Top linebackers in 2008 draft:
1. Keith Rivers, USC
Height: 6-2 Weight: 241
College stats: 36 starts, 240 tackles, 18½ tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 3 interceptions
Vital numbers: 4.51 40-yard dash, 4.38 short shuttle
Rivers had a great pro day last week when he had a vertical leap of 42 inches to go along with excellent drill work. He fits in the 3-4 scheme as well as a 4-3. He is not considered a candidate to call the defense as a middle linebacker in a 3-4 and he isn't a distinguished pass rusher, but he is capable of being a backer who will produce 100-plus tackles each season. Weakside backers in a 4-3 defense who can run like Rivers are in the 6-foot, 230-pound range. Rivers could be a bigger version of Derrick Brooks. Draft projection: Round 1.
Rivers: Combine highlights | Playbook | First Draft | Pro day interview
2. Jerod Mayo, Tennessee
Height: 6-1 Weight: 242
College stats: 26 starts, 236 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 1 interception
Vital numbers: 4.54 40-yard dash, 4.29 short shuttle
Mayo is one of the fastest-rising players on draft boards. I have enjoyed watching his game tapes. He is a very aggressive attack athlete who can get cut by a guard and still get up and make a tackle at the line of scrimmage. He has the instincts and skills to play all of the linebacker spots. He reminds me of Al Wilson, but faster. He needs to do a better job of keeping blockers off his legs at the NFL level. He might struggle early with good play-action passes that will trigger his downhill attack style and catch him out of position. Draft projection: Round 1.
Mayo: Combine highlights
3. Dan Connor, Penn State
Height: 6-2 Weight: 231
College stats: 35 starts, 419 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, 4 interceptions
Vital numbers: 4.67 40-yard dash, 4.21 short shuttle
Connor looked so impressive on tape and at the Senior Bowl with his ability to read keys and diagnose plays. He reminds me of Lofa Tatupu and will play a lot faster than his 40 time. His technique is so sound that he will not struggle in the NFL because of his weight. I watched him against Illinois "feel" the Rashard Mendenhall run game and contain the Illini's athletic QB. I personally would place him at the top of the linebacker class but I think he will be the third name off the board and will be a steal for the team that gets him. I have had lots of conversations with him about coverages and zone-drop techniques. He will be a coach on the field by his second season. Draft projection: Round 1.
Connor: Playbook | Interview | At Senior Bowl
4. Curtis Lofton, Oklahoma
Height: 6-0 Weight: 246
College stats: 18 starts, 192 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 3 interceptions
Vital numbers: 4.63 40-yard dash, 4.12 short shuttle
Lofton is moving up draft boards and is a solid football player, but he has to be considered a run-stuffer who could struggle inside because of his "change-of-direction" speed, and height. He brings the wood as a tackler and is pretty good in coverage when he gets a quick read. I could see him struggle with bootleg pass drops. He has to learn to keep blockers off his body or he will disappear in games at the next level. He is a one-year wonder, with 157 tackles this season but only 35 in the previous two years. Draft projection: Round 2.
Lofton: Combine highlights | First Draft
5. Xavier Adibi, Virginia Tech
Height: 6-2 Weight: 232
College stats: 40 starts, 291 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 8 interceptions
Vital numbers: 4.62 40-yard dash, 4.12 short shuttle
Adibi impressed me at the Senior Bowl as a versatile athlete who could play inside or outside. He plays faster than his timed speed and can be described as a sideline-to-sideline guy who gives you more pass-rush skills than some of the aforementioned players. Adibi demonstrated man-coverage skills in the drills at the Senior Bowl. His exceptional short shuttle indicates good body control in change of direction. I think he can make the cover-two drops that the Mike linebacker has to make, but I don't think he can play the run inside, where blockers could get on his body. Draft projection: Round 2.
Adibi: Combine highlights
6. Tavares Gooden, Miami-Fla.
Height: 6-1 Weight: 234
College stats: 27 starts, 227 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 interception
Vital numbers: 4.57 40-yard dash
Gooden has advanced on some draft boards, but one scout described him as a guy someone will reach for a round ahead of where he should be selected. He will make highlight tapes with some big-time hits, but he will also struggle with consistent key reads and play-diagnosis. There's lots of tape of him playing inside but he looks better as a run-and-hit Will backer in a 4-3 defense. Keep it simple for him and you will get some production. In the meantime, he will be one heck of a special-teams player. Draft projection: Rounds 2-3.
Gooden: Combine highlights
7. Cliff Avril, Purdue
Height: 6-3 Weight: 253
College stats: 35 starts, 194 tackles, 36 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, 2 interceptions
Vital numbers: 4.51 40-yard dash, 4.31 short shuttle
Avril is the third in a sequence of Purdue outside linebacker/hybrid players headed to the NFL. Avril will be valued much higher by a 3-4 team. He plays hard but needs technique work to disengage. He might not be a fit in a 4-3 except as a designated pass rusher. Draft projection: Rounds 3-4.
Avril: Combine highlights | Combine interview
8. Beau Bell, UNLV
Height: 6-1 Weight: 244
College stats: 25 starts, 320 tackles,27 tackles for loss, 10½ sacks, 4 interceptions and 6 forced fumbles
Vital numbers: 4.78 40-yard dash
Bell injured his knee at the Senior Bowl. He is considered an inside plugger and likes to play the game at the line of scrimmage. In college he was coached by one of my former players, Kurt Barber, who had plenty to say about how many things Bell can do on a football field. I see Bell playing pro football in the 255-pound range and being a good fit as an inside backer in a 3-4 defense. He has a ways to go before he's NFL-ready, and he might need lots of reps to get there. Draft projection: Rounds 3-4.
Bell: Combine highlights
9. Erin Henderson, Maryland
Height: 6-3 Weight: 244
College stats: 24 starts, 247 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 3 interceptions
Vital numbers: 4.73 40-yard dash, 4.50 short shuttle
Henderson is the brother of Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson. He might not be as physical a linebacker as his brother but he's a fine athlete with skills for the NFL game. He probably would have benefited from another year at Maryland. In the pros he'll have to be covered by a DT because he can't win against guards blocking him yet. A two-TE set that would put him on the line of scrimmage could be problematic. I struggle to see what defense he fits into right away for his best chance to succeed. Draft projection: Round 4.
Henderson: Combine highlights
10. Jonathan Goff, Vanderbilt
Height: 6-2 Weight: 245
College stats: 298 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and 3 interceptions
Vital numbers: 4.63 40-yard dash, 4.29 short shuttle
Goff got better every year during his four years in college. He's smart and a solid leader, having been a team captain for two years. He's just an average football player who struggles to disengage, quickly recognize keys, diagnose plays, and make a big play. He is a system guy who will know the defense with fewer reps than the average candidate, but might never deliver anything better than a B-minus performance. Draft projection: Rounds 4-5.
Goff: Combine highlights
11. Marcus Howard, Georgia
Height: 6-0 Weight: 237
College stats: 13 starts, 79 tackles, 13½ tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, 4 forced fumbles.
Vital numbers: 4.45 40-yard dash
Some people compare him to DE Robert Mathis of the Colts. He is a very undersized pass rusher with great speed but will struggle to play on the line of scrimmage in the NFL. He's also a one-year wonder who played with great effort when he finally got his chance. He told me he thought about leaving Georgia when he was riding the bench but his dad helped him through the tough spot. His one-year production is impressive and there's no doubt he will be a terror on special teams. Draft projection: Rounds 4-5.
Howard: Combine highlights
12. Bruce Davis, UCLA
Height: 6-3 Weight: 251
College stats: 137 tackles, 40 tackles for loss, 27 sacks, 6 forced fumbles
Vital numbers: 4.78 40-yard dash, 4.29 short shuttle
Davis is an undersized end with enough speed and movement skills to learn outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. His pass-rush skills (27 sacks) make me feel like he's a guy Bill Belichick will notice -- another pass-rushing linebacker who played with his hand on the ground at times in college. He has technique and effort and in a way reminds me of Tedy Bruschi coming out of college. Draft projection: Rounds 4-5.
13. Wesley Woodward, Kentucky
Height: 6-0 Weight: 227
College stats: 41 starts, 395 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 6½ sacks, 2 interceptions
Vital numbers: 4.51 40-yard dash, 4.21 short shuttle
Woodward is a classic 4-3 "under" weakside linebacker. His height isn't an issue but his speed is the critical factor. His three years in a row with 100-plus tackles indicate he can play sideline to sideline. My conversation with him led me to believe he has solid football intelligence and is a student of the game. He reminds me of a cross between Cato June and Ian Gold. His stock is rising as we get closer to the draft. Draft projection: Rounds 4-5.
Woodyard: Combine highlights | Playbook
14. Shawn Crable, Michigan
Height: 6-5 Weight: 244
College stats: 21 starts, 148 tackles, 43 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, 4 forced fumbles
Vital numbers: 4.64 40-yard dash, 4.55 short shuttle
Crable demonstrated some pass-rush and coverage skills at the Senior Bowl practices. He has excellent athletic skills to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 or open-side DE in a 4-3. He should be up the list higher in the 2008 linebacker class but he labors at this spot because his performance remains inconsistent. He has already cost himself lots of money, but if the light goes on and, most importantly, stays on, then the team that takes him will be stealing a first-round talent. On tape, it's easy to get excited about his high-end play. He can make a blocker miss or get rid of him with ease. He could be a better knee-bender to create leverage when it is required. Draft projection: Rounds 4-5 (but I might take him earlier if he convinced me he was ready to learn).
Crable: Combine highlights