Outside Linebackers Have Become A Top Priority
By Cody Roche
No other position has seen such a high demand for quality players than outside linebacker. With the advent of the 3-4 defense as well as the need for disruption of pass-happy offenses, the OLB has become a necessity for any team that wants to field a dominant defense.
With the league wide use of the spread offense, having agile edge rushers is one of the only ways to stop the momentum of these high-octane units. A few 4-3 defensive ends exist that can get to the quarterback, but we are seeing much more success coming from 3-4 outside linebackers who are standing up and able to pin their ears back and rush the passer. Five outside linebackers were selected in the first round last year -- four of them being converted defensive ends. These players are transitioned from 4-3 college defenses where they demonstrated the ability to get to the quarterback quickly and are moved to outside linebacker in the 3-4.
Speed is imperative for this breed of these pass rushers, and they are faster than ever. Last year’s sixth pick, Barkevious Mingo, is 240 pounds and ran a 4.5 40. Mingo contributed instantly to the Browns, as he was used mostly as a third-down pass rusher; he finished his rookie season with 42 tackles and five sacks.
Jadeveon Clowney likely will be a top pick in this year's draft, based on the fact that he could either be a defensive end or an outside linebacker. We will also see Khalil Mack as a top pick. Coming from the University of Buffalo, Mack made a huge impression on scouts early in the 2013 season when he had 9 tackles, 2.5 sacks and returned an interception for a touchdown against Ohio State. Mack will start wherever he will go, and the athletic linebacker could be more effective in his rookie season than pass rushers were last year; he is an athletic specimen.
Anthony Barr is another outside linebacker who will likely be a top-20 pick. Barr first went to UCLA as an H-Back, but the coaching staff moved him to outside linebacker and he never looked back. Barr dominated at the collegiate level, collecting 13.5 sacks in 2012 and 10 sacks this past season. The ability to play running back for a school like UCLA despite being 6-foot-5, 255, shows the athleticism that Barr possess and why he was able to dominate at such a high level.
Players like Barr and Mack will be quick contributors to whichever team selects them, and will further the movement to add speed from the edge. It’s astonishing that players this big are able to move so quick and as they help halt these offenses, look for NFL teams to continue and scout players who have these impressive qualities.