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NFL Draft Prospects: OLB

The Rams have many needs.  Too many to count.  But to me, OLB is one of the more pressing needs.  If its not second (behind QB of course), its third.  But I wouldn't put it any lower.  I think Na'il Diggs will pass as a starter, but we need one on the other side.  David Vobora isn't a starting-caliber OLB even on a bad team.  But he can pass as a gap-filler until we find another one.

So ideally in my opinion, the Rams draft OLB this year (preferrably in Day 2) and place him in a rotating starting role with Vobora eventually if not immediately.  That way the Rams can make a seamless transition for the young stud (hopefully he's a young stud).  We can worry about the value of Diggs in a year when the Rams actually have a shot at the playoffs (hint: not next year).

I have my personal favorite who we should draft, but you'll need to read on to find out who.

Lastly, for the record, Jason Pierre-Paul was graded as a defensive end but he'd work better as an OLB.  So I don't review him here.  Other people who are considered OLBs by ESPN, but defensive ends by Walter Football were not chosen because their height/weight were DE-esque and they played DE in college.  

                                          1. Sergio Kindle, Texas Longhorns

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via www.boston.com 

Why He Belongs Here: shows good recognition skills at line, strong upper body strength, great motor pursuing in the run, explosive at point of attack, takes solid angles to ballcarrier, shows fluid hips and closing quickness to be an effective cover man

Why He Doesn't Belong: he's a tweener, too small for DE, not big enough for OLB, needs to improve lower body strength, some off the field incidents, only adaquate open-fielding tackling

Upside: He's probably a safe bet, although its interesting to note I've never had an easier time finding weaknesses in the #1 player of a position.... not sure what to make of that, but he is by far the easiest

Projected Round - Top 15

                                            2. Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri Tigers

Weatherspoon_medium
via livewire.missouri.edu

Why He Belongs Here: 6'1, 230 and top end speed are idealistic OLB traits, unquestioned leader of Tigers, tough, good lateral quickness and takes solid angles, consisently wraps up his man, good range in coverage

Why He Doesn't Belong: recognition skills are spotty, not vicious enough, doesn't show explosive pop as a hitter

Upside: Being biased as an avid Mizzou fan, I am praying on my knees the Rams get him.... oddly enough, I think this is warranted as his skills are top notch will only real concern being coverage and hitting ability

Projected Round - Top 25

 

                        3. Brandon Graham, Michigan Wolverines

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via assets.sbnation.com 

Why He Belongs Here: flashes ability to give big hit when reaching QB, can hold his own in one-on-one situations, plays till the whistle is blown

Why He Doesn't Belong: undersized at DE at 6'1, will have tougher time turning corner in the NFL, lacks ideal athletic ability

Upside: He's a borderline DE and OLB; his size will prevent him from being an elite pass rusher and his tackling tends to lean towards being an OLB

Projected Round - 1st round

*ed note: this was posted on DE prospects, but he's better as OLB prospect

Rest of defensive ends are after the break.

                             4. Jerry Hughes, TCU Horned Frogs

Jerry-hughes1_medium
via clearinghousechaos.files.wordpress.com 

Why He Belongs Here: durable, excellent top-end speed, elite combo of quickness and closing speed, high motor, relentless, strong tackler

Why He Doesn't Belong Here: may never develop functional man-to-man skills, lack of prototypical strength

Upside: Hughes actually might be a good bet to draft, except he's kind of a question mark if he plays in a 4-3 defense so I'm not sure Rams would risk it

Projected Round - 1st-2nd round

                       5. Navarro Bowman, Penn State Nittany Lions

Bowman_medium
via heismanpundit.com 

Why He Belongs Here: above average top-end speed, possesses sideline-to-sideline range, puts himself in a good position to make plays, excels in coverage, good awareness, reliable wrap-up tackler

Why He Doesn't Belong: sentenced to probation twice, once for disorderly conduct and marijuana, a bit undersized, can be engulfed by bigger offensive lineman

Upside: Here's one player where I think we can ignore legal issues because they don't seem to be terrible bad (laziness is worse to me).... we'd be finding a first round talent in Round 3

Projected Round - 2nd-3rd round

                                 6. Daryl Washington, TCU Horned Frogs

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via cache.daylife.com (#41)

Why He Belongs Here: top-end speed, quickly diagnoses plays, relentless in pursuit, makes plays sideline-to-sideline, good awareness, wraps up tackles adaquately

Why He Doesn't Belong: needs to add bulk to frame, doesn't show ability to deliver big hit, not consistent in the open field

Upside: Washington was also a special teams standout with 4 blocked punts (something the Rams could use), but he fits better in a 3-4 defense.... with that said, he may be able to fit in as a 4-3 OLB

Projected Round - 2nd-3rd round

                                      7. Ricky Sapp, Clemson Tigers

Ricky-sapp_medium

via www.nfldraftdog.com

Why He Belongs Here: eccxcellent top end speed, above average closing speed, explodes off line, excels at making plays in pursuit, relentless, quick enough to disrupt plays in the backfield

Why He Doesn't Belong: underwent knee surgery in November, needs to add power to game, can get caught too far upfield prone to screens

Upside: Sapp is projected as a defensive end on ESPN, but a outside linebacker on Walter Football.  Once he figures out his position, his potential can be reached which is pretty high

Projected Round - 3rd round

                          8. Jason Worilds, Virginia Tech Hokies

Jason-worilds_medium

via www.thenorthendzone.com 

Why He Belongs Here: excellent work ethic, takes good angle to the ball, quick feet for his size, wrap-up tackler who looks to strip ball carrier

Why He Doesn't Belong Here: undersized at 6'1, major durability concerns, takes too long to locate the ball, struggles against bigger OTs

Upside: On ESPN, he's supposed to switch to outside linebacker which would make sense since he's 6'1, so the Rams might draft him thinking that

Projected Round - 3rd round

*taken from DE prospects

                                    9. Kao Misi, Utah Utes

Koa-misi_medium
via www.patriotsdaily.com 

Why He Belongs Here: showed good postioning and awareness at Senior Bowl, takes sound angles, flashes ability to deliver big hit, gets hands up when he sees QB's throwing motion

Why He Doesn't Belong: can be a step slow recognizing screens, isn't big enough to consistently hold ground against run, speed not fast enough to catch up to TEs and RBs

Upside: His instincts aren't that great and neither is his speed, but he doesn't really have an oustanding weakness

Projected Round - 3rd round

                           10. Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State Buckeyes

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via image.cdnl3.xosnetwork.com 

Why He Belongs Here: durable, above average top-end speed, good instincts, easy change of direction skills, solid wrap-up tackler,

Why He Doesn't Belong: lacks anchor to win most one-on-one battles, needs to develop more upper body strength, needs to develop more effective pass rush moves

Upside: Gibson played alongside Lauranitis and I'm sure he'll tell the FO if he'd be a good addition, but I can't imagine he'd say no if they asked him

Projected Round - 3rd-4th round

Dekoda Watson, Florida State Seminoles

Why He Belongs Here: great at anticipating snap, shows ability to shed blockers, good straight line speed and he takes good angles, above average closing speed

Why He Doesn't Belong: missed 2009 spring practices to Tommy John surgery, can get engulfed by interior lineman, can get caught flat-footed

Upside: He could be a decent pass rusher and may become a good run defense linebacker, but the scouting reports failed to mention coverage

Projected Round - 3rd-4th round

12. Eric Norwood, South Carolina Gamecocks

Why He Belongs Here: durable, excellent balance, uses hands well to disengage from blockers, reliable tackler, good awareness in coverage

Why He Doesn't Belong: has gap discipline issues, overall strength just adequate, gets caught out of postion too much, pursuit angles are questionable

Upside: I'm worried about him, because despite the fact that he's a reliable tackler, he takes bad angles.  Also despite the fact that he has good awareness in coverage, he's out of position.  The contradictions eliminate his strength.  

Projected Round - 4th round

13. Perry Riley, LSU Tigers

Why He Belongs Here: displays above average strength, good job in controlling and shedding blocks, angles in pursuit are good, sound overall tackler

Why He Doesn't Belong: susceptible to play action, needs to react better to screens, effort in pursuit is inconsistent, limited ball skills

Upside: I like Riley if only because his weaknesses seem fixable.  Play action and screens come with experience and not many linebackers have ball skills.

Projected Round - 4th-5th round

14. Cameron Sheffield, Troy Trojans

Why He Belongs Here: good size at 6'2, 257, elite pass rusher, hard worker, good overall strength for a linebacker

Why He Doesn't Belong Here: athleticism is lacking, speed is below average, lack of experience in coverage

Upside: He will probably only ever be a pass rush specialist because he's not real athletic or good in coverage

Projected Round - 5th round

15. AJ Edds, Iowa Hawkeyes

Why He Belongs Here: prototypical size and strength for linebacker, good instincts, hard worker, team leader, can stop run, pass, and is good in coverage

Why He Doesn't Belong: is not great at anything, average athleticism, marginal speed, average closing burst

Upside: His upside is extremely low as he will never be an above average starter although as a plus to the Rams, he only fits in the strongside linebacker spot which will lower his draft position

Projected Round - 5th round

16. Rennie Curran, Georgia Bulldogs

Why He Belongs Here: durable, reads QB's eyes and is hardly every caught out of position, strong upper body, good balance, wrap-up tackler, gets hands up when QB starts throwing motion

Why He Doesn't Belong: he's abnormally small for OLB at 5'10, 235, adaquate closing speed, lack of elite speed, will take occassional false step

Upside: If a player this low seems to have more strengths than normal, well its because his small size almost eliminates them all.  Size is so important that it really doesn't matter how good this guy's skills are, the NFL teams will ignore him

Projected Round - 5th round 

17. Roddrick Muckelroy, Texas Longhorns

Why He Belongs Here: prototypical height and weight, extremely aggressive, excellent discipline and instincts, shows initial pop as top tackler, diagnoses plays quickly

Why He Doesn't Belong: some durability issues, needs to improve core strength, better hand usage, lacks elite top-end speed, not used much as pass rusher

Upside: He is one of the more potential-filled OLBs in draft who has versatility to play MLB (not that it matters in Rams case)

Projected Round - 5th round

18. O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin Badgers

Why He Belongs Here: incredible pass rusher, prototypical size and weight, great production (17 sacks past two years), good speed

Why He Doesn't Belong: tore his ACL at Senior Bowl, too small to play anything but 3-4 OLB, lack of experience dropping into coverage

Upside: Schofield is a risk only because even without the injury, he wasn't a high potential prospect so drafting him WITH the injury seems pointless.

Projected Round - 5th-6th

19. Arthur Moats, James Madison Dukes

Why He Belongs Here: high energy player, successful pass rusher, good versatility at both OLB and DE, good speed, good strength

Why He Doesn't Belong: lacks explosive ability most pass rushers exemplify, will always be somewhat a liability in coverage

Upside: I always like going with FCS players in later rounds because there is more upside.  Even though its more of an unkown, you don't have many 6th round prospects hitting it big.

Projeceted Round - 5th-6th round

20. Antonio Coleman, Auburn Tigers

Why He Belongs Here: does a good job of locating ballcarrier, good overall range, more aware and instinctive than expected, closes quickly

Why He Doesn't Belong: only pursues ball when he sees ability to tackle him, struggles to disengage at a timely manner, not much experience dropping into coverage

Upside: The thing I didn't like about his scouting reports were the "better than expected".... well that tells us nothing, it just tells us he is better at it than one thinks but whose to say how good that is.... to me its just a fancy way of saying I was surprised he didn't do terrible here.

Projected Round - 6th round

21. Steven Slyvester, Utah Utes

Summary - Slyvester is a great tackler with good top end speed and good awareness in coverage, but his pass rush skills are limited and he's frequently caught out of position

Projected Round - 6th round

22. Rico McCoy, Tennessee Volunteers

Summary - Not much to like about him.  He had good production while at Tennessee, but he's undersized, needs strength, isn't physical enough, and his tackling skills aren't that great either.  

Projected Round - 6th-7th round

23. Justin Cole, San Jose State Spartans

Summary - Great prototypical height and weight with top end speed, but his natural instincts are extremely questionable.

Projected Round - 6th-7th round

24. Dexter Davis, Arizona State Wildcats

Summary - He's a reliable tackler with excellent pass rush skills and above average strength.... on other other hand he has limited open-field capabilities and plays slow at times

Projected Round - 6th-7th round

7th round prospects

25. Kavell Conner, Clemson Tigers - He's pretty much either average or below average in every single aspect of being an OLB...

26. Keaton Kristick, Oregon State Beavers - Kristick projects as a rush linebacker in the 3-4 scheme with decent size and speed to complement

27. Adrian Tracy, William & Mary Tribe - He has good size, decent top-end speed, and was a stud at this I-AA school

28. Kyle Bosworth, UCLA Bruins - Nephew of Brian Bosworth... well that's all I need to hear

29. Sam Maxwell, Kentucky Wildcats - He has decent size and good upper body strength, but he needs to improve hs top speed

30. Dane Fletcher, Montana State Bobcats - He was an all-time sack leader at MSU and his good size and speed plus pass rushing skills will get him drafted

Undrafted possibilities

31. Simonai Lawrence, Minnesota Golden Gophers - I hope this guy exists because he's not in ESPN's list of players but he is for Walter Football

32. Jan Jorgenson, BYU Cougars - He's got good size but unfortunately he is older than everyone else considerably because he went on mission

33. Jason Beauchamp, UNLV Runnin' Rebels - He has a small frame and having a mascot called the Runnin' Rebel has not helped his speed either

34. Jarvis Gearthers, Central Florida Knights - He's undersized but his speed has helped him become a pass rushing force

The rest of the outside linebackers are probably not good options for the draft and will likely not be picked barring Al Davis steps in.

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