The linebacker position looks to be very solid throughout the 2001 draft, but is definitely not top heavy. It will not challenge last spring's bumper crop that could be the standard for the next decade. There are no blue chip prospects, but Miami's Dan Morgan comes the closest.
There is a wide range of opinion on where he will go, with some looking at him in the seven-15 area of the first round while others have him going as early as the low first round or high second.
Oklahoma's Torrance Marshall and Georgia's Kendrell Bell both possess nice all-around packages and could play inside or outside. They, along with outside linebackers Markus Steele (USC), Sedrick Hodge (North Carolina), and Tommy Polley (Florida State) make the second and third rounds areas where good value can be attained.
Vanderbilt's Jamie Winborn is another versatile, though undersized guy, who figures as a late first day pick. Florida State's Brian Allen and Arkansas' Quinton Caver also have the look of first-day prospects, with players such as Clemson's Keith Adams and Tennessee's Eric Westmoreland bringing fine values on day two.
1. Kendrell Bell, 6-1, 235 lbs. Georgia
Very versatile, athletic, instinctive and aggressive. Bell is on the rise on most draft boards and could sneak into the late first round. He would fit well on the strong side for most teams. He can stuff the running plays at the point of attack and has the range to track down ball carriers all over the field. Bell also is competent in man coverage against a back or tight end.
2. Torrance Marshall, 6-0, 250 lbs. Oklahoma
Marshall is another late riser, partially due to his fine private workouts that led teams to project him as a strong side prospect. He is a big-play specialist against the run or pass and rose to the occasion whenever the Sooners needed him most.
3. Jamie Winborn, 5-11, 230 lbs. Vanderbilt
Winborn is a third-year junior who declared for this draft. He is undersized in the Zach Thomas and Dexter Coakley mold and resembles them in that he is instinctive, very tough and aggressive. He has sideline-to-sideline range and should fit best in a defense where the linebackers are in a stack alignment.
4. Carlos Polk, 6-2, 250 lbs. Nebraska
Polk is a big, tough kid who is basically a two-down, tackle-to-tackle run stuffer. He is very aggressive at filling the inside running lanes but has limited range and is not adept at pass coverage.
5. Brandon Spoon, 6-2, 245 lbs. North Carolina
Spoon has very good range from the inside against the run and shows fine instincts and aggression in tracking down and stuffing ball carriers. He is not extremely agile and needs work in his pass drops.
1. Dan Morgan, 6-2 240 lbs. Miami (Fla.)
Morgan is an extremely solid linebacker in every phase and can play both outside, which he did as an underclassman, or inside, like he did as a senior. He is fundamentally sound, instinctive and reactive and is as ready to start at the next level as any player in this draft.
2. Markus Steele, 6-3, 230 lbs. USC
Steele is the latest in a long line of fine linebackers from a program that is traditionally rich in that area. He is very athletic, instinctive and aggressive. He has sideline-to-sideline range and has been a big-play specialist his entire career with the Trojans.
3. Sedrick Hodge, 6-4, 245 lbs. North Carolina
Hodge is the rare combination of size, speed (sub 4.5), and athletic ability that comes along at this position only once every two-three years. He has great range, awareness in coverage and can close on the ball in a flash. He is not always consistent in his instincts and reactions and will need to develop in that phase.
4. Tommy Polley, 6-4, 235 lbs. Florida State
Polley is a very athletic, lanky, aggressive weak side prospect. He came back in 2000 from a serious knee injury and appears now to be fully recovered. He is at his best when he is tracking down plays away from him and excels in backside pursuit. He has the speed to stay with backs and tight ends all over the field in pass coverage, but needs to spend time in the weight room and fill out his large frame to help him at the point of attack.
5. Quinton Caver, 6-4, 225 lbs. Arkansas
Caver played inside as a senior, but projects outside at the next level. He is very athletic, though high cut, and not tough at the point of attack. He has good range and can run down a ball carrier clear across the field. Needs to develop in pass coverage.