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2009 NFL Draft Inside Linebacker Rankings


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Nice read...Not a strong need after signing Bart Scott but still wouldn't be surprised if we take a flyer on a ILB in the later rounds. Harris struggled with injuries last year and the Ravens drafted LBs late several times the past couple of years. We may follow this trend with Rex over here. My choices this year are McKillop, Joseph and Appleby.

by Sigmund Bloom on 04/10/09

1. Rey Maualuga, USC 6’2” 249 - If a team is looking for a tone setter in the middle, Maualuga is the man. He’s got underrated athleticism and range against the run and the pass, and he’s got the size, strength, and attitude to be a force against runs between the tackles. Maualuga is also underrated as a pass rusher from inside, and he’s the instincts, motor, and violent game to be the kind player a defense rallies around. There are some character questions about Maualuga’s behavior, and even a rumor that he needed to be babysat on the road, so there is a bust risk. Watch his Draft Snapshot on Draftguys TV

Why He’ll Succeed: He’s got the size, physical ability, and mindset to be one of the next great middle linebackers.

Why He’ll Fail: Off the field, he’ll succumb to his character issues around alcohol, on the field, he’ll play overaggressive and make mistakes.

Bonus: Six sacks in 2007

2. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State 6’2” 244 - Laurinaitis the sophomore and junior would have been a top 15 pick, but Laurinaitis the senior wasn’t even a senior. There’s some speculation that he was nursing an undisclosed injury, but whatever the reason, he just wasn’t an explosive player in 2008. He’s a coaches dream and a leader on and off the field, but he’s not especially fast, strong, or quick. Laurinaitis is an asset in coverage, although he sometimes hits more like a defensive back than a stout linebacker. He’ll be a starting quality LB because of his instincts, but he might not be a gamechanger because of his lack of outstanding physical tools.

Why He’ll Succeed: He’s a dedicated player who plays faster and quicker than his measureables because he has great feel for the game.

Why He’ll Fail: He’ll get mauled by NFL offensive linemen and not be explosive enough to make big plays on Sundays.

Bonus: All-academic Big Ten honors in 2008

3. Danell Ellerbe, Georgia 6’1” 236 - Teams will pause before they select Ellerbe because of a string of off the field incidents that resulted in a three game suspension in 2006, and a senior year that didn’t live up to his outstanding junior season. He should still go in the first 100 picks because he’s a very good athlete, and he plays downhill vs the run and very good in coverage. Ellerbe is aggressive and hits hard despite being slightly undersized, and he’s generally quick to recognize and react to the play.

Why He’ll Succeed: He’s a high energy three down linebacker with great physical tools.

Why He’ll Fail: He doesn’t get off blocks very well and he’s not a high character kid.

Bonus: Experience at all three 4-3 LB positions.

4. Darry Beckwith, LSU 6’1” 234 - He’s a bit on the short side and not a great athlete, but Beckwith is stout against the run, and he’s an aggressive linebacker. He’s also a good form tackler and a fluid athlete in coverage and pursuit, even if he isn’t that fast or quick. There are questions about his instincts, but he makes a beeline to the ball once he correctly diagnoses the play. Beckwith has missed some time with knee, shoulder, and leg injuries, so durability is a concern.

Why He’ll Succeed: He’s an underrated athlete and he can stay on the field for all three downs.

Why He’ll Fail: He’s not athletic or instinctive enough to start in the NFL.

Bonus: Experience as a weak side linebacker

5. Frantz Joseph, Florida Atlantic 6’1” 242 - You’ll have to excuse me if I gush a little about Joseph. First, you have to love a kid who transfers to a smaller program to be closer to his ailing mom. Second, you have to love a linebacker who studies film of Ray Lewis, Jack Lambert, and Mike Singletary. Watch him play and you’ll see the evidence of that film study. Joseph plays with the contagious mean streak that lights the fuse of a defense, fires up a crowd, and demoralizes offensive players. His motor and instincts make him faster than his timed speed, and he can hang enough in coverage to maybe shed the two down linebacker label. Even if he doesn’t he can still be a Jeremiah Trotter type force against the run.

Why He’ll Succeed: He plays all-out on every play and leaves destruction in his wake.

Why He’ll Fail: He can’t cover ground quickly enough in pursuit or coverage to hang in the NFL.

Bonus: 154 tackles in 2008

6. Jason Phillips, TCU 6’1” 239 - Phillips would have been higher on this list, but he suffered a torn meniscus at the combine, and his stock has taken a hit because of it. He’s another guy who plays the game with passion and smarts, and outperforms his middling measureables. He has a terrific football IQ and instincts, and like McKillop, he only plays with 100% effort.

Why He’ll Succeed: He’s got top notch intangibles and instincts, and he plays faster than his measureables.

Why He’ll Fail: He’s just not physically talented enough to start in the NFL.

Bonus: Outstanding Special Teams player

7. Gerald McRath, Southern Miss 6’3” 231 - McRath may belong in the 4-3 OLB rankings as much as he belongs here. Even though he was a middle linebacker in college, he’s more of a chase LB than a stout presence in the middle. He does have terrific speed and range in coverage, so that’s a reason to leave in the middle as long as the defensive scheme doesn’t call for the MLB to take on blockers very often. He came out early and is far from a finished product physically. If he can bulk up, he can become more physical and add some hitting to his drag down tackling style.

Why He’ll Succeed: He can cover as much ground as any ILB in this class, and he’s a dependable tackler.

Why He’ll Fail: He’s doesn’t have the physical presence needed to play LB in the NFL.

Bonus: 386 tackles in three years, including 32.5 for a loss

8. Jasper Brinkley, South Carolina 6’2” 252 - Two years ago, I would have said Brinkley was a shoo-in to be top three on this list. He’s huge, mean and very athletic. In 2007, he tore up his knee, and in 2008, he wasn’t the same guy. I fear an Anthony Waters type decline is in motion, but he was so impressive before that I can’t put him any lower on this list. We were hoping to profile him on Draftguys TV, but his instincts and positioning were terrible. At this point he projects best as a run stuffer in a 3-4, and his stock is on the rise after a good pro day.

Why He’ll Succeed: He’s big, intimidating force against the run, and he’s very athletic.

Why He’ll Fail: His instincts are questionable and he might never come all the way back from his knee injury.

Bonus: Twin brother Casper is a DE for the Carolina Panthers

9. Scott McKillop, Pitt 6’1” 244 - McKillop is a classic overachiever who plays every snap like it’s his last. He’s a terrific tackler with great instincts and understanding of the game. He also lacks above average size, strength, speed, or quicks. He’s a poor man’s Laurinaitis, so he’ll at least hang around the league as an excellent backup and special teamer.

Why He’ll Succeed: He’s got top notch intangibles and instincts, and he plays faster than his measureables.

Why He’ll Fail: He’s just not physically talented enough to start in the NFL. (yup, exactly the same as Phillips)

Bonus: Led the nation in tackles in 2007.

10. Antonio Appleby, Virginia 6’4” 243 - Appleby joins Brinkley in the small group of ILB prospects who are big enough to play ILB in a 3-4 that asks its backer to frequently take on blockers. He’s probably just a two-down thumper, but he’s one of the best LBs in this class against the run. He can also line up on the edge and rush the passer and he’s experienced in a 3-4 from his time at UVA.

Why He’ll Succeed: He’s got exceptional natural size and he’ll be a powerful hitter against the run.

Why He’ll Fail: He doesn’t have sideline to sideline range or good pass coverage ability, and his effort is inconsistent.

Bonus: Intercepted a Mark Sanchez pass in the season opener this year.

Best of the Rest

Josh Mauga, Nevada 6’2” 243 - Mauga is a versatile LB who can play in a 3-4 or 4-3, inside or outside, but he’s had two big injuries the last two seasons, and he doesn’t have ideal strength or speed.

Worrell Williams, Cal 5’11” 240 - DJ’s little brother is a great hitter and he makes plays downhill, but he might be too short and lacking the instincts to make it in the pros.

Anthony Felder, Cal 6’2” 233 - Felder is a great run stuffer, but his injury history worries scouts.

Andy Schantz, Portland State 6’1” 234 - Schantz made a lot of plays in pass coverage and across the line of scrimmage, and he’s trying to follow Adam Heyward into the NFL from his FCS school.

Michael Tauiliili, Duke 5’10” 231 - Tauiliili is small, but he showed a great nose for the ball at the Shrine Game.

Stanley Arnoux, Wake Forest 6’0” 232 - Arnoux played in the shadow of Aaron Curry, but he’s a four year starter, a consistent force against the run, and he got a combine invite.

Brit Miller, Illinois 6’0” 243 - A lot like former teammate J Leman, Miller is a marginal NFL athlete who plays with NFL instincts and toughness.


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