It's not one of the deepest position groups in the draft, but there are some seriously talented linebacker prospects in the 2017 class. Whether it's the super-talented top prospect in Reuben Foster, the flashy Jabrill Peppers, the uber-athlete in Zach Cunningham or the sleepers like Jayon Brown and Anthony Walker, there are a lot of names to be aware of this week in Indianapolis. Let's look at who we expect to shine at the Combine.
For a primer on what each category below means, check out the running back preview which offered a full explanation. The Mr. Average chart will give you a snapshot of what the average prospect drafted at his specific position has looked like over the span of the last five years to give you some context when the numbers from Indy start pouring in.
Top Pick: Reuben Foster (Alabama)
This is an easy selection. Foster is the most complete player in the draft at this position. He's a sure-fire bet for the top 15 of the draft, as long as his rotator cuff injury checks out medically. He won't perform in the drills due to surgery he underwent following the season. Foster is an elite prospect with great instincts, ferocious tackling ability, natural play strength, sideline-to-sideline speed, and a motor that never stops. He is a day one starter in the NFL in any scheme, and barring anything unforeseen, I don't think he'll be on the board when the Eagles select either 14th or 15th.
Workout Warrior: Jabrill Peppers (Michigan)
This shouldn't be a surprise. Many analysts believe that Peppers should be testing with the defensive backs. The former No. 1 recruit as a cornerback out of high school, Peppers played on the outside as a freshman, at safety as a sophomore, and as a linebacker as a junior. He's even lined up as a quarterback, running back, wide receiver, return specialist, and slot receiver. I'm excited to see if he gained weight from his listed 205 pounds, but the former high school track star should be one of the most impressive physical specimens at the Combine from an athletic standpoint. If you count him with the linebackers, expect him to be at the top of the list in most, if not all, of the drills. Other players to watch include Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham, LSU's Duke Riley, and even Boston College's Matt Milano.
Stopwatch Shocker: Jayon Brown (UCLA)
I watched Brown when he was initially announced for the Shrine Game, and I was blown away by his play. He's undersized at 5-11, 220 pounds, but Brown reminded me of Jacksonville Jaguar and former Florida State star Telvin Smith because of his toughness, instincts, and athleticism. If you have those three traits, you can play in the NFL. I think Brown is one of the best at his position in this class, but he's not getting any of the love that he deserves. Based off his tape, I expect him to time well in Indianapolis. He may be seen as a "riser" as the draft process continues.
Trust The Tape: Anthony Walker (Northwestern)
A two-and-a-half-year starter for the Wildcats, Walker is tough, smart, and a fundamentally sound linebacker who was very productive in Northwestern's 4-3 scheme. He's not a great athlete, however, and his lack of short-area burst and overall movement skills are question marks with him. I'm not expecting him to test well in Indianapolis, so if he runs in the high 4.6-second range in the 40-yard dash I won't knock him for it. Ironically, Walker is one of the best coverage linebackers in the draft because of his instincts and awareness, proving that there's more to pass defense than just being able to run. I would include Wake Forest's Marquel Lee on this list as well as players who lack ideal athleticism, but make up for it in other ways.
Will Kill The Drills: Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt)
Position drills for linebackers at the Combine typically highlight a player's quickness and lateral movement, areas where Cunningham should shine. If Peppers were running with the defensive backs, Cunningham would have been my pick for the Workout Warrior. His combination of length and athletic ability is what sets him apart from others at this position. He's not a great tackler at this stage and is more of a "finesse" player than a "glass eater" inside, but he is a great athlete with outstanding range. I expect him to look good in position drills.
Most To Prove: Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State)
Most players in this category during these previews have questions to answer off the field, but with McMillan I'm most anxious to see how he tests athletically. At 6-2, 240 pounds, he has NFL size and is one of the best pure tacklers in the draft class. My question with the former five-star recruit out of Georgia has always been his overall athletic ability, which appeared to be less than ideal on tape. His instincts are a bit questionable as well, but can McMillan prove the doubters wrong with a strong physical performance in the drills? That's a big question. On the injury front, LSU star Kendell Beckwith's medical check as he rehabs from a torn ACL will be big news to follow as well. Jarrad Davis from Florida, potentially a top-three prospect at linebacker, will also reportedly miss the event due to a lingering ankle issue that cost him chunks of his senior season.
Most Productive College Player: Connor Harris (Lindenwood)
He's severely undersized for the NFL and played Division II, but Harris is one of the most productive college football players ... ever. The Missouri native set an NCAA record this season, shattering it, in fact, with 633 total tackles in 48 career starts. The high school quarterback and safety jumped right into the starting lineup as a linebacker in his freshman year and never looked back, The small-school standout will have to prove if he has enough athletic ability to cut it in the NFL. For what it's worth, he moved a bit better than I thought he would in person down at the Senior Bowl.
Best Story: Haason Reddick (Temple)
The consensus top linebacker from the Senior Bowl didn't even play linebacker in college. Reddick took a long, meandering journey to being a first-team All-AAC pick as a defensive end in 2016. Reddick is a former walk-on who came to the team as a cornerback before moving to strongside linebacker and eventually to the defensive line. He's too small to play on the line of scrimmage to the NFL, but his athleticism and high motor will fit well at the linebacker spot. Can he build off of his strong performance at the Senior Bowl and stand out athletically against other linebackers? That will be the question for the Camden, New Jersey native.
Philly Connection: Alex Anzalone (Florida)
Anzalone grew up about 90 minutes outside of Philadelphia in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, the hometown of my podcast co-host Ross Tucker. He declared for the draft despite starting only 10 games in three seasons. With two season-ending injuries under his belt, the 6-3, 241-pound linebacker has all of the physical tools you want at the linebacker spot. He had a solid week at the Senior Bowl, proving that he's healed from the broken leg that ended his season this fall. Anzalone has NFL size, but in a thin group of linebackers will he set himself apart as one of the best available third-day options? That's a question he'll need to answer this week.
|Height||6-1||Official 40||4.71 seconds|
|Weight||238 pounds||10-Yard Split||1.61 seconds|
|Hand Size||9 5/8"||3-Cone Drill||7.11 seconds|
|Arm Length||32 3/8"||Short Shuttle||4.28 seconds|
|Unofficial 40||4.66 seconds||Vertical Jump||35"|
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.