With the college football regular season wrapped up, NFL.com draft expert Bucky Brooks is rolling out his top 10 college players by position. The schedule is as follows:
1. Luke Kuechly*, Boston College, ILB (6-2, 237): Kuechly is not as athletic as some of the others on the list, but it is hard to find a more productive player at the position. His combination of instincts, awareness and anticipation is unrivaled in the college game, and his impressive tackling production is the result of his superb play diagnosis. Though his athleticism and coverage rate as concerns, his ability to thrive as a "two-down" linebacker is too much to ignore.
2. Manti Te'o*, Notre Dame, ILB (6-2, 255): As one of the more athletic inside linebackers on the list, Te'o excels at chasing down runners from sideline to sideline. His anticipation and awareness is exceptional, and his production is the result of his keen diagnostic ability. While he doesn't take on blockers well, he has a knack for slipping free and getting in on tackles near the line of scrimmage. With few linebackers possessing his combination of athleticism and instincts, Te'o will be a highly coveted prospect.
3. Dont'a Hightower*, Alabama, ILB (6-4, 260): As a massive inside linebacker with exceptional instincts and awareness, Hightower wreaks havoc on between-tackle runs. His overwhelming size and power stops runners in their tracks, and they eventually shy away from his punishing hits. Although Hightower is limited in passing situations, his awareness and recognition allows him to stay around the ball and he isn't the liability most would suspect given his size.
4. Vontaze Burfict*, Arizona State, ILB (6-3, 250): As one of the most violent hitters in college football in recent years, Burfict is an intimidating force between the hashes. He punishes ball carriers and displays sideline-to-sideline chase skills from his "Mike" linebacker spot. He possesses exceptional instincts, but is an undisciplined player who is prone to freelance based on his hunches. In addition, he routinely fails to keep his emotions in check, which results in numerous personal foul penalties at inopportune times. Given those red flags, scouts will have to dig deep to assess his on-field character.
5. Courtney Upshaw, Alabama, OLB (6-2, 265): Upshaw's game lacks the sizzle of some pass rushers on this list, but his steady production makes him an ideal 3-4 OLB. He is tough and physical at the point against the run, but also flashes disruptive skills as a pass rusher. He excels at bending and bursting around the corner, and shows a knack for getting the ball out when he gets to the quarterback. With more and more teams employing variations of the 3-4, Upshaw's value is certainly high on draft boards across the league.
6. Zach Brown, North Carolina, OLB (6-2, 248): Brown might be the fastest linebacker in the draft, and his explosiveness makes him a desirable playmaker off the edge. He can rush or drop effectively from an upright or three-point position, which allows him to play a variety positions in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. Scouts have questioned Brown's toughness, but his extraordinary speed and athleticism are too enticing to ignore.
7. Jarvis Jones*, Georgia, OLB (6-2, 242): Jones emerged as the one of the best pass rushers in the country in his first season at Georgia. His first-step quickness is remarkable and he complements it with a relentless motor that allows him to record sacks strictly off extra effort. His 13.5 sacks rank second in the nation and scouts are certainly intrigued by his exceptional pass rush prowess. Jones needs to improve his skills as a run defender.
8. Kevin Reddick*, North Carolina, OLB (6-2, 240): As a rugged linebacker with sound instincts, awareness and anticipation, Reddick is a tackling machine. His aggressiveness and physical demeanor makes him an impressive run defender, but he also is solid against the pass. He is comfortable rushing or dropping into coverage and has the ability to play as a sub-defender in nickel situations. Coaches are desperately searching for linebackers capable of staying on the field in every situation, and Reddick fits the mold.
9. Lavonte David, Nebraska, OLB (6-1, 225): David is best described as a football player who overcomes his size limitations with superb instincts and fanatical effort. He has a knack for making the big play at the right moment, and coaches will love his nose for the ball. David is ideally suited to play "Will" linebacker in a Tampa-2 scheme, but his production and playmaking ability makes him an intriguing prospect regardless of system.
10. Brandon Lindsey, Pittsburgh, OLB (6-2, 245): Lindsey is listed as an outside linebacker, but spends most of his time with his hand in the dirt like a defensive end. He flashes rush skills off the edge, but wins off toughness and guile rather than explosive speed or quickness. His persistence routinely produces impact plays, which will certainly enhance his value on draft day.