Athlon previews the 2013 NFL Draft by telling you who to watch this college football season.
It is never too early to begin looking ahead to next year's NFL Draft. Each year a unique set of prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country's most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft won’t be any different.
Today, we rank college football's best outside linebacker prospects:
1. Jarvis Jones, Georgia (6-2, 240, Jr.)
The star Bulldog defender isn't a true outside linebacker in the 4-3 sense, but he is undoubtedly one of the most talented pass rushers in the nation. He is a perfect fit in the 3-4 as a hybrid James Harrison-type of player. He is a tenacious (just pop in the tape of the Missouri or Florida games from 2012) blitz backer who can play in space if need be. He isn't as big as some other hybrids of recent memory, but he makes up for it with elite level quickness and explosion. He can't really "grow" into a 4-3 defensive end and his strengths aren't suited for the traditional 4-3 OLB either, but his skill set is perfect for the outside 3-4 backer that is used off of the edge to make plays. If he can prove the health issues aren't reoccurring, he is a surefire starter in year one at the professional level. He posted back-to-back double-digit sack totals and led the nation in QB takedowns as only a sophomore.
2. CJ Mosley, Alabama (6-2, 230, Jr.)
Mosley is a traditional 4-3 outside backer who could really play anywhere in the linebacking corps — and in any system. Bama runs a 3-4 but is lined-up in a traditional 4-3 more than usual, so Mosley has experience in any scheme. He is quick, powerful, extremely well coached and has competed at the highest level, winning a national championship as a junior. Athlon Sports rated him as the No. 5 inside linebacker, so the movement on his stock should be intriguing as scouts decide where they like him best. Simply put, he makes plays. Constantly.
3. Arthur Brown, Kansas State (6-1, 228, Sr.)
Some have Brown listed inside at middle linebacker, but he may not have the size to stick at the position. He does, however, have the instincts and pedigree to be successful at the next level. It took him a while to get started after transferring from Miami (Fla.) back home to Kansas State, where he has developed into a star on a team that has competed for league championships the two seasons Brown has started. He is a tremendous all-around athlete and competitor who, with a few extra pounds of strength, should be a lights-out defender on the next level. He could have entered the draft last year, but as KSU keeps winning, his stock continues to improve.
4. Chase Thomas, Stanford (6-4, 250, Sr.)
When star middle linebacker Shayne Skov was lost for the season in 2011, it was Thomas who stepped in and became the centerpiece of the Cardinal defense. He constantly plays behind the line of scrimmage and has a huge, powerful frame. He has excelled in the traditional 4-3 outside position in college, but his size and instincts give him Clay Matthews-type of skills. He is a fundamentally sound athlete who rarely is out of position and has little downside after roughly 50 tackles for loss and over 23 sacks in his college career. All of that on the most physical, stingiest defensive front West of the Mississippi — one that has won a ton of games.
5. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers (6-1, 230, Sr.)
Stable. Athletic. Fast. Dependable. And in the modern NFL world of speed and passing attacks, Greene's speed and athleticism make him an intriguing upside prospect. He played safety in his first two seasons and, after some added bulk, he shifted closer to the line of scrimmage to get his play-making talents around the football. He played on the league's top defense and if Greg Schiano wasn't already loaded with young linebackers, he wouldn't pass on the tackler he recruited and coached at Rutgers.
6. Anthony Barr, UCLA (6-4, 235, Jr.)
This is a talented upside prospect whose stock is going skyrocket during the offseason and in combine workouts. He is a freakish size and speed combination who could have been used at half a dozen positions at UCLA. He settled in as one of the Pac-12 most explosive pass rushers. He is more of a project and will likely need to develop, but his raw athletic ability is obvious. He is currently a hybrid 3-4 outside backer but Barr has the frame to potentially grow into a more traditional 4-3 end should the need arise.
7. Sean Porter, Texas A&M (6-2, 230, Sr.)
Von Miller Porter is not. But he did have an excellent junior season filling the pass-rushing void left by Miller's departure. However, the Aggies shifted to a 4-3 under a new coaching staff and Porter was shifted into a more traditional 4-3 outside role. He simply isn't asked to rush the passer at all. Scouts will have to decide if his position experience is a good thing (meaning versatility) or a bad thing (limited to one thing). He has plenty of talent, but only time will tell how his position shift impacted his draft stock.
8. Trent Murphy, Stanford (6-6, 246, Jr.)
The first thing scouts will notice about Murphy is his raw size. He easily could develop into a defensive end should he exhibit the sturdiness needed to play against the run at the NFL level. His size allows him to project to multiple positions in multiple fronts and, should he test well at the combine, his stock could see significant growth. His defenses have been incredible at Stanford and his teams simply win. That said, he has been just a part of a loaded Stanford front that could feature at least two other NFL picks in the front seven.
9. Gerald Hodges, Penn State (6-2, 240, Sr.)
The Penn State tackler might be the last elite outside linebacker prospect. Hodges has defined the traditional outside linebacker position on a traditional 4-3 defense. He has excellent athletic ability and has been successful in all phases of the game — blitzing the passer, playing physical and disciplined against the run, and fluid and quick in space. Some added bulk and strength would push him up draft boards fairly quickly.
10. Jamie Collins, Southern Miss (6-3, 240, Sr.)
The undersized defensive end has been stellar in his time at Southern Miss to the point of being unblockable as a senior this fall. He is incredibly disruptive and constantly is playing behind enemy lines in the backfield, including on special teams. He likely won't be thought of as a true defensive end and instead could be destined for the hybrid role on the outside of a 3-4 scheme. He will have to overcome the level of competition criticism as Conference USA offensive tackles aren't exactly a proving ground of NFL talent. Does he have the athleticism to make the speed and position transition at the next level?
11. Travis Long, Washington State (6-4, 245, Sr.)
Hybrid rush end has been productive in the face of major locker room issues.
12. Jelani Jenkins, Florida (6-0, 238, Jr.)
Must display tremendous heart, toughness and physicality to play at his size. Tremendous athlete though.
13. Kyle Van Noy, BYU (6-3, 235, Jr.)
Dependable, physical, well-coached player who has little downside.
14. Jonathan Brown, Illinois (6-1, 235, Jr.)
Rated as the No. 11 inside linebacker, as he has seen his stock slip on a bad team.
15. Zavier Gooden, Missouri (6-2, 230, Sr.)
Freaky athlete who is extremely developed physically. Will be watched closely.
16. Travardo Williams, UConn (6-1, 235, Sr.)
17. Khalil Mack, Buffalo (6-3, 345, Jr.)
18. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech (6-2, 240, Jr.)
19. Mike Taylor, Wisconsin (6-2, 225, Sr.)
20. James Morris, Iowa (6-2, 230, Sr.)
21. Cameron Lawrence, Mississippi State (6-2, 230, Sr.)
22. Jake Knott, Iowa State (6-2, 240, Sr.)
23. Alonzo Highsmith, Arkansas (6-0, 235, Sr.)
24. Cornelius Washington, Georgia (6-4, 265, Sr.)
25. DeVonte Holloman, South Carolina (6-2, 240, Sr.)
- by Braden Gall
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