They used extensive criteria that included (but was not limited to) read & react skills, run defense, pass defense, tackling, pass rush/blitzing, physical makeup, and productivity into determining how those attributes translate to the NFL.
The ten-best prospects at the ILB position are:
1. Luke Kuechly, Boston College, Jr., 6’2” 237 Lbs.- If you need a middle linebacker in this class, it begins and ends with Kuechly.
2. Dont’a Hightower, Alabama, rJr., 6’4” 260 Lbs. – There are definitely concerns about Dont’a as a ILB. He’s better suited as a 4-3 DE but in a weak class, someone will force the issue.
3. James-Michael Johnson, Nevada, rSr., 6’1” 249 Lbs. – Shows urgency and always fights to be a part of the play. He’s a force against the run.
4. Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State, Jr., 6’3” 250 Lbs. – He’s not as talented as the hype surrounding him but he’s still one of the few linebackers that can play at the next level.
5. Mychal Kendricks, California, Sr., 5’11” 250 Lbs. – He just doesn’t quit on any play. He’s a speedster but his size keeps him from being higher on this list.
6. Emmanuel Acho, Texas, Sr., 6’1” 235 Lbs. – If a team is still looking for a qualified inside linebacker in the draft and the first five names are taken, than they would be wise to draft Acho to play inside.
7. Max Gruder, Pittsburgh, rSr., 6’1” 235 Lbs. – Not all that big or fast, Gruder is a tough, smart, instinctual player who can play all three LB slots.
8. Audie Cole, NC State, 6’4” 248 Lbs. – Has the big body to man the middle of the defense but has to become more aggressive at the next level. Needs to play with urgency.
9. Najee Good, West Virginia, rSr., 6’0” 245 Lbs. – When Najee gets to the gap, he fills it and the ball carrier feels it. Needs to improve the fundamentals but could develop into a player.
10. Tank Carder, TCU, rSr., 6’2” 236 Lbs. – This may seem high on him, due to injury concerns and size. But, with the ILBs not having a deep talent pool, I would gladly take the risk on his injuries and size, than lack of talent. Place him on the inside of a 3-4 defense and put him on a NFL workout schedule.
Several other inside/middle linebackers were intriguing to us, and we will continue to keep an eye on these players who were on the bubble:
a. DJ Holt, California, rSr., 6’0” 242 Lbs.
b. Garrick Williams, Texas A&M, rSr., 6’2” 239 Lbs.
c. Carmen Messina, New Mexico, rSr., 6’2” 236 Lbs.
d. Adrien Cole, rSr., LA-Lafayette, 5’11” 250 Lbs.
e. Jerry Franklin, Arkansas, rSr., 6’1” 241 Lbs.
f. Chris Galippo, Southern Cal, rSr., 6’2” 238 Lbs.
Dory LeBlanc, covers Gator sports for Gators First and BourbonMeyer.com. Not just a college sports enthusiast, Dory is also a fan of NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB. Born outside Philly, she moved to Tampa, and now resides in Illinois, giving her a broad perspective on the sporting world. You can follow Dory on twitter @DoryLeBlanc