A number of teams are making the switch to the 3-4 this offseason, which, of course, requires at least a minor overhaul of the linebacking corps. It is important for the Eagles, Saints and Browns, the three teams so far to make the switch, to find outside linebackers who can rush the passer but also cover tight ends, running backs and even slot receivers. Luckily for them, there are a number of outside linebackers that could be impact players.
Here’s a look at the top linebacker prospects in the draft:
THE TOP PROSPECTS
Dion Jordan, Outside Linebacker, Oregon (6-6, 248 lbs.)
Jordan’s monster combine has propelled him to the top of the first round. In his senior season at Oregon, he had 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks, but was often dropped into coverage. He’ll fit best as an outside rusher in the 3-4, where teams can utilize his versatility. Is he a good fit for Chip Kelly, his college coach, and the Eagles? Or will he even make it to No. 4?
Jarvis Jones, Outside Linebacker, Georgia (6-2, 245 lbs.)
Jones has spinal stenosis, which has many NFL teams wondering about his career longevity. Health aside, however, he may be the best outside linebacker in the draft. With 14.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles in his junior season at Georgia, he proved to be a major playmaker in college football’s best conference. Jones made a curious decision to skip the combine, further throwing his draft status into question. Some team will probably get good value in the first round.
Arthur Brown, Inside Linebacker, Kansas State (6-0, 241 lbs.)
Brown is the brother of professional fumbler Eagles running back Bryce Brown. At Kansas State, he established himself as a strong tackler and leader in the middle of the Wildcats’ defense, recording 100 tackles in his senior season. However, he may not be big enough to play the middle in the NFL, and could be best suited for the weak side.
Manti Te’o, Inside Linebacker, Notre Dame (6-1, 241 lbs.)
After a senior season at Notre Dame that saw him finish as a Heisman finalist, Te’o’s draft stock has dropped dramatically. The story of his nonexistent girlfriend likely won’t bother NFL teams, but following a terrible performance in the BCS National Championship with a poor combine showing was not a good combination. Some were calling him one of the top five players in the draft a few months ago - now, is he a first-round pick?
Kevin Minter, Inside Linebacker, LSU (6-1, 246 lbs.)
Minter played with a lot of talent on LSU’s defense, but the argument could be made that he was the Tigers’ best defender. With a whopping 130 tackles and four sacks, Minter was a force against the run, though some question his speed after a subpar 40-yard dash time. He’s a good tackler with good football instincts who should be a late first-round pick.
Alec Ogletree, Inside Linebacker, Georgia (6-2, 242 lbs.)
Ogletree comes with some baggage, most recently in the form of a DUI arrest before the combine. When on the field, however, he is a force, as evidenced by his 111 tackles despite being suspended the first four games of the season. Ogletree switched from safety to linebacker after his first season at Georgia, which shows in the speed he exhibits chasing down ball carriers. It’s just a matter of convincing teams that his problems are behind him.
Chase Thomas, Outside Linebacker, Stanford
Khaseem Greene, Outside Linebacker, Rutgers
Trevardo Williams, Outside Linebacker, Connecticut
Kevin Reddick, Inside Linebacker, North Carolina
Jamie Collins, Outside Linebacker, Southern Missouri
Gerald Hodges, Outside Linebacker, Penn State
Kiko Alonso, Inside Linebacker, Oregon
Baltimore Ravens: Some guy named Ray Lewis retired and Dannell Ellerbe signed with the Dolphins. So, yeah, the Ravens could use a linebacker.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills could use another pass rusher on the outside in the 3-4. Will they use the ninth overall pick to take one?
Chicago Bears: Brian Urlacher isn’t retiring, but he is a free agent and likely to leave the team he made his name with. The Bears will need to replace him.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals somehow made the playoffs last season with a linebacking corps that included Rey Maualuga, who they just re-signed for some reason. An upgrade is needed.
Cleveland Browns: With the move back to the 3-4, the Browns need an outside pass rusher.
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys are transitioning to the 4-3 and likely will need to fill one of their linebacking spots in the draft.
Houston Texans: Connor Barwin departed as a free agent, but the Texans could really use the help at the inside position next to Brian Cushing, who is no guarantee on his own coming off a torn ACL.
New Orleans Saints: The Saints’ defense couldn’t stop anyone last season, in part due to a lack of pressure, and now they’re switching to a 3-4. They need a playmaker at outside linebacker.
New York Giants: Michael Boley and Chase Blackburn are average at best at this point. The Giants could use an upgrade.
New York Jets: The Jets had no pass rush last season and could stand to replace Calvin Pace on the outside.
Oakland Raiders: The Raiders could use some pressure from the outside after finishing with the second-fewest sacks in the NFL last season.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Are the Eagles comfortable with Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham as their outside linebackers in the 3-4, or will they draft someone to fill that role?
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers’ feared linebackers fell off in a hurry. They could use the help both inside and outside, especially with James Harrison’s release.