With the 2017 NFL Draft only a few months away, it’s time to continue our position-by-position look at the upcoming draft class. Today, we’ll continue our look at the defensive side of the ball and discuss the inside linebacker class.
Rankings are subject to change based on player workout numbers and injury updates this spring, but for these early rankings, I go solely off of the film grade.
When evaluating players, I use a 13-trait system with certain traits weighted more than others depending on the position. The scoring adds up to 100 possible points. I also watch a minimum of four games per-player before assigning a player grade.
While at one time this inside linebacker class was shaping up to be a special group, it has now since thinned out with top prospects like Iowa’s Josey Jewell and Washington’s Azeem Victor returning to school and other players like Florida’s Jarrad Davis and LSU’s Kendell Beckwith leaving college with several injury red flags.
Despite this, top prospect Reuben Foster is still a special player and one of the most complete linebackers to come out of college since perhaps Luke Kuechly. Foster should go in the first 15 picks of the draft.
Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham is also a top-tier athlete at the position, and he really upped his game in 2016, showcasing that he’s a consistent playmaker on the field. 4-3 teams looking for a weakside linebacker will hold him in high regard. He could slip into the first round.
There are four potential Day 2 linebackers in this class. Raekwon McMillan from Ohio State is a solid, reliable field general with good instincts in run defense. In my grading system, there is very little separating Jarrad Davis, Anthony Walker, and Elijah Lee. All three are chase-and-run linebackers who make plays in pursuit. They can also hold their own in coverage, especially Kansas State’s Lee, who plays really well in space and has the speed to stick with athletic tight ends downfield.
LSU’s former tandem–Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley–are both interesting prospects who could be good mid-round options. Going into the 2016 season, I viewed Beckwith as a second-round talent, but injuries and a lack of consistency in his play hurt his overall draft stock.
Florida’s Alex Anzalone was a surprise early entry. Some of his film really pops, but he’s missed several games due to injury and he only started one season in college. He’s a bit of a high-risk, high-reward prospect.
Temple’s Haason Reddick is a guy I’d like to study a lot more film on in the coming months. In college, he was an undersized 6-foot-1, 230-pound defensive end. He’s making the switch to inside linebacker in order to preserve his chances on playing at the next level. The little I’ve seen on him he seems like an explosive athlete with playmaking potential. However, I need a more thorough study before I place him in my linebacker rankings.
Most Underrated ILB: Elijah Lee
Most Difficult ILB to Project: Duke Riley
ILB that needs Further Evaluation: Haason Reddick
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the specific breakdowns on each of the top-10 linebackers who will be available in this year’s NFL Draft …