Road to the Draft

O'HARA'S 2018 DRAFT PREVIEW: Linebackers

Posted Apr 16, 2018

It's a draft year where versatility and possible position changes in the jump from college to the NFL add some uncertainty to rating the top linebackers.

In a draft year when versatility and possible position changes in the jump from college to the NFL add some uncertainty to rating the top linebackers, Tremaine Edmunds isn’t worried about where teams think he’ll fit best.

As one of the top-rated linebackers in the 2018 draft class, Edmunds is confident that how he played at Virginia Tech showed he can line up inside, outside – or at edge rusher.

“A lot of teams are looking at guys who can play different positions,” Edmunds told reporters at the Combine. “I let them decide that thing. I just try to perform the best way I can, put on film the best me.

“Whichever way they see me playing, I’m comfortable with that.”

Based on signing three linebackers in free agency, the Detroit Lions aren’t likely to draft a linebacker early – unless it’s one who can convert to an edge rusher to upgrade their pass rush.

Team needs and fits, are factors in rating the linebacker class. For example, Harold Landry of Boston College could be viewed as an outside linebacker or edge rusher. He is listed with the linebackers in this position preview.

Following includes how the Lions stand at linebacker, the two-year makeover at the position, top 5 prospects at the position and others, and the spotlight on Michigan’s Mike McCray.

Lions linebacker makeover: Sweeping changes have been made at linebacker through the draft and free-agent signings in Bob Quinn’s two years as general manager. Of the eight linebackers on the roster, Steve Longa is the only one who played in a game for the Lions in 2016, Quinn’s first season as GM.

Longa played only one game – 15 snaps, all on special teams – in the Lions’ one-point win over the Eagles in Week 5.

Depth chart: Returning (5) – starting MLB Jarrad Davis; backups Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Nick Bellore, Brandon Chubb, Steve Longa.

Additions (3): Jonathan Freeny, Christian Jones, Devon Kennard were signed as free agents.

LB draft priority: Probably not high, unless a highly rated player slides who can fill a specific need.

GM Bob Quinn’s LB draft record: Three have been drafted – Antwione Williams, fifth round in 2016 and released in 2017; Jarrad Davis (first round) and Jalen Reeves-Maybin (fourth) in 2017.

Top 5 LB prospects, others, and spotlight player:

1. ILB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech.: He has the athleticism and instincts to play any of the linebacker positions and could line up to rush the passer off the edge. At 6-4 and 255 pounds his 4.54 40 time at the Combine was impressive.

Bio/stats: A three-year player and two-year starter, Edmunds had 35 tackles for loss with 10 sacks his last two seasons. He has a football pedigree. His father, Ferrell Edmunds, played tight end for seven NFL seasons (1988-94) with the Dolphins and Seahawks and made two Pro Bowls. His brother, Terrell, also played at Virginia tech and is one of the top-rated strong safeties in this year’s draft.

2. ILB Roquan Smith, Georgia: Slightly under-sized physically but loaded with intensity, he was at his best in Georgia’s run to the national championship game against Alabama. Smith had 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in the last four games. He came up big in the loss to Alabama, with 13 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack.

Bio/stats: Georgia sports writers voted him the high school defensive player or the year for the 2014 season. A three-year player with all 25 of his starts the last two seasons, Smith led Georgia in just about every defensive category in 2017.

3. ILB Rashaan Evans, Alabama: A four-year player and three-year starter, Evans worked his way into the starting lineup faster than most players who face the stiff competition that makes Alabama an annual power. He played special teams and as a situational pass rusher as a 2014 freshman before taking over as a starter in 2015 – at outside linebacker for two seasons and inside in 2017.

Bio/stats: Versatility adds to his value. He’s known to miss some tackles because he's going for big hits. He set personal highs in 2017 with 13 of his 21.5 career tackles for loss and six of his 14 career sacks. Evans grew up in Auburn but chose to go to Alabama.

4. OLB/Edge Harold Landry, Boston College: Based on how Landry was used at Boston College as a defensive end in a three-point stance and a standup outside linebacker, he likely will fit best immediately as a pass rusher for a 3-4 team. A good Combine workout – especially an eye-blink quick 1.59-second 10-yard split when timed in the 40 – indicated that he’s recovered from an ankle injury that hampered him in 2017.

Bio/stats: Landry set the school’s single-season record for sacks with 18.5 in 2016. He ranks second all-time in sacks (26) and tackles for loss (47.5). A season-ending ankle injury limited him to eight games in 2017 and only five sacks. He was a four-year player and three-year starter for the Eagles.

5. ILB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State:  Built more like an outside linebacker than a middle man – some scouts see him playing outside in the pros -- at 6-4, 256 with long arms and athleticism he was one of the most productive linebackers in the country in 2017.

Bio/stats: Vander Esch built most of his resume in 2017 when he became a starter for the first time. A red shirt in 2014, he had 20 tackles in 2015 and was limited to six games in 2016 because of injuries throughout the season. He started all 13 games in 2017 and was the Mountain West defensive player of the year, posting a team-high 129 tackles with three sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions.

Others: Josey Jewell, Iowa; Micah Kiser, Virginia; Genard Avery, Memphis; Shaquem Griffin, Central Florida; Jerome Baker, Ohio State; Darius Leonard, South Carolina State; Nick DeLuca, North Dakota State; Oren Burks, Vanderbilt; Lorenzo Carter, Georgia; Uchenna Nwosu, Southern Cal; Kemoko Turay, Rutgers; Malik Jefferson, Texas; Jeff Holland, Auburn.

Spotlight -- Mike McCray, Michigan: It’s hard to imagine that anything or anybody flies under the radar with the University of Michigan’s football hype machine running at full speed year round, but Mike McCray quietly had an impressive last two seasons playing linebacker for the Wolverines. Playing all 26 games the last two seasons, McCray had 29.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. He was voted a team captain in 2017. McCray closed out his career in Ann Arbor with a solid week of work at the Senior Bowl in Mobile.

McCray is generally regarded as a Day 3 prospect, which means sometime after the first three rounds.