NFL Draft preview: 10 linebackers to look for
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The Minnesota Vikings defense needs help.
That help should start in the front seven for this year's NFL Draft. The Vikings are in need of another defensive tackle, but should also look to bolster an inexperienced linebacker group, while planning for the future as 31-year-old Chad Greenway plays out the last two years of his current contract. There are a handful of pure outside linebackers in this draft and a few inside options, some versatile enough to play both. The Vikings have the No. 8, No. 40, No. 72 and No. 96 picks in the first three rounds, which are selected Thursday and Friday. If it's not a quarterback with the first selection, the best guess is linebacker.
1. Khalil Mack
Might be more of a 3-4 outside linebacker, but still athletic enough to take if he's somehow left at No. 8. Mack has risen to the top of most mock drafts as a four-year starter in a 3-4 at Buffalo, finishing with 327 tackles, 75 for a loss, and 28.5 sacks. The Vikings need an immediate difference maker on the outside, not only to help in 2014, but to eventually replace Greenway in two or three years.
2. C.J. Mosley
The most recent Butkus award winner, Mosley is the best inside linebacker of the draft. He anchored the Alabama defense through two national titles and lost only seven games in his four-year career. If Mack is off the board, it'll be interesting to see how the Vikings view Mosley, who appears versatile enough to play outside in a 4-3.
3. Ryan Shazier
Shazier was among the most improved at the NFL Combine in February, posting high marks in the vertical jump (42), 3-cone drill (6.91) and led all linebackers in the broad jump (10'10"). Shazier also had an unofficial 4.36 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. He's one of a record 98 underclassmen eligible for the draft this season after starting two years on the weak side at Ohio State. Could be a solid fit for the Vikings on the outside, but would need to probably add 10-15 pounds to do so.
4. Kevin Pierre-Louis
Ran the best 40-yard dash (4.51) among linebackers at the Combine, Pierre-Louis started at both the weak and strong side in Boston College. He also tied for third among all linebackers with 28 reps in the 225lb bench. Played at BC with Luke Kuechly for two seasons. Only 6'1", 232lbs, but amassed 360 tackles (23 for a loss) and eight sacks in 34 games.
5. Anthony Barr
Barr is also probably more of a 3-4 fit, but with any of these guys after Mack, you'd have to assume the plan is to heavily pursue a trade down from No. 8. Was initially a running back at UCLA, Barr switched to an outside linebacker in 2012. Aside from being just new to the defense, Barr has never played in a 4-3 scheme before. A good project, but has his glaring downsides. Also posted a linebacker-low 16 reps in the 225lb bench in February.
6. Demarcus Lawrence
Long arms, lanky - seemingly a good fit for the type of players Zimmer had in Cincinnati. At 6'3", 251lbs, Lawrence could be a decent second-round pick in Minnesota to bolster their linebacker corps. A little inexperienced, being a junior that also played juco for a year, Lawrence still finished with 20 sacks in 23 games at Boise State.
7. Chris Borland
Very short, therefore probably not the prototypical build that Zimmer might want in his defensive scheme. Borland is still a bulldog, finishing as one of the Badgers' best defenders with 410 tackles (50 for loss) and 17 sacks. I see him in purple only if he's a value pick after falling into later rounds.
8. Christian Kirksey
Started at outside linebacker for three seasons in Iowa, Kirskey impressed at the Senior Bowl on the weak side, recording six tackles (1.5 for a loss). Kirskey finished his Hawkeyes career with 315 career tackles and one of three players in school history to finish with three defensive touchdowns. Kirksey, an experienced in the outside 4-3, could be a solid middle-round pickup and project for the Vikings.
9. Shayne Skov
Potentially limited to a 3-4, Skov may be intriguing to teams that want to mold him into the outside of a 4-3. Some scouts report he's too slow (ran a unofficial 5.09 40 at his Pro Day), though he proved to be an impact player as a five-year player out of Stanford. Missed his junior season after a season-ending knee injury and followed up with two award-laden seasons in 2012 and 2013, including the AP's All-America third team last season.
10. Kyle Van Noy
A three-year starter out of BYU, Van Noy (6'3", 245lbs) had a down year after his 13-sack season as a junior in 2012. He still finished with 223 tackles (61.5 for a loss) with 26 sacks and seven interceptions in his four-year college career. Has the build to try and mold into a NFL linebacker, but teams should be worried about a guy that didn't live up to his potential in his fourth season.
The rest: Jeremiah Attaochu, Preston Brown, Telvin Smith, Jordan Zumwalt, Christian Jones, Max Bullough, Marcus Smith, Adrian Hubbard, Prince Shembo, Carl Bradford, James Gayle, Michael Sam, Tyler Starr, Devon Kennard, Jonathon Newsome, Marquis Flowers