2014 NFL Draft Prospects: Linebackers
By Bill Lund
As we look ahead to 2014 NFL Draft, it appears that the linebacker position is deep with talent and production. Top prospects range from edge players in a 3-4 to inside and outside LBs in a 4-3 defense. As the season progresses, more analysis willbe given to their projected position at the NFL level.
1. Anthony Barr, UCLA, OLB
2012 season: 71.5 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 21.5 TFL
Barr was an integral part of UCLA's resurgence under Jim Mora. Mora stated he wouldn't trade Barr for even Jadeveous Clowney, and he may be correct in his assessment. Barr led the nation in sacks and was top 10 in tackles for a loss, earning him All-American honors. Barr returned to help the Bruins elevate back into elite status. The additional year under Barr’s belt will make for an interesting debate for top defensive player.
2. CJ Mosley, Alabama, OLB
2012 Season: 99 tackles, 4 sacks, 7 TFL, 2 INT
Mosley may have been the best player on the nation’s best defense (including CB Dee Milliner). He led the Tide in earning ALL-SEC and consensus All-American honors in 2012. Mosley was also a finalist for the Butkus Award as the nation’s top LB. Mosley came back for his senior season to finish his degree and put the Tide on course for another national title. Should Alabama have another dominant defensive season, Mosley will certainly be the catalyst.
3. Kyle Van Noy, BYU, OLB
2012 season: 53 tackles, 13 sacks, 22 TFL, 6 forced fumbles, 8 QB hurries, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery, 2 TDs
Van Noy’s presence on the field help lead the BYU to become the 3rd-ranked defense in the country this past season, earning him All-American honors. His ability to not only rush the QB but make plays in coverage and special teams make Van Noy a marked man wherever he lines up. A versatile playmaker that is hoping his return will help elevate BYU into the BCS discussion.
4. Khalil Mack, Buffalo, OLB
2012 season: 94 tackles, 8 sacks, 21 TFL, 4 forced fumbles
Mack is a two-time 1st Team All-MAC and was an honorable mention All-American as a sophomore and junior. He led the Bulls in tackles and is currently the NCAA active career leader in tackles for a loss with 53. Mack may be the best LB nobody has talked about. He has been a disruptive force for the Bulls defense since he entered the lineup as a redshirt freshman. Playing under defensive guru Lou Tepper, Mack could become the defensive version of Eric Fisher in the 2014 Draft.
5. Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut, ILB
2012 season: 120 tackles, 4 sacks, 15 TFL, 2 FF, 1 FR
Smallwood has become a tackling machine for the UConn defense, leading the Huskies in tackles. Smallwood was the best LB in the Big East this past season and should be again this year. Having the measurables and the athletic ability, Smallwood has three-down ability, something that makes NFL teams take notice.
6. Christian Jones, Florida State, OLB
2012 season: 95 tackles, 7 TFL, 2 fumbles recovered, 1 TD
Jones is a classic OLB in the Seminoles 4-3 defense. He led the ‘Noles defense in tackles from his weak-side position, providing protection to work sideline to sideline while earning 2nd team All-ACC. Jones chose to return to FSU instead of opting for the 2013 draft. With a new defensive coordinator utilizing his athletic ability to the fullest could help elevate Jones to elite status.
7. Max Bullough, Michigan State, ILB
2012 season: 111 tackles, 12.5 TFL
Bullough led the Spartans in tackles this past season. He is a classic Mike linebacker, roaming the middle of the Spartans defense. He is from a football family and has the smarts to direct the defense and audible to the best call. He is throwback and a player that will be productive if not flashy.
8. Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky, ILB
2012 season: 122 tackles, 17 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 forced fumbles
Jackson has helped resurrect the Hilltoppers program with 14 wins and a bowl bid in two seasons. He led WKU in tackles, becoming a tw- time first-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection. He has played well against big competition, having a game high 7 tackles and 1.5 for a loss against Alabama. Playing in the Sun Belt has kept Jackson under the radar; once the draft process kicks into high gear, Jackson could rise amongst his peers.
9. Shayne Skov, Stanford, ILB
2012 season: 82 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks
Skov returned after a serious knee injury that cost him his junior year and was honorable mention All-Pac 10 in 2012 (as he was in 2010). This past season, he led the Cardinal in tackles, even though he wasn't able to round into full health until midseason. Barring any more injuries, Skov should have a breakout year in 2013.
10. Chris Borland, Wisconsin, ILB
2012 season: 104 tackles, 10 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 3 fumbles recovered
Borland is undersized yet highly productive for the Badgers. He will be a four-year starter in 2013. In 2012, he was second on the team in tackles, earning 1st team All-Big Ten honors for the second time. Borland has deceptive speed and great instincts. His measurables may cause teams to overlook him but he will bring attention with his consistent play.