2018 NFL Draft: Middle Linebacker Rankings
Chris Ransom follow @DraftUtopia Last Updated: January 11, 2018.
- Roquan Smith, MLB, Georgia Projected Round Top 10 Pick
- 2017 Season Recap At 6-1 225 lbs Roquan Smith plays like someone who is 6-4 240 lbs. You have to overlook his size. He pass rushes, drops back into coverage, and stops the run like an All Pro. Roquan Smith had 85 solo tackles, 52 assisted tackles, 137 total tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 10 quarterback hurries, and 6.5 sacks. The stat sheet says Roquan didn't have any quarterback hurries during the 2018 College Football Playoff. The tape shows Smith getting 2 hurries during those two playoff games putting him at 10 quarterback hurries.
Roquan Smith SWOT Report
- Strengths: Uses rip and swim moves. Excellent at getting quarterback hurries. Knows how to stop the run. Will power bomb an opposing running back. Excels at dropping into coverage. Tackling machine. Three down linebacker. Capable of playing 4-3 middle linebacker or 3-4 middle linebacker. Excellent communicator. Extremely high football IQ. Commands triple teams and still can get by the entire interior offensive line on tape.
- Weaknesses: The only weakness I see with Roquan Smith may be his size at 6-1 225 lbs. I think Smith has too much talent on tape though and if you exclude that size he may be the most complete linebacker I've ever seen coming out of College.
- Opportunities: 3. Indianapolis Colts and 8. Chicago Bears are two teams that could end up with Roquan Smith. I've also seen Roquan Smith mocked to the Oakland Raiders.
- Threats: I don't see any threats with Roquan Smith. I have a 97 grade on Roquan Smith. That's the highest grade I've ever gave a middle linebacker outside of Luke Kuechly who I had a 98 on. I gave Patrick Willis a 95, Reuben Foster a 94, and Rolando McClain a 93 which was probably my biggest miss to date and I've assessed middle linebackers since 2007.
- Potential Grade: 97/99
- Roquan Smith became a full time starter in 2016. Roquan Smith had 52 solo tackles, 43 assisted tackles, and 95 total tackles in 2016. If Roquan Smith can build on that in 2017 he could be a huge riser at middle linebacker.
- Tremaine Edmunds, MLB, Virginia Tech Projected Round Top 10 Pick
- 2017 Season Recap At 6-5 250 lbs, Tremaine Edmunds dominated 2017 for Virginia Tech. Edmunds had 60 solo tackles, 49 assisted tackles, 109 total tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, and 5.5 sacks in 2017. Edmunds showed the versatility to play 4-3 right outside linebacker, 4-3 middle linebacker, 4-3 left outside linebacker, and 3-4 middle linebacker.
Tremaine Edmunds SWOT Report
- Strengths: Tremaine Edmunds can rush the quarterback and stop the run. Has a relentless work ethic. Tackling machine. Three down linebacker. Also does an awesome job with his burst off the edge. Does a phenomenal job dropping back into coverage. Edmunds is projected to run a 4.5 40-time at the 2018 NFL Combine.
- Weaknesses: Unlike Roquan Smith who is just a complete linebacker despite his size, Edmunds is not someone who will use his hands to win blocks. Edmunds is complete in every other category and arguably more versatile than Roquan Smith plus he's bigger too which is one thing that works in Edmunds favor.
- Opportunities: The Oakland Raiders would be a great fit for Tremaine Edmunds. If the Raiders pass on Edmunds expect him to fall to the mid to late first round.
- Threats: There are no threats with Tremaine Edmunds. He's bigger than Roquan Smith, but I don't think he's as sound as Smith is from a technique standpoint.
- Potential Grade: 96/99
- Tremaine Edmunds had 56 solo tackles, 50 assisted tackles, and 106 total tackles in 2016. If he can improve on that in 2017 he can surge up draft boards.
- Rashaan Evans, MLB, Alabama Projected Round 1st Round
- 2017 Season Recap At 6-2 234 lbs Rashaan Evans led Alabama to their second National Championship in 2017 this time he was a starter. Evans had 35 solo tackles, 39 assisted tackles, 74 total tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 6 sacks, 7 quarterback hurries, 3 deflections from pass breakups, and 1 forced fumble in 2017. Rashaan Evans can play 4-3 middle linebacker or 3-4 middle linebacker in the NFL.
Rashaan Evans SWOT Report
- Strengths: Rashaan Evans can rush the quarterback and stop the run. Has a relentless work ethic and can get past an opposing offensive line with fantastic rip and swim moves. Also does an awesome job with his burst off the edge. Does a phenomenal job dropping back into coverage. His rip and swim moves are so good on tape. Excels in coverage.
- Weaknesses: Rashaan Evans is not a tackling machine like Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds. He does everything else fantastic on tape though. You'd like to see him add more muscle, but it's not a deal breaker though.
- Opportunities: Rashaan Evans is someone the Baltimore Ravens could consider in the first round. They need a second middle linebacker next to C.J. Mosley and Rashaan Evans is someone I'd consider with their pick. Rashaan Evans is also playing in the 2018 Senior Bowl so with a big week in Mobile he can validate his first round stock.
- Threats: There are no threats with Rashaan Evans at the moment. He has a pretty high ceiling too and could be a elite starter in a 4-3 defense or a 3-4 scheme.
- Potential Grade: 91/99
- Rashaan Evans dominated in the 2017 National Championship in Alabama's loss to Clemson. Evans did so well on tape in that game that his tape from that game got him onto our radar for this upcoming season.
- Malik Jefferson, MLB, Texas Projected Round 2nd Round
- 2017 Season Recap The 6-3 240 lb Malik Jefferson is versatile enough to play 4-3 right outside linebacker, 4-3 middle linebacker, and 4-3 left outside linebacker. Jefferson can also play 3-4 middle linebacker. Jefferson finally showcased that tackling machine ability that scouts were looking for in 2017 with 79 solo tackles, 31 assisted tackles, 110 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 5 quarterback hurries, and 4 sacks in 2017.
Malik Jefferson SWOT Report
- Strengths: Very versatile for a middle linebacker. Tackling machine. Possesses elite athleticism. Great run stuffer. Dominates in coverage.
- Weaknesses: Lackluster instincts. Has the instincs of a two down linebacker instead of a three down linebacker. Either aims too high when wrapping up tackles or aims too low when wrapping up tackles. Needs to fix this from a technique standpoint.
- Opportunities: Malik Jefferson is a second round prospect. I'm not sure who would take him in the second round.
- Threats: Malik Jefferson is a prospect who needs to fix a lot with his technique. The strength and athleticism is there though. He should be a future starter in the NFL.
- Potential Grade: 88/99
- Malik Jefferson was a 5 star recruit coming out of High School. He started at middle linebacker right away at Texas. He enters his third season as the starting middle linebacker for Texas. With one more strong season he could be a first round prospect.
- Frank Ginda, MLB, San Jose State Projected Round 2nd Round
- 2017 Season Recap The 6-0 245 lb Frank Ginda is capable of playing 4-3 right outside linebacker, 4-3 middle linebacker, 4-3 left outside linebacker, or 3-4 middle linebacker. Frank Ginda had 94 solo tackles, 79 assisted tackles, 173 total tackles, 2 sacks, 2 quarterback hurries, and 3 deflections from pass breakups in 2017.
Frank Ginda SWOT Report
- Strengths: Frank Ginda is very versatile. Tackling machine. Has the instincts you want. Has the run stuffing you want in a middle linebacker. Dedicated in the weight room. Supports his teammates. Very mature leader and excellent communicator.
- Weaknesses: Needs to be more consistent with pass rushing and dropping into coverage. If Ginda can fix that he will be one of the most complete linebackers in this class.
- Opportunities: Frank Ginda is a second round prospect. He needs a strong 2018 NFL Combine to avoid falling out of the first two rounds.
- Threats: Being 6-0 may limit his frame. He looks like someone with the tools to be a great starter though.
- Potential Grade: 88/99
- Frank Ginda had 42 solo tackles, 38 assisted tackles, and 80 total tackles as a true freshman in 2015. Ginda improved on that with 50 total tackles, 49 assisted tackles, 99 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss, and 6.5 sacks in 2016. Frank Ginda could be a riser if he builds on his success in 2017.
- Josey Jewell, MLB, Iowa Projected Round 3rd Round
- 2017 Season Recap The 6-2 236 lb Josey Jewell lined up at 4-3 right outside linebacker, 4-3 middle linebacker, and 4-3 left outside linebacker. Josey Jewell is only capable of playing in a 4-3 scheme though. Josey Jewell had 69 solo tackles, 67 assisted tackles, 136 total tackles, and 13.5 tackles for a loss, and 4.5 sacks in 2017.
Josey Jewell SWOT Report
- Strengths: Josey Jewell has elite rip and swim moves. Tackling machine. He displays superb instincts. Knows how to wrap up running backs. Really dominated versus Saquon Barkley early in that game. Great speed and first step quickness. Capable of dropping back into coverage. High football IQ. Great leadership. Drops back into coverage.
- Weaknesses: Josey Jewell needs to add 5 lbs of muscle. Other than that he really has no weaknesses and is one of the safer prospects.
- Opportunities: Josey Jewell is a third round prospect. He'd be a first or second round prospect if he showed more upside. Jewell is a senior and another thing working against him is that he isn't playing in the Collegiate Bowl, East West Shrine Game, or the Senior Bowl. I'm not sure how much that will affect his stock, but he has consistent tape with three consecutive seasons of 124 total tackles.
- Threats: Some NFL scouts think Jewelll may have durability concerns due to his size. I don't see that at all. I don't see a high upside guy, but I see a safe and reliable starter that can succeed at the next level.
- Potential Grade: 86/99
- Josey Jewell had 62 solo tackles, 64 assisted tackles, and 126 total tackles in 2015 as a sophomore. Josey Jewell had 58 solo tackles, 66 assisted tackles, and 124 total tackles as a junior in 2016. Jewell also had 6 sacks and 9 deflections from pass breakups in 2016.
- Nick DeLuca, MLB, North Dakota State Projected Round 3rd Round
- 2017 Season Recap The 6-3 245 lb Nick DeLuca rebounded in 2017 by leading North Dakota State back to their first FCS Championship since they had Carson Wentz as the starting quarterback. DeLuca had 41 solo tackles, 33 assisted tackles, 74 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 quarterback hurries, and 2 deflections from pass breakups in 2017.
- Nick DeLuca disappointed with 1 solo tackle, 2 assisted tackles, 3 total tackles, and 1 tackle for a loss in North Dakota State's home opener that they barely won in overtime against Charleston Southern. North Dakota State faces Iowa in a few weeks in a game that will see what DeLuca can do against better competition.
- Nick DeLuca has 14 solo tackles, 12 assisted tackles, 26 total tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 2 deflections from a pass breakup, and 1 interception in 2016. Those are great numbers for someone that only started in three games because I see DeLucas as someone who can be awesome in coverage.
- The 6-3 245 lb Nick DeLuca had season ending shoulder surgery on September 19, 2016. That may keep him from getting drafted, but I think he's a top 20 middle linebacker if he can come back from that and show up at the Senior Bowl and 2017 NFL Combine.
Nick DeLuca SWOT Report
- Strengths: Nick DeLuca has the play recognition to start at middle linebacker. He does well stopping the run, rushing the quarterback, and dropping into coverage. Has the size to be a three down middle linebacker and is versatile enough to line up anywhere in a 4-3 defense. Called plays on North Dakota State's defense.
- Weaknesses: Sometimes wraps too low when making a tackle. This causes DeLuca to miss tackles. The only season where he had over 100 total tackles was 2015. When healthy, I see one of the more complete middle linebackers with hardly any weaknesses on tape.
- Opportunities: I'm not sure where Nick DeLuca will fall to. I currently have a third round grade on him. DeLuca is probably the best middle linebacker outside of Rashaan Evans currently playing in the 2018 Senior Bowl.
- Threats: Nick DeLuca's should surgery kept him from playing in 2016. He stayed healthy in 2017, but missed a few games with injuries raising durability concerns. When healthy he's a complete middle linebacker with all of the tools of a future starter.
- Potential Grade: 86/99
- Nick DeLuca had 59 solo tackles, 76 assisted tackles, 135 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, and 6 deflections from pass breakups in 2015. Season ending shoulder surgery in 2016 caused DeLuca to return to school as he received a medical redshirt.
- Micah Kiser, MLB, Virginia Projected Round 3rd Round
- 2017 Season Recap The 6-2 240 lb Micah Kiser is a plug in play linebacker. Kiser can play 4-3 middle linebacker or 3-4 middle linebacker. Kiser had 50 solo tackles, 95 assisted tackles, and 145 total tackles in 2017.
Micah Kiser SWOT Report
- Strengths: Micah Kiser can be a tackling machine. He's great at stopping the run. He's excellent at pressuring the quarterback and dropping back into coverage. Blanketed David Njoku on tape in 2016 with coverage.
- Weaknesses: Struggles to win blocks. Lacks the strength to get by an offensive lineman when they place his hands on him.
- Opportunities: Micah Kiser is a third round prospect. I think a team that drafts McCray as a linebacker in the third round can get a solid player. He will get a chance to boost his stock even more during the 2018 Senior Bowl.
- Threats: Micah Kiser has no threats. He's a safe prospect, but a borderline starter at best.
- Potential Grade: 85/99
- Micah Kiser took over as a starter in 2015. Kiser had 64 solo tackles, 53 assisted tackles, 117 total tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, and 7.5 sacks in 2015. Kiser had 65 solo tackles, 69 assisted tackles, 134 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, and 6.5 sacks in 2016. Kiser can be a day 2 pick if he gets stronger and builds on what he did in 2017.
- Quentin Polling, MLB, Ohio Projected Round 4th Round
- 2017 Season Recap The 6-0 235 lb Quentin Polling lined up at 4-3 middle linebacker. Polling had 49 solo tackles, 58 assisted tackles, 107 total tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, 6 quarterback hurries, 4 deflections from pass breakups, and 3 forced fumbles in 2017.
Quentin Polling SWOT Report
- Strengths: Quentin Polling has great leadership. Tackling machine. Two time team captain for the Ohio Bobcats. Was a team captain when they had Blair Brown at linebacker.
- Weaknesses: Not as fast or as effective as wrapping up tackles as Blair Brown. Will miss a tackle from time to time. Not as versatile as Brown either. Struggles in coverage.
- Opportunities: Quentin Polling is a fourth round prospect. I think a team that runs a 4-3 defense will look at Polling. Polling is playing in the 2018 NFLPA Bowl.
- Threats: Quentin Polling doesn't really have a major threat. He's a safe prospect that projects as a great backup middle linebacker for depth at the next level.
- Potential Grade: 83/99
- Quentin Polling 66 solo tackles, 43 assisted tackles, and 109 total tackles in 2016 leading Ohio in tackles. Polling can really sell himself with another strong season in 2017.
- Oren Burks, MLB, Vanderbilt Projected Round 4th Round
- 2017 Season Recap The 6-3 230 lb Oren Burks had 45 solo tackles, 37 assisted tackles, and 82 total tackles in 2017. Oren Burks has a lot of the same flaws that Zach Cunningham had coming out of Vanderbilt. It doesn't help that Burks is a worse prospect than Cunningham was.
Oren Burks SWOT Report
- Strengths: Oren Burks can be effective in coverage at times. This is probably the only positive I saw when watching his tape.
- Weaknesses: Struggled immensely on tape versus running backs. Didn't have the speed to keep up with running backs. Also lacks the strength to win blocks. Basically a two down version of Zach Cunningham with all of Cunningham's weaknesses.
- Opportunities: Oren Burks is a fourth round prospect. A team that wants a middle linebacker for the 4-3 or the 3-4 will take a look at Burks. Not playing in the Senior Bowl, NFLPA Bowl, or the East West Shrine Game really hurts Oren Burks.
- Threats: Oren Burks is raw. He projects as a backup for depth and with no games to showcase his skills before the draft, he's gonna have to rely on his tape.
- Potential Grade: 80/99
- Oren Burks was a linebacker/safety hybrid player in 2016. Burks will make the full-time transition to middle linebacker in 2017.
- Matthew Thomas, MLB, Florida State Projected Round 5th Round
- 2017 Season Recap The 6-4 219 lb Matthew Thomas is versatile enough to play 4-3 right outside linebacker, 4-3 middle linebacker, 4-3 left outside linebacker, or 3-4 middle linebacker. His lack of size really hurts him and makes him a day 3 pick despite having 43 solo tackles, 42 asssited tackles, and 85 total tackles in 2017.
Matthew Thomas SWOT Report
- Strengths: Matthew Thomas is very versatile. Great run stuffer.
- Weaknesses: Misses tackles. Gets beat in coverage easily.
- Opportunities: Matthew Thomas is a fifth round prospect. A team that wants a middle linebacker will take a look at Thomas. Thomas accepted an invite to the 2018 East West Shrine Game.
- Threats: There are no threats with Matthew Thomas. He has the tools to be an effective backup at linebacker.
- Potential Grade: 79/99
- Matthew Thomas had 50 solo tackles, 27 assisted tackles, 77 total tackles, and 11 tackles for a loss in 2016. Thomas can be a riser if he improves on that in 2017.
- Nyles Morgan, MLB, Notre Dame Projected Round 5th Round
- 2017 Season Recap The 6-1 235 lb Nyles Morgan had 35 solo tackles, 57 assisted tackles, and 92 total tackles as Notre Dame's 3-4 middle linebacker in 2017. Morgan is someone to keep an eye on.
Nyles Morgan SWOT Report
- Strengths: Nyles Morgan has great leadership. Got voted team captain at the beginning of the season. Does well when dropping into coverage.
- Weaknesses: Nyles Morgan lacks the speed to bring down running backs. He struggles with wrapping up tackles too and also struggles with winning blocks.
- Opportunities: Nyles Morgan is a fifth round prospect. A team that wants a 3-4 middle linebacker will take a look at Morgan.
- Threats: Nyles Morgan isn't playing in the NFLPA Bowl, the Shrine Game, or the Senior Bowl. That limits him to a late round prospect even with his flashes of brilliance on tape at times.
- Potential Grade: 79/99
- Nyles Morgan had 49 solo tackles, 41 assisted tackles, and 80 total tackles in 2016. Morgan can be a riser if he improves on his 2016 campaign in 2017.
- Darius Leonard, MLB, South Carolina State Projected Round 5th Round
- 2017 Season Recap The 6-3 235 lb Darius Leonard is a 4-3 middle linebacker at South Carolina State. Leonard is limited to a 4-3 middle linebacker role, but he had 73 solo tackles, 41 assisted tackles, 114 total tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, and 2 interceptions in 2017.
Darius Leonard SWOT Report
- Strengths: Darius Leonard is a tackling machine. He's also great at getting past the line of scrimmage to get a tackle for a loss.
- Weaknesses: Struggles in coverage. Misses too many easy tackles on tape. Didn't play quality competition in the FCS.
- Opportunities: Darius Leonard is a fifth round prospect. A team that wants a middle linebacker for the 4-3 will take a look at Darius Leonard. Leonard will participate in the 2018 Senior Bowl.
- Threats: Darius Leonard has no threats. You can argue his ceiling is limited though.
- Potential Grade: 77/99
- Darius Leonard wanted to go to Clemson. They did not offer him a scholarship so he ended up going to South Carolina State. With a big senior season, Leoanrd could become a potential 2018 Senior Bowl candidate.
- Shaun Dion Hamilton, MLB, Alabama Projected Round 6th Round
- 2017 Season Recap The 6-0 235 lb Shaun Dion Hamilton was a 3-4 middle linebacker on Alabama. Shaun Dion Hamilton is capable of playing 4-3 middle linebacker as well.
Shaun Dion Hamilton SWOT Report
- Strengths: Excellent communicator. His leadership is through the roof. He organized bible studies where Alabama's linebackers watched film on opponents after the Bible Study. He's got that veteran presence you want your middle linebacker to have. Shows three down ability.
- Weaknesses: Struggles to win blocks and wrap up tackles. Shaun Dion Hamilton will be a force once he fixes these two areas of his game. Also needs to close with more speed and do a better job in coverage.
- Opportunities: Shaun Dion Hamilton is a sixth round prospect. A team that wants a middle linebacker for the 3-4 will take a look at Shaun Dion Hamilton. Will get to showcase his skills in the 2018 Senior Bowl.
- Threats: Shaun Dion Hamilton has major durability concerns. Dealt with a season ending injury in both 2016 and 2017.
- Potential Grade: 74/99
- Shaun Dion Hamilton got injured in the 2016 SEC Championship game versus Florida. That caused him to miss the 2017 College Football Playoff where Alabama lost to Clemson. He needs to stay healthy in 2017.
- Jack Cichy, MLB, Wisconsin Projected Round 7th Round
- 2017 Season Recap The 6-2 234 lb Jack Cichy did not play in 2017. Cichy is versatile enough to play 4-3 right outside linebacker, 4-3 middle linebacker, 4-3 left outside linebacker, 3-4 right outside linebacker, 3-4 middle linebcker, and 3-4 left outside linebacker. Jack Cichy is a plug-in-play linebacker.
Jack Cichy SWOT Report
- Strengths: Jack Cichy is very versatile. Does a great job at wrapping up tackles.
- Weaknesses: Struggles with winning blocks. Misses tackles sometimes on tape.
- Opportunities: Jack Cichy is a seventh round prospect. He is versatile enough to play any linebacker spot in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. Jack Cichy will play in the 2018 Senior Bowl.
- Threats: Jack Cichy did not play in 2014 or 2017. Cichy has durability concerns.
- Potential Grade: 73/99
- Jack Cichy had 45 solo tackles, 15 assisted tackles, 60 total tackles, and 7 tackles for a loss in 2016. Cichy needs to stay healthy in 2017.