The increased utilization of hybrid 3-4 defenses has made outside linebacker a marquee position in the draft. Coaches and scouts love hybrid players capable of rushing or dropping from the edge.
Anthony Barr is the headliner of a group that features several intriguing possibilities. The UCLA star has emerged as a disruptive force despite only spending two seasons on the defensive side of the ball.
Ryan Shazier wreaked havoc on opponents in the Big Ten, with a combination of speed and quickness that made him nearly impossible to slow down off the edge. Khalil Mack is a small-school standout with big-time game.
The former running back has become the premier edge defender in college football. Barr showed tremendous growth as a drop defender, while also adding a few tools to the toolbox as a pass rusher.
Scouts are buzzing over Mack's potential as a rugged edge defender. He established new NCAA marks in tackles for loss and forced fumbles, but the level of competition diminishes the significance of those numbers, in my mind. While some small-school standouts struggle at the next level, the fact that Mack is such a polished player makes it hard to bypass his skills as a disruptive playmaker.
Shazier dominated the Big Ten with his speed and quickness, but he's more than a one-trick pony off the edge. Shazier is capable of tracking down runners from the back side in the running game, yet is also comfortable shadowing tight ends down the seam. Some scouts will have concerns about his slender build, but coaches looking for a versatile second-level defender will place him near the top of the charts.
Few defenders can match Van Noy's disruptive production as an edge player. He wreaks havoc off the edges, while also making plays against the run or pass. Those skills were on full display at the Senior Bowl, boosting his chances of hearing his name called at the end of the first round.
A strong performance at the Senior Bowl has created a buzz about Smith's game and potential in the scouting community. Some evaluators view Smith as a dynamic "Will" linebacker in a traditional 4-3.