2018 NFL Draft Linebacker Rankings

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Photos Courtesy: Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports and Icon Sportswire)

 

Stay tuned as these articles will be released on FakePigskin.com throughout the following days:

Interior Defensive Linemen: CLICK HERE

Edge Rushers: CLICK HERE

Off-Ball Linebackers: Today (4/23)

Cornerbacks: Tomorrow (4/24)

Safeties: Wednesday (4/25)

Four Round Mock Draft: Thursday (4/26)

 

The following players are who I consider the top-twenty off-ball linebackers in the 2018 NFL Draft. The list is strong at the top, with four players that I believe are worthy of being selected in the first round. Below that though, there lies a slew of players who possess qualities of possibly developing into three-down NFL defenders but still have progress to be made to get to that level. The NFL Draft looms only three short days away, I hope you are as excited about it as I am!

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports)

1: Roquan Smith, Georgia

Grade: Top 10

Scheme Fit: 4-3, WLB

Coming in as my number one rated linebacker, and second defensive player overall on my draft board is Georgia product, Roquan Smith. The former Bulldog’s athleticism and ability to move laterally project as a perfect WILL who will be a force both against the pass and run. It’s important to keep Smith in open space, rather than playing him at the MIKE, as his biggest downside is his strength between the tackles, where he can be overpowered by opposing centers and guards. Used correctly and to his potential, Smith will become a household name at the linebacker position. I can see him being drafted as high as sixth by Indianapolis and would be shocked if he slipped further than Miami at eleventh.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Roy K. Miller – Icon Sportswire)

2: Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

Grade: Top 15

Scheme Fit: 3-4, ILB

Measuring in at 6’4, 253lbs, and possessing 4.5 speed at only 19 years old, its easy to see why NFL teams are drooling over the potential Tremaine Edmunds has. Edmunds is a physically gifted athlete who teams will envision themselves grooming into a perennial All-Pro talent. Whether he gets selected by a team who has the coaching staff required to make that happen is yet to be seen. Edmunds strengths are his ability to track running backs and tight ends in man coverage, lateral range, and play finishing. Areas that need improvement are physical strength and play recognition to excel in zone coverage. Edmunds has the potential to be drafted as the first linebacker off the board depending on how teams view his ceiling versus a safer pick in Roquan Smith.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Icon Sportwire)

3: Rashaan Evans, Alabama

Grade: 1st Round

Scheme Fit: 3-4, ILB

Although he only has one year starting at the college level under his belt, Rashaan Evans looks to be a very polished NFL quality defender. Sitting behind teammates Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster certainly added to his intelligence in the film room, and Evans should only improve over the first few years of his pro career. His biggest strengths are his ability to stack and shed against the run, burst off the snap, acceleration to top speed, and range to cover short area passes. Evans possesses an incredible motor, rarely ever taking himself out of a play no matter how far away it seems to be. Areas of improvement for Evans are taking an appropriate angle toward the ball carrier, and man coverage against tight ends.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Isaiah J. Downing – USA TODAY Sports)

4: Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State

Grade: Late 1st Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, MLB

Leighton Vander Esch of Boise State has the physical tools to become a beast at the professional level. He’s one of the few linebackers in this draft who project well into a MIKE role in a four-man front. Vander Esch’s only year as a starter was this past season, but he showed excellent growth throughout the year from start to finish, and I expect that to continue into his first few NFL seasons. Vander Esch excels in his zone reads and has the athleticism required to cover the middle of the field as a MIKE. He shows excellent vision reading the run and great closing speed to fill the gap as needed. Vander Esch could use a bit more mass to fill out his frame, but I would feel very confident that teams such as New Orleans, Pittsburgh, New England, and Buffalo have Vander Esch on their shortlist for their first round picks.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Travis Bell – Sideline Carolina)

5: Skai Moore, South Carolina

Grade: 3rd Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, WLB

In today’s ever-changing NFL, one of the largest needs for a defense is to be effective against the pass. With so many talented quarterbacks and shifty slot receivers in the league, if you aren’t able to stay on the field on second and third downs as a linebacker, you don’t provide much value to an NFL team. Skai Moore of South Carolina is the most talented linebacker of this class in coverage, amassing a total of 14 interceptions across his four-year playing career. Moore has great hip fluidity and change of direction while in coverage, but his skills don’t stop with just the pass game. Moore’s has great ability to diagnose the run and his athletic profile allows him to quickly fill the gap. Moore did undergo surgery in 2016 to fuse a herniated disk in his neck, which will likely cause him to drop a round lower on NFL team’s draft boards. If Moore stays relatively injury free in his pro career, he could be looked at as one of the biggest steals of the draft.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Trent Nelson – Salt Lake Tribune)

6: Fred Warner, Brigham Young

Grade: 3rd Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, WLB

Fred Warner is another prospect in this class who projects best as a WILL in a four-man front. The senior from BYU started in his final two of four seasons for the Cougars. Warner is a very balanced prospect across all skills, but where he excels most is in the passing game. Warner uses his great lateral movement and keen eyes to maneuver in zone coverage and he has a high football IQ, which is shown by him commonly being the first man to the ball. Warner does struggle to stack and shed against the run, and could use some more strength to help against NFL caliber blockers.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Yusuf Abdullah)

7: Darius Leonard, South Carolina State

Grade: 3rd Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, WLB

Darius Leonard, a small school product who didn’t receive any division-one scholarships coming out of high school, has all the physical traits that NFL teams will love from a WILL linebacker. Leonard went to South Carolina State, where he could earn playing time early on instead and he definitely made the most of it. Leonard has put on 50 pounds since joining SC State at 185 pounds and when I talked with the former Bulldog at the Senior Bowl in January, he said he is at his ideal playing weight for the WILL position. He has excellent length and exceptional pass coverage skills that transition from his time playing skill positions on offense in high school. In three to four years time, Leonard can be a great three-down linebacker that can be relied upon in all facets of the game.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Bart Boatwright – Independent Mail)

8: Dorian O’Daniel, Clemson

Grade: 3rd Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, SLB

I’ve gone in depth over the past few prospects who make great WILL candidates but now comes Clemson product Dorian O’Daniel, who is one of the better strong-side linebacker prospects of the year. O’Daniel led the Tigers in tackles this past season, and his ability to finish plays definitely sticks out on film. O’Daniel plays the game at high speed and has good coverage skills in zone-defense. He will need to improve on his ability to take on blocks against offensive tackles, but O’Daniels special teams play will immediately give him a role at the next level, a may even elevate his draft stock a round higher due to the game-changing plays he can make in the third phase of the game.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Mickey Welsh – Montgomery Advertiser)

9: Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama

Grade: 4th Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, MLB

Staying healthy in the NFL will be the key concern for draft scouts as they decide where to place Shaun Dion Hamilton on their draft boards. The Alabama prospect has had his last two seasons cut short due to injury, with an ACL tear in his right knee in 2016 and then breaking his right kneecap in the 2017 season. If Hamilton does manage to stay healthy, he has the tools to become a fantastic three-down MIKE in the NFL. Hamilton has excellent football IQ and was used as the play-caller in Alabama’s defense which shows he has the leadership skills to do the same at the next level. He has great acceleration into top speed and does a great job diagnosing plays to get in the best position possible. Hamilton will need to work on his lateral agility and zone coverage skills in order to become proficient in the passing game but the tools are there and I am confident he will be able to do so.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Alex Menendez – Getty Images)

10: Shaquem Griffin, Central Florida

Grade: 4th Round

Scheme Fit: 3-4, ILB

Central Florida’s Shaquem Griffin has been on a mission to prove to people he is more than just a feel-good story when it comes to his football talent. Griffin was electric for the Knights his senior year and his play helped lead UCF to an undefeated, national championship season. Griffin absolutely deserves a spot on any 53-man roster and could develop into a three-down backer by year three or four. He will excel in special teams play starting in year one and will see playing time in sub packages on passing downs, where he can use his fantastic range in coverage to his advantage. Griffin has exception athleticism, which was highlighted by an astounding 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Griffin will need to improve his pad level when engaging in blocks and his tackling skills will need to improve in order to take down NFL ball-carriers.

 

Best of the Rest:

11: Malik Jefferson, Texas

Grade: 4th Round

Scheme Fit: 3-4, ILB

 

12: Micah Kiser, Virginia

Grade: 5th Round

Scheme Fit: 3-4, ILB

 

13: Jerome Baker, Ohio State

Grade: 5th Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, WLB

 

14: Tegray Scales, Indiana

Grade: 5th Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, SLB

15: Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Western Kentucky

Grade: 5th Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, WLB

 

16: Oren Burks, Vanderbilt

Grade: 6th Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, SLB

 

17: Christian Sam, Arizona State

Grade: 6th Round

Scheme Fit: 3-4, ILB

 

18: Josey Jewell, Iowa

Grade: 6th Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, MLB

 

19: Nick DeLuca, North Dakota State

Grade: 6th Round

Scheme Fit: 3-4, ILB

 

20: Tre’ Williams, Auburn

Grade: 7th Round

Scheme Fit: 3-4, ILB

 

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