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2018 NFL Draft LB Rankings

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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Ranking the draftable linebacker prospects from the 2018 class, out of Southern Pigskin's coverage area.

These rankings are comprised of what are the draftable/PFA worthy prospects from our coverage area here at Southern Pigskin -- the ACC, SEC, Sun Belt, and SoCon.

These rankings include a basic rundown of strengths and weaknesses, from the pre-combine rankings, plus new round projections, player comparisons, and a more in-depth summation of my personal opinion on each respective player.

Starting with the quarterbacks, they will be released one day at a time until all of the position groups are up. After that, they will be easily found in a comprehensive database from a homepage that includes an updated mock draft.

QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | IOL (OG/C) | EDGE (DE/3-4 OLB) | DL | LB | CB | S

​LINEBACKERS

1. Roquan Smith, Georgia: 6’1, 236

Strengths: Elite athleticism for the position. After being only an average tackler in 2016, he totally assuaged those concerns last year. One of the best run stoppers in the draft, strength to compete in the interior and speed to beat even the faster backs to the sideline. More than capable pass rusher, albeit on a small sample size. Very good in coverage. High football IQ, never makes mistakes, always in the right place.

Weaknesses: Maybe slightly undersized relative to the prototype.

Player Comparison: Lavonte David

IMO: Roquan Smith isn’t your daddy’s prototypical linebacker, but you couldn’t build one in a lab that’s better suited to the modern game. Not only does he possess the best combination of sideline to sideline speed, run stopping instincts, and cover skills -- he might be the best in the class in all three facets, individually. Throw in an above average pass rusher with elite pass rush production, relative to his sample size, and it’s clear who the best in the class is.

Round Grade: Early 1st

2. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech: 6’5, 253

Strengths: An entirely unique physical specimen; a borderline unprecedented true linebacker with a combination of size, length, and burst, with speed to burn. One of the most gifted, imposing athletes in the class. Two years of solid all-around production. Greatly improved as a tackler last year while becoming even more of a force in the run game. Has steadily improved in coverage throughout his career and does a good job closing from zone.

Weaknesses: Relies pretty heavily on athleticism, only average feel, instincts. Still a work in progress in man coverage. Did miss a lot of tackles in 2016, although that might be fixed.

Player Comparison: Giannis Antetokounmpo, but football

IMO: Of the various “unicorns” in this draft class, Tremaine Edmunds is the unicorniest. He’s too big, too long, too fast for most blockers to keep him out of the backfield, and once he’s there he’s a sure tackler. He effortlessly discards linemen and mirrors running backs. He’s got added value as a pass rusher, tallying six sacks in both 2016 and 2017, as well. He even has added value as an above average coverage option. There may have never been a true inside linebacker prospect quite like Edmunds.

Round Grade: Early 1st

3. Rashaan Evans, Alabama: 6’3, 232

Strengths: Very athletic, sideline to sideline player. Extremely efficient as both a run stopper and pass rusher, especially in 2016, on a more limited sample size. Adapted better to playing inside last season. Striker.

Weaknesses: Has the tools to be reliable in coverage but needs work. Not very instinctual. Slower to diagnose plays. Nagging injuries are a concern. Missed more tackles than would be ideal.

Player Comparison: Blake Martinez

IMO: As a run defender, pass rusher, and just athletic specimen, he’s up there with anyone in the class. However, he lacks the cover skills to be a truly elite linebacker early in his career. He does have the tools do develop in that respect, though. At Alabama, he never displayed a high level football IQ or feel for the position which could hinder his progress in the NFL, but if he puts it altogether this is a high ceiling prospect worthy of first round consideration.

Round Grade: Late 1st

4. Micah Kiser, Virginia: 6’1, 238

Strengths: Was a reliable tackler until last season, but that seems like an outlier. Plus run stopper. Good pass rusher. Nice feel and instincts.

Weaknesses: Limited athleticism. Cover skills are a problem.

Player Comparison: Tahir Whitehead

IMO: I had Kiser significantly lower in my pre-combine rankings, largely on account of a perceived lack of athleticism. Following the combine he leapt up my board by about as far as he leapt in the broad jump. He showed above average measurable explosiveness and long speed for the position, but I do still question why it didn’t show up on tape during his time at Virginia. His cover skills, or lack thereof, probably limit him to being a two down NFL linebacker and his pass rushing may not translate as well as his run defense, making him pretty one dimensional, but it’s hard to overlook the four years of steady progression and upper echelon run defense in college.

Round Grade: Mid 3rd

5. Dorian O’Daniel, Clemson: 6’1, 223

Strengths: Above average tackler. Elite coverage ability, even defended receivers out of the slot. Effective pass rusher when occasionally utilized. Versatile -- one of the great special teamers in recent college football history.

Weaknesses: Not especially athletic. Minus run stopper.

Player Comparison: Craig Robertson

IMO: O’Daniel will be a good test case for the evolution of the NFL, and the linebacker position specifically. He is about as good as it gets in coverage and has been for a couple of years now. Last year he showed great improvement as both a run defender and pass rusher, but his athletic and size limitations could diminish that in the pros. Worst case scenario, he comes in on passing downs as an off ball coverage linebacker with some pass rush potential and great value on special teams. His floor makes him well worth a day two look.

Round Grade: Mid 3rd

6. Skai Moore, South Carolina: 6’2, 226

Strengths: Reliable tackler that led South Carolina all four years he played. Elite instincts, awareness -- always around the ball against the run. Good feel in zone. Was one of the best cover linebackers in college football last season.

Weaknesses: Subpar athleticism. Not much of a pass rusher, or at least doesn't have the reps to show it. Not fast enough to stay with backs in man coverage.

Player Comparison: Zach Vigil

IMO: Moore is, in a lot of ways, similar to O’Daniel, but he had a notably better college career. The reason he’s a spot below him here is that injury in 2016 that saw him miss the entire season. He’s been great in coverage since 2015 and made great strides against the run last season. His athletic limitations cap his ceiling a little lower than some prospects, but his feel for the game is enough for me to look past the cons.

Round Grade: Late 3rd

7. Matthew Thomas, Florida State: 6’2, 232

Strengths: Height, weight, speed prospect. Very effective pass rusher. Athleticism to stay with a variety of pass catchers.

Weaknesses: So many missed tackles. Below average to average against the run. Sometimes gets lost in coverage. Severe lack of feel, instincts.

Player Comparison: Knockoff Demario Davis

IMO: Thomas boasts two good years of tape in coverage, which could be his greatest asset, despite some occasional mental lapses. Athletically, he measured as freaky as he looked at Florida State which may point to some untapped potential that he never unlocked. He didn’t totally put everything together in college, but looked to be heading in the right direction last year. That’s a good sign for a prospect that came out of high school with such high expectations. Thomas is worthy of mid round selection not because of who he is, but who he could become.

Round Grade: Late 4th

8. Tre’ Williams, Auburn: 6’2, 225

Strengths: Good overall athleticism. Makes plays against the run. Possesses good overall feel and awareness. Big hitter.

Weaknesses: Not a great sample size as a pass rusher. Misses far too many tackles.

Player Comparison: Tanner Vallejo

IMO: Williams is an odd evaluation because his production well exceeds his actual performance. It’s unusual to see someone that’s seemingly so average, on a down to down basis, in really every facet of the game, put together such impressive numbers. Chalk it up to a playmaker mentality if you like him or luck if you don’t, regardless he got the job done. Still, I question how effective he can be in the NFL based on his play at Auburn, but it’s worth taking a flyer to see if the enigma can continue.

Round Grade: Early 5th

9. Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama: 6’0, 228

Strengths: Great tackler his whole career before last season -- trust the pedigree. Cerebral linebacker -- always in the right spot against the run, although he makes the play a little less often than that. Very good in coverage in college.

Weaknesses: Major durability concerns. Seemingly diminished athleticism from multiple surgeries. Only an average pass rusher. Lack of footspeed could hurt him in coverage against pros.

Player Comparison: Corey Nelson

IMO: Hamilton is an incredibly intelligent player with two years of really impressive tape at Alabama. A healthy Shaun Dion Hamilton may be a little undersized, but could overcome it with his instincts and athleticism. Are we getting healthy Shaun Dion Hamilton, though? If he gets back to the player he was in 2016, he could be one of the steals of the draft, but that’s a risky proposition before day three.

Round Grade: Mid 5th

10. Andrew Motuapuaka, Virginia Tech: 6’0, 236

Strengths: Underrated play strength. Really reliable tackler. Sneaky decent pass rusher. One of the best cover linebackers in the entire class. Good awareness.

Weaknesses: Lacks ideal speed. Won’t be very useful against the run. Doesn’t possess the sort of instincts one would want, given his physical limitations.

Player Comparison: Michael Wilhoite

IMO: Motuapuaka displayed steady and significant improvement throughout his entire career at Virginia Tech, which culminated in one heck of an impressive senior campaign. In coverage, he’s right up there with the Roquan Smith’s, Dorian O’Daniel’s, and Skai Moore’s of this draft, as far as college play. However, it’s not a guarantee that it will translate given his lack of foot speed. He put it together against the run and even as a pass rusher last year, too, but athletic limitations could knock that down as well. Nonetheless, I love Motuapuaka and would not be surprised to see him carve out a backup role and garner some playing time in sub packages.

Round Grade: Early 6th

11. Oren Burks, Vanderbilt: 6’3, 233

Strengths: Plus athleticism for the position. Very good in coverage relative to the position. High football IQ. Versatile.

Weaknesses: Not as reliable a tackler as one would like. Won’t be much help against the run.

Player Comparison: Bruce Carter

IMO: Burks, a former safety, never really put it all together at Vanderbilt and significantly underwhelmed in 2017. He’ll never be of much use against the run and really only flashed any pass rush potential in 2016. The one constant, however, was his coverage ability. That alone could earn him a roster spot and his athleticism could see him keep it for a while if he progresses.

Round Grade: Late 6th

12. Andre Smith, North Carolina: 6’0, 237

Strengths: Faster than expected at the combine. Hard hitter that seeks to make the big hit.

Weaknesses: Despite his 40 time, he lacks the reactive burst to really play sideline to sideline. Minus cover skills.

Player Comparison: Martrell Spaight

IMO: Smith will never be an option in coverage as a pro, limiting his value to two downs, but he’s thumper that loves to mix it up. He displayed good feel against the run, is a tough as they come, and handled the quarterback of the defense duties for North Carolina. He may never be more than an NFL backup, this guy is a throwback to the inside linebackers of yesteryear and a coach’s dream.

Round Grade: Late 7th

13. Myles Pierce, The Citadel: 6’0, 225

Strengths: Physical, thumping run stopper. Adequate cover skills. Truly cerebral football player.

Weaknesses: Only average athleticism. Not much of a pass rusher. Undersized for the position.

Player Comparison: Cory James

IMO: Pierce, coming from the FCS ranks is an off-the-radar prospect that might not be getting the attention he deserves. He’s undersized and not the sort of athlete that usually can overcome that, but for someone likely to go undrafted I would be surprised to see him not at least earn a spot on a practice squad.

Round Grade: PFA

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP