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2008 NFL Draft - Ranking The Linebackers
USC LB Keith Rivers
USC LB Keith Rivers
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 12, 2008


CFN ranks the top 50 prospects with the deep sleeper and most overrated and underrated players.


2008 NFL Draft Position Rankings
The Linebackers 

Rankings & Breakdowns
Top 50 Players - 1 to 25 |
Top 50 Players - 26 to 50 | Quarterbacks
Running Backs |
Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Offensive Tackles  
Offensive Guards |
Centers | Defensive Ends | Defensive Tackles    
Linebackers |
Safeties | Cornerbacks | Punters & Kickers

By Pete Fiutak

The Class Is ... Lousy. There isn't a sure-thing star and Keith Rivers and Dan Connor are barely first round talents. Beau Bell and Curtis Lofton are fine, but they're two of the only real players for the inside. Potentially, the best outside players, like Cliff Avril and Quentin Grove, are slight projects.

The Best Value Pick Will Be ... Jerod Mayo, Tennessee

Most Underrated ... J Leman, Illinois

Most Overrated ... Ali Highsmith, LSU

The Deep, Deep Sleeper Is ...
Curtis Johnson, Clark Atlanta

POTENTIAL NFL STARTERS

1. Keith Rivers, OLB USC
Is he really good, or does he stand out because this is such a miserable year for linebackers? It's a little of both. He has the body, the quickness, and the pop to be an impact playmaker on the outside and he plays faster than he actually is. Tough enough to play on the inside and quick enough to wreak havoc on the outside, he could end up being a better pro than a college player if he's turned loose more often into the backfield. He's not going to be a top-shelf run stuffer and he's not a sure-thing Pro Bowl star, but he'll start for a long time.
CFN Projection: First Round

2. Dan Connor, OLB Penn State
A typical Penn State linebacker, Connor is a great tackler, is all over the field, and gives all-out effort all the time. It says something that he's the all-time leading tackler at Linebacker U. finishing up his great career with 145 stops and 15 tackles for loss. He even grew into more of a pass rusher making 6.5 sacks, but he's not going to get into the backfield on a regular basis in the NFL. He's not Paul Posluszny and he can't play on the outside, but he'll be a nice starter who'll make a ton of tackles.
CFN Projection: Second Round


3. Jerod Mayo, OLB/ILB Tennessee
One of the high risers among scouting circles, everyone came late to the party; this guy was one of the SEC's best players for a few years even with his knee problems. While he looks more like a pumped up safety and a thick, blow-'em-up linebacker, he's a great tackler who can play inside and out in any system. He makes a lot of mistakes, but they're usually errors coming from trying too hard. He needs to be on the outside to be a star, and both will happen.
CFN Projection: Second Round

4.
Curtis Lofton, ILB Oklahoma
A tremendous inside presence, the 243-pound playmaker is a consistent big-hitter who's great when the spotlight goes on. The best pure inside linebacker in the draft, Lofton plays better than his athleticism because he always knows what he's doing and has great anticipation. While he might not be able to run down too many speedsters, he takes good enough angles to overcome his lack of raw speed. He's a flat-out baller.
CFN Projection: Second Round

5.
Quentin Groves, OLB/DE Auburn
Groves is a textbook example of how lazy scouts can be. He came back for his senior year and was a bit of a disappointment, which led to him getting downgraded. Lost in the analysis by many was how Groves tried to play through dislocated toes, not just a toe, along with a shoulder. If used right, he's going to be a devastating pro with tremendous speed to be a perfect 3-4 outside linebacker/defensive end. He needs to turn up the intensity and he could get more physical against the run, but he's the type of toy defensive coordinators love to play with.
CFN Projection: Second Round

6. Beau Bell, LB UNLV
It would've been interesting to have seen him at the Combine, but a knee injury suffered at the Senior Bowl kept him under wraps. He needs to get in better overall shape and he needs a lot of work on his overall technique and skills, but once he gets some NFL conditioning the upside is limitless. It can play either inside or out, can rush the passer or hold up against a power running game, and he was great last year against the pass. He's a huge hitter. A HUGE hitter.

CFN Projection: Second Round


7. Erin Henderson, OLB Maryland
While he's not huge and is a bit lanky at 6-2 and 244 pounds, he plays bigger than he is with excellent toughness and good tackling skills. He's a leader who isn't afraid to tell players what to do, in a good way. Good in pass coverage and quick enough to get into the backfield, he's an active player who came up 17.5 tackles for loss along with 247 tackles in two years. He's not a big hitter and he's not an elite athlete, but he'll be able to handle himself well at either outside spot.

CFN Projection: Second Round


8.
Jordon Dizon, LB Colorado
An undersized, ultra-productive tackler who came up with a whopping 297 stops, most of them solo, over the last two seasons. He's always working, has a tremendous motor, and finds his way to the ball over and over again. He's a good athlete, but he's not an elite one and it'll be asking a lot to hold up in a 16-game schedule at just 5-11 and 229 pounds. He plays through everything, including dehydration issues, and he'll have to prove he can handle the duties on the outside, but he'll be a major-league producer in the right system.
CFN Projection: Third to Fourth Round


9.
Cliff Avril, OLB/DE Purdue
What do you want to do with him? A huge linebacker at close to 6-3, 253 pounds, he can be used on the end and can be an ideal outside player in the 3-4. Big enough to be moved inside if needed, his versatility will keep him on a team for a long time. Strong, not just big, he can handle himself well against the more physical teams. However, he needs to be tougher against the run. He's not quite a good enough athlete to dominate on the outside; he'll be a jack-of-all-trades, master of none.
CFN Projection: Late Fourth Round To Early Fifth


10.
Marcus Howard, OLB/DE Georgia
Originally considered poor man's Quentin Groves as an NFL prospect, Howard is an undersized defensive end who has to make the full-time conversion to outside linebacker. At 6-0 and 237 pounds, he's not all that small, and he shocked everyone by tearing off a 4.45 in post-season workouts to get on the radar. While he only did it for one year at Georgia, serving as a backup for the first three seasons, he turned into a tremendous pass rusher. He's a finesse player who'll have to learn to be more than just a pass rusher, the upside is limitless.
CFN Projection: Fourth Round

11. Geno Hayes, LB Florida State
A tremendous athlete with good speed and a great nose for getting into the backfield, Hayes closes in a heartbeat and he finds ways to make plays. He's not big at only 6-0 and 227 pounds, but he plays bigger and hits like a ton of bricks. However, that's his size; he's not going to get bigger. Purely a weakside linebacker at the next level, he could be an ultra-productive starter if he has help around him.
CFN Projection: Third Round

12.
Ali Highsmith, OLB LSU
A mega-disappointment in a few off-season workouts, he timed at 4.76 in the 40 and was knocked down a few pegs. He's a great athlete who plays faster than he is, and he's been a good, tough producer at the highest level for the last three years. The biggest problem is his size. At 6-0 and 220 pounds, with little room to get bigger, but he should still flourish as a weakside defender who can play in space. As long as he doesn't have to be too physical, he'll be fine.
CFN Projection: Third Round


13. Xavier Adibi, OLB Viginia Tech
A phenomenal athlete who might be a big undersized, built more like a big safety than a tough outside linebacker, he was tremendously productive and a great running mate next to Vince Hall. He'll get killed by the more physical NFL blockers and he's not going to hit anyone hard, but he has the make-up and the speed to be a phenomenal cog in right system. He has the potential to be a far better pro than he was in college, and he was great at Tech.
CFN Projection: Second Round

14. Philip Wheeler, OLB Georgia Tech
A big outside playmaker who was a good all-around player for the Yellow Jackets for the last three years, Wheeler has the look of a defender who can do a little of everything. However, he's not a power linebacker and can get shoved around, and he's not all that fast and not that great in pass coverage. He started out his career as a defensive back and he has that kind of all-around athleticism, but he could use some more work on his game to find the right niche in a defense.
CFN Projection: Third Round


15. J Leman, ILB Illinois
An overachiever with a true linebacker's mentality, he knows exactly what he's doing at all times, doesn't make mistakes, and never misses a tackle with 284 and 29.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons. He's not exactly nimble and he doesn't stuff plays as much as he happens to get in on them, and while his name gets called all the time, he's not the playmaker you'd think he is considering all the stops. Even so, he's a player.
CFN Projection: Sixth Round


16. Spencer Larsen, ILB Arizona
An ultra-productive overachiever with nice size, good toughness, and the smarts and leadership to be someone's main man in the middle for a long time if he gets help around him. Not the best of athletes and not the biggest of hitters, he struggles in pass coverage and can get blown up at times, but he makes up for his deficiencies with his drive and effort. He's the type of guy you want on your team.

CFN Projection: Fourth Round

17.
Tavares Gooden, LB Miami
With excellent size to play inside or our, the athleticism to be a disruptive force in the right system, and coming off a productive year on a bad team, Gooden has the potential to be a great pro. The problem is that he'll need time and coaching. He made a lot of tackles being moved inside in his senior season, but he has to be on the outside in the NFL. Is he tough enough and can he handle an NFL playbook? There are just enough question marks to keep him from being a sure-thing starter.
CFN Projection: Late Second Round To Early Third Round


BEST OF THE REST

18.
Stanford Keglar, OLB Purdue
A hard-working hitter with nice size and surprising speed, he's a good all-around linebacker who could be a nice backup in just about any system. He upped his stock in a huge way with some great off-season workouts and showing off better athleticism than expected at the Combine. He's smart, will work his tail off, and will do whatever is needed. He'll stick around the league for a long time and could grow into a starter.
CFN Projection: Fourth Round

19. Jolonn Dunbar, ILB Boston College
Not quite big enough to be a full-season inside presence at the NFL level, the 6-0, 231-pound Dunbar is a good player who attacks the ball and was the leader of the Eagle defense over the last two seasons. He can get erased at times against bigger blockers, but he's a hard-worker with great character. He'll have to be a special teamer early on to stick, and he'll be willing to do it.
CFN Projection: Sixth Round


20. Jameel McClain, ILB Syracuse
A good college defensive end, he's too small to play on the line at the next level and will have to work to become a decent linebacker. He's a tough player who'll handle himself well when the plays come to him, but can he become a sideline-to-sideline performer? He's not the athlete to be special, but he could be a decent piece to be moved around in someone's puzzle.
CFN Projection: Fourth Round


21.
Bryan Kehl, OLB BYU
At 6-2 and close to 240 pounds, he has the size to play on the inside or either outside spot, and he has good enough speed to become a pass rusher. He'll work his tail off and will do whatever it takes to get on the field and make a team, but he has to get functionally stronger. He was great in the off-season workout circuit and stood out next to the other linebackers.
CFN Projection: Fourth Round

22.
Curtis Gatewood, OLB Vanderbilt
Can be be a linebacker? A good end at Vandy, he's a linebacker at the next level. A classic tweener, he's 6-2 and 248 pounds with decent, but not great speed. He has good potential but he needs to become a better overall athlete by getting into outside linebacker shape and hitting the weight-room harder. He can do that. With good character and work effort, he could make himself into a nice all-around defender.
CFN Projection: Fourth To Fifth Round


23. Jonathan Goff, ILB Vanderbilt
He was toying around with the idea of coming out last year but stuck around and had his best year at Vandy with 113 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss, He also made himself a much better pass defender. A smart, tough leader with great character, he's the type of player who could be a main man for a corps ... at least from the head up. He's just not fluid and he doesn't play tough enough against the power running teams. He makes a lot of tackles, but he's not necessarily a top hitter.
CFN Projection: Fifth Round

24. Robert James, OLB Arizona State
With safety athleticism and excellent pop, he's an intimidating player who can blow up a ball-carrier and he isn't afraid to get his uniform dirty. The big question is his durability. Banged up throughout his career, he finally broke through as a senior. He has the strength, but at only 5-11 and 225 pounds, he's purely a weakside prospect.
CFN Projection: Fifth Round


25.
Wesley Woodyard, OLB Kentucky
Very small but very productive, he plays much, much bigger than his 6-0, 227-pound size making 361 tackles over the last three years as the leader of the UK D. He's always working and is always all over the field looking to make something happen, but he's not going to blow anyone up and he's going to get shoved around by stronger running teams. He timed fast (4.53) but can he play faster in pass coverage? If so, he'll have a nice career as a backup on the weakside.
CFN Projection: Fifth To Sixth Round


26. Ezra Butler, OLB Nevada
A phenomenally productive hitter for the last three years, he was the WAC's best defensive player with the ability to rush the passer and fill a hole for the running game equally well. A one-time defensive end with 4.57 speed, he can play any of the three linebacking spots. The problem is how much he looks the part and how much he really is the real deal at the NFL level. As good as he was, he could've done a lot more for the Wolf Pack. A stats guy, he earned his honors, but he was a bit overrated. 

CFN Projection: Fifth Round


27.
Bruce Davis, OLB/DE UCLA
At 6-2 and 252 pounds, he's too small to be a defensive end
and too slow to be a top outside linebacker. He was a tremendous pass rusher who was always in the backfield and was always hitting the quarterback. While he doesn't have more to his game than just being a pass rusher, at least not yet, he showed off in off-season workouts and at the Combine that he has the potential to become a good linebacker if given time to develop.
CFN Projection: Sixth Round


28. Ben Moffitt, ILB South Florida
A great producer as the heart of the USF defense for the last three years, Moffitt started the last 38 games and made 312 stops in the last three seasons. Forget about putting him on the outside, he's not a good enough athlete, and he's not as good a tackler as his production would suggest. If he's not in the middle, he can't be on the field at the next level.

CFN Projection: Seventh Round


29.
Marc Magro, LB West Virginia
A tough, strong tackler who has a non-stop motor and makes plays with hustle, Magro transformed himself into a decent pass rusher and a good all-around player after serving as a key reserve for three years. However, he only did it for one season, has problems with his knees, and isn't a good enough athlete to be more than a backup.
CFN Projection: Seventh Round


30.
Vince Hall, ILB Virginia Tech
It's not fair. An ultra-productive college player with a ton of heart and a ton of caring about his craft. He's just not quite big enough and he's certainly not fast enough. At 5-11 and 232 pounds, he's not small, but he doesn't have the ideal inside size, and running a horrendous 5.08 40, he scared off anyone who thought he could be put on the outside. Even so, making 404 tackles in four years talks.

CFN Projection: Seventh Round

31. Gary Guyton, LB Georgia Tech
Versatile enough to play inside or out, the 6-1, 245-pounder ran extremely well this off-season and showed that he could become a good playmaker with more work. He needs to hit the weights after a lousy performance at the Combine, but he showed off good athleticism and showed great promise. He'll have to b e a special teamer early on, but in time he might be a steady part of a rotation.
CFN Projection: Seventh Round

32.
Titus Brown, OLB/DE Mississippi State
Too small to be a defensive end and too slow to be a linebacker, there's simply no place for him at the pro level. He'll work hard and he'll try to do whatever he can, but he'll have to find the absolute perfect fit to be productive. He performed at the highest level in the SEC and he could find a niche as a situational pass rusher. If he doesn't get into the backfield early in camp, he'll have a hard time sticking.
CFN Projection: Seventh Round To Free Agent

33. Alvin Bowen, OLB Iowa State
"Ace" was a tremendously productive all-around playmaker for the Cyclones for the last two seasons making 254 stops, and while he has excellent athleticism and is a great tackler, he times really, really slow. Like 4.89 slow. Considering he's 6-0 and 223 pounds, that's not good. He can get pushed round too much and he needs to get a lot stronger to make a team.
CFN Projection: Seventh Round To Free Agent

34. Curtis Johnson, OLB Clark Atlanta
Dominant at the lower level, he was just good enough in off-season workouts and in the all-star circuit to merit a shot to grow into a steady outside linebacker. He didn't time that well, cranking out a 4.77 40, and he has to overcome the stigma from the weak competition he faced and the transition to a new position to make a team. A coaching staff will have to be patient.
CFN Projection: Fifth Round To Sixth Round

ON THE RADAR

35. Durrell Mapp, OLB North Carolina
36. Joe Mays, LB North Dakota State
37. Steve Octavien, OLB Nebraska
38. Mike Humpal, OLB Iowa
39.
Darren Mustin, ILB Alabama
40.
Lamar Myles, OLB Louisville
41. Larry Grant, OLB Ohio State
42. David Vobora, OLB Idaho
43. Danny Lansanah, ILB Connecticut
44. Matt Castelo, OLB San Jose State
45. Christian Taylor, ILB UCLA
46. Thomas Williams, OLB USC
47. Kroy Biermann, OLB Montana
48. Nick Watkins, OLB Clemson
49. Marcus Buggs, OLB Vanderbilt
50. Marcus Richardson, OLB Troy