The senior class of outside linebackers is pretty pedestrian, as not a single prospect is being talked about as a first round possibility. So NFL execs on teams in need of outside linebackers are hoping some top underclassmen declare to spice up the position. Here are the top senior outside backers, as per scouts.
1. Khaseem Green, Rutgers, 6-1, 225. Teams that use a 4-3 will like him as a weakside prospect, but he won’t be for everyone. This former safety does not have ideal size, but he is a playmaker who can cover. He is athletic, fast and productive, and will make tackles all over the field.
2. Chase Thomas, Stanford, 6-3, 240. His combination of size and energy make him a fine prospect. Thomas is an instinctive backer who uses his hands well. He is effective in space and at the point. He takes good angles. He could fit in a 3-4 or 4-3, but is not a great pass rusher. One front office man compares him to Mike Vrabel. Some teams think he could be a middle linebacker.
3. Jamie Collins, Southern Miss, 6-3, 240. NFL teams like his size/speed combination. He can be a strongside linebacker in a 4-3 or a 3-4 outside backer. He has been productive but could be more consistent. One front office man said his effort is up and down.
4. Gerald Hodges, Penn State, 6-1, 235. He is a good 4-3 prospect as a weakside linebacker. Hodges can run and is effective in space. He can cover running backs and tight ends. He is physical enough.
5. Sean Porter, Texas A&M, 6-2, 230. He has above average athleticism and speed to go with good instincts. He can match up with tight ends. His consistency is a little concerning, and one scout said he didn’t always play well against better competition.
6. Trevardo Williams, Connecticut, 6-1, 234. He is an interesting prospect that NFL teams aren’t quite sure what to do with. Williams plays defensive end in college and has drawn some comparisons to Dwight Freeney. But Williams is not as explosive as Freeney. He might be best suited as a standup outside linebacker if he is fluid enough to drop in coverage.
7. Travis Long, Washington State, 6-3, 255. He was a very productive player over four years in college. Long probably is best suited as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He has some natural pass rush ability and feel, but might not quite as fast or athletic to excel at the NFL level.
8. Travis Johnson, San Jose State, 6-3, 245. This is a very productive pass rusher who has caught the attention of 3-4 teams. Johnson isn’t the most athletic player, but he could make up for it with his feel. He also could be considered at defensive end in some defenses that use four down players.
Dan Pompei covers pro football for the Chicago Tribune at chicagotribune.com