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2017 NFL Draft: Linebacker rankings

Which linebackers will Justin be targeting for the 2017 NFL Draft?

Ohio State v Illinois

In recent years, I’ve committed to the concept of an NFL Draft “target board.” The idea is to narrow my scope down to 100 prospects, grouped into tiers that indicate where I’d look to select them in an actual draft. Instead of ranking every single player I’ve watched and graded, these are prospects I feel most confident in from a tape, measurables, production, and athletic testing standpoint. In the following days leading up to the draft, I’ll post my board position by position, and to help everyone understand the methods behind my madness, I’ll even include some handy charts and stats to give some insight into which players “checked all the boxes,” and which ones made the cut despite falling short in one area or another.

The cells in the accompanying charts are color-coded based (liberally) on NFL scouting combine averages per position:

  • Green = Significantly Above Average
  • Blue = Above Average
  • Yellow = Average
  • Orange = Below Average
  • Red = Significantly Below Average

Check below for my Linebacker rankings

Haason Reddick Temple 6’2” 237

  • DOB: 9/22/1994
  • 2016: 65 TKL (43 solo) 22.5 TFL 10.5 SCK 3 FF 1 INT 3 PBU
  • Career: 149 TKL (99 solo) 46.5 TFL 18.5 SCK 4 FF 1 INT 6 PBU in 47 games

I have no qualms about Reddick's ability to transition to playing off the ball full time in the pros. He has outstanding sideline to sideline speed, is a strong tackler, and plays with a high intensity. He's so athletic that he's said to have participated in defensive back drills in practice at Temple, and proven more than capable. Reddick is coming off a dominant senior season, and has carried that momentum through every step of draft season to the point where he's now being mentioned as a top ten overall pick.

Grade: 1st-2nd Round

Zach Cunningham Vanderbilt 6’3” 234

  • DOB: 12/12/1994
  • 2016: 125 TKL (71 solo) 16.5 TFL 2 FF 3 PBU
  • Career: 295 TKL 39.5 TFL 6 SCK 7 FF 8 PBU 1 kick BLK in 36 TFL

Cunningham is a long, lanky dude, bordering on the skinny side for a linebacker. His above average athleticism and long arms make him difficult to escape in the run, and effective in the short passing game. I've seen some anxiety about Cunningham's tackling, but his ability to read and react is on point, so I think he can get better at wrapping up as he gets stronger. Regardless, I'm willing to bet on him because, after Reddick, Cunningham is the best playmaking linebacker in the class.

Grade: Grade 2nd-3rd Round

Raekwon McMillan Ohio State 6’2” 240

  • DOB: 11/17/1996
  • 2016: 102 TKL (49 solo) 7 TFL 2 SCK 2 FF 4 PBU
  • Career: 275 TKL (136 solo) 17.5 TFL 6 SCK 2 FF 1 INT 9 PBU 1 TD in 39 games

For a team looking for an assignment-sound thumper to anchor its defense up the middle, McMillan is as solid as they come. A disciplined, two-year starter for the Buckeyes, the junior linebacker constantly earned praise from the coaching staff for his leadership and willingness to sacrifice personal statistics for the benefit of the team. In 2016, McMillan toughed his way through nagging injuries, and some analysts began to label him as a two-down player due to speed and coverage concerns. But McMillan has now proven that he runs well, and he's shown flashes on tape that suggest he is not a liability against the pass.

Grade: 3rd Round

Jarrad Davis Florida 6’1” 238

  • DOB: 11/16/1994
  • 2016: 60 TKL (29 solo) 6 TFL 2 SCK 4 PBU
  • Career: 205 (102 solo) 20 TFL 5.5 SCK 2 FF 1 INT 9 PBU in 44 games

Like McMillan, Davis has been lauded for his work ethic and leadership. He's a sure tackler with long arms and sideline to sideline speed. Davis was hampered by injury as a senior, but recovered in time to test well at his pro day. I have confidence that he too will be a solid starter at the NFL level, but the recent first round talk is not good value in my book. If Davis slips into the middle of Day Two I'd consider drafting him there.

Grade: 3rd Round

Anthony Walker Jr. Northwestern 6’1” 238

  • DOB: 8/8/1995
  • 2016: 105 TKL (62 solo) 10 TFL 2 SCK 4 FF 1 INT 5 PBU
  • Career: 276 TKL (154 solo) 39.5 TFL 7.5 SCK 6 FF 4 INT 12 PBU 2 TD in 38 games

Walker was a playmaker throughout his college career, and while he runs well, he lacks the range and overall athleticism of McMillan and Davis. Walker is an instinctive linebacker and sure tackler, and he's gradually added bulk over the years. I think he has starting potential, and if Davis and McMillan are gone early, Walker represents excellent value in the middle rounds.

Grade: 3rd-4th Round

Ben Gedeon Michigan 6’2” 244

  • DOB: 10/16/1994
  • 2016: 100 TKL (37 solo) 15 TFL 4.5 SCK 2 PBU
  • Career: 170 TKL (79 solo) 20.5 TFL 6.5 SCK 2 PBU 1 TD in 50 games

Gedeon was only a one-year starter for the Wolverines, stuck behind other veterans prior to 2016. Last season he was highly productive as a clean-up man behind a talented defensive line that boasted several other NFL Draft prospects. Gedeon is a good-sized kid who does well picking his way through traffic to the ballcarrier. He often had help making the play, but that's more a compliment to Michigan's swarming defense than a knock on Gedeon. I think he projects as a good depth player, and his experience on special teams will help him earn a roster spot.

Grade: 4th-5th Round

Vince Biegel Wisconsin 6’3” 246

  • DOB: 7/2/1993
  • 2016: 44 TKL (29 solo) 6 TFL 4 SCK 1 FF 1 PBU
  • Career: 191 TKL (117 solo) 39.5 TFL 21.5 SCK 3 FF 5 PBU in 52 games

Biegel excelled as a pass rusher early in his college career. Last season he was slowed by a foot injury, but still managed to produce when he played. He's an older prospect with a low ceiling, but I view him as a handy man, who can help out at linebacker, as a situational pass rusher, and on special teams.

Grade: 4th-5th Round