Below, NFL Draft expert Matt Richner's analyzes his top five inside linebackers in the 2013 NFL Draft.
2013 Top Inside Linebackers
The role of an inside linebacker is one of the more difficult positions to scout. Their role on the team is usually to be the signal caller, the so called “quarterback” on defense. They are usually very cerebral players, whose work won’t always show up in the box score. Below are my rankings for this year’s top five inside linebackers. One player that you won’t find is Alex Olgetree from the University of Georgia. I will go into greater detail in a couple of weeks when I publish my list of players I have suggested teams should avoid! Until then, here are the top inside linebackers for the 2013 NFL Draft.
1. Kevin Minter (LSU): With supposed playmakers around him, Minter was the most consistent and reliable defender for the LSU Tigers last season. Minter, a smart and instinctive defender who always seems to be in the right spot at the right time, was the leader of a unit that finished eighth in the country in overall defense. A bit shorter than a prototypical NFL middle linebacker at just under six feet tall, he has a compact build weighing in at 246 lbs.
A fundamentally sound tackler, Minter shows good form and rarely lets a wrapped-up ball carrier out of his grasp. He possesses the agility and athleticism to keep his feet underneath him and not allow himself to be taken out by cut blocks. Had 15 TFL and four sacks, finishing with 26 impact plays, an average of 2.0 impact plays per game in 2012. He is adept at slipping blocks and pursuing ball carriers on the outside. Overall he's a sound tackler who will not miss many open-field opportunities.
Minter shows good depth in his drops into coverage, consistently watches the quarterback’s eyes, has a good feel for space and doesn’t get lost downfield. A three-down linebacker who can be a consistent leader and playmaker, Minter is a cerebral player who understands his role and those around him.
As a fundamentally sound football player who is more apt to lead by example, Minter wouldn’t shock me by ending up a starter by the end of training camp, wherever he might go.
2. Khaseem Greene (Rutgers): Most have Greene as an outside linebacker, but prior to playing linebacker he was a safety. He has the best coverage skills of any linebacker in this class regardless of position group. A vocal leader, he took control of the defensive unit, leading them in tackles the past two seasons.
Last year’s Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Greene picked up where he left off as the leader of the nation’s tenth-ranked defense. Greene can be categorized as a tackling machine, finishing 15th in the country in tackles in 2012. In the two years since he converted to linebacker from safety, Greene has become capable of dropping into coverage or sliding over and covering the slot receiver.
Being a former free safety, Greene’s frame is small for a linebacker; he will need to add some size. He displays good instincts and play recognition and excels at always playing fast, but he will need to work on disengaging from blockers. When offensive linemen were able to get their hands on him, he was taken out of a number of plays.
For his career, he had 69.5 impact plays, an average of 1.36 impact plays per game. A true playmaker, with 12 forced fumbles and six INT in his career, he can change the tide of momentum towards his team. Due to his size though, he will have a difficult time against physical tight ends.
With his speed, he could be an effective special teams player. Statistically, Greene compares to current Tampa Bay Buccaneer Mason Foster.
3. Arthur Brown (Kansas St.): On pure athleticism, Brown is probably the most athletic inside linebacker in this year’s draft, though some scouts have him pegged as an outside linebacker in the NFL. He can fly around the football field, running sideline to sideline as though he is a spooked deer.
His speed and athleticism allow him the ability to quickly drop into coverage or shoot the gap and make a play in the backfield. He is able to play in man coverage on underneath routes or take the deep middle, which most defenses running a Tampa-2 system desire out of a middle linebacker.
He shows the consistent ability to meet blockers coming from any angle and maintain his position, and he is also able to quickly shed his blocker. He doesn’t avoid blockers, he attacks them.
In two seasons as a starter for the Wildcats, Brown had 175 tackles, 17 TFL, four sacks, six PB and three INTs. His 14 impact plays last season gave him an average of 1.08 impact plays per game.
His style of play reminds me of Lavonte David.
4. Kiko Alonso (Oregon): Watching his film, I sometimes wondered if Alonso even cared about his body; he always played with a controlled reckless abandon. He is a punishing, physical player who plays with an all-out full-speed approach.
After battling injuries to start his career, Alonso played significant minutes these past two seasons. Never one to shy away from the big moment, he plays his best when everyone is watching. Against Wisconsin in the 2012 Rose Bowl, Alonso attacked a Russell Wilson-led offense and finished the game with 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, and an INT.
Alonso does a nice job of taking on blocks and keeping his head up to find the ball carrier. An instinctive player who understands his responsibility, he flies around the football field, showcasing a tremendous amount of agility and speed. He shows a good understanding of his opponents, rarely fails to be out of position and diagnoses plays quickly, especially the screen game. As a pass rusher, he can beat an interior lineman with an underneath rip move.
A power tackler, Alonso relies on his speed to run through an opponent and is more likely to drop his shoulder rather than wrap up the ball carrier.
A confident—even borderline brash—player, Alonso was actually only a one-year starter. For 2012, he had 24 impact plays, an average of 2.0 impact plays per game.
5. Manti Te’o (LB, Notre Dame): Te’o was widely viewed as the best middle linebacker in college football before the National Championship Game. After the game, people questioned whether he could play at the next level or whether he was even the leader everyone thought he was, especially after the bizarre incident involving a non-existent dead girlfriend hoax.
After looking at his tape for the past two seasons, I believe that the hype surrounding his level of play was too big to begin with. He is a good, undersized middle linebacker, not a great one. He had a hard time fighting through blockers; on some occasions, he would run around a blocker rather taking them on and then shedding them.
At the Combine, he was knocked for running a poor 40-yard dash time, which he did. His tape suggests he can play and run stride-for-stride down the field with quality tight ends, as he demonstrated this past season against Stanford’s Zach Ertz, one of the top tight ends in the country. Te’o finished the game with two pass breakups, both coming on critical third down plays. He does a good job at dropping to the correct depth and is able to flip his hips to make that downfield run stride-for-stride with his man.
A productive pass defender this past season, he had seven INT and four pass break ups. For his career Te’o has 61.5 impact plays, an average of 1.21 impact plays per game. Overall, he is a solid football player, not a great one. The hype machine which is Notre Dame football (NBC) made Te’o into an elite player, when in reality he is not. With time to develop and work on his craft, he could become a quality starting middle linebacker.
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