The quarterback class in the 2018 NFL Draft is being hyped at epic proportions, and deservedly so. The running back class is being discussed in a similar vein, which makes sense.
But how about this off-ball linebacker class? It’s the best group at that position since at least 2012, when Luke Kuechly, Dont’a Hightower, Mychal Kendricks, Bobby Wagner, Lavonte David, Nigel Bradham, Brandon Marshall, and Danny Trevathan entered the league.
I currently have six off-ball linebackers in my top 50, clearly players I believe can be productive, full-time players at the next level. Let’s closely examine those players in this update.
Read on for a breakdown of the top 50 prospects on my board.
1. Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
2. Derwin James, S, Florida State
3. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
4. Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia: Smith stands in a class by himself in this loaded off-ball linebacker group. His twitchiness and sustained speed help him beat running backs to the corner, he’s active with his hands to beat blocks, and he runs down the field in coverage like an oversized safety.
5. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
6. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
7. Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
8. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
9. Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa
10. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
11. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
12. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
13. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
14. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
15. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OLB, Oklahoma
16. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
17. Taven Bryan, DL, Florida
18. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
19. Vita Vea, DT, Washington
20. Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
21. Isaiah Wynn, OL, Georgia
22. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
23. Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
24. Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP
25. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech: Edmunds is quite a physical specimen and makes tons of plays close to the line of scrimmage because he’s the size of a defensive end — with long arms — at the linebacker position. He’s slow to process routes and play-fakes as a coverage defender but is only 19 years old.
26. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
27. Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State: Like Edmunds, Vander Esch won’t put on a block-shedding clinic anytime soon. However, blockers have a hard time latching onto him because of his deceptive speed at 6-4 and 256 pounds.
28. Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
29. Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
30. Connor Williams, OT, Texas
31. Dorian O’Daniel, OLB, Clemson: O’Daniel often lined up wide in the slot at Clemson and made impact plays on a variety of receiver screens near the perimeter. He’s also a smooth coverage linebacker who had five pass breakups and two interceptions in 2017 and is a deft blitzer. Perfect blend of skills to play linebacker in today’s NFL.
32. Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State
33. Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas
34. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
35. Mike McGinchey, OT, Notre Dame
36. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC
37. Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan
38. Marcell Ateman, WR, Oklahoma State
39. Braden Smith, OG, Auburn
40. Tyrell Crosby, OT, Oregon
41. Holton Hill, CB, Texas
42. James Daniels, C, Iowa
43. Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford
44. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
45. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
46. Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis
47. Billy Price, OL, Ohio State
48. Darius Leonard, LB, South Carolina State: Leonard didn’t run the 40 or do any of the agility drills or jumps at the combine, and he played his collegiate ball at the FCS level, so he’s easy to overlook. On film, he looked like Bobby Wagner against the competition he faced, and he was the best off-ball linebacker at the Senior Bowl. Leonard is a fluid mover and thrives in coverage.
49. Deontay Burnett, WR, USC
50. Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama: Evans is your classic Alabama linebacker in a few ways — ultra-physical play, best between the tackles — but he has good enough change-of-direction ability to make plays in coverage. With quicker play-recognition, he can be an upper-echelon linebacker down the road.