The heart of a defense is usually the inside linebacker, here is the ranking of top prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft.
1 Roquan Smith, Georgia
Smith was all over the field this season playing for the Georgia Bulldogs. He was a force to be reckoned against the run and a solid contributor against the pass. Smith had 137 tackles, 14 for loss, 6.5 sacks, 2 passes defended, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble led all SEC with 85 solo tackles and total tackles. He was a highly decorated player in 2017 after being named all American, winning the Butkus award and SEC defensive player of the year. The speedy linebacker has tremendous instincts, a very high football IQ, and top-notch awareness. At 6’1 Smith is slightly undersized for an inside linebacker, but with the success of the ‘’money’’ linebacker in Arizona or Atlanta, some teams might look to give him that role given that he is fast and can cover well while providing excellent run support. He has all-pro potential and reminds me of less injury prone version of Reuben Foster. He could still thrive with the traditional middle linebacker role.
2 Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
Vander Esch is an old school punishing hitter with an amazing athletic ability and skill set. Not only he is a strong hitter, he is also great in coverage. He is also a very smart player, he never seems to be out of position to make a tackle. The Boise State product has got great hustle and motor and you can’t take your eyes off him when watching his film. He had a very good year with 141 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 4 sacks, 3 interceptions, 5 passes defended and 4 forced fumbles. Having played in the mountain west against lesser talent will be a knock on him and is also the reason there is very little hype around him.
3 Rashaan Evans, Alabama
Evans possesses an impressive skill set with size, speed, and physicality. He filled Reuben Foster’s spot without missing a beat and played in a unit plagued by injuries in 2017, he still excelled and had a phenomenal year. The senior linebacker out of Alabama finished the year with 74 tackles, 13 for loss, 6 sacks, 3 passes defended, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery. He is an explosive athlete with range and plays with instincts. He has some durability concerns, he had a nagging groin injury last year and he also needs to shed blockers better and avoid getting caught by them.
4 Josey Jewell, Iowa
Jewell isn’t an explosive athlete but is fast in his own rights, and he might be the most instinctive and smart linebacker this year. His abilities to read plays and not bite play actions is one of the things that make him so great. He is not the hardest hitter out there, but he gets his hands dirty. Jewell is praised as a hard worker with a chip on his shoulder. He displays a very good technique and is very disciplined. He shows a relentless motor that compensates his lack of elite speed, lateral quickness, and size.
5 Malik Jefferson, Texas
Jefferson stats don’t jump the page, the junior had 110 tackles, 10 for loss, 4 sacks. While his big-play production was a bit lacking Jefferson is a very good prospect at the position with the speed and range to cover the entire field. Jefferson is also a sure tackler, but he doesn’t deliver the big hit or creates fumbles. It’s rare to see a linebacker prospect with Jefferson’s combination of size, athleticism, and physicality. He is still very raw especially in pass coverage, therefore some scouts have him as an outside linebacker, but he can easily be a WILL linebacker in a 4-3 defense. When you see Jefferson, you look at all his untapped potential, his stats and lack of highlight reel plays will keep him out of top 100 consideration but has the talent to be very good in a couple of years when he gets it all together.
6) Micah Kiser, Virginia
7) Oren Burks, Vanderbilt
8) Darius Leonard, South Carolina State
9) Tegray Scales, Indiana
10) Tre’ Williams, Auburn
Honorable mention: Nick Deluca, North Dakota State
Check out more rankings here: https://www.couchriderreport.net/2018-nfl-draft-quarterback-rankings-scouting-reports-top-prospects/