Pre-Combine Linebacker Boards Taking Shape

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Tony Pauline

Draft Analyst Writer

As franchises around the NFL descend upon Indianapolis for the 2018 combine, more positional boards are taking shape. Over the past two weeks, we spoke about how teams grade the offensive linemen and tight ends. Today it’s the linebackers’ turn.

Three linebackers stand well above the rest of the pack: Tremaine Edmunds of Virginia Tech, Roquan Smith of Georgia and Leighton Vander Esch of Boise State.

Based on conversations, Edmunds is the clear favorite of the trio. His size, athleticism and ability to disrupt the action impress NFL teams.

Teams are split as to whether Smith will line up inside or outside at the next level. Concerns on Smith surround deficiencies in man-coverage situations and an inability to make plays with his back to the ball when defending tight ends and running backs on passing downs. It’s a concern I agree with off the film, and while Smith shows ability in zone, he reminds me of New York Jets’ 2016 first-round pick Darron Lee when asked to play in man situations.

Vander Esch continues to climb draft boards, as teams feel he’s a three-down defender with scheme versatility, something I completely agree with. Look for Vander Esch to tip the scales over 250 pounds next week, run in the 4.6s and touch near 38 inches in the vertical jump.

Rashaan Evans of Alabama is graded as a second-round value, though teams believe he could slide into the late first.

Josey Jewell of Iowa, Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter and Darius Leonard of South Carolina State all grade as second-round values.

I stand firm on my belief that Carter will end up in Round 1. Leonard comes off a tremendous showing at the Senior Bowl, although there is some concern that he may be unable to handle complex defensive schemes and must play in a simplified system, which will have an adverse effect on his stock.

Uchenna Nwosu of USC also grades as a second-day pick.

A few teams grade Marcus Davenport of UT-San Antonio or Olasunkanmi Adeniyi of Toledo as linebackers. I presently feel both are best suited as 3-4 OLBs. I’m sure both will be asked to participate in alternate position drills at the combine a week from Sunday.

The biggest surprise in my mind was Ogbonnia Okoronkwo of Oklahoma being graded as a last-day pick. On Monday, I stated that anything beyond Round 2 would be great value for Okoronkwo.

Micah Kiser of Virginia, Keishawn Bierria from Washington and Mississippi’s Marquis Haynes are all stamped as late-round picks. I understand the ranking on Kiser, as he’s a bit one-dimensional and likely won’t test as well at the combine compared to other linebackers. Bierria is interesting in the sense that he was graded as a potential first-round pick by scouts entering the season.

In my opinion, people are sleeping on Haynes. While he wasn’t consistent in college, he displayed flashes of big-time ability and really stepped it up during the Senior Bowl. A good coach will turn Haynes into a productive next-level starter.