We are officially less than one month away from the 2018 NFL Draft, and next week, NFL clubs will start to finalize their draft boards. In that spirit, we are planning an absolute blitzkrieg of our Dash to the Draft series from now until draft day with as many as 3-4 episodes per week. And we kick off that final sprint tonight with a look at this very deep and talented class of linebackers. And just FYI: by “linebackers”, I don’t mean edge rushers who line up as outside ‘backers in a base 3-4 defense, I mean linebackers who play off the ball, which means their job is to either stop the run, blitz up the middle, or drop into coverage. Here to help give us a glimpse of this promising linebacker crop is our good friend Pete Smith, who covers the NFL Draft and the Cleveland Browns for nflspinzone.com.
1. The guy many expect to be the first linebacker off the board is Georgia’s Roquan Smith. Several have him as a top 5-10 prospect. Do you share that view? Do you think he’ll be selected in the top 10, or will he fall out of the top 10 due to concerns about his ability to take on blockers?
2. If there is one LB that could get drafted ahead of Roquan Smith, it is Tremaine Edmunds of Virginia Tech. Only 19 years old, Edmunds is the quintessential athletic freak given the unreal movement skills he possesses (4.54 40) at 253 pounds. Also, many believe he can be a lethal force rushing the passer off the edge as well as a typical off-ball LB. However, there are concerns about his instincts, which are below average. How worried are you that his lack of instincts will prevent Edmunds from reaching his otherworldly potential?
3. A prospect that came literally out of nowhere last season and has skyrocketed up draft boards is Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch. 2017 was his only season as a full-time starter, yet he absolutely stuffed the stat sheet (141 tackles, 8.5 TFL’s, 4 sacks, 4 PBU’s, 4 FF). Many around the league believe he will go off the board in the latter part of round one as a result of his breakout season last year. Based on your evaluation of Vander Esch’s tape, is this guy for real or does he have legitimate “one-year wonder” concerns?
4. A linebacker prospect that many are apparently sleeping on right now is Alabama’s Rashaan Evans. On a new episode of his podcast a few days ago, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said Evans could end up being a top-15 pick. Would it surprise you if he goes that high?
5. A guy who had some first-round buzz headed into the 2017 season was Malik Jefferson of Texas. Although he won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year last year, the scouting community appears to be concerned about his tremendous inconsistencies. As Rob Rang and Dane Brugler noted in the annual NFL Draft edition of Lindy’s magazine, Jefferson is a “guesser.” When he’s right, it’s excellent, grade-A film and when he’s wrong, it often leads to big plays for the offense. How far do you think Jefferson can fall due to that and other factors (lack of preferred length for LB’s)??
6. Buy Or Sell: Darius Leonard, Fred Warner, Dorian O’Daniel, Jack Cichy, Tegray Scales, Genard Avery, Christian Sam
7. Best fits
Pete’s Twitter handle: @_PeteSmith_