Pewter Report begins its annual draft preview listing the top players at
each position and also offers up two Bucs’ Best Bets, one in the early
rounds and one in the late rounds. See where Pewter Report ranks the
players and who they think makes the most sense for the Buccaneers. Up next are the linebackers.
WHAT THE BUCS HAVE AT LINEBACKERThe Buccaneers have one of the league’s top outside linebackers in Lavonte David, who was an All-Pro performer in his second NFL season despite being snubbed for the Pro Bowl. David is a tackling and takeaway machine and is a perfect fit in the weakside linebacker role in the Tampa 2. Mason Foster is entering his fourth year as the team’s starting middle linebacker and made strides in pass coverage last year with a career-high seven pass breakups and three interceptions, including two he returned for touchdowns. While the Bucs didn’t re-sign Adam Hayward and Dekoda Watson in free agency, Jonathan Casillas was re-signed to start at the strongside linebacker spot. Newcomers weakside linebacker Damaso Munoz and middle linebacker Dane Fletcher join holdovers strongside linebackers Danny Lansanah and Ka’Lial Glaud to provide depth for training camp.
WHAT THE BUCS NEED AT LINEBACKERTampa Bay needs more talent and depth at the middle linebacker and weakside linebacker positions to safeguard against injuries to Foster and David. If David goes down with an injury, a lot of big plays go to the bench with him, as Munoz isn’t even close to being the same caliber of player. Drafting a fast, athletic weakside linebacker could be in the team’s draft plans this year. Fletcher has more talent and playing experience and could step in for Foster in case of injury, but isn’t the long-term answer at the middle linebacker position. With Foster entering a contract year, the Bucs may want to safeguard themselves for the future by drafting a middle linebacker in 2014.
BUCS’ BEST BET AT LB (EARLY 1-3) – Wisconsin MLB Chris BorlandThe Bucs love Borland’s uncanny knack for making big plays and creating takeaways. He had a school-record 14 forced fumbles and three interceptions, in addition to recording 17 sacks on blitzes. Although Borland lacks ideal height (6-foot) and speed (4.83), he has an incredible football I.Q. and instincts that allow him to diagnose plays quickly and get to the point of attack as quick as faster linebackers do. Borland’s stout run defense and ability to drop into coverage (18 pass breakups, three interceptions) would be a great addition to Tampa Bay’s defense in the third round.
BUCS’ BEST BET AT LB (LATE 4-7) – Florida State OLB Telvin SmithWith playmaking skills, hard-hitting ability, swagger and blessed with great speed and athleticism, Smith has second-round talent, but at 6-foot-3 and weighing just 218, his lack of size likely makes him a third-rounder. However, an alleged failed drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine could raise red flags and cause his stock to drop into the fourth round. The Bucs visited with Smith and love his 4.52 speed and ability to drop into coverage. He recorded 11 pass breakups and four interceptions in college, including three during his senior season – returning two for touchdowns. If the Bucs pull the trigger on Smith, he would be an ideal athletic backup to Lavonte David.
TOP 10 LINEBACKERS 1. OLB Khalil Mack – Buffalo – Senior – 6–3, 251 – 4.65Mack may be the best defensive player in the 2014 NFL Draft and is getting consideration from Houston, who has the first overall pick this year. In his Buffalo career Mack recorded 327 tackles, 75 tackles for loss, 28.5 sacks, 22 pass breakups, an NCAA-record 16 forced fumbles and four interceptions, including two he returned for touchdowns. Mack had a monster senior season with 100 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, seven pass breakups, five forced fumbles and three picks. He is best suited to be a rush linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but can also be an undersized defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. His instincts, high motor and knack for creating takeaways and making big plays sets him apart in this year’s draft class.
2. MLB C.J. Mosley – Alabama – Senior – 6-2, 234 – 4.67Mosley was an important part of Alabama’s defense over the past four years and helped the Crimson Tide win multiple national championships with his leadership and playmaking ability. Mosley may be the best coverage linebacker in the draft with 24 passes defensed and five career interceptions, including three he returned for touchdowns. Mosley has racked up 319 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in his illustrious Alabama career. He’s the top-ranked middle linebacker and worthy of a top 10 pick due to his accomplishments, instincts and size-speed ratio.
3. OLB Ryan Shazier – Ohio State – Junior – 6-1, 237 – 4.40Shazier is quickly moving up draft boards due to an eye-opening 40-time at his pro day. A bit undersized and built like Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David, Shazier is a classic weakside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, but could also be an outside rush linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Shazier is a force against the run with 317 tackles, 45.5 tackles for loss and nine forced fumbles in his three years at Ohio State, but he also has 15 sacks and an interception in his career, which speaks to his versatility. Shazier’s elite speed and ability to knife past linemen and make plays in the backfield have moved him into the middle of the first round.
4. OLB Anthony Barr – UCLA – Junior – 6-5, 255 – 4.66Barr was once thought to be a top-10 pick in this year’s draft, but his motor runs hot and cold and he will loaf on pursuit plays that go away from him. Yet he is an incredible athlete with an NFL frame for an outside rush linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Because he was strictly used as a pass rusher where he notched 23.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles in his three years at UCLA, Barr does not have the coverage skills that Mack, Mosley and Shazier possess. It’s that one-dimensional quality that will likely keep Barr out of the top 10 in this year’s draft.
5. OLB Kyle Van Noy – BYU – Senior – 6-3, 252 – 4.71Van Noy blew up statistically while playing opposite Ziggy Ansah during the 2012 season, notching 53 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, a career-high 13 sacks, six forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. His numbers dipped in 2013 after Ansah’s departure to the NFL as offenses schemed solely for Van Noy, but he did have a very productive career for the Cougars, recording 223 tackles, 61.5 tackles for loss, 26 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, seven interceptions and three fumble recovery. Van Noy has great instincts and a nose for the football that has helped him score five defensive touchdowns. He’s more of a football player than an elite athlete, but his production ensures he will get drafted by the end of the first round.
6. OLB Carl Bradford – Arizona State – Junior – 6-1, 250 – 4.64Bradford is a big, fast linebacker that put together two productive seasons as a starter on the Sun Devils defense. The Arizona State star had 154 yards, 43 tackles for loss, 21.5 sacks, nine passes defensed, six forced fumbles, two interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, and a fumble recovery. Had Bradford stayed for his senior year, he could have improved his stock and potentially become a first-round pick, but he will likely be off the board by the end of the second round. Bradford has the athleticism and size to play in either a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense.
7. OLB Jeremiah Attaochu – Georgia Tech – Senior – 6-3, 252 – 4.60Attaochu has a future in the NFL as a 3-4 blitzing outside linebacker or as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. The Yellowjackets star had two years of double digit sacks to end his college career, and finished his run at Georgia Tech with 31.5 sacks, in addition to 43.5 tackles for loss and 196 tackles. Despite his production, which includes four forced fumbles, Attaochu has a rawness about his game and is limited in pass coverage with just six pass breakups and one interception. Due to his ability to get to the quarterback, Attaochu will likely be a second-round pick.
8. MLB Chris Borland – Wisconsin – Senior – 6-0, 248 – 4.83Borland was a beast in the middle of Wisconsin’s defense for four years, racking up 420 tackles (233 solo), 50 tackles for loss, 18 passes defensed, 17 sacks, an amazing 14 forced fumbles and three picks. Borland had a breakout freshman year in which he totaled 54 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, five forced fumbles, three passes defensed and an interceptions. He missed most of 2010 with an early-season shoulder injury, but returned in 2011 to record a career-best 143 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups, five forced fumbles, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions. Over the next two years Borland would total 215 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, eight pass breakups and four forced fumbles. Borland has had three shoulder surgeries in his career that concern some NFL teams and that will likely push his draft stock down to the third round.
9. OLB Trent Murphy – Stanford – Senior – 6-6, 252 – 4.86Murphy, who was the nation’s leading sacker last year with 15, is one of the most accomplished pass rushers in the 2014 NFL Draft. As a 3-4 outside linebacker, the high-motor Murphy recorded 32.5 sacks, 52.5 tackles for loss, 160 tackles and three forced fumbles in his career. He’s a better athlete than he appears to be evidenced by two interceptions he returned a combined 70 yards for touchdowns. The Stanford star didn’t time well in the postseason and didn’t have a great week at the Senior Bowl, which could cause his stock to dip from the second round to the third round. He’s likely pigeonholed as a 3-4 rush linebacker at the next level and doesn’t have the quick-twitch or the strength needed to be a 4-3 defensive end in the NFL.
10. OLB Telvin Smith – Florida State – Senior – 6-3, 218 – 4.52Smith is an incredible athlete with blazing speed, but he has a lanky frame and could use some added bulk to withstand a pounding in the run game at the NFL level. Smith saw playing time in all four years at Florida State, but emerged as a starter in 2013, recording 90 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, four passes defensed, three interceptions, including two for a touchdown, two sacks and two forced fumbles. During his Seminoles career Smith recorded 214 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 11 passes defensed, seven sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. The Bucs like his ability to drop in coverage, his speed in pursuit, his versatility to rush the passer and his fiery leadership style. Smith did allegedly fail a drug test and that could push his stock down into the third or fourth round.
BEST OF THE REST11. ILB Shayne Skov – Stanford – Senior – 6-2, 245 – 4.90Skov is still recovering from a torn ACL in 2012 and hasn’t recaptured his speed. He is a smart, instinctive, nasty linebacker with a nose for the football and a hard-hitting style. This third-round pick is likely best suited to play ILB in a 3-4 scheme.
12. OLB Christian Jones – Florida State – Senior – 6-3, 240 – 4.76Jones is an incredible athlete that played middle linebacker and defensive end as a senior, but transitions to outside linebacker in the NFL. Jones can blitz and had a great performance at the Senior Bowl and will likely be a fourth-round pick.
13. OLB Trevor Reilly – Utah – Senior – 6-5, 245 – 4.66A fast 40-time at his pro day really upped his draft stock. He’s played both defensive end and outside linebacker, but projects as a 3-4 OLB in the NFL due to his pass rushing skills (20.5 sacks) and ability to force fumbles (eight).
14. OLB Jordan Tripp – Montana – Senior – 6-3, 234 – 4.67Tripp is a great athlete who lacks good instincts, but has good speed and decent size. There is a concern that he could be too much of a workout warrior rather than a football player. Tripp should be drafted no later than the fourth round.
15. OLB Jordan Zumwalt – UCLA – Senior – 6-4, 235 – 4.75Big linebacker can play inside or outside. He has a nasty demeanor and a reputation for being a hard hitter. Zumwalt is a pretty good coverage linebacker, too, and would be a steal in the fourth round.
16. MLB Preston Brown – Louisville – Senior – 6-1, 251 – 4.78Had a nice senior season with 98 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Brown is limited athletically, but is stout against the run. He has a chance to be drafted in the fourth round due to his NFL size.
17. MLB Brock Croyle – Montana – Senior – 6-1, 235 – 4.60Was snubbed by the NFL Scouting Combine, but had a good pro day, running a fast 40-time and benching 25 reps of 225 pounds. Led the Grizzlies with 125 tackles in 2013 and had 107 stops as a junior.
18. OLB Christian Kirksey – Iowa – Senior – 6-2, 233 – 4.68The versatile Kirksey has averaged over 100 tackles in each of the last three years at Iowa. He’s made his share of splash plays with 5.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and four interceptions, including two for touchdowns. He projects as a fourth-rounder.
19. MLB Lamin Barrow – LSU – Senior – 6-1, 237 – 4.64The Bucs like the speedy Barrow, who was the captain of LSU’s defense, and met with him both at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine. Barrow, who figures to be a fifth-round pick, makes a lot of drag-down tackles and could be a harder hitter.
20. OLB Khairi Fortt – Junior – California – 6-2, 242 – 4.70Fortt, a former Penn State star, has great a great size-speed combination, but should have stayed in school for one more year. Bucs should have great intel on him as he played next to Hardy Nickerson, Jr. at Cal.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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