NFL Draft Preview: Linebackers

Posted Apr 16, 2013

Rutgers LB Khaseem Greene could fit the bill for the Rams' need at outside linebacker. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

As the Rams prepared for the 2012 NFL Draft, they had their eye on a handful of outside linebacker prospects that they believed could step in and help right away.

With James Laurinaitis firmly entrenched in the middle, the need to find him some running mates to flank the edges was clear. The idea of landing a stud linebacker early in the draft was squashed in the second round when Seattle grabbed Bobby Wagner and Philadelphia selected Mychal Kendricks with back to back picks before the Rams made their final second round selection.

There were others the Rams considered but they ultimately chose not to draft a linebacker until they took Aaron Brown out of Hawaii in the seventh round. Brown did not make the opening day roster as he was released in the find round of cuts.

Despite the lack of help from the draft class, the Rams got major production from one of that offseason’s most underrated free agent signings in the form of Jo-Lonn Dunbar. The Rams inked Dunbar to a two-year contract at a modest price and got a strong return on investment.

For the year, Dunbar put up 157 tackles (second on the team), 4.5 sacks, two interceptions, five passes defended, two quarterback pressures, 16 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles.

Laurinaitis was his usual, rock solid self and received a lucrative contract extension before the regular season began.

As for the rest of the linebacker corps, the Rams relied on veterans such as Rocky McIntosh and Mario Haggan to handle the strong side spot opposite Dunbar on the weak side.

McIntosh and Haggan became unrestricted free agents in March and neither has been re-signed nor have they signed elsewhere yet. Josh Hull and Justin Cole also had short stints stepping in on the strong side.

Hull is back again to provide depth and possibly compete on the strong side but Cole did not receive a tender offer. The only other linebackers remaining on the roster aside from Laurinaitis, Dunbar and Hull are youngsters Sammy Brown and Jabara Williams.

In other words, the Rams are again will be on the hunt for help at outside linebacker in this year’s NFL Draft.

Georgia’s Alec Ogletree, Kansas State’s Arthur Brown, Connecticut’s Sio Moore, Penn State’s Gerald Hodges and Rutgers’ Khaseem Greene are among the outside linebackers who could be of interest.

In fact, it’s a pair of Georgia Bulldogs that could be the most intriguing options should they be available when the Rams come on the clock with the 16th pick in this year’s draft.

Jarvis Jones, who is noted for his big play ability and pass rush skills projects as a strong side linebacker should he land with a 4-3 team and is expected to be a top 15 pick unless teams are scared off by a spinal condition that raised some injury red flags at the scouting combine in February.

Jones’ teammate Alec Ogletree is also a highly touted prospect though for reasons different than Jones. Ogletree is a superior athlete with the ability to play inside or out and run sideline to sideline as well as provide strong coverage skills.

While concerns about Jones center on his health, Ogletree comes with some off the field baggage that teams must reconcile before drafting him. Some believe he would be a surefire top 10 pick based on talent alone but more than that will come into play. Either way, if he lasts to the Rams’ pick, he could certainly garner heavy consideration.

Should the Rams not have a shot at Jones or Ogletree or even eschew the position to add to it in the second round or later, there are other options.

Brown and Greene, in particular, are expected to be drafted early in the second round or even potentially late in the first.

Moore seems like a logical target for the Rams at some point on day two. Hodges could also be in play there as well. 

Southern Mississippi’s Jamie Collins, Missouri’s Zaviar Gooden, Connecticut’s Trevardo Williams and Texas A&M’s Sean Porter are expected to go in the second to third round range as well.

Others who could be of interest later in the draft include Iowa State’s Aaron Klein, Stanford’s Chase Thomas, UNLV’s John Lotulelei and Florida’s Jelani Jenkins, among others.

Regardless, expect the Rams to emerge from this draft with at least one linebacker in tow, if not more.

Top Five Inside Linebackers

1. Kevin Minter, LSU – At 246 pounds, he’s a physical presence in the middle of any defense and is widely regarded as one of the best in the draft in terms of intangibles and leadership.
2. Manti Te’o, Notre Dame – The much maligned Te’o had a strong senior season before odd off the field issue brought him into question. Still a productive, tough player who can step in right away.
3. Kiko Alonso, Oregon – Athletic type who finds ways to go sideline to sideline and make plays. Big time potential in the right scheme.
4. Jon Bostic, Florida – Durable, hard working player who doesn’t bring much flash but finds ways to get the job done.
5. Kevin Reddick, North Carolina – Productive with good size and intangibles. Has battled some injury issues but his sure tackling and instincts could make him an eventual NFL starter.

Sleeper: John Lotulelei, UNLV – Undersized but fearless player with the athleticism to run and chase. Might project better on the outside but at worst should be able to help on special teams right away.

Top Five Outside Linebackers

1. Jarvis Jones, Georgia – If not for a spinal condition, he might be the draft’s most coveted player. A dynamic pass rusher with the penchant for the big play, turn him loose and watch him get after the quarterback and the ball.
2. Alec Ogletree, Georgia – The best pure athlete among all linebackers in this draft. He could play inside as well but projects better as a run and chase outside ‘backer. Off field issues will affect his draft stock, though.
3. Arthur Brown, Kansas State – Almost as athletic as Ogletree but stronger at the point of attack and stout against the run. Could also play inside but would be an ideal weakside linebacker.
4. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers – Smaller than some of his counterparts but outstanding athletically with a good nose for the ball.
5. Jamie Collins, Southern Mississippi – An absolute freak athletically with the size to match. Struggles with instincts and doesn’t get off blocks well but has the physical tools to be a big time player.

Sleeper: Zaviar Gooden, Missouri – Put on a show at the scouting combine and opened some eyes to the player he could be. Struggled with play recognition and doesn’t get through the trash that well but he has the athleticism and ability to become an eventual NFL starter.