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True linebackers seem to be getting harder to find in the NFL draft due to the continued emphasis on the passing game at the college level, but there are some quality all-around defenders at that position available this year.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a high percentage of the top linebacker prospects come from the SEC, including a trio of Alabama players — Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams. Other highly regarded SEC linebacker prospects include Zach Cunningham from Vanderbilt and Jarrad Davis from Florida.
Non-SEC linebackers to watch include Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt, the younger brother of Houston Texans star J.J. Watt, Houston’s Tyus Bowser, LSU’s Kendall Beckwith and Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan.
As always, some college defensive ends likely will get drafted as outside linebackers, and the one who stands out is Senior Bowl and combine sensation Haason Reddick from Temple, whose stock has been on the rise for several weeks. UCLA’s Takkarist “Takk” McKinley is another prospect who fits that description, although he underwent shoulder surgery in March.
Among the more intriguing mid-round prospects is small-school star Connor Harris, whose only FBS scholarship offer came from Kansas after he had accepted a scholarship offer from Division II Lindenwood. Harris set an all-division career record with 633 tackles, including a high of 184 in 2015. He also found time to contribute at running back and even did some punting.
A total of 30 linebackers were invited to the 2017 scouting combine, a number that doesn’t include players who likely will move from defensive end to outside linebacker in the NFL. In the 2016 draft, 34 linebackers were selected, starting with Leonard Floyd from Georgia with the ninth overall pick and ending with Joe Walker from Oregon in the seventh round.
2017 LB DRAFT CLASS BREAKDOWN
Top of the class: ILB Reuben Foster, Alabama; OLB Haason Reddick, Temple; OLB Takkarist McKinley, UCLA; ILB Jarrad Davis, Florida; OLB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt; OLB T.J. Watt, Wisconsin; OLB Tyus Bowser, Houston; OLB Ryan Anderson, Alabama
Top small-school prospects: ILB Connor Harris, Lindenwood; ILB Dylan Cole, Missouri State; ILB Austin Calitro, Villanova; OLB Ukeme Eligwe, Georgia Southern
NFL family ties: T.J. Watt is the younger brother of three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. … Michigan State ILB Riley Bullough is the brother of Texans linebacker Max Bullough, the nephew of former Dolphins linebacker Chuck Bullough and the grandson of former NFL player and coach Hank Bullough. … Illinois OLB Hardy Nickerson is the son of the longtime NFL linebacker of the same name.
Florida connections: The only linebacker at the combine from a Florida school other than Jarrad Davis was his UF teammate Alex Anzalone. … Northwestern ILB Anthony Walker Jr. was an All-Florida performer at Miami Central High.
Prospects with unusual size for the position: LSU OLB Duke Riley (6-0, 232); UCLA OLB Jayon Brown (6-0, 231); Pittsburgh OLB Ejuan Price (5-11, 241); Ohio ILB Blair Brown (5-11, 238); Connor Harris (5-11, 242)