Worked out again at Oklahoma's Pro Day, where he ran but did not lift or jump. Had a very good position workout. Played linebacker and running back in high school, and also punted. Very productive high school player with more than 400 tackles and seven interceptions. Played as a true freshman in 2000 at Oklahoma and started the next three years. Had 117 tackles in 2003. A player with great character. Does whatever is needed. Plays on all special teams. Has outstanding competitiveness. Can control point, and play in space. The type of person you want on your team.
4. Keyaron Fox, Georgia Tech (6-2 3/8, 227)
At the combine, a hamstring problem limited him to lifting (28 times). At Georgia Tech's Pro Day, he ran two 40s in 4.73 and 4.79, the short shuttle in 4.24 and the three-cone drill in 7.11. He also had a 361/2-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-6 broad jump. Named MVP of the Georgia-Florida All-Star Game (10 tackles, pass breakup, forced fumble). At Georgia Tech, he played as a true freshman in 2000 but missed three games with a broken arm. He started for three years and had 155 tackles in 2003. Played some defensive end during games in 2002. Aggressive, nasty, great temperament for position, hard worker. He can play in space. Rangy-type frame.
5. Daryl Smith, Georgia Tech (6-1 5/8, 234)
Only lifted at the combine (24 times). At Georgia Tech's Pro Day, he ran two 40s in 4.60 and 4.63, the short shuttle in 4.21 and the three-cone drill in 7.25. He also had a 361/2-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-3 broad jump. He played baseball in high school; also a linebacker. He played in the Georgia-Florida All-Star Game. At Georgia Tech, he started 10 games as a true freshman in 2000. He returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown that season. He started the past three seasons. He had 122 tackles in 2003. A high-effort player who gives 100 percent every play. Has good strength and athletic ability. Good, thick upper body. Can play in space. Size is a question mark; not as big as you would like, but can run.
6. Michael Boulware, Florida State (6-2, 225)
Did some things at the combine, clocking a time of 3.92 in the short shuttle and 6.89 in the three-cone drill. Worked out at FSU's Pro Day and ran his 40s in 4.50 and 4.47, had a 391/2-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-2 long jump and did 15 strength reps. Played wide receiver, running back, linebacker, cornerback and safety in high school. Played as a true freshman in 2000 at Florida State but did not start. Started 14 games in 2001 at strong-side linebacker and was a starter in 2002 and 2003. Looks more like a basketball player with thin arms and legs. Good worker but needs to be pushed. Has excellent speed for linebacker position. Has good ball skills and good hands. Not as nasty as a linebacker should be. His brother, Peter, plays for the Baltimore Ravens. Could be a big hit if he gets linebacker toughness and more strength. Recorded 238 tackles over the past two years.
7. Courtney Watson, Notre Dame (6-1 3/8, 237)
Had a complete workout at the combine and ran two 40s at 4.51 and 4.56. Had a 361/2-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-6 broad jump, 22 strength lifts, ran a 4.35 in the short shuttle and 7.32 three-cone drill. Worked out at Notre Dame's Pro Day but did position drills only. Was a wide receiver and running back in high school. Also played basketball and ran track, where he recorded a 23-foot long jump. Redshirted in 1999 at Notre Dame; played, but did not start in 2000. Started the next three years at inside linebacker. Has good body build. His best position in the NFL might be outside linebacker. Had 117 tackles in 2003. Good athlete, mature person and will play hurt. Good toughness, good character person and a hard worker.
8. Dontarrious Thomas, Auburn (6-21/2, 247)
Has a complete workout at the combine, running his 40s in 4.60 and 4.68. Had a 381/2-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-9 long jump and 26 strength lifts. Worked out at Auburn's Pro Day. He ran his 40s in 4.54 and 4.58 and had a 7.39 in the three-cone drill. Played quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back in high school. Had a 19.9 rushing average his senior year. His only scholarship offer was to South Carolina as a basketball player. Redshirted in 1999 at Auburn, started three games in 2000 and has been a full-time starter the past three years. Very good upper body, but has thin legs and small ankles. Has good toughness. Good use of hands. Works hard on his own and is a self-made type of player. Cousin Jermaine Phillips plays safety for Tampa Bay.
9. Karlos Dansby, Auburn (6-31/4, 257)
Did not work out at the combine. He had a complete workout at Auburn's Pro Day. He ran three 40s in 4.60, 4.65 and 4.63, the short shuttle in 4.49 and the three-cone drill in 7.53. He also had a 341/2-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot broad jump and 15 strength reps. He caught 51 passes as a wide receiver in high school, where he also was a linebacker and played basketball. At Auburn, he was a partial qualifier and did not play in 2000. He started nine games in 2001 and all games -- when healthy -- in 2002 and 2003. Talented athlete with good character. Tall, lean frame. Needs to get stronger and more aggressive. Has good quickness. Coachable; good attitude. Two years ago he weighed 215 pounds; he was 247 on March 15. He might have added too much weight too quickly. Outstanding person from fine family.
10. Cody Spencer, North Texas (6-21/2, 242)
Had a complete workout at the combine and ran his 40s in 4.64 and 4.68. Had a 341/2-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-8 long jump, 4.08 in the short shuttle, 6.94 in the three-cone drill and 27 strength lifts. Worked out but did not run at his Pro Day. Played tight end and outside linebacker in high school and also played some running back. Played but did not start as a true freshman at North Texas. Started the next three years at inside linebacker on a very good defensive team. Good upper body with big shoulders. A tough player who will compete (played a few games with a dislocated elbow). Has good hands. Will be a solid NFL player.
11. Landon Johnson, Purdue (6-1 7/8, 227)
Had a complete workout at the combine. He ran his 40s in 4.69 and 4.65, the short shuttle in 4.08 and the three-cone drill in 7.00. He also had a 371/2-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot broad jump and 20 strength lifts. He also worked out at Purdue's Pro Day, where he ran 40s in 4.52 and 4.54 at 223 pounds. He did not do as well in the other events, however. He redshirted in 1999, but started the next four years. A very good athlete; fluid in space; flies around. Top-flight person; hard worker; will give good effort. He needs to gain weight; he has a smaller lower-body build. A possible special-teams standout.
12. Robert Reynolds, Ohio State (6-31/2, 251)
Had a complete workout at the combine and ran his 40s in 4.78 and 4.80. Had a 321/2-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-8 long jump, 3.94 in the short shuttle, 7.17 in the three-cone drill and 18 strength lifts. Worked out again at Ohio State's Pro Day. Was the Kentucky High School Player of the Year. Played as a true freshman in 2000 and was the starting long snapper. Has started the past two years. A good, not great, athlete. Will compete and work hard. Has played strong-side linebacker, but is big enough to play inside in the NFL. Some question if he can play in space. Top-flight person. Maybe a deep snapper.
13. Rod Davis, Southern Mississippi (6-2, 239)
Worked out at the combine and ran only one 40 in 4.70 (strained his back). Had a 9-foot-6 long jump, 4.02 in the short shuttle and 7.23 in the long shuttle. Worked out at his Pro Day and ran his 40s in 4.67 and 4.77. Had a 36-inch vertical jump and did nine strength reps. Four-year starter in high school, where he played three years as a defensive back before switching to linebacker his senior year. Redshirted in 1999 at Southern Miss and then started the next four years. Has the type of build you want for a middle linebacker with wide calves and wide shoulders. College stats say 332 tackles the past two seasons. Plays the run a lot better than the pass. Doubt he could play all downs. Looks lethargic sometimes in pursuit. Does not seem to play as fast as his 40 times would suggest.
14. Niko Koutouvides, Purdue (6-21/2, 244)
Had a complete workout at the combine, running his 40s in 4.69 and 4.75. Had a 301/2-inch vertical jump, 9-foot long jump, 3.85 short shuttle and 6.88 in the three-cone drill. Worked out again at Purdue's Pro Day; did 17 strength lifts but did not run. Played high school football at Milford Academy, a postgraduate school. Enrolled at Purdue in spring 2000 and played as a true freshman in 2000. Played strong-side linebacker in 2001 and moved inside for 2002 season, starting 13 games. Also played inside in 2003. Good-looking athlete who does not look like he weighs 244 pounds. Gives good effort on every play. Very productive, but needs work on tackling.
15. Maurice Jones, South Florida (6-03/4, 249)
Had a complete workout at the combine, running 4.71 and 4.72 in the 40-yard dash. Had a 361/2-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-10 long jump, 4.20 in the short shuttle, 7.16 in the three-cone drill and 26 strength lifts. Also worked out at his Pro Day. Played linebacker and named to all-state team in high school. Also played basketball. Redshirted in 1999 at South Florida and started one game in 2000. Has started the past three years at both strong- and weak-side linebacker. Has good athletic ability for the position. Plays with good effort. Question work habits until this year. Should be a good special-teams player.
16. Rich Scanlon, Syracuse (6-13/4, 249)
Ran 4.59 and 4.65 at Syracuse's Pro Day. Had a 34-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-2 long jump, 4.33 in the short shuttle, 6.65 in the three-cone drill and 16 strength reps. Three-year starter in high school on team that won state title. Redshirted in 1999 at Syracuse. Played past four years in good program, starting 26 games. Plays hard every down. Team captain; should be a good special-teams player.
17. Gilbert Gardner, Purdue (6-11/2, 229)
Did not work out at combine (medical exclusion; ankle and shoulder). At Purdue's Pro Day, he ran his 40s in 4.64 and 4.66. He also had a 301/4-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-1 broad jump. He did not left. He was a wide receiver and defensive back in high school; he also played baseball and ran track. He came to Purdue in 2000 as a wide receiver, but was moved to linebacker in fall camp and started 12 games as a true freshman. He has the speed and quickness to play in space. He should be a good special-teams player.
18. Alex Lewis, Wisconsin (5-113/4, 227)
Lewis had a complete workout at the combine. He ran two 40s in 4.69 and 4.75, had a 341/2-inch vertical jump, 25 strength lifts, a 10-foot-1 long jump, a 4.26 short shuttle and a 7.06 three-cone drill. At his Pro Day he ran better for times -- 4.54 and 4.57 -- on a fast track. Lewis lettered in football, wrestling and track in high school and was very good in weight events. He played two years in junior college before entering Wisconsin. In 2002, he started eight games and was a starter in 2003. Lewis is a very good athlete with quickness and speed to make plays. He should be outstanding on special teams.
19. Tony Hargrove, Georgia Tech (6-3 3/8, 269)
Hargrove ran his 40s in 4.68 and 4.70. He had a 39-1/2-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-2 long jump, 30 strength lifts and ran 4.24 in the short shuttle and 7.14 in the three-cone drill. Hargrove didn't play last year (academically ineligible) but has sure gotten the attention of scouts around the league. This is a wild card in this year's draft. He could go in the third or fourth round as a linebacker or defensive end.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Here are some linebackers, in alphabetical order, who might surprise some people and should be taken later in the draft.
Brandon Chillar, UCLA (6-2 7/8, 263)
4.74 in the 40 ... 33-inch vertical ... 9-foot-7 long jump ... 23 reps ... Has been a three-year starter in a good program and was a very good high school athlete.
Caleb Miller, Arkansas (6-31/4, 224)
4.71 in the 40 ... 341/2-inch vertical ... 10-foot long jump ... 23 reps ... Is a very good athlete and a competitive team leader.
Robert Peace, Tennessee (6-1 5/8, 243)
4.73 in the 40 ... 30-inch vertical ... 9-foot-2 long jump ... 19 reps ... Started only five games before 2003. He's a physical inside linebacker who can play in space.
Derrick Pope, Alabama (5-10 7/8, 230)
4.68 in the 40 ... 33-inch vertical ... 8-foot-11 long jump ... 22 reps ... Special teams players who can be a backup outside linebacker.
Kendyll Pope, Florida State (6-1, 225)
4.60 in the 40 ... 18 reps ... A very competitive players who has coverage ability. Should be a very good special teams player.
Roderick Royal, McNeese State (6-1, 239)
4.63 in the 40 ... 361/2-inch vertical ... 9-foot-2 long jump ... Transferred from Florida and has started the past two years at inside linebacker.
Richard Seigler, Oregon State (6-21/4, 244)
4.88 in the 40 ... Did not jump ... 25 reps ... 4.50 short shuttle ... 7.13 three-cone ... An inside linebacker who was redshirted in 1999 and started the next four years.
Demorrio Williams, Nebraska (6-03/4, 232)
4.53 in the 40 ... 37-inch vertical ... 10-foot-3 long jump ... 16 reps ... Has great speed for his position. Williams is an instinctive player who was a two-year starter at Nebraska. A junior-college transfer, Williams played safety in high school.
DID YOU KNOW?
- In 2002, Robert Reynolds of Ohio State played on a team that won a national championship, and meanwhile, his brother, Patrick, started at Western Kentucky, who won the Division I-AA championship the same year.
- The average height, weight and speed of the outside linebackers at the combine was 6-11/4, 235 pounds and 4.63 seconds. The average of the inside linebackers was 6-2 3/8, 245 and 4.73.
What scouts look for when grading linebackers:
- Ability to learn football
- Competitive toughness
- Work habits
- Athletic ability
- Pass defense
- Hands (catching)
- Strength at point
- Stays on feet
- Use of hands
- Tackling ability
- Pass rush
Here is a list of linebacker prospects for the 2004 draft:
Michael Boley, Southern Miss
Kevin Burnett, Tennessee
Marques Harris, Colorado
Leroy Hill, Clemson
Derrick Johnson, Texas
Lance Mitchell, Oklahoma
Kirk Morrison, San Diego State
Barrett Rudd, Nebraska
Previous Gil Brandt position analysis columns:
Gil Brandt was vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-89. He is now in his eighth year as NFL.com's chief personnel guru. (Brandt is of no relation to Packers VP of Player Finance Andrew Brandt.)