2018 NFL Draft Rankings: Top 5 Outside Linebackers

An elite athlete tops our rankings

The 2018 NFL Draft is set for April 26-28, so you still have time to get ready with the Athlon Sports 2018 Draft Guide. With 526 players ranked and needs outlined for every NFL team, it has everything you need.

 

Here's a sneak peek at our top five outside linebackers in this year's NFL Draft:

 

1. Tremaine Edmunds

COLLEGE: Virginia Tech
CLASS: Jr. HEIGHT: 6’4” WEIGHT: 245

 

STRONG POINTS: The league has trended toward athletic linebackers to counter the spread concepts offenses are using, and for the most part that has also meant smaller linebackers. That’s not the case with Edmunds, who has a combination of size, strength and speed that hasn’t come into the league in a while. He’s an explosive athlete, a fluid mover with the speed to go sideline to sideline. He’s a twitched-up athlete with the closing burst to deliver pop on contact as a tackler. He has a prototypical frame, a tapered build with broad shoulders and long arms, carrying his weight easily. He has the shock in his hands to shed blocks, and in pass coverage he has no problem running with backs and most tight ends. He’s outstanding as a blitzer, with the quickness and power to beat pass-protecting backs and finish plays, and he has the tools and flexibility to dip under offensive tackles and be an effective edge rusher. He has the football character and high motor you want in a cornerstone player.


WEAK POINTS: He started two years at Virginia Tech and is still raw as far as his instincts go. He will lose sight of the ball and overrun plays, and he can be slow to react when there’s a lot of action to distract him (pre-snap motion, ghost motion).


SUMMARY: A rare athlete from a physical standpoint, Edmunds is close to a perfect linebacker for the modern game. The fact that he can fill so many roles — from sideline-to-sideline Mike to edge-burning pass rusher — limits his risk. And if he develops a better overall feel for the game through more reps at the next level, he has a chance to be one of the game’s special players.


FINAL GRADE: 1st round

 

2. Harold Landry

COLLEGE: Boston College
CLASS: Sr. HEIGHT: 6’2” WEIGHT: 250


STRONG POINTS: Everyone is looking for edge burners, and Landry (above, right) is exactly that. He played with his hand in the dirt and standing up for Boston College, and he explodes off the snap. He has elite initial quickness and the rare ability to bend the edge while staying near top speed. He’ll dip under offensive tackles and close quickly on the quarterback. He’s not tall, but he has especially long arms for his size and locates the ball as a strip-sack specialist. His overall effort is solid. In the run game, he can disrupt the backfield, and he’s also fast and rangy when chasing in pursuit. He was also asked to drop into coverage at times and showed good range and comfort playing in space, with the speed to close quickly as an open-field tackler.


WEAK POINTS: He’s undersized and underpowered as an edge rusher. Landry is more of a finesse rusher needing to get space coming around the edge. He’s limited as far as his pass-rush repertoire goes; he runs around tackles. He lacks an inside counter, and he needs to work on hand use in order to disengage. Expected to dominate in 2017, he had a disappointing senior season. His medicals will be looked at closely after an ankle injury that cost him time late last season.


SUMMARY: Perhaps the nagging injuries added up last year, and Landry certainly has some rough edges to his game that need to be worked on. But he has special traits bending the edge, with the kind of speed and flexibility that can’t be taught. At the very least, he’s a high-ceiling pass-rush specialist, best suited to stand up in a 3-4 defense.


FINAL GRADE: 1st round

 

3. Jerome Baker

COLLEGE: Ohio State
CLASS: Jr. HEIGHT: 6’1” WEIGHT: 225


STRONG POINTS: Baker (right) is built like a wide receiver — and he runs like one too. He’s in the conversation for fastest linebacker in this draft class. He’s at his best running and chasing down the line, where he shows the ability to pick his way through traffic and close fast on the ball. He’s a fluid mover, capable of turning and running with tight ends. He’s also very good in space, breaking down and making tackles in the open field. He also flashes as a blitzer.


WEAK POINTS: He can be a little slow to read and react in the run game, although Baker’s speed more than makes up for it. Physicality will be the question, though. His take-on skills are close to non-existent, and he’s more of a grab-and-drag tackler than a thumper. He’ll have to play in a scheme that gives him room to operate.


SUMMARY: Baker is built for the modern game, a defensive chess piece to counter hybrid players on the offensive side of the ball. He fits best as a 4-3 Will who can run free.


FINAL GRADE: 2nd/3rd round

 

4. Uchenna Nwosu

COLLEGE: USC
CLASS: Sr. HEIGHT: 6’2” WEIGHT: 245

 

Athlon Sports' 2018 NFL Draft magazine delivers 526 player rankings, 224 player capsules, mock drafts, NFL team needs and more. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!
STRONG POINTS: Nwosu has a unique skill set and might offer some intriguing flexibility. He’s at his best attacking, and he has the speed to get around the edge as a pass rusher. He also has the ability to play in coverage, with the fluid hips to mirror backs and very good balance and body control in the open field. He runs well and packs pop as a tackler, and he has a knack for getting his hands into passing lanes and knocking down balls.


WEAK POINTS: He’s still something of a project, a slow processor who is inconsistent against the run. He doesn’t locate the ball quickly, and while he has take-on skills, he too often sticks to blocks. As a pass rusher, he typically gets by on his athleticism rather than technique, something that might not translate.


SUMMARY: There are skills to be molded. Nwosu might be best suited to playing off the line of scrimmage on early downs, then rushing off the edge on third down, and would probably fit inside in a 3-4, or possibly as a 4-3 Sam.


FINAL GRADE: 2nd/3rd round

 

5. Jeff Holland

COLLEGE: Auburn
CLASS: Jr. HEIGHT: 6’2” WEIGHT: 245


STRONG POINTS: Holland moved into a full-time role for the first time in 2017 and enjoyed a breakout season as a junior. He’s a well-proportioned athlete with good speed, and he shows good initial burst off the line of scrimmage. He has strong, quick hands and puts them to very good use, with a series of stab-and-swipe moves to consistently defeat tackles. He shows the ability to dip his shoulder around the edge and the closing burst to finish. Against the run, he plays with good leverage and a sturdy base, effectively setting the edge.


WEAK POINTS: Holland wins as a technician more than anything, and he isn’t the kind of bendable edge burner who’s able to turn the corner with ease. He rushed from a two-point stance often, but he will have to learn to drop back in coverage and play in space on occasion.


SUMMARY: Holland’s hands will allow him to create a lot of pressure at the next level. He should end up a quality starter once he settles in with the transition to OLB.


FINAL GRADE: 2nd/3rd round

 

Other outside linebackers that could be drafted: Malik Jefferson, Texas; Darius Leonard, South Carolina State; Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma; Lorenzo Carter, Georgia; Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss; Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, Arkansas State; Kenny Young, UCLA; Kylie Fitts, Utah; Leon Jacobs, Wisconsin; Davin Bellamy, Georgia, Keishawn Berria, Washington; Shaquem Griffin, UCF; Skai Moore, South Carolina

Event Date: 
Monday, March 19, 2018 - 13:38

More Stories: