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Prospect Preview: Linebackers

Posted Apr 21, 2017

Garrett Could Be The Top Overall Selection, Another Watt Hopes to Provide Voltage in the Pros


This is the eighth in a series of features on the 2017 NFL Draft. Today's position: Linebacker. The Jets' roster synopsis is followed by five players considered top candidates at ‘backer:

On the inside for the Jets, it’s the Dave and Darron show.

David Harris, who is entering his 11th season with New York’s AFC representative, is the command center for the defense. He makes the calls and makes sure everyone is aligned properly. Harris isn’t fooled by new looks and the 33-year-old is still going strong because he keeps himself in amazing shape and he has outstanding football awareness. Still one of the best form tacklers in the game, Harris will get his 100-plus tackles again and continue to play a critical role as the defense looks to take a leap forward in 2017.

Harris’ partner, Darron Lee, could be poised for his professional break out. The 6’1”, 232-pounder, who had a decent rookie campaign, should be ready to diagnose quicker and be in position to make game-changing plays in year two.  Lee, who played only two seasons for Ohio State before being selected No. 20 overall by the Jets last April, had 76 tackles, one sack and three passes defended in 2016.

The Jets addressed their depth on the outside in free agency, re-signing special teams standout Josh Martin and the athletic Corey Lemonier. Jordan Jenkins, a third-round pick from Georgia in 2016, could be the answer over the tight end. The 6’3”, 250-pounder is strong, has good length and gets after it at the point of attack. Over his first two seasons, Lorenzo Mauldin has racked up 6.5 times and flashed periodically. He will get a chance to start anew with a new position coach in Kevin Greene, one of the most prolific pass rushers in the history of the sport.

The Green & White have to find a way to apply more heat from the outside. Last season, they finished tied for 29th in sacks with 27 and a trio of interior DL — Leonard Williams (7.0) , Muhammad Wilkerson (4.5) and Steve McLendon (3.5) — accounted for 15 of those. This is a talented class of outside rushers and the Green & White figure to take a long look on draft weekend.



Six Top Linebackers in the Draft
MYLES GARRETT, OLB, TEXAS A&M
Has Garrett down enough to convince the Browns that he should be the No. 1 overall selection? Or is there a curveball on the horizon? The prevailing thinking for months is that Garrett, who had 8.5 sacks in 11 games last season, is headed to Northeast Ohio.  The 6’4”, 272-pounder can play with his hand in the ground or standing up.  Garrett’s effort and willingness to take on the run has been questioned at times, but this is the most talented pass rusher in this class. In three seasons at Texas A&M, he had 31 sacks and 47.0 tackles for loss.

REUBEN FOSTER, ILB, ALABAMA
A unanimous first team All-American, Foster won the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker. The 6’1”, 228-pounder led the Crimson Tide with 115 tackles and 60 solo stops, calling signals for a unit that paced the nation in both scoring defense (13.0 ppg) and rush defense (63.9 ypg). He also racked up five sacks and totaled 13 tackles for loss. Foster, who had offseason shoulder surgery, did get sent home from the NFL Scouting Combine following an altercation with a hospital employee during a medical evaluation.

“If you’re looking for a good teammate to be on your team, Reuben’s going to be very, very good,” said head coach Nick Saban of Foster at Alabama’s pro day. “If you’re looking for somebody to be a candy striper and be nice to everybody at the hospital, maybe not.


HAASON REDDICK, LB, TEMPLE
While pro teams might be split on where Reddick will play on the next level, the Temple product is a linebacker who makes plays all over the field. Reddick finished third in the nation last year with 22.5 tackles for loss as he led the Owls with 10.5 sacks. Originally a walk on at Temple, Reddick came in as a defensive back and gained experience at all three levels. The 6’1”, 237-pounder impressed scouts with his work during Senior Bowl Week and he could become a three-down player on Sundays. Reddick is an explosive athlete, who can run sideline to sideline, drop in coverage and blitz.

CHARLES HARRIS, OLB, MISSOURI
With 18.0 career sacks at Missouri, Harris leaves school tied for seventh on the career sack list. Last season, Harris produced 9.0 sacks along with 12.0 tackles for loss. Known to time the snap in college, Harris can also drop in coverage.  Jets OLB coach Kevin Greene was reportedly at Harris’ pro day as 30 teams were represented. Harris, who turned in a 4.82-second 40-yard dash and did 21 bench reps at the Combine, improved his vertical to 37.5 and added nine inches to his broad jump.


T.J. WATT, OLB, WISCONSIN
The younger brother of former Badgers defensive dynamo J.J. Watt, T.J. played in 27 games for Wisconsin and collected 11.5 sacks along with 17.0 tackles for loss. After a pair of separate knee injuries, Watt converted to outside linebacker from tight end. The 6’4”, 252-pound Watt has had a few people compare him to the Packers Clay Matthews.

“What I bring is just my work ethic. I know it’s a cliché, but I do have a motor that’s nonstop,” said T.J. at the Combine. “I’m just always going after the ball. I’m always going to give the team that takes me everything I have.”

ZACH CUNNINGHAM, LB, VANDERBILT
Cunningham led the entire SEC in tackles last season with 125. His 16.5 tackles for loss placed him second in the conference and his four fumble recoveries ranked second nationally. He finished his Vandy career third on the school’s list for tackles for loss with 39.5. He is a three-down player who racked up 4.5 sacks in 2015. The 6’3”, 234-pound Cunningham, who posted a 4.67 40-yard time in the 40 along with a vertical of 35.0 inches at the Combine, uses outstanding athleticism and solid instincts to always find the ball. It’s hard to argue against production, but some skeptics wonder if he’ll have trouble disengaging and consistently finishing on the next level.

 


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