In December, before there were two top-10 trades that began to shape the 2016 NFL Draft narrative into All-Quarterback-Everything, there were exciting discussions about which linebacker would go first, Jaylon Smith or Myles Jack. Fast forward to today, and an injury has put Smith's draft status in question, while some teams have concerns regarding Jack's longterm health.
Needless to say, Smith's issues are heartbreaking as he was almost certainly going to be a top-five selection in this draft if he was healthy. Jack appears to be the top dog at the position, but if he slides, Darron Lee could come off the board ahead of him. Reggie Ragland isn't a fit for every team, but he's exactly what teams looking for toughness up the middle will want.
This crop of inside linebackers/4-3 outside linebackers isn't very deep. There are some intriguing talents with either great tape or great traits, but very few with both.
Teams with greatest need
Top 5 players at the position
1. Myles Jack: There are teams with medical concerns for Jack and some of them don't believe he'll have a long career. But when it comes to explosiveness, aggressiveness, athleticism and versatility, there aren't any better in this class.
2. Reggie Ragland: Throwback linebacker with experience inside and outside. Ragland will hit you all day long, but some NFL teams are worried about him carrying too much weight (247 pounds) and view him as a two-down linebacker who has to come off the field on passing downs.
3. Darron Lee: My grade on him is a little lower than most and he will probably go ahead of Ragland. Lee has tremendous range and can impact games on third down. Needs to improve his consistency as a tackler.
4. Su'a Cravens: Cravens has some of the best tape you'll find in this linebacker crew, but he's undersized and tested poorly at his pro day. I trust his tape and above-average instincts as a pro.
5. Deion Jones: Jones was just OK on tape, but when you start to add up his speed and athletic ability, it is easy to see how he could project as a much more complete linebacker in the pros.
Sources Tell Us
"Don't get overly excited about Ragland making a lot of plays behind those tackles at Alabama. It won't be that way in the pros. Lee had talent on his (Ohio State) defense, too, but he's a natural three-down player who can cover and blitz. He's a much better playmaker than Ragland." -- AFC executive
Jatavis Brown: I think Brown is an outstanding athlete and an interesting prospect, but the hype train surrounding him in league circles seems to be a little out of control. Speed can lead to more playmaking opportunities, but Brown is still very undersized for the position and could be targeted by physical running teams.
B.J. Goodson: He's a banger with the frame for the game and the arm length to battle back at the point of attack against climbing offensive linemen. The knock on Goodson is he's only had one season of production, but he's a respected team captain who brings toughness with him. While Goodson isn't the rangiest inside linebacker you'll find, he does control his world between the tackles.
Boom or bust
Kentrell Brothers: Scouts beat him up for being "too weak and too slow" to become an NFL starter, and he certainly did nothing to dispel those concerns at the combine with a 4.89-second 40-yard dash and 19 bench-press reps. He was incredibly productive in the SEC thanks to his instincts and short-area movement skills. Either his instincts will trump his speed and he'll keep making plays in the pros or he'll be overwhelmed by the speed and power of the NFL game.
William Ratelle: Ratelle hits this list for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, he's a twitchy, athletic inside linebacker -- a surprise considering what he looks like in uniform. Secondly, he's got the skills and traits to flip over to offense and become a fullback, which is where some teams have him projected. Either way, he's going to get drafted on Day 3.