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Jags will have to fit linebacker need to pick


The Jaguars have a distinct need at linebacker, but this year's crop of linebackers is said to be distinctly void of talent.

Northwestern's Napoleon Harris is expected to be the only true linebacker drafted in the first round. Alabama-Birmingham's Bryan Thomas and Syracuse's Dwight Freeney are defensive ends who may end up playing linebacker in a 3-4 type defensive scheme in the NFL.

UCLA's Robert Thomas, Alabama's Saleem Rasheed, North Carolina State's Levar Fisher and Washington State's Raonall Smith are second-round candidates, but that may be mostly the result of need-picking.

Harris, 6-3, 255, has the kind of size-speed ratio befitting a star player, but he did not enjoy the best of senior seasons. That is said to be the result of having played out of position. Harris' true worth is as an outside linebacker who rushes the passer and uses his 4.5 speed to chase the ball. He will be long gone by the time the Jaguars pick in the second round.

Thomas, 6-0, 233, is another in a line of undersized, run-around linebackers who may be limited to the weakside position. Speed is Thomas' strength.

Rasheed, 6-3, 229, is big, athletic and fast but lacks natural coverage abilities. He will also have to play the weakside linebacker position.

Fisher has been productive and durable but is also undersized. He's bigger than the Jags' Eric Westmoreland, and Fisher has true closing speed, but he can be swallowed up by blockers.

Smith, 6-2, 242, is super fast and athletic, but his talents have not translated into on-the-field production. Some team will fall in love with his workout numbers and make him a higher pick than his college production should command.

If you're looking for a linebacker who fits the Jaguars' need at the first spot at which they might consider drafting a linebacker, Kansas State's Ben Leber is your man. Leber, 6-3, 244, is big enough, fast enough and skilled enough in pass-coverage to play the strongside position . Leber is out of a super-disciplined program and his intangibles are top-notch. The only knock on Leber is that he is not especially athletic or instinctive. Coughlin will undoubtedly fall in love with Leber's coachability, and that could make Leber the Jaguars' need pick at linebacker in the third round.

Rocky Calmus of Oklahoma, David Thornton of North Carolina and Ben Taylor of Virginia Tech are also first-day-of-the-draft candidates at outside linebacker.

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