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NFL Draft Preview: Outside Linebackers

Teams looking to fill a need at outside linebacker in this year's Draft are in luck: The talent pool is the deepest of any position on the defensive side of the ball, with as many as seven projected to go in the first round. And that number could swell to more than 10 through Rounds 1 and 2.

The group is led by Ohio State's A.J. Hawk, a potential Top 5 selection who can play any linebacker position (weak, middle, or strong) because of his size and speed, but is best suited for the weak side where he can make plays in space. Other potential first-rounders include Hawk's OSU teammate Bobby Carpenter, Florida State's Ernie Sims and Kamerion Wimbley, Iowa's Chad Greenway, UTEP's Thomas Howard, and Alabama's DeMeco Ryans. Below is a ranking of the Top 10 outside linebacker prospects leading into the 2006 NFL Draft on April 2930:

  1. A.J. Hawk, Ohio State (6-1, 248, 4.42)
    Hawk is competing with N.C. State defensive end Mario Williams to be the first defensive player selected in the Draft. A relentless sideline-to-sideline playmaker, Hawk is a versatile 'backer who could be productive in a 3-4 or 4-3, inside or outside.
  1. Ernie Sims, Florida State (5-11 1/4, 234, 4.48)
    No linebacker has risen up draft boards more quickly since the end of the 2005 college football season than Florida State's Ernie Sims. Strong in pass coverage because of his blazing speed, Sims' lack of bulk could tempt some teams to move him to strong safety.
  1. Chad Greenway, Iowa (6-2 3/8, 240, 4.58)
    Before the Combine, Greenway was projected to land in the top half of Round 1. However, red flags were raised when the Iowa linebacker ran a slower-than-expected 4.74 40-yard dash and managed only 16 reps on the bench press (comparatively, Hawk registered 24 reps). At Iowa's pro day, Greenway improved his numbers (4.58, 19 reps), thus soothing some scouts' doubting minds and securing his first-round status.
  1. Kamerion Wimbley, Florida State (6-4, 251, 4.63)
    Wimbley played defensive end at Florida State but, due to his lack of bulk, is better suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme where he can continue to rush the passer.
  1. DeMeco Ryans, Alabama (6-1 1/4, 236, 4.62)
    More quick than fast, Ryans is a high-motor 'backer who plays with great technique and instincts. He's probably best suited for the weak side in a 4-3 until he can add more bulk and moved inside where his lack of top-end speed won't be liability.
  1. Thomas Howard, UTEP (6-3, 234, 4.42)
    A team will quickly jump on Howard if he's still on the board at the end of Round 1. Although he's a bit raw, his rare combination of size and speed will be too much for one GM to pass up.
  1. Bobby Carpenter, Ohio State (6-2 1/2, 256, 4.58)
    Carpenter could join fellow Buckeye, A.J. Hawk, in the first round. His ability to rush the passer and drop back into pass coverage make him an ideal outside 'backer in a 3-4 scheme.
  1. Rocky McIntosh, Miami (6-2 1/8, 237, 4.60)
    McIntosh would be rated higher if not for some durability issues (shoulder, knee, and back). Good size with long arms, the former Hurricane works best in the open field so his future could be on the weak side in a 4-3 defense.
    1. Jon Alston, Stanford (6-0 3/8, 227, 4.40)
      Alston's stock has also been on the rise following impressive workouts at the Combine. Because of his lack of bulk yet impressive speed, a switch to strong safety could be in the offing.
  1. Brandon Johnson, Louisville (6-4 7/8, 228, 4.44) Johnson will need to put on some weight to hold up against the run at the next level, but his sub-4.5 speed and height are strong attributes in pass coverage. He also shows a knack for finding the passer in blitzing and pass-rushing situations.
  • OTHER NOTABLE PROSPECTS: James Anderson, Virginia Tech (6-2 1/2, 229, 4.58)
  • Will Derting, Washington State (6-0 1/4, 247, 4.73)
  • Keith Ellison, Oregon State (6-1 3/4, 230, 4.74)
  • Omar Gaither, Tennessee (6-0 7/8, 230, 4.73)
  • A.J. Nicholson, Florida State (6-0 7/8, 242, 4.74)
  • Dale Robinson, Arizona State (6-0 3/8, 235, 4.84)
  • Kevin Simon, Tennessee (5-9 7/8, 233, 4.79)
  • Stephen Tulloch (5-9 7/8, 234, 4.75)
  • Travis Williams, Auburn (5-11 1/2, 222, 4.69)

*Sleeper Pick

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