NFL Draft: Q&A with Draft Guru Tony Pauline

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Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Chris Borland (44) takes down Penn State Nittany Lions running back Zach Zwinak (28). Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Q. There are several interesting DE/OLB hybrid players in this year’s class. I’d like to hear your take on a couple players at this position outside of the obvious top-10 guys, like Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack. Maybe players that could be options for the Packers beyond the first round.

Pauline: Louisville’s Marcus Smith did a solid job at the Senior Bowl. He didn’t struggle when he was used in space and asked to stand up as an outside linebacker and could be a real option for the Packers there.

Two underclassmen, Scott Crichton of Oregon State and Demarcus Lawrence of Boise State, could be options. But as college defensive ends, you got to really see how they run at the Combine.

Michael Sam really struggled when he was used at outside linebacker at the Senior Bowl. His only fit in the NFL seems to be as a one-gap defensive end. Dee Ford may be in this boat as well.

Arkansas’ Chris Smith was decent at outside linebacker in Mobile and had his moments, but you really want to see when it comes to the Combine how fast these guys run. Because if they run a 4.78 or 4.81 you kind of have to discount them for that outside linebacker position.

Q. Turning to the inside linebackers, I think a lot of Packers fans would like to see Chris Borland play for Green Bay. What’s your take on him?

Pauline: Borland has got first round playing ability, but he’s got last day size. He’s quick, smart, and fearless, which helps him beat blocks. Now, the question is I’ve heard some things about him medically, specifically with the shoulder, so we’ll have to see how that pans out.

He’s a guy that you’ll have to overlook his measurables and just plug him in by faith of what you see on film. The only problem with that is you can’t really use him in coverage because try as hard as he may, he’s going to struggle covering the Jimmy Grahams of the world.

Q. How about UCLA’s Jordan Zumwalt at inside linebacker?

Pauline: Zumwalt was terrific at the Senior Bowl. I think you can slot him anywhere. He can play outside as well. He’s a fearless guy. He’s not as polished as Borland, and he’s not as good in coverage although he has better size. I think if he runs well at the Combine he’ll solidify himself probably as a third round guy. He really just plays balls-out. He definitely transitions well at the next level.

Q. I’d like to get your take on two more guys I like at the linebacker position – UConn’s Yawin Smallwood and Iowa’s Christian Kirksey?

Pauline: They’re very different types of players. Smallwood is very instinctive, but he doesn’t have Kirksey’s speed. He doesn’t have the speed physically, but he has much better mental speed. He does a tremendous job reading and diagnosing plays. He’s exceptional in the box, and he’s decent in zone coverage. He’s a thinking man’s football player.

Kirksey is the opposite. Kirksey is relatively smart, but he’s also a terrific athlete. He’s terrific in pursuit, and he’s got the speed to go sideline-to-sideline. He did well in the Senior Bowl, and I think he’ll definitely go at least mid-round.