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2017 NFL Draft: 3 linebackers the Lions should target if Haason Reddick is gone

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The ascending Temple LB may be out of range for the Lions at 21st overall, but there are some other raw, athletic linebackers that may be a nice consolation prize for Bob Quinn.

NCAA Football: Texas State at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Back in mid-January, the name Haason Reddick didn’t quite resonate with many Detroit Lions fans. He was an underrated prospect for the Temple Owls and spent most of his time lining up as an edge rusher, despite being criminally undersized for that role. During the Senior Bowl, coaches decided to try him out as an off-ball linebacker and now, fast forward almost three months and Reddick is being projected as a top-20 overall prospect with his best position being as a 3-4 inside linebacker or 4-3 weakside linebacker in the NFL.

The key word here is “top-20.” With the Lions picking at 21st overall, it’s very possible that Reddick may not be available by the time they’re on the clock, and that’s a shame because he’d be a perfect fit at OLB, which is arguably the Lions’ top need and a position they desperately need to address early in the draft.

But that doesn’t mean we should cry over spilled milk, because there are a few guys out there that I believe would be a nice consolation prize, should they miss out on Reddick in the first round and address linebacker later. Here are some of my favorites:

Tyus Bowser, LB, Houston

If you haven’t heard the name Tyus Bowser yet, then get used to it. Like Reddick, Bowser spent most of his reps as an edge rusher for Houston’s defense. The Cougars also recognized Bowser’s versatility and athleticism and had him drop into coverage on occasion, where he proved how natural of a mover he is in space and managed to intercept two passes with nine pass deflections in two years of production.

While I believe that Bowser’s best position at the next level is going to be as an off-ball linebacker, he does flash as an edge rusher with impressive explosiveness and bend, which means teams will continue to line him up as a pass rusher on certain occasions.

Teams are going to love Bowser’s versatility and elite athleticism. He has the ability to play all three downs, but needs to do a better job of recognizing routes and not losing track of his assignment in coverage. Bowser is a high upside pick with an arguably higher floor than Reddick, and I’m becoming less confident when I say that Haason Reddick is going to turn out to be the better player. I can see Bowser playing as a WILL or SAM linebacker with the ability to rush the passer, drop into coverage and kidnap princesses on the side.

Currently, Bowser is projected to go anywhere between the late-first round and early/mid-second.

T.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin

Full disclosure, I have T.J. Watt ranked as an edge rusher, as many others do. But if the Lions were to draft him—they would have to do so at 21st overall or trade back—I feel that it may be in their best interest to experiment with him as an off-ball linebacker. I mean it’s not often that you find someone as big as T.J. Watt, who is even more athletic than his brother J.J. and posted a 9.97 prelim-RAS via our own Kent Lee Platte.

Watt is much better at taking on blocks than the two aforementioned names in this piece and does a nice job of stacking and shedding in the run game. His work ethic is unmatched by his peers and he has proven to be effective from both a 2-point and 3-point stance as a pass rusher.

Of course, Watt does come with some concerns. For one, his durability may come into question after suffering three separate knee injuries, missing five games during his sophomore year, while lacking some experience with 22 games played over the course of just two seasons before declaring as a junior.

Keion Adams, LB, Western Michigan

Adams is yet another undersized edge rusher that could make a transition to off-ball linebacker in the NFL. According to Houston Texans beat writer, Aaron Wilson, the local product out of Western Michigan has already met with the Lions, who had a front row seat to witness his impressive numbers during WMU’s pro day.

Rebecca Toback, an editor over at Cincy Jungle, had the opportunity of speaking with Adams about his preparation for the draft, his time at WMU and plenty more. When asked how he describes himself and his style of play, Keion Adams had this to say:

Keion Adams: Athletic, I would definitely say I’m athletic. Have a quick first stop. I’m violent when I arrive to the ball. As a pass rusher, I have a knack for getting the quarterback and finding my way to the quarterback and I’m relentless to the ball.

When asked what he hopes teams see in him to make them interested:

KA: I’m coachable. I can take coaching and am a student of the game. I prepare well and have a passion and love for the game. People go out and play for different reasons. But, I just hope that by me going out there and putting the pads on, that my passion and energy will shine through and coaches see I’m a guy who wants to be out there and will be held accountable for everything I do and that they know I’m going to do my job.

Addressing the fans:

I just want them to know that no matter what, I’m coming in with an open mind and that no matter what task is handed to me, I’m going to give my all. It’s not only about me, but my family. I want to be able to serve and give back, and that’s the main thing.

It sounds to me like Adams still sees himself primarily as an edge rusher, but is open to doing whatever it takes to secure a spot on an NFL roster, even if that means playing off the ball primarily.

I see Adams as a great option for the Lions in the sixth or seventh round if he’s there, and possibly as a priority free agent if no one takes him. In this scenario, you’d hope that Adams is at least the second LB taken by the Lions, and he would be a nice developmental piece to groom for the future.