2014 Combine Preview: Linebacker

Posted Feb 17, 2014

The Detroit Lions could be in the market for another three-down linebacker like Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy

The NFL Scouting Combine kicks off later this week in Indianapolis and it'll give teams like the Detroit Lions a chance to get real measurables and medical reports on the more than 300 prospects expected to take part.

It's an opportunity for teams to get a lot of information for their draft boards and start to put names with needs.

We've already taken a look at the wide receiver, cornerback and safety positions, and in the days leading up to the Combine we'll continue to take a look at some of the Lions' biggest needs this offseason, what prospects could fill those spots and what questions need to be answered in Indianapolis next week.

Why do the Lions need another linebacker?

Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said a team could never have too many cornerbacks. He's right, but that statement could also include to the linebacker position.

Austin wants to utilize multiple looks in his defense and is expected to employ the blitz more than the previous regime did. He also said he wants to be versatile and balanced. The more players he has who can do multiple things the better off he'll be in acomplishing that.

There is an art form to blitzing. It's not as simple as just sending a linebacker, corner or safety and expecting him to get home. Some players have a knack for it. Some don't.

Stephen Tulloch had a career-high 3.5 sacks this past season, but he was the only linebacker on the roster to record one.

Tulloch and veteran DeAndre Levy, who led all NFL linebackers with six interceptions in 2013, are the only proven three-down linebackers on the roster right now.

Ashlee Palmer performed well in his first season as a starter, but he played just 35 percent of the defensive snaps this past season. The Lions used a lot of nickel and dime packages.

Getting another three-down linebacker will allow them to be a bit more versatile.

Where does the roster stand?

Tulloch, Levy, Palmer, Tahir Whitehead, Travis Lewis, Jon Morgan, Brandon Hepburn and Cory Greenwood are all under contract.

Tulloch and Levy are signed through 2016 and 2015, respectively.

Last year's No. 4 linebacker, Rocky McIntosh, is a free agent and Julian Stanford is a exclusive rights free agent.

This upcoming season will be a critical one for Whitehead and Lewis. The former 2012 draft picks are entering year three of their NFL career and that's when most players take a step forward in their development and production.

Lewis was suspended the final four games of the season for using Adderall.

Can either of those players make a push for a starting job?

Who could fit in the draft?

The Lions will always look to improve their depth both inside and outside and could even be on the lookout for a starter.

Buffalo's Khalil Mack (6-2, 245) and UCLA's Anthony Barr (6-4, 244) are super athletic, but will have to prove they can play off the line of scrimmage if the Lions are going to be interested. Both might fit better as rush 3-4 outside linebackers.

Alabama's C.J. Mosley (6-2, 228) can play inside and outside in the 4-3. He has terrific range and looks to have some natural abilities in coverage as an outside linebacker. He could be a three-down linebacker for the Lions, but they'd probably have to spend the No. 10 overall pick to get him.

Other players who could fit later on after No. 10 are: Ohio State's Ryan Shazier (6-2, 226), Wisconsin's Chris Borland (5-11, 245), Stanford's Shayne Skov (6-2, 239), Florida State's Christian Jones (6-3, 234), BYU's Kyle Van Noy (6-3, 244), Connecticut's Yawin Smallwood (6-2, 235) and Michigan State's Max Bullough (6-2, 265).

What do the Lions want to learn from the position in Indianapolis?

  • The agility and position drills go a long way to slotting linebackers as inside or outside capable in a 4-3.
  • Linebackers are used in a lot of different ways in college. Whitehead was an on-the-line-of-scrimmage linebacker at Temple. There are some projections that have to take place with some of these players. How will this guy fit in the Lions scheme based on film and Combine numbers?
  • Is Mosley enough of an impact player to be considered at No. 10?
  • The Lions have developmental players at the position. Are there starting-caliber players in the midlevel rounds of this year's draft?