2015 NFL Draft: Early Look at Inside Linebackers

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Auburn Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall (14) scrambles up the field under pressure form Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive lineman Kaleb Eulls (92) and linebacker Benardrick McKinney (50) during the first quarter at Davis Wade Stadium. John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Early-Round Prospects

Many consider Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney to be the top inside linebacker in this year’s draft; however, TCU’s Paul Dawson has skyrocketed up draft boards as people watch more film on him and learn more about his game.

TCU Horned Frogs linebacker Paul Dawson (47). Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

As of now, Dawson looks like a great pick in the second round, but if he showcases his elite athleticism and speed at the NFL Combine, he could move into the end of the first round and challenge McKinney for the top spot at inside linebacker.

Dawson really jumps out on tape. He makes a ton of plays against the run and uses his sideline-to-sideline speed to track down ball carriers and break on the ball when dropping in coverage.

He’s also very effective when blitzing and shows a quick burst in getting around blockers to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. In 2014, he recorded six sacks and 20 tackles for loss. However, he will need to add weight to his 6-2, 230-pound frame if he plays on the inside in a 3-4 system.

Regardless, Dawson’s draft stock should continue to rise as April nears and would be a nice fit for the Packers this spring.

Mississippi State Bulldogs linebacker Benardrick McKinney (50). Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The 6-foot-5 and 248-pound McKinney still possesses the most upside at the position, demonstrating top-end speed and athleticism, while having the size and physicality to make an impact as a run stopper between the tackles.

However, some questions still remain about how well McKinney can hold up in coverage in the NFL, and he maybe over-drafted this spring based on potential rather than on-the-field production.

Granted, McKinney is a rare talent that will warrant a closer look as the draft nears.

Going into the draft other early-rounders Denzel Perryman and Eric Kendricks may be more polished than McKinney, but they are also more limited physically and have lower ceilings, which will push them into the second or third rounds.

Perryman is a gritty, hard-nosed player who can be a dominant run-stopper. He sheds blocks and sticks ball carriers as well as anyone in this draft class.

Miami Hurricanes linebacker Denzel Perryman (52). Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

However, Perryman’s game may be maxed out already, and he may be limited as a two-down player at the next level.

Even considering this, the Packers could still benefit from Perryman’s ability against the run and physical playing style. He can level players and bring a certain nastiness to a defense.

Something the Packers could still use more of on their team.

Kendricks is also a very physical player and will more than likely be overlooked at the position because there isn’t any one thing about his game that really stands out.

He’s undersized at 6-foot-0 and 230 pounds. He doesn’t possess top-end speed or athleticism. And he’s not as explosive as Dawson or McKinney.

However, Kendricks does a bit of everything at the position, and he does it well. He’s a very instinctual and savvy player who makes a living relying on his reads and sound technique. He reminds me a lot of former Packer Nick Barnett.

He could be a steal on day two of the draft for a team looking for inside linebacker help and should be a day-one starter for whoever drafts him.

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