2017 NFL Draft: Top Five LBs
One of the most athletic positions on the football field, the linebacking corps is a key component to a team’s success on the defensive side of the ball. Considering the last two Super Bowl MVPs not named Tom Brady have been linebackers, we can see the impact the position has when the lights shine brightest. Here’s a look at the top five linebackers in this year’s draft class:
1. Reuben Foster, Alabama
On a defense loaded with NFL talent, one that many argued was the greatest we’ve seen since the turn of the century, Foster was the clear leader. He has elite closing speed on ball carriers and his instincts are some of the best we’ve ever seen. Checking in at 6 feet, 229 pounds, Foster has the size to compete every day in the NFL. His best fits are on the weak side in a 4-3 or inside on a 3-4, but there’s really no wrong place to put him.
His one big knock is his eagerness, which oftentimes leads to misdirection, but he is able to compensate for this with his speed and athleticism. Don’t be surprised if we hear his name called in the top 10 come Draft Day.
2. Haason Reddick, Temple
The former walk-on has emerged as an elite talent in his time with the Owls, and he’s as versatile as they come at linebacker. His 4.52 40 time, 36.5-inch vertical, and 133-inch broad jump all ranked in the top 10 in his position at the NFL Combine. At 6-1, 237 pounds, he has experience playing on the edge as well as at linebacker, something NFL teams salivate over.
He lacks elite foot speed in coverage so he could be a bit of a liability in the passing game, but his pure athleticism can help to alleviate some of those issues. He has tremendous heart as well, stemming from the fact that he was originally a walk-on and had to work even harder every day to be where he is today.
3. Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State
McMillan may be the best in this class at stopping the run, as his 6-2, 240-pound frame is perfect for the middle linebacker position. He’s known for his bruising hits, and his tackling form is impeccable. He has fantastic instincts and is usually a step ahead of the quarterback. His 4.61 40 isn’t enough to turn heads, but also not going to make him a liability.
He sometimes bites too hard on the run on play action plays, causing him to easily be blocked into a non-factor in the passing game. He has a lot of trouble getting off blocks which will be problematic going up against massive offensive linemen in the NFL. Anyone who drafts him is getting a solid player, but maybe not Pro Bowl-caliber.
4. Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
Having experience on both the inside and outside, Cunningham has the exact type of utility that NFL teams are looking for. The first team All-American led his team in tackles, tackles for loss, and forced fumbles, proving he can make plays in any way on the field. His 6-3, 240-pound frame can allow him to be physical at the next level and his pass coverage ability is a huge plus.
He’s a little thin in the lower body, which leads to a lack of balance and explosiveness. He also likes to lead with the shoulder a little too much on his hits and is susceptible to flags. The bottom line is that he is elite in space, but still lacks the ability to get off the block.
5. Jarrad Davis, Florida
One of the most vocal players on Florida’s defense, Davis has shown his instincts by his ability to diagnose plays and make adjustments at the line. His acceleration and flexibility are strengths as well, allowing him to slip between tight gaps to close on ball carriers.
His eagerness causes him to be vulnerable to the play action and counters, oftentimes leading to him being out of position on the outside far too late to recover. He tends to focus more on the blocker than runner and often gets lost on plays, which could spell trouble on Sundays.
Tom Shively is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.