O'Hara's Draft Preview: Rating the linebackers

Posted Apr 19, 2013

In the sixth installment of his draft preview series, Detroitlions.com columnist Mike O'Hara rates the top linebackers available

Dion JordanLB Dion Jordan
Dion Jordan has all the qualifications to be the top-ranked linebacker in this year’s NFL draft. He did a little bit of everything on defense in his four years at Oregon – rush the passer, defend the run and even line up and cover a slot receiver.

He even had a fling playing wide receiver.

But quarterbacks wear a target on the back of their jerseys, and Jordan rates hitting the bull’s-eye as the No. 1 skill he’ll bring to any team that drafts him.

When asked at the NFL Combine earlier this year what he will bring to the NFL, Jordan replied quickly.

“Pass rush,” he said. “I feel like me lining up all over the field on defense shows my athleticism, shows that I understand the game, and that I did a lot for the university.

“But my whole thing is getting after the quarterback, so pass rush would be my No. 1.”

The NFL is a passing league, and defenses have to be set up to disrupt the quarterback. The best way to do that is to sack him.

The top three pass-rushers in 2012 came out of the 2011 left. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt led the league with 205 sacks. Next were two outside linebackers – Aldon Smith of the 49ers, with 19.5 sacks, and Von Miller of the Broncos with 18.5.

All were first-round picks. Miller went second, Smith seventh and Watt 11th. Their combined total of 48.5 sacks last season would have been fourth in the team stats last season behind the Broncos (52), Rams (52) and Bengals (51).

Jordan’s versatility at Oregon reflects the dilemma, and ultimate unpredictability, of this year’s crop of linebackers.

A number of the outside linebackers – including Jordan, Jarvis Jones of Georgia and Barkevious Mingo of LSU – could be outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme or defensive ends in a 4-3.

Alec Ogletree of Georgia is listed most often as an inside linebacker, but some analysts rate him on the outside.

Manti Te’o is one of the top-rated middle linebackers, but poor times in the 40-yard dash dropped his stock a little. The controversy over the hoax girlfriend that surfaced after the bowl season does not seem to have made any impact on NFL teams.

Jordan is one of the most impressive athletes in the draft at any position. At a little over 6-6 and 248 pounds, he ran the 40 in 4.54 seconds, a humming bird’s eye-blink lower than Mingo’s time of 4.53.

When asked what it means to him that people have called him “a different kind of athlete,” Jordan started his answer by referring to his athletic ability, then branched out to his all-round exposure to the game.

“I understand defenses because I played on the offensive side of the ball,” Jordan said. “I understand a lot of the offensive schemes, also. So it plays to my abilities, just understanding a lot of the little things and just my size.

“A 6-7 outside linebacker is kind of unique, I feel like.”

Following are my ratings for the top outside and inside linebackers in the draft, with comments on each player, and other issues involving where the Lions stand on the position. Each player’s height, weight and time in the 40-yard dash is included.

Outside Linebackers:

1. Dion Jordan, Oregon, 6-6/248, 4.54: Spent five years at Oregon, starting out as a tight end, where he barely played in ’09 after a red-shirt season in ’08. Switched to defense in 2010 and became a full-time starter at defensive end in 2011. Had 23 tackles-for-loss and 13 sacks his last two seasons. Outstanding athlete who ran twice for two-point conversions in 2010. A team will get a dynamic athlete at either at DE or OLB, depending on scheme.

2. Barkevious Mingo, LSU, 6-4/241, 4.53: Performed brilliantly at the Combine, showing the athletic skill that made him a standout at LSU. He led LSU with 15 tackles-for-loss in 2011 and started the last five games, three at right defensive end, two at left end. In 10 starts at left end in 2012, Mingo 8.5 tackles-for-loss and 4.5 sacks.  With so much physical ability, the question is why he didn’t have more production.

Jarvis JonesLB Jarvis Jones

3. Jarvis Jones, Georgia, 6-3/245, 4.90: One of the most highly debated prospects in the draft, and it has nothing to do with his production. Health is a concern for some teams because of a spinal stenosis condition discovered after his first year at Southern Cal that resulted in him transferring to Georgia. On the field, he was an offense wrecker for two seasons at Georgia with 44 tackles-for-loss, 28 sacks combined and seven forced fumbles in 2012 alone.

4. Arthur Brown, Kansas St., 6-1/248, 4.68: Transferred from Miami (Fla.) to Kansas State after two seasons, and it was K-State’s gain.  After sitting out 2010, Brown led K-State with 101 tackles in 2011 and added 100 in 2012. Also had two interceptions in 2012, with one TD return, and was Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

5. Jamie Collins, Southern Miss., 6-4/250, 4.59: Played quarterback and linebacker in high school in Mississippi, leading his team to a state championship his junior year, scoring 26 TDs. Went to Southern Miss as a defensive back and switched to LB in 2010. Progressed steadily, and in 2012 had 90 tackles, 20 tackles-for-loss and 10 sacks. Tested well at the Combine – 11-7 in the broad jump, 41.5 vertical.

6. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers, 6-1/241, 4.67: Spent the 2007 season at prep school and ’08 as a redshirt. As a starting safety in 2010 he led the Scarlet Knights with three picks. Switched to linebacker in 2011 and had a great season: 141 tackles, 14.5 for losses and 3.5 sacks. There was no falloff in 2012: 136 tackles, 12 TFL and six sacks.

7. Sio Moore, Connecticut, 6-1/245, 4.62: Born in Liberia, grew up in Connecticut and spent last three years in high school living with his sister in North Carolina. At strong-side linebacker in 2011 recorded 16 tackles-for-loss,  six sacks and six pass breakups. Did even better in 2012 – 15.5  tackles-for-loss, eight sacks, 11 pass breakups.

8. Chase Thomas, Stanford, 6-4/244, 4.87: Started the last eight games of 2009 at defensive end and moved to strong-side linebacker in 2010. In his last three seasons he had 43 tackles-for-lossk and 23 sacks. Does not have great athletic ability, as his 40-yard dash time indicates.

9. Sean Porter, Texas A&M, 6-1/229, 4.69: A four-year player at A&M and started every game the last three years. Led A&M in sacks in 2011 with 9.5 and had 23.5 tackles-for-loss the last two seasons.

10. Zaviar Gooden, Missouri, 6-2/232, 4.47: His first season as a starter was 2010, and he led Missouri with 85 tackles. Well built and athletic, but size could be an issue. His 40  time of 4.47 was the fastest of all linebackers at the Combine.

Other outside linebackers: Corey Lemonier, Auburn; Trevardo Williams, Connecticut; DeVonte Holloman, South Carolina; Jelani Jenkins, Florida; Ty Powell, Harding; Gerald Hodges, Penn St.; Eric Martin, Nebraska.

Inside linebackers:

1. Alec Ogletree, Georgia, 6-3/242, 4.68: Football runs in the family but on opposite sides of the ball. Alec’s twin brother, Alexander, plays fullback for Georgia. Alec also played basketball and ran track in high school. Started one game at WR and four at safety as a true freshman in 2010. Did not start the first four games of 2012 because of a violation of the school’s policy on drugs but returned to lead the team with 111 tackles. Issues off the field could impact his draft status.

Manti Te'oLB Manti Te'o

2. Manti Te’o, Notre Dame, 6-1/241, 4.78: Te’o is highly regarded at middle linebacker, despite the controversy he’s been involved in since the end of Notre Dame’s regular season. He faced questions about his hoax girlfriend, a poor performance against Alabama in Notre Dame’s wipeout loss in the national championship game and poor time of 4.82 seconds in the 40 at the Combine. He got under 4.8 at his Pro Day workout in March. From 2010 through 2012 he had tackle totals of 133, 128 and 103. Good instincts, but not as athletic as some teams might want. The girlfriend hoax will have no impact on his draft position.

3. Kevin Minter, LSU, 6-0/246, 4.70: Four years at LSU and the last two as a starter. Led the team in 2012 with 130 tackles and 15 TFL, along with four sacks. Also had five pass breakups.

4. Kiko Alonso, Oregon, 6-4/238, 4.75: Did double duty as a senior in high school, leading the team in tackles and receptions. He had legal problems – suspension for the 2010 season after a DUI, and a one-game suspension in 2011 after breaking into a home. Had a big game in the 2011 season Rose Bowl – 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks and a pick – and backed it up in 2012 with 14 TFL and four picks. Obviously, he has character issues.

5. Kevin Reddick, North Carolina, 6-2/243, 4.71: Spent a year in prep school before enrolling at North Carolina in 2009, where he started most of his first season. Team leader with 18,5 TFL and 6.5 sacks in 2012, along with six pass breakups.

Other inside linebackers:  A.J. Klein, Iowa St.; Jon Bostic, Florida; Nico Johnson, Alabama; Keith Pough, Howard; Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers; Will Compton, Nebraska.

Lions depth chart: Starters Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy return, along with Ashlee Palmer, who inherits the spot left by Justin Durant’s departure as a free agent. Travis Lewis and Tahir Whitehead from last year’s draft and Carmen Messina from the practice squad are the only other returning linebackers.

Lions draft possibility: Whatever they call the position – outside linebacker or defensive end – the probability of the Lions adding a pass-rusher is high. They are thin on numbers at linebacker.