When new Miami personnel boss Bill Parcells looks at Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston, Parcells might see the next Lawrence Taylor. That has some people thinking Parcells might make Gholston the first pick of this year's NFL draft.
Gholston, 6-3, 266, of Ohio State is being ranked among defensive linemen by some draftniks and as a linebacker by others, including jaguars.com's Tony Pauline. "He's likely to be a Lawrence Taylor, John Abraham type," Pauline said. "He'll have his hand on the ground sometimes and he'll be standing at other times."
This year's crop of linebackers is a dream come true for 3-4 teams. Tweeners abound.
"There aren't a lot of complete linebackers. You have a lot of undersized college defensive ends who are going to project outside in a 3-4. You have ends that are going to have to learn to make plays in reverse instead of pinning their ears back and making plays up the field," Pauline said.
Gholston leads the way. He's an explosive up-the-field rusher who's fluid, athletic and ran 4.68 at the combine and 4.58 at his pro day.
"He plays to that speed," Pauline said. "He can rush wide and change direction. He gets off blocks and is very active. Everyone is looking for the next Merriman and you may have him in Gholston."
USC's Keith Rivers, 6-2, 241, is a productive, athletic and explosive outside linebacker who runs in the 4.65 range and did 24 reps at the combine. He's a run-and-hit guy who may have to play weakside linebacker because he lacks the girth to play the strong side. Rivers' playing weight is closer to 230. He's great in space, adept in coverage and makes plays sideline to sideline. Pauline figures Rivers to be selected in the middle of round one.
Dan Connor, 6-2, 231, is a "typical Penn State linebacker: smart, tough, hard-working. He's a blue collar guy who flies around the ball," Pauline said. Connor is strong against the run and plays bigger than his size. He didn't run at the combine but was timed at 4.73 in last year's spring timing day. Some see Connor as a 4-3 outside backer and others see him as a 3-4 inside guy.
Jerod Mayo, 6-1, 242, of Tennessee is a fast-rising guy after a surprisingly strong combine workout. Mayo is a run-stuffing middle linebacker with 4.55 speed and a 40.5-inch vertical jump. He plays big, defeats blocks and is a sure tackler. He could move up inside the top 20 picks on the strength of his combine.
Virginia Tech's Xavier Adibi, 6-1, 232, is very athletic but slow to react. He's best in pursuit and in coverage in space. If he can eliminate the hesitation in his game, he has the tools to be a top outside linebacker. He ran a 4.69 at the combine and is a mid to late-second round prospect.
Vanderbilt middle linebacker Jonathan Goff, 6-2, 245, is another guy on the rise. Goff is a dominant run-defender but only a two-down player. He had a strong combine; ran in the 4.6's and did 28 reps. He's a mid to late-second round prospect.
Erin Henderson, 6-2, 244, of Maryland flashes talent but is betrayed by inconsistency. The brother of E.J. Henderson, Erin was a tackling machine at Maryland; a lot of quiet stats. He needs to make a greater impact and he has the talent to do it. Henderson ran 4.7 at the combine and is a late-second round prospect.
Cliff Avril, 6-3, 253, was out of position at Purdue the last two seasons. He played outside linebacker as a sophomore and showed skill. As a defensive end the past two years, he took one for the team. Avril's 4.56 40 speed makes him a natural outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Georgia's Marcus Howard, 6-1, 237, came out of nowhere as a senior. As an undersized defensive end, Howard made plays up the field and is going to excite a 3-4 team with his 4.45 at the combine. Howard will be thrust into a rush-backer role and told to rush the quarterback. He's a late-second round pick.
Bo Bell, 6-1, 244, of UNLV is an athletic and rugged run-defending middle linebacker. His marginal coverage skills will limit him to a two-down role but a fast 40 time and personal workout could shoot his stock up. Bell has yet to run after spraining his knee at the Senior Bowl. He's due to run at his personal workout on March 31. For now, he's a third-round prospect.