*Note: These are the traditional outside linebackers. Most of the 3-4 edge rushers like Jarvis Moss and LaMarr Woodley will be featured next week under defensive end. *
Best of the Bunch
Jon Beason, Miami (6-0, 237)
Strengths: One of the fastest linebackers in the draft. He's tremendous pursuing in the open field. On one play he caught Florida State's Lorenzo Booker from behind 20 yards down the field. Beason is a very sure tackler and vicious hitter. He fills running lanes well and because of his speed is an asset in coverage. One of the best athletes in the draft, Beason has the versatility to play outside in a 4-3 or inside in a 3-4. He's also a great special teams player
Weaknesses: Beason plays violently on the field and thus sometimes can get out of control. He has to make sure he's not always going for that knockout hit and just make the tackle. He's much better in space and dropping back in coverage than he is in traffic, where his size can sometimes become a factor. Beason has a few things he needs to work on but given his natural physical ability, the sky is the limit for him in the NFL.
Overall: Beason is one of those rare breeds who is a fantastic athlete but he's also a football player. He loves contact and will lay receivers out over the middle. Beason still relies a little too much on his God-given physical skills at times but he's the best outside linebacker prospect in this draft because he's productive at both stopping the run and covering in space. We heard at the Combine that the Patriots are looking at Beason as an inside linebacker and if a player of his ability is available at 24, he'll be hard to pass up.
Draft Projection: Mid-first round
Lawrence Timmons, Florida State (6-1, 235)
Strengths: The best pass rusher out of this group. Timmons can really get to the quarterback and was used in that role a lot at Florida State. He was the one pure outside linebacker I thought could possible play that position in the 3-4. He has tremendous closing speed and shows some promise in coverage. However, Timmons is at his best when getting after the quarterback. He's a big hitter who makes ball carriers and receivers pay the price when he tackles them. Timmons is one of the best natural athletes available in this year's draft.
Weaknesses: Timmons only started one year at Florida State still he's still a little raw. He's not great against the run. Timmons has to work on his tackling technique because he tends to go high on running backs and that won't work in the NFL. He's a physical specimen but could still add 10-15 pounds and get a little stronger. Didn't show great instincts on film, which is probably why he spent most of his time rushing the quarterback. He still has a ways to go but Timmons has tremendous upside and his best days are ahead of him.
Overall: Timmons is a very intriguing prospect because of his physical skills. He's extremely quick and fast. If he beats a tackle off the ball with his first step, it's usually lights out for the quarterback. Not many 4-3 outside linebackers get recruited to play the edge in the 3-4 but Timmons could be an exception. If Bill Belichick can get a hold of Timmons and mold him into a complete player, he could be a beast in the Patriots defense. Whichever team drafts Timmons could be getting one of the best defensive players in this draft two years down the road.
Draft Projection: Late-first round
Stewart Bradley, Nebraska (6-3, 254)
Strengths: A very intelligent player who reads and reacts quickly on the football field. Bradley is a guy who does a lot of things well. He's very good at rushing the passer off the edge, he does a good job of fighting through blockers and he also pursues well in the open field. Bradley is a physical player who doesn't mind taking on 300-pound linemen. He's a big hitter and a good tackler in space.
Weaknesses: The biggest problem with Bradley is while he does a lot of things well, he didn't have a lot of production in college. He ended his career with 175 tackles and just four sacks. He does put a lot of pressure on the passer but the numbers don't really back that up. Bradley did tear his ACL in 2005 and only played in five games that year. He does do a lot of things well, although Bradley doesn't excel in one particular area like Timmons does.
Overall: I really like Bradley. Watching tape, you kind of get an idea what players would be a good fit for the Patriots and Bradley is at the top of that list for me. He's smart and very instinctive on the field. Bradley is a versatile player who has experience playing outside linebacker, inside linebacker, as well as defensive end at Nebraska. I think he would be a good fit with the Patriots because he does so many things well, Belichick would get the most out of his abilities and turn him into a very productive NFL player.
Draft Projection: Third round
Paul Posluszny, Penn State (6-1, 238)
Strengths: Posluszny has good instincts and is a solid tackler near the line of scrimmage. He was a great college player who put up very impressive numbers at Penn State. He finished his career with the Nittany Lions as Penn State's leading tackler after recording 372 stops. Posluszny is effective in coverage and is a player who will give his all on every play.
Weaknesses: Posluszny runs around out of control a lot. For such a productive player, he's not as disciplined as one might think. He's a good tackler close to the line but isn't as effective in the open field. Posluszny runs around blocks a lot and gets completely swallowed up by bigger linemen at times. He really seemed to struggle getting through traffic and that could hurt him in the NFL.
Overall: There may not be a more hotly debated player in this year's draft than Posluszny. Some people love him and some people hate him. I fall kind of in the middle. I think he could be a decent NFL player but he'll never be as dominant as he was in college. I just don't see him being a good fit as a 3-4 inside linebacker because his biggest weakness is shedding blockers. If you told me I could get Posluszny in the third round I would be fine with that but as a first round prospect, he's overrated in my opinion.
Draft Projection: Late-first round
Tim Shaw, Penn State (6-1, 236) - I'm sure Shaw is a nice kid and he tries like heck on the field but if I'm being honest, he's the worst prospect I've seen on tape in the two years I've been here. Follow me on this one. Before the Combine Shaw was listed as a sixth round prospect at best. So he goes to some camp, learns how to run a good 40-time, does well in a couple of drills and now some of these web sites have him as a first day selection? Well, I'm not buying it. The film never lies and if you watch his play on film, Shaw is the late-round player most thought he was when this whole draft process began.
He does have good speed but Shaw gets easily sealed off on outside running plays by tight ends and offensive linemen. He actually resembles a safety running around like a chicken with his head cut off on some plays. He played a number of different positions at Penn State but the people I talked to say it's because he never really fit at any of them. Shaw only had 44 tackles last year, so it's not like he was even that productive in college.
This kid has a motor that never stops and plays with passion but that only gets you so far in life. At some point you need to have talent, something Shaw has very little of. His best bet to stick in the NFL is to become a Larry Izzo-type special teams ace. In my opinion, Shaw will never be a starting linebacker in the NFL and he certainly won't get selected on the first day of the draft by a team not called the Raiders.
Earl Everett, Florida (6-2, 238) - Speaking of chickens with their heads cut off, here is another perfect example. No player in this draft class benefited from being on a great college defense more than Everett did. Everett was unblocked a lot at Florida, giving him the opportunity to run free and make plays. He has good speed and plays his best in the open field. However, once he gets tangled up with blockers, he's all done. Everett is a great athlete but he isn't all that physical and I question what his role will be in the NFL. He's more of a workout warrior that looks good in shorts and a t-shirt but that doesn't always translate over to the football field.
On tape, he didn't show very good instincts. He got fooled a lot and was usually trailing plays because he was out of position. Everett could get away with that sometimes in college but in the NFL – where the game is much faster – those kinds of mistakes can get you cut. A lot of Patriots fans are interested in Everett because he played at Florida and New England worked him out. However, I see him as a second day pick that isn't a good fit for the Patriots system.
Juwan Simpson, Alabama (6-2, 225) - I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about Simpson because he's basically a safety playing linebacker. Actually, if the Patriots were to draft Simpson, you would know immediately that he's being converted to safety because there's no way he can play linebacker in the 3-4. Although, I don't know how good a fit he would be at safety either because Simpson is a poor tackler. He comes in way too high and isn't very physical at the point of attack. Simpson showed some promise in coverage but overall he's a marginal prospect at best in my opinion. Simpson was a good college player who will struggle to find a position in the pros.
Quincy Black, New Mexico (6-1, 240) - We've received a lot of e-mails about Black so I thought I would discuss him. He is the classic example of a workout warrior. Black is supposed to be this fast linebacker who gets to the quarterback, right? If that's the case how do you explain his whopping 1.5 sacks in 36 games at New Mexico? Black doesn't play nearly as fast as his timed speed suggests and he isn't very physical at the point of attack. He's a good athlete and does a solid job in coverage but Black has a lot of flaws in his game. He was a guy fans were intrigued by after his impressive Combine performance. Although, all you need to do in order to fall out of love with Black is watch some of his game film. He'll probably be one of those Bethel Johnson-types who will always wow people with his physical ability but never turn into much of a football player.
Zak DeOssie, Brown (6-4, 250) – Yes, outside of New England DeOssie is still considered a sleeper. I know he's the center of attention locally because his father played for the Patriots, he went to Brown and will most likely be a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL but he's still projected as a mid-round pick at this point. DeOssie has good size and speed and he did exactly what a player of his caliber at Brown should do: dominate. DeOssie finished his career with 308 tackles 36.5 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks and four interceptions while playing both inside and outside linebacker. He's an extremely versatile player who's very fast for a guy his size.
After graduating from Brown and having a father in the NFL, no one is going to question DeOssie's intelligence on the field. He needs to get better at beating blockers and covering quicker tight ends but DeOssie has all the intangibles the Patriots seek in a player. He might not set the world on fire as a rookie but DeOssie should have a solid NFL career once he gets adjusted to the speed of the pro game.
Rory Johnson, Mississippi (6-2, 232) – Patrick Willis gets most of the publicity – and deservedly so – but Johnson is a solid player in his own right. Johnson is one of the better coverage linebackers in the draft. Being a JUCO transfer, he only played one year at the Division I level. That's one of the reasons he could be a steal in this year's draft. If Johnson had stayed at Ole Miss for another year, he might have gone much higher in the 2008 draft. But since he decided to come out, some team is going to get a guy with a lot of potential in the middle rounds of the draft. Johnson needs to do a better job of taking on blocks and at times he gets out of position because of his aggressiveness. However, he's an intense player who has a nose for the football. Johnson has a lot of upside and if he can keep improving, he'll end up being a heck of a pick for somebody.
KaMichael Hall, Georgia Tech (6-0, 228) – I'm mentioning Hall because he's a player I think could wind up being a nice mid-round selection for some team, although that team probably won't be the Patriots. Hall is an athletic linebacker who can rush the passer and makes a lot of plays in the backfield. He's a big hitter and never gives up in pursuit. At 228 pounds, Hall is more of a Tampa 2 outside linebacker. With his skills on the field, Hall could be similar to Cato June for a team that prefers smaller, athletic linebackers.
Prescott Burgess, Michigan (6-3, 240) – There's nothing worse than a player who comes to the Combine with a chance to make millions of dollars and acts like a total jerk. That's what Burgess did and his draft stock has been slipping ever since. Burgess acted bored and like he didn't want to be at the Combine and not only did the media notice it, so did most of the teams that interviewed him. However, when you watch Burgess on the field, he does bring a lot to the table. He's really one of the best linebackers coming out this year in regards to dropping back in coverage. Burgess really has a feel for the passing game and reads the quarterback well. He's a good tackler and does a solid job of rushing the passer. He needs to get a little stronger against the run but Burgess has the size to be a 3-4 inside linebacker.
The best way to describe Burgess is he reminds me a lot of Bryan Cox. He has a bit of an attitude, isn't that fast and doesn't really wow you at anything. But much like Cox, Burgess is always around the ball making big plays. If he was a third round prospect I would want nothing to do with Burgess but in the sixth or seventh round, I would definitely take a chance on the former Wolverine. That's assuming he gets his head screwed on straight and comes in with a much better attitude than he showed at the Combine.
Beason – When PFW got back from the Combine we did a mock draft and had the Patriots selecting Beason at 24. Man did the e-mails come flying in laughing at us. Now we get e-mails that say, "I think the Patriots should draft Jon Beason." In my own personal opinion there is little about Beason that fits in with what Belichick traditionally likes out of his inside linebackers. However, we heard the Patriots really like Beason at the Combine and since then they've given him a private workout and he's scheduled to visit Gillette Stadium in April. All that can't be a coincidence. Beason is obviously a player the Patriots have interest in and he would add some much needed youth and athleticism at inside linebacker.
Timmons – I really love Timmons. I don't know which team is going to draft him but the one that does is going to have a heck of a football player on its hands. Timmons is relentless when it comes to getting after the quarterback and has a ton of upside. I think he has the frame to add at least 15 more pounds of muscle and his best days are still ahead of him. He could become a pass rushing demon for the Patriots and I wouldn't be surprised to see Timmons in the Pro Bowl at some point. He has a chance to be that good.
Bradley – Everything about Bradley's game screams Patriots. He's smart, physical and versatile. Unlike some of the other prospects, Bradley can probably be had in the third round area. For a team like the Patriots, he doesn't have to come right in and start, just contribute. I think Bradley will be a steady, consistent NFL linebacker. He may not go to six Pro Bowls but he'll be a solid starter for many years, much like Mike Vrabel.
DeOssie – Most of Patriots Nation has their fingers crossed hoping New England will draft DeOssie in late April. While it's certainly a possibility, I don't think the Patriots are going to reach just to get him. In my opinion, DeOssie is a strong second day selection in the fourth or fifth round area. However, with his draft stock rising after the Combine, he could now go as early as Round 3. I just don't the Patriots taking DeOssie – who is a bit of a project despite his pedigree – that high. Still, in the right system, DeOssie has a chance to be a very productive pro player.
Burgess – The only reason I put Burgess on the list is because of his coverage ability and the fact that he's projected to go late in the draft. A team like the Patriots – with four sixth round selections – may take a chance on Burgess. He doesn't really have the speed to play on the outside but in New England, he could move inside and learn the system for a couple of years. Burgess was an underachiever at Michigan (How many times have you heard that since Lloyd Carr took over?) but if the right coach can light a fire under him, he could be a nice late-round selection. I don't think too many people would complain if the Patriots took a shot on Burgess with a sixth or seventh round pick.
Overall Position Analysis
This is a deep class of outside linebackers. Three players – Beason, Timmons and Posluszny – could hear their names called in the first round and there's depth at this position throughout the draft. Not only the guys mentioned above but also prospects like Rufus Alexander (Oklahoma), Tony Taylor (Georgia) and Michael Okwo (Stanford) will be highly sought after by certain teams on draft day. There are outside linebackers that fit every kind of system in this draft and there should be a lot of guys taken in the middle rounds who turn out to be very good pros. The Patriots don't normally go after traditional college outside linebackers but players like Beason, Timmons, Bradley and DeOssie all have the ability to play in New England's 3-4 defense.
To read PFW's breakdown of inside linebackers go to: