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2016 NFL Draft rankings: Top 10 off-ball linebackers

Ranking the top 10 off-ball linebacker prospects in this year's NFL Draft class.

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1. Myles Jack (UCLA) | 6-foot-1, 245 pounds

Jack is a generational linebacker talent that has the uncanny ability of shutting down tight ends and receivers in coverage. At the combine, he had three different positions listed on his shirt (RB, LB, S) and that's basically all you need to know about his versatility. Jack did not participate in most drills at the NFL Combine this year, but trust me when I say that he is a freak athlete. He might even be the best prospect in the country if not for Laremy Tunsil.

2. Reggie Ragland (Alabama) | 6-foot-1, 247 pounds

Many of you know by now that I'm a big Reggie Ragland fan. He might not be the best athlete out there, but as an interior linebacker this guy has impeccable instincts and knows how to lay the hammer down. His aforementioned lack of athleticism will limit him in coverage, but I think he'll be good enough in that department at the next level. Ragland is a premier run defender and a great leader in the locker room and on the field.

3. Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame) | 6-foot-2, 223 pounds

After suffering a tragic leg injury in his bowl game versus Ohio State last year, Jaylon Smith's draft stock has gone down quite a bit. There had even been rumors of apparent nerve damage that could cause Smith to be a Day 3 pick. Smith has since put those rumors to rest, but you still have to worry about the long-term effects of his injury. If his health checks out 100 percent, then GMs should have no problem drafting him in the second round and letting him sit for a year. The talent and upside is clear, but you better do your homework on his medical reports first.

4. Darron Lee (Ohio State) | 6-foot-1, 232 pounds

You may have seen Darron Lee's name near the top of a few lists and maybe near the middle of a few first round mock drafts. Don't get it twisted, though, because he's not quite a polished prospect yet. Lee's ceiling is through the roof and his speed and athleticism would be the best in any class if it weren't for Myles Jack.

5. Deion Jones (LSU) | 6-foot-1, 222 pounds
Okay, let's just get this out of the way. How on Earth did Deion Jones run a 4.38 at his Pro Day? I know these numbers can be a tad off, but that's just unreal for a 222-pound linebacker. Jones is a plus-athlete with great sideline-to-sideline speed and is one of the rare talents these days that can play all three downs in the NFL. One area of concern is his tackling efficiency, however. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones missed one of every 5.3 tackles in the run game, which was second-worst in the draft class.

6. Su'a Cravens (USC) | 6-foot-1, 226 pounds

Cravens is the type of player that you're not completely sure where he should be on the field, but you know you've got to make room for him because he's always going to be around the ball. Cravens doesn't have the desired strength to hold up at the point of attack and shed blocks, but he has a knack for weaving his way around defenders and displays great intelligence and instincts on the field. I'd guess his best position at the next level will be as a WILL in a 4-3 scheme, but it's worth noting that the Lions are looking at him as a safety.

7. Nick Vigil (Utah State) | 6-foot-2, 239 pounds

Vigil was the only player to start on both sides of the ball in 2014. As a former running back, Vigil has great vision and astonishingly quick feet. Over the past two years, Vigil dominated the statsheet, tallying 30 tackles for a loss and 267 tackles. He also finished with the sixth-highest run stop percentage via Pro Football Focus in 2015. Vigil fits nicely as a 4-3 OLB with his combination of instincts and quickness.

8. Jatavis Brown (Akron) | 5-foot-11, 227 pounds

Brown looks more like a safety than a linebacker on the field and draws the tweener label, but you simply cannot ignore his college production. Brown did not participate at the NFL Combine, though he did run a 4.47 at the regional combine and his elite sideline-to-sideline speed is apparent on tape. According to PFF, Brown was also the most productive blitzing off-ball linebacker with 13 sacks and 41 total pressures.

9. Tyler Matakevich (Temple) | 6-foot-0, 238 pounds

Matakevich makes all gingers proud with his unparalleled instincts and high football IQ. He's undersized and has plenty of physical limitations, but makes up for it with his slipperiness and great angles in the run game. In the pros, Matakevich can be a solid two-down linebacker and will likely get pulled on passing downs. His 12.9 run stop percentage was third among all linebackers in 2015.

10. Kentrell Brothers (Missouri) | 6-foot-0, 245 pounds

Speaking of run stopping, Kentrell Brothers led all linebackers with 15.8 run stop percentage via PFF. Like Matakevich, Brothers is undersized and a below-average athlete for a middle linebacker, but masks his weaknesses with his strong hands and consistently sheds blocks in the run game. Brothers can be a productive inside backer in the NFL and offers great value early Day 3.


Some of the above information was taken from Pro Football Focus' amazingly thorough 2016 NFL Draft Guide. You can purchase a copy of this guide for just $9.99.

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