2012 NFL Draft Analysis - Inside LBs
California LB Mychal Kendricks
California LB Mychal Kendricks
Posted Apr 9, 2012

From a college football perspective, here's the analysis of all the top inside linebacker prospects.

2012 NFL Draft Position Rankings

Inside Linebackers

By Pete Fiutak
- 2012 NFL Inside Linebacker Rankings - No. 11 - 25

- Cornerbacks
- Safeties


Luke Kuechly Photo Credit: Evan Habeeb, US-PRESSWIRE

2011 NFL Prospect Rankings & Breakdowns
- QBs | RBs | FBs | WRs
- TEs | OTs | OGs | Cs 
- OLBs | ILBs | DTs | DEs
- CBs | Ss

2011 NFL Post-Combine Draft Rankings
- Top 32 Talents
- 2nd Rounders
- 3rd Rounders
- 4th Rounders
- 5th Rounders
- 6th Rounders
- 7th Rounders & Top Free Agents  


2010 CFN Talent Rankings
- 1st Rounders
- 2nd Rounders
- 3rd Rounders
- 4th Rounders
- 5th Rounders
- 6th Rounders
- 7th Rounders 
- Top Free Agent Talents 

2010 CFN Position Rankings & Analysis

- QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs
- Cs | OTs | OGs | DEs
- DTs | ILBs | OLBs
- Ss | CBs
 This Class Is … Typical. Luke Kuechly is a sure-thing, and Hightower is a potential star if he can find a home and the right role, but as usual, the inside linebackers are a bit lacking in pizzazz. There aren't too many versatile options, and there are some potentially decent value picks, but there will be several easy cuts among the top prospects.
The Best Value Pick Will Be … Audie Cole, NC State
Most Underrated … Bobby Wagner, Utah State
Most Overrated … Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
The Deep, Deep Sleeper Is … Jake Trantin, William & Mary

1. Luke Kuechly, Boston College (Jr.) 6-3, 242
A tackling machine, he has been among the best linebackers in college football over the past three years, but it wasn't until last season until he finally started to get his just due and recognition. He doesn't miss stops when he gets to a ball-carrier and he's always, always, in the right position at the right time. His instincts are peerless and he's the type of leader and worker that every coach wants to have. There were some concerns about his overall athleticism, but he answered those at the Combine showing enough quickness and speed – he was among the best linebackers in the short drills - to make everyone happy while doing it at a beefed up 242 pounds. Throw in the 27 reps on the bench, and he put it all together to be a top 15-caliber pick. The only downside is that this is it. He's not going to get bigger, faster, or much stronger, and while some might think about putting him on the outside, he's an inside linebacker. That should be just fine, though, as he'll be a longtime defensive mainstay and anchor.
CFN Projection: First Round

2. Dont'a Hightower, Alabama (Jr.) 6-2, 265
Big, strong, and nasty, he's built to be a rock against the run and to stuff things up on the inside. Tough as nails, he eats up everything that comes his way with an intimidating style that should make him a force. Smart on the field, he always knows where to be at the right time and he always seems to be in the right position to make the key play at the right time. A part of some phenomenal defenses, he got a lot of help surrounded by a slew of top-shelf talents, but he was the leader on the lot. Athleticism will be a problem – which wasn't helped with a torn ACL a few years ago - and he has to watch his weight. Not really a lineman, and not built for the outside in a 3-4, he'll need things funneled his way more often than not. However, he'll be a perfect run stopper on the inside of any defense and could grow into a statistical star.
CFN Projection: First Round

3. Mychal Kendricks, California 5-11, 239
Really, really fast. He upped his stock in a huge way at the Combine with a 4.47 to go along with an explosive vertical and a nice 24 reps on the bench. Considering he's a great hitter who blows through a ball-carrier, his athleticism could put him on the outside or in. Always working and always going 100 miles per hour, he gets to plays on hustle as well as his speed. The problem is his size. He's not small, but this is it; he doesn't have any room to get any bigger. While he's an inside linebacker, he can be pushed around and he can be erased be a tough blocker. He'll do whatever is needed to succeed, and he'll be a nice part of any defense.
CFN Projection: Second Round

4. Audie Cole, NC State 6-4, 246
A great tackler with a nice frame and the potential to add more weight, he had a good college career and might be just scratching the surface on what he can do. Versatile at the collegiate level, he worked a bit both on the outside and in, but he was far better inside and proved in offseason workouts that he's destined to hang out in the middle of someone's defense. Slow, he hovered around the 4.8 mark in the 40 and came up with a mediocre 19 reps on the bench. On the football field, though, he plays strong, doesn't miss a tackle, and is as tough and competitive as they come. The lack of quickness will be a problem, but he could be used in a variety of spots as a backup if he doesn't stick as a starting inside defender. More of a football player than a workout warrior, he could be a steal.
CFN Projection: Fourth Round

5. Bobby Wagner, Utah State 6-0, 241
A bit too slow and without too much athleticism, he doesn't really fit the NFL mold. He's not all that big, he doesn't have any room to add any size, and he'll always be a step slow for the pros, but he's a phenomenal football player. While he suffered a bout of pneumonia and wasn't able to work out in Indianapolis, he had a great Senior Bowl week and didn't look out of place in any way. Really, really strong, he's rocked up and isn't going to get moved around. Ultra-productive and a great leader and tackler, he could be a star if he's surrounded by more athletic defenders. He'll be at his best when things are funneled his way, and with a hard ceiling there's a limit on what he can become. With his experience and tackling ability, he should be able to find a niche.
CFN Projection: Fifth Round

6. James-Michael Johnson, Nevada 6-1, 241
Arguably the best pure middle linebacker in the draft, he's built for the position and has the technique and toughness to handle himself as a rock in the middle of a 4-3. With great character and a solid work ethic, he has everything in place to be a quarterback up of a defensive front and he'll do whatever is needed to make a play. While he's not a flier, and he's not going to blow anyone up, he has good enough range to get by and he's a solid athlete. The problem is that he might not be for everyone. He can try to work on the outside – and played there at times at Nevada - but he's going to be far more productive if he's stuck in the middle.
CFN Projection: Fourth Round

7. Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State (Jr.) 6-1, 248
The textbook definition of a boom-or-bust pick, he has the talent, he has the football mentality, and he has the attitude to want to be the main man for a defense. With big hitting ability and an intimidating presence, he could be a far better fit for the NFL when he's able to be turned loose – if he's with the right coach or mentor. While he's a major-league tackler, he's also a top-shelf pain in the butt who didn't help himself with a miserable offseason. Awful at the Combine, he ran a lineman-like 5.04 in the 40 and was painfully lumbering in the short drills and in the jumps. Some teams are going to want nothing to do with him, but if he's on a team with a slew of strong personalities he could find a role.
CFN Projection: Fifth Round

8. Travis Lewis, Oklahoma 6-1, 246
Extremely productive at a high level, Lewis was a good outside linebacker who should be a far better fit on the inside – eventually. Slow, he's around a 4.8 40 runner, but he was an explosive jumper at the Combine and he plays faster than he times. An aggressive fighter with an attacking style, he seeks out plays and makes big things happen, but he has an attitude that might have to be dialed back a bit depending on the coaching staff. Can he work on the inside? He was at his best as a weakside playmaker throughout his career, but he's not a pass defender and he might not be quite strong enough to be a top interior presence. Even with all the knocks, he could be the type of defender who gets into a camp and turns out to be too productive to push off the field.
CFN Projection: Fourth Round

9. Emmanuel Acho, Texas 6-1, 238
Where is he a fit? He's not quite big enough to be a top interior presence, and he's not fast enough to work outside. While he's smooth and he moves well, he's a 4.7 40 runner who doesn't time nearly as fast as he plays. Coaches are going to bend over backwards to want him to work out. With ideal character and the perfect personality for a locker room, all the intangibles are in place to go along with good tackling skills, but he's missing too many NFL tools, doesn't hit with a purpose, and has way too many deficiencies to be a star of a starting linebacker. Even so, he'll be a nice swing defender who can be used in a variety of spots and will do whatever is needed to be a part of a team.
CFN Projection: Fifth Round

10. Jerry Franklin, Arkansas 6-1, 241
A great tackler who produced at a high level, he was one of the unsung keys – at least on a national level – of the Arkansas resurgence. Very strong, very reliable, and very tough, he fought through a slew of bumps and bruises and was a rock of the defense. Has just enough overall athleticism and decent enough skills to get by, but he doesn't have elite NFL skills and he's not going to be able to do anything in pass coverage. He's a smart football player, and that should get him on a roster, but he'll have to make his mark right away as a mistake-free run defender. There's little margin for error.
CFN Projection: Sixth Round

- 2012 NFL Inside Linebacker Rankings - No. 11 - 25