2012 NFL Draft – Top Linebackers


Inside Linebackers

1. Luke Kuechly, Boston College (6-3, 242): Kuechly departs Boston College as the most productive linebacker in school history. He had an amazing 532 tackles in three years thanks in large part to his elite instincts. Does not get fooled by play action. Translates well to the NFL. Does not have elite speed, but is certainly better than average. Prediction: Top-15 Pick

2. Dont’a Hightower, Alabama (6-2, 265): Hightower is bigger and taller than the average prospect, but still has good speed. He’s a hard worker and was a vocal leader for the 2011 FBS champions. Good awareness and has the size to take on blockers and disengage. Scout say he jumps off the tape. Has battled knee issues, including ACL and MCL surgery in 2009. Prediction: 1st Round

3. Mychal Kendricks, California (5-11, 239): Kendricks is short for the position, and might have problems diagnosing plays in the NFL. Overcomes height issues by playing with extremely good leverage.  Possibly the best cover linebacker in the draft. Prediction: 2nd Round

4. Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State (6-2, 248): Burfict is a classic risk-reward prospect. He has just about everything you look for in a MLB, including an elite motor and stellar tackling ability. But he’s a bit of a loose cannon, getting flagged for 17 personal fouls in 25 games for the Sun Devils. Was benched in 2010 for arguing with an opponent. Will need a structured environment to reach his true potential. Prediction: 2nd or 3rd Round

5. Bobby Wagner, Utah State (6-0, 241): Small school prospect with a lot of upside. Extremely productive career in the WAC, he started all four years. Really turned some heads at the Senior Bowl, and followed that up with a solid Combine. Will struggle in phone booth situations, but is above average when working in space.   Prediction: 3rd or 4th Round

Best of the rest: James-Michael Johnson (Nevada), Emmanuel Acho (Texas), Audie Cole (NC State), Shawn Loiseau (Merrimack), Ryan Baker (LSU)


Outside Linebackers

1. Lavonte David, Nebraska (6-1, 233): David turned some heads at the Combine following an outstanding 2011 season. He set the Cornhuskers single-season school record for tackles, racking up 152 of them. A bit undersized, he will fit in best in a Tampa 2 style defense, where his speed can be utilized. Prediction: Late 1st, Early 2nd

2. Zach Brown, UNC (6-1, 244): Brown does not have ideal height, but he’s got good size and brings elite speed to the position. He set an UNC track and field record, running the 60-meter dash in 6.27 seconds. Needs to improve on his read-and-react skills. A better athlete than football player at this point, but there is plenty of room to grow. Prediction: Late 1st, Early 2nd

3. Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma (6-2, 253): One of the better pass rushers among the OLB candidates. Followed a solid season for the Sooners with a good showing at the Combine. Has the ability to play inside as well as outside. Had academic issues and was forced to miss Oklahoma’s bowl game against Iowa. Health is an issue.   Prediction: 2nd Round

4. Shea McClellin, Boise State (6-3, 260): Solid production for the Broncos and rated as one of the hardest workers in the draft. Has above-average field awareness, and is quick to diagnose plays. Solid tackler who is better against the run than the pass. Will fit best as a 4-3 OLB.  Prediction: 2nd or 3rd Round

5. Nigel Bradham, Florida State (6-2, 241): Productive career at Florida State, Bradham has the build of a prototypical Will Linebacker. Good speed and a hard worker, especially in the weight room. Struggles to disengage from blockers, especially against bigger lineman. Has a bad habit of settling for arm tackles instead of driving into the ball carrier. Prediction: 3rd or 4th Round

Best of the rest: Sean Spence (Miami), Demario Davis (Arkansas State), Bruce Irvin (West Virginia), Keenan Robinson (Texas), Kyle Wilber (Wake Forest)

Stephen Kelley is a contributor at The Sports Bank where he covers Fantasy Sports and Pro Drafts. You can follow him on Twitter @stephen_tsb.

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