Draft Preview

O'HARA'S 2017 DRAFT PREVIEW: Linebacker

Posted Apr 19, 2017

A talented linebacker would be a good addition to a Lions' defense that could use more playmakers.

Haason Reddick’s senior season at Temple began with an honor from his teammates. They voted to let him switch jersey numbers – from 58 to 7 – in a tradition that lets the toughest players wear single-digit numbers.

Reddick responded like he did throughout his Temple career, which he began as a walk-on safety. He has taken a step forward at every opportunity to where he is one of the top-rated linebackers in this month’s draft.

Some mock drafts have projected Reddick going to the Detroit Lions with the 21st pick overall. Reddick, or any player of his caliber, would be a good addition to a defense that could use more playmakers.

Reddick had a strong senior season, and he followed it with an impressive performance at the Senior Bowl and strong workouts for the scouts at the Combine and Reddick’s Pro Day.

“I’m a competitor,” he said at the Combine. “Hustle, then speed. All three of those things go hand-in-hand with me.”

Lions LB draft priority: High, for talent and depth.

Draft LB strength: Solid, with hybrid outside linebacker/defensive ends included.

Lions LB draft breakdown: Depth chart, stats, capsule highlights of the top 5 LBs and other notable prospects, and the Spotlight Player.

Lions LB depth chart: Only MLB Tahir Whitehead is set as a starter after leading the team in tackles last year with 132 in 15 games. Also returning  -- Antwione Williams; Thurston Armbrister; Brandon Chubb (practice squad, 2016); Steve Longa (1 game, 2016, and practice squad).

Free agents added: Paul Worrilow -- 45 starts in four seasons with the Falcons; Nick Belllore – former Central Michigan standout, 94 games and 14 starts in six seasons with the Jets (2011-14) and 49ers (2015-16).

Top 5 LB prospects

1. Reuben Foster, Alabama: He’s following former Crimson Tide star Reggie Ragland, drafted by Buffalo in the second round last year, to the pros and is a better prospect. Foster played at Auburn High School but chose to play in college at Alabama and was a four-year player and two-year starter on the inside. He led a 2016 defense that ranked No. 1 in the country against the run (63.9 yards) and points (13.0) allowed per game. He led the team in 2016 in tackles (115), adding 13 for loss with five sacks. A shoulder injury kept him from working out at the Combine and on ‘Bama’s Pro Day, but his tape makes him the top LB prospect.

An incident at the Combine, when he was sent home after a dispute with a worker while waiting for his physical, is not expected to lower Foster’s draft status.

2. Haason Reddick, Temple: Recruited out of high school in New Jersey as a safety and played linebacker and defensive line for the Temple Owls. After a red-shirt 2012 season, Reddick was a four-year player and full-time starter his last two seasons on a team that went 10-4 overall both seasons. Reddick’s Combine workout was outstanding – 4.52 seconds in the 40, 24 reps in the bench press, 36-5 vertical jump and 11-1 in the standing broad jump. He also stood out in the agility drills on his Pro Day. He had stats to go with his workouts – 22.5 tackles for loss, with 10.5 sacks as a senior.

3. Takkarist McKinley, UCLA: He’s rated as an outside linebacker by some teams and defensive end by others. He penetrated and got to the quarterback wherever he lined up for the Bruins. A three-year player and full-time starter his last two seasons, he had 18 tackles for loss and 10 sacks as a senior in 2016. He had a big game in a loss to Utah – three sacks and five tackles for loss. Shoulder surgery performed after a solid workout at the Combine will delay when he can participate in offseason program for the team that drafts him.

4. Jarrad Davis, Florida: Unable to work out at the Combine because of ankle injuries that forced him to miss four games as a senior, his Pro Day was worth the wait. At 6-1, 234, he had times of 4.58 and 4.60 seconds in the 40, a 38.5-inch vertical jump, a standing broad jump of 10-9 and 23 reps in the bench press. As a true freshman in 2013 Davis played 13 games for the Gators and improved steadily. In 23 games his last two seasons he had 23 tackles for loss, with five sacks.

5. Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt: A major producer in high school in Alabama – 194 tackles, 41 for loss with 12 sacks as a senior – he carried that to Vandy where he was a three-year player and two-year starter after a red-shirt 2013 season. Cunningham led the team in tackles the last two years, registering 16.5 tackles for loss both years. His Combine workouts were not dazzling – 4.67 and 4.68 in the 40 and only 15 reps in the bench press – but his production cannot be ignored.

Others: Tim Williams, Alabama; Tyus Bowser, Houston; Ryan Anderson, Alabama; Alex Anzalone, Florida; Derek Rivers, Youngstown State; Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State; Kendell Beckwith, LSU; Duke Riley, LSU; Vince Biegel, Wisconsin; Anthony Walker, Northwestern; Blair Brown, Ohio U.; Ben Gedeon, Michigan; Riley Bullough, Michigan State.

Spotlight Player -- T.J. Watt, Wisconsin: Being the younger brother of Houston Texans pass-rush star J.J. Watt is a blessing, not a burden for T.J. He is following J.J.’s path to the NFL, but he’ll start out at a slightly lower level. J.J. was drafted 11th overall out of Wisconsin in 2011. T.J. is a borderline first-round prospect.

T.J. doesn’t seem affected by initial comparisons to J.J.

“Early on, when J.J. first started blowing up, I didn’t know how to handle it,” T.J. told reporters at the Combine last month. “But now, definitely I love it. My brother is the best defensive player to ever play the game, in my opinion.

“Obviously, I’m biased. When you play the sport of football, and you have the person as your role model a phone call, a text away, it’s special.”

T.J. was limited to two full seasons because of a red-shirt 2013 season and an injury that wiped out the 2014 season.

He played all 27 games his last two years, with 14 starts at outside linebacker in 2016.

For the season he had 15.5 tackles for loss with 11.5 sacks. A highlight game was his performance against Michigan – 3.5 tackles for loss, with 2.5 sacks.

T.J. isn’t fazed by comparisons to J.J.

“He’s one of the best players ever to do it,” he said. “Why not take that comparison?”