Draft preview: Linebackers

MIKE MAYOCK'S CHOSEN FEW

Inside Linebacker

LUKE KUECHLY
6-3, 242, Boston College
Racked up 532 tackles over three seasons, averaging 14 tackles per game. … Produced 191 tackles last season to win the Bronco Nagurski, Butkus and Lombardi awards. … Compiled a career-high 23 tackles against Duke and 20 against Florida State in 2011. … Surprising speed for a middle linebacker, running a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. … Intercepted six passes in career, including three last season.

DONT'A HIGHTOWER
6-2, 265, Alabama
Led the nation's best defense with 85 tackles last season, helping the Crimson Tide hold opponents to 8.2 points per game on way to the national title. … A freakish athlete capable of playing nearly every defensive position, missed all but four games in 2009 with a torn ACL in left knee. … Played well in 2010 but didn't return to dominant form  until 2011.

MYCHAL KENDRICKS
5-11, 240, California
Named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year after compiling a team-high 106 tackles and 14.5 tackles for loss. … Ran a 4.47 and recorded a 39.5-inch vertical leap at the combine. … Durable, playing in 51 games over four seasons. … At least shared in a tackle for loss in 24 games.


Outside Linebacker

MELVIN INGRAM
6-1, 264, South Carolina
Considered more of a defensive end by many, but considered a pure playmaker by everyone. … Scored three touchdowns last season – two on fumble returns and one on a fake punt – and set a school record with 10 sacks to become the school's first consensus first-team All-America since 1984. … Started just one game before his senior year but still gathered nine sacks in 2010.

WHITNEY MERCILUS
6-4, 261, Illinois
Like Ingram, could play defensive end in a 4-3 defense or linebacker in a 3-4. … Led the nation in 2011 with nine forced fumbles and 16 sacks to earn the Ted Hendricks Award given annually to the best defensive end in the country. … Known for nonstop motor and ability to use hands as weapons. … Entered last season with just two sacks in 24 career games.

ANDRE BRANCH
6-4, 259, Clemson
Another hybrid defensive player who often played in Clemson's "Bandit" position as a rush end. … A straightforward, straight-line player who ran a speedy 4.7 at the combine and had at least one tackle in each of his final 41 college games. … Led Tigers with 10.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss in 2011.


LOCALS WORTH A LOOK

ZACH BROWN (OLB)
6-1, 244, North Carolina
A four-year contributor only beginning to reach true potential. … Ran a 4.47 at the Tar Heels' pro day. … Did a lot of everything as a senior with 105 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. … Picked off seven passes in college career.

AUDIE COLE (ILB)
6-4, 246, N.C. State
Led or tied for team lead in tackles each of the past three seasons, highlighted by a 132-tackle campaign in 2011. … Semifinalist for the Butkus Award in 2011 after moving from the outside to the middle. … A quarterback in high school and accomplished junior boxer.

KYLE WILBER (OLB)
6-4, 249, Wake Forest
Possesses a desirable mix of talent, smarts and experience. … Can play linebacker or defensive end.  … Height is an asset on the pass rush or in pass coverage. … Missed most of 2009 season with a broken leg but started every game in 2010 and 2011, totaling 135 tackles and 9.5 sacks.

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