With the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine in full swing, I'll be unveiling my picks for the safest prospects at each position.
Interior and stack outside linebackers certainly rely on quickness and athleticism, but safe picks at those positions are those with the instincts and ability to study tendencies of an opponent, thus meeting the ball faster than others.
But "safe" can't mean "slow" for a defender, as they have to overcome the inherent advantages enjoyed by offensive foes. Inside linebackers might be reliable between the tackles, but if they aren't able to chase down NFL backs to the sideline or stay with receivers over the middle, quarterbacks will pick on them regularly.
These three inside or 4-3 outside linebackers are my safe bets in the 2016 draft class. As with every position group in this series, there is a mix of top-rated prospects and others for whom I project a long NFL career without the early-round hype.
1. Myles Jack, UCLA: With athleticism reminiscent of Brian Urlacher coming out of college, Jack can do pretty much anything he wants on the field. He's been agile enough to line up in the nickel spot. He's explosive and rangy as a tackler. Plus, he isn't contact-shy between the tackles. Despite suffering an injury that cost him the majority of last season, any team in the league would add Jack today to line up inside or outside in their defense.
2. Scooby Wright, Arizona: Somehow, people have forgotten how tough and instinctive Wright was during his first two years at Arizona, especially when he won every award known to man in 2014. Instinctive and tough, Wright sees the ball through traffic and seems to always be in the correct position to make a play. And he's no slouch coming off the edge as a pass rusher. Forget the injury he suffered last season and his below-average height (5-11 3/4) and arm length (30 1/2) -- a team should be thrilled if he's on their roster in 2016.
3. Darron Lee, Ohio State: Given Jaylon Smith's injury situation, I'll take Lee as my third safe pick. Already one of the best all-around linebackers in the country, Lee moves well in space, can take on and shed blocks, and regularly chases down plays -- and the redshirt sophomore should only get better. Lee can play in a stack outside or inside, but could potentially move to the edge if his new team decides to use him there.