Positional Analysis: OLBs

Boss Bailey

While the Vikings won't necessarily be looking for an immediate starter at outside linebacker in this year's draft, they will be looking for someone to develop and add depth at the position. We break down the top 14 OLBs.

VIKINGS OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS -- Chris Claiborne, Raonall Smith, Henri Crockett, Nick Rogers, Max Yates.

VIKINGS 2003 DRAFT EXPECTATIONS -- While the Claiborne signing has been hailed as one of the best of the off-season – a talented player who is young, hungry to revive his career and purchased for a reasonable price – the position is far from settled. Henri Crockett is a solid player, but not outstanding, and the jury is still out on Raonall Smith. Some believe the Vikings overshot big time on Smith when they took him in the second round – much higher than just about anyone else had him rated. The team rid themselves of Patrick Chukwurah, who was prone to repeated mistakes, and there is no guarantee that Max Yates will be in a Vikings uniform this year. While the team has improved through free agency at the position, depth is a concern. and it could be addressed in the draft. As stated in the inside linebacker draft outlook, if George O'Leary is serious about implementing a situational 3-4 defense, the Vikings will need more live bodies – and players who can contribute – to make it work. While OLB is not a high priority in this year's draft, it is one that could surprise if a player the team likes falls into the third round or, more likely, the second day of the draft.

THE CLASS OF '03 – Not as pathetic as the middle linebacker crop, there may be a similar result – only about a half-dozen players going off the board on the first day of the draft. Once again, this is good news for the Vikings, since their interest in an outside LB would probably be centered on taking a player sometime from the fourth round on. Boss Bailey of Georgia is clearly the top ‘Dawg of the '03 class, but beyond him, there likely won't be another LB taken until the middle of the second round and only a handful of others going on the first day. Fortunately for the Vikings, the lack of players being taken and their lack of top-round need could be a perfect blend that could end up with the drafting of a player the fits a need at the right spot on draft day.

FIRST ROUNDERS

Boss Bailey, Georgia, 6-3, 230 –
Fifth-year senior…Brother of Washington CB Champ Bailey…High school state 110 meter hurdles champion…Tore his left ACL as a high school senior and tore his right ACL in 2000…Three-year starter who amassed 235 tackles and an impressive 14 interceptions in that span…Very strong in the open field chasing down ball carriers and dropping in pass coverage…Excellent speed and leaping ability – has been measured with a vertical jump of an ungodly 46 inches…Has speed extremely rare for linebackers…Solid special teams player who used leaping ability to block field goals…Does not have nearly the strength coaches want from an every-down linebacker…Isn't efficient at using his hands to get away from blockers…Sometimes too aggressive and takes himself out of plays…Needs work on tackling technique…A bit undersized for a LB and some think he could be an All-Pro as a safety…Didn't lift or run at the Combine, but has been clocked at 4.38 in the 40-yard dash. PROJECTION: An enigma, Bailey is seen as a player who needs refinement in his game, but has such overwhelming speed that he won't make it past the middle of the first round. The only question is whether he will be drafted to play OLB or safety.

SECOND/THIRD ROUNDERS

Nick Barnett, Oregon State, 6-2, 236 –
Fourth-year senior…Played safety as a true freshman before moving to linebacker…Two-year starter who played both "Will" (weakside LB) and "Sam" (strongside LB)…In his two seasons as a starter, he 194 tackles (121 of those last year), 26-1/2 tackles for a loss (20 in '02) and eight sacks…Has a big-time mean streak and loves to lay the hit on opponents…Motor runs constantly…Is a good blitzer with strong closing speed…Changes directions very well…Can run sideline-to-sideline chasing down the ball carrier…Good quickness as a blitzer…Is a top special teams performer…Is undersized despite adding some bulk in the offseason…Will have a hard time getting by offensive linemen in the pros…Is viewed as a prototype weakside linebacker, but has limited experience there…Has good upper body strength, but very limited lower body pop…Has great weight-room strength that he showed at the Combine, doing a killer 32 reps with 225 pounds. PROJECTION: If you went strictly by the numbers, he would be a first-rounder for sure. But, his weaknesses are in some critical areas and he looks to be a player that will need the right system to achieve the All-Pro status some are convinced he has. Likely to drop well into the second round on draft day.

Victor Hobson, Michigan, 6-0, 252 – Fifth-year senior…Has never missed a game…Three-year starter who had 179 tackles, 29 tackles for a loss, nine sacks two interceptions the last two years…Two-time All-Big 10…Good strength and excels at run stuffing…Doesn't get fooled on playfakes very often and has top recognition skills…Has the speed to chase down plays from behind…Doesn't have good lower body strength…Needs to refine his pass coverage technique…Did 29 reps at the Combine. PROJECTION: A player whose numbers don't jump out at you like others in previous drafts, but he has shown a lot of versatility at Michigan, can play in all LB positions and will be a player who can serve as a valuable fill-in player until he develops into a starter. He could go in the middle or late in the second round.

Mike Nattiel, Florida, 6-0, 228 – Fourth-year senior…Nephew of former Denver WR Ricky Nattiel…Only one year as a full-time starter, but started eight games in 2001 and seven in 2000…As a Sam LB in '02, he had 136 tackles and six tackles for a loss…Non-stop motor and has good quickness…Chases down plays from behind…Extremely tough and likes contact…Decent pass coverage LB…Doesn't have size or strength…Had shoulder surgery two years ago and some suspect he lost some strength…Often goes too fast and will eliminate himself from plays due to his own aggression…Lower body strength is sub-par…Did not lift at the Combine. PROJECTION: His lack of size and bulk will force him to play the weak side in the NFL. He has skills, but looks to be more of a special teams type player that won't appeal to a lot of teams. Some scouts think he'll go off the board in the third round, while others think his wait will be much longer.

Chaun Thompson, West Texas A&M, 6-2, 240 – Fifth-year senior…Played as a true freshman and led the team in tackles as sophomore before breaking his elbow in 2000 and redshirting…In three years as a starter, he had 346 tackles, 38 tackles for a loss and six sacks…Good speed and range to cover the outside in the running game…Good jump off the snap…Is a good blitz option…Has very good upper body strength…Extremely raw, primarily because of lack of quality competition on a regular basis…Doesn't have natural LB instincts…Was impressive at the Combine, flashing good speed and doing 29 reps. PROJECTION: Some war rooms get enamoured with small-college talent because they can produce huge numbers and go virtually unseen. For the same reasons, other teams avoid such players. Someone will be willing to take Thompson in the third round, the question is who?

Cie Grant, Ohio State, 6-0, 230 – Fifth-year senior…Track athlete who finished second in the Big 10 outdoor meet to current Miami WR Chris Chambers…Two-year starter, but that's only half the story – played safety as a freshman, OLB as a sophomore, started at cornerback as a junior and moved back to OLB last year…In his only full season as a linebacker, he had 71 tackles, 10 for a loss, four sacks and one interception…Throws himself around the field and has good speed…Can chase plays down from sideline to sideline…Very hard worker who obviously was willing to make changes for the team and picked up on new responsibilities quickly…Excellent blitzer from the weak side…If he wants to play linebacker in the pros, he'll have to add both strength and bulk…Has been knocked for lack of smarts – both football and classroom…Did not lift at the Combine. PROJECTION: An interesting guy to watch on draft day. He doesn't have the speed or experience to be a top-flight safety or the pure size to be a dominant linebacker. But, his experience as so many different assignments and ability to pick them up quickly will intrigue someone enough to take a chance on him earlier than maybe they should – most likely somewhere in the middle to end of the third round.

SECOND DAY PROSPECTS

LeMarcus McDonald, TCU, 6-1, 229 –
Fourth-year senior…Played both inside and outside linebacker…Two-year starter who had 211 tackles, an amazing 53 tackles for a loss and 14 sacks in that time…Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year in 2002…Is tough, physical run stopper in the inside and has the speed the chase down backs from one sideline to the other…If he has a lane, is an ideal blitzer…Extremely strong for his size…Excellent special teams player…Showed up at the Senior Bowl weighing 210 pounds and by the time he got to the Combine, he had bulked up 20 pounds…Always seems to be around the ball and making plays…Is undersized in both height and weight and, with the added poundage, is a lacking in speed for an NFL OLB…A ‘tweener in the respect that he doesn't have the speed to be a starting NFL safety and, even with his weight gain, is still too small for the LB position…Didn't help himself at the Combine, because he didn't lift and ran a 4.98 40…Could be a good edge rusher in a 3-4 system, but his ‘tweener status is going to hurt his chances and leave him on the board until Day Two.

Pisa Tinoisamoa, Hawaii, 6-2, 231 – Fourth-year senior who spent four months in jail in 1998 after being convicted a felony assault while a high school senior…Two-year starter and two-time All-WAC selection…In those two years, he had 215 tackles, 32 tackles for a loss and 10-1/2 sacks…Excellent speed…Aggressive tackler who attacks the ballcarrier and finishes tackles with authority…A playmaker…Made an impression at the Senior Bowl and added weight and bulk since then…Another OLB/strong safety ‘tweener who may find it hard to excel at either position…Doesn't have the lower body strength to straighten up linemen or lead blockers…Inconsistent…Misses too many tackles due to his own full-speed aggression…Left some unanswered questions at the Combine, running an impressive 4.56 40, but doing just 19 reps…The jury is out on this guy. Some analysts love him and think he's one of the top two or three OLBs in the draft and others think he's a pedestrian NFL project who will be little more than a special teamer with a criminal record and an unpredictable attitude. Reality is somewhere in the middle and most likely in the fourth round or so.

Chris Clemons, Georgia, 6-2, 236 – Third-year junior who shocked coaches and teammates by leaving a year early…Has yet to play a full season, starting just three games in 2001 and 11 of 14 games last year…Has ideal size for an NFL linebacker and has good speed to go with it…Capable of playing inside LB or outside LB…Powerful and hard to control at the point of attack…Very physical and wins most one-on-one contests…Erratic blitzer who takes himself out of plays too often…Both inexperienced and hasn't shown durability – often a deadly NFL combination…Makes stupid mistakes on and off the field – like entering the draft too early…Did only 18 reps at the Combine…After spending his entire career in the shadow of teammate Boss Bailey, had he stayed another year at Georgia, we could be talking about a second-round pick a year from now. Instead, he's a sleeper candidate that some coach or G.M. may take a chance on as early as late in the third round – but don't be surprised if he's still on the board in Day Two and stays on the board for awhile.

Eddie Moore, Tennessee, 6-0, 237 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who played through a shoulder injury as a junior, but needed off-season surgery…In two years as a Sam ‘backer, he had 181 tackles, 14-1/2 tackles for a loss and five sacks…Had knee surgery after the 2002 season and couldn't run or jump at the Combine…Displayed good skills vs. both the run and pass…Very aggressive with good initial quickness and sustaining speed…Good closing speed as a corner blitzer…Undersized…Doesn't have great strength or bulk…Opted not to lift at the Combine…Has been compared to the type of LBs Tony Dungy loved with the Bucs and is bringing to the Colts, but having major shoulder surgery as well as knee surgery in the span of 14 months is something that will scare off a lot of decision makers in NFL war rooms and make him a late-round prospect with upside potential.

Sam Williams, Fresno State, 6-4, 257 – Fifth-year senior…Started parts of the last two seasons, but missed time last year (his only scheduled full year as a starter) with a separated shoulder…Tall and has powerful, chiseled body…Has bulked up considerably – when he came to FSU, he weighed just 215 pounds…Excellent leaping ability, he can bat down passes and was on the special teams to block kicks…Has problems in pass coverage, especially when asked to cover a RB or TE downfield…Gets smothered too often because he plays too upright…Durability is big question mark…Did not lift at the Combine…A player who, at first blush, looks the part of a NFL linebacker. However, his downsides are the most critical part of a LB's repertoire and that in itself could drop him into the fifth or sixth round.

Khalid Abdullah, Mars Hill (Pa.), 6-2, 227 – Sixth-year senior who started his college career in 1997 by signing a letter of intent with Clemson but because of academic problems ended up enrolling at Bethune-Cookman…Didn't play as a freshman and transferred to Mars Hill…A three-year starter…Over the past two seasons, he had 182 tackles, 26 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks…Chase plays down from one sideline to the other…Quick off the snap and has good sustained speed…Does a nice job in pass coverage…Good leaper with a 36-1/2 inch vertical jump…Doesn't play well in confined areas and gets taken out of plays when one-on-one with blockers…Was very solid at the Combine, running a 4.62 40 and doing 26 reps…Division II defensive players always have a hard time making the transition to the pros, much less being drafted, by Abdullah has a shot at being a late-round selection who has the physical tools to make a contribution in the right situation.

Shawn Price, North Carolina State, 6-1, 223 – Fourth-year senior who came to NC State from Los Angeles Valley Community College…Never became a full-time starter, but blessed with rare athletic gifts – like a 4.5 40 times and great weight room numbers…An excellent speed rusher who is disruptive…Played defensive end at NC State and had 15 sacks in two years, despite missing time with a high ankle sprain and a team-imposed suspension…Has the workout numbers that catch a scout's eye, including a 440-pound bench press …Doesn't have the size to play DE in the NFL and is inexperienced at the linebacker spot…Has asthma, which is something that could shy away some teams in the aftermath of Korey Stringer…If nothing else, he can be a killer on special teams, but may never have what it takes to be a NFL linebacker. However, if he finds the right situation, he could be a late-round steal if he sets his mind to working hard and committing himself to improving.

Joe Odom, Purdue, 6-1, 241 – Fifth-year senior…Started most of two years at middle linebacker before moving to the strong side LB spot last year…Over the last two years, he had 150 tackles, 13 for a loss and three sacks…Good combination of size and speed for a OLB…Runs plays down everywhere and never lets up until the whistle blows…Covers tight ends like a glove downfield and has the hip movement to turn and chase like a big cornerback…Durability is a big question, since he missed time each of the last three years with different injuries – a lower back problem perked the ears of some scouts in a negative way…Swallows the hook on play fakes much too often…Sloppy tackler at times…Did 26 reps at the Combine…While he has health questions, his speed (4.6 in the 40 at the Combine) and strength make him a guy some teams will have an asterisk next two as a late-round flyer who could end making the team.

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