2014 NFL Combine Recap: Linebackers

Story posted February 25, 2014 in Sports, CommRadio, NFL Draft by Tyler Margolis

With the conclusion of this year’s NFL Combine, it’s safe to say that a number of collegiate stars made their impressions on NFL scouts.

One of the positions that was highlighted with talent, was the linebacker position. Khalil Mack out of Buffalo and Anthony Barr out of UCLA are two players that headlined this year’s class. Both had stellar performances this season, getting their names in the conversation of being top-10 picks in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Aside from these two stars, a number of other linebackers put on star-studded performances at the Combine, possibly getting their names in the 1st-2nd round conversation, as well.

The number one linebacker prospect coming out of the year’s draft is undoubtedly Khalil Mack. Mack, who played in the much less talented MAC conference, excelled on one of college football’s biggest stages, in Ohio Stadium against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Despite losing to the Buckeyes 40-20, Mack still put on a tremendous performance, racking up 9 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and returning an interception for a touchdown.

If Mack can absolutely dominate on a field with a bunch of future NFL prospects, that he will be able to hold his own once he gets to the next level. Mack posted a 4.65 40-yard dash time and put up 23 reps on the bench press.

The 6’3”, 248-pounder, earned second-team All American honors this season, racking up an impressive 100 tackles and 10.5 sacks. Mack’s combination of size, speed, and strength is going to give NFL offensive coordinators nightmares for years to come.

Another player who had an excellent 2013 season was UCLA star linebacker Anthony Barr. The first team Pac-12 linebacker racked up 10 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles in his 2013 campaign. At the combine, Barr ran a 4.66-40 yard dash time, proving that he has the speed to play at the next level. However, Barr only put up 15 reps at the bench, leaving scouts wondering if he has the strength to be a premier pass rusher in the NFL.

With a clear-cut number one linebacker prospect in this year’s class in Mack, the field was left wide open to claim that second spot.

Some notable performers who may have gotten their names in the 1st or 2nd day conversation were Kevin Pierre-Louis (Boston College) and Telvin Smith (Florida State). Pierre-Louis ran an impressive 4.51 40-yard dash and put up 28 reps at the bench press. The 6’0” 232-pounder has a slight frame that probably doesn’t translate to the body of NFL linebacker, so a switch to strong safety is expected.

One player that is looking to play linebacker at the next level is Florida State’s Telvin Smith. Smith, a second-team All-American for the National Champion Seminoles, ran a 4.52 40-yard dash and had a vertical

jump of 31 1⁄2 inches. The 6’3” 218-pounder only started one season for Florida State, and recorded 90 tackles and three interceptions.

Despite the field of linebackers being wide open, a number of players underperformed at the combine, possibly leaving scouts evaluating them as 3rd day draft talents.

One linebacker that struggled at the combine was Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy. Murphy, who was part of a Stanford defense that was one of the best in the nation, ran a pedestrian 4.86 40 and was only able to put up 19 reps at the bench press. With a build similar to that of South Carolina superstar Jadeveon Clowney, scouts were anticipating a lot more athleticism out of Murphy.

Another linebacker that saw his fair share of struggles at the combine was Connecticut linebacker Yawin Smallwood. Smallwood made a name for himself on a very pedestrian Huskies team, recording 118 tackles and four sacks. Those numbers were good enough to make him a Butkus Award finalist, given to the country’s best linebacker. Smallwood ran a slow 5.01 40-yard dash and got up a mere 18 reps at the bench press. That speed and strength may have been good enough for the American Athletic Conference, but it’s sure as not good enough for the NFL.

The NFL Ccombine is the ultimate stage for unheard of players to give themselves a name and for collegiate superstars to fall off draft boards faster than you can say the word “combine.”

After Monday’s workouts, it is safe to conclude that Khalil Mack will most likely be hearing his name within the first 10 picks of the draft. As for the rest of the linebacker class, all that remains is a great deal of uncertainty as to where they will end up.

Players such as Mack, Kevin Pierre-Louis, and Kelvin Smith all stepped up to the stage, putting on tremendous performances. Some faltered at the chance of getting their names in that 1st-2nd round conversation.

One thing we are sure after Monday’s workouts is that there is a lot of fluctuation in this year’s linebacker class. This leaves NFL GM’s with a lot of evaluating to do pre-draft, doing everything in their power to find that diamond in the rough.