Draft preview: Linebackers

MIKE MAYOCK'S CHOSEN FEW

Outside Linebacker

VON MILLER6-3, 246, Texas A&MWinner of the 2010 Butkus Award, given to college football's top linebacker…Racked up 28 sacks over the last two seasons playing a defensive end/linebacker position designed to maximize pass-rushing ability…Should transition seamlessly into 3-4 defense…Slowed slightly by ankle injury in 2010 after leading the nation with 17 sacks in 2009....Time of 4.42 in 40 astounding for his size.

AKEEM AYERS6-3, 254, UCLAAnother rushing defensive end making the move to linebacker…Time of 4.81 in the 40 has led to some doubts but still possesses serious potential…Broke out as a sophomore in 2009, returning three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble recovery) for touchdowns…Totaled six interceptions, four forced fumbles, 10 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss and 123 tackles over the last two seasons.

JUSTIN HOUSTON6-3, 270, GeorgiaYet another defensive end being eyed as a linebacker, but could be a defensive end in a 4-3 defense…Has significant size to go with impressive speed – 4.62 in the 40…Recorded 17 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons.

BRUCE CARTER6-2, 241, North CarolinaA beast in 2008 and 2009 but struggled statistically in 2010 with several defensive teammates sidelined by NCAA suspensions…Recorded 133 tackles with six sacks in '08 and '09, returning an interception for a touchdown each season and blocking five kicks in '08…Had 57 tackles and three sacks last year before a late-season knee injury shelved him…An athletic marvel when healthy.

CHRIS CARTER6-1, 248, Fresno StateThe Western Athletic Conference's defensive player of the year in 2010, compiling 11 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss…Finished four-year career with 199 tackles, 36 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks…Suited to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme but must convince teams he can be a consistent presence.


Inside Linebacker

MARTEZ WILSON6-4, 250, IllinoisA big-time recruit stayed in-state rather than accepting offers from powerhouse programs, Wilson lived up to the billing in 2010…Had exactly half – 111 – of his career tackles last season and nearly doubled sack total with four…Overcame a herniated disk in his neck that cost him nearly the entire 2009 season…Likely an inside backer but has enough speed to possibly play outside.

COLIN MCCARTHY6-1, 238, MiamiWore No. 44 in honor of former Hurricanes and Carolina Panthers standout Dan Morgan, then put up some impressive numbers of his own…Racked up 297 career tackles, including 207 over the last two seasons…Perhaps most made presence felt via his absence. Miami held its first four opponents in 2008 to an average of 65 rushing yards, but McCarthy was lost for the season before the fifth game with a shoulder injury, and Miami finished last in the ACC against the run.

QUAN STURDIVANT6-1, 241, North CarolinaRacked up 310 tackles in four years with the Tar Heels…Was averaging nine tackles a game over UNC's first three games of 2010 before a hamstring injury sidelined him for five games. Averaged just 5.5 tackles over the final four games of regular season, but erased any doubts with 12 tackles in the Music City Bowl in addition to making a key interception…Made defensive calls for UNC…Fast enough to possibly play on the outside.

CASEY MATTHEWS6-1, 231, OregonThe brother of Packer Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews…Played like a Pro Bowler in the BCS National Championship, keeping Auburn quarterback Cam Newton mostly in check…Otherwise a steady if not spectacular performer throughout his college career, finishing with between 66 and 73 tackles each of the last three seasons.

KELVIN SHEPPARD6-2, 250, LSURacked up 311 tackles, highlighted by 110 or more each of last two seasons…Could play in the middle or on the weak side in the NFL…Aggressive to the ball and also a steady tackler…Great leadership qualities, known for delivering impassioned pregame speeches.


STRICKLAND'S SECOND LOOK

SAM ACHO (OLB)6-2, 262, TexasWinner of the 2010 William V. Campbell Trophy, described by many as the "Academic Heisman"…Played defensive end throughout college career but projects as an outside linebacker in the NFL, best suited for a 3-4 scheme…Racked up 16 sacks over final two seasons after taking over spot previously occupied by Washington Redskins first-round pick Brian Orakpo.

BROOKS REED (OLB)6-3, 263, ArizonaA relentless worker with a motor that never turns off…Totaled 17 sacks in final three seasons and likely would have had more if not for injuries that sidelined him for five games in 2009 and limited him to two sacks for the season…A defensive end in college who could possibly play there in the pros but seems more suited for outside linebacker.

GREG JONES (ILB)6-0, 242, Michigan StateA tackling machine with 465 stops in four seasons…Finished third in school history in tackles, second with 46.5 tackles for loss and sixth with 16.5 sacks…A consensus first-team All-America in 2009 and 2010, the first Spartan to go back-to-back since 1965…Great playmaker and leader, though lack of size concerns some NFL scouts.

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