Ed. note—The following is the seventh installment in a nine-part series previewing the 2006 NFL draft. This installment features linebackers.
It could be remembered as the "Year of the Outside Linebacker." If you want one, and the Jaguars clearly do, this is the year to get one.
At the top of the class is Ohio State's A.J. Hawk, 6-1, 245, a player so versatile that he can play outside in a 4-3 or inside in a 3-4. If Hawk was 6-3 or 6-4 he might be the second player chosen. As it is, Hawk is likely to go no later than number five to the Packers or number six to the 49ers.
"He is a great football player," jaguars.com draft analyst Tony Pauline said of Hawk. "Great intensity, productive, smart, flies around to the ball, is solid against the run and outstanding in pass-coverage. He has limited downside risk."
Florida State's Ernie Sims will be the second linebacker selected, probably in the middle of the first round. Sims, 5-11, 231, is a classic weakside linebacker who overcomes a lack of size with tremendous athletic ability and 4.56 speed. He's outstanding against the run and shows the potential to excel in pass-coverage. He has Ray Lewis-like size, explosion and intimidation qualities and could be the Vikings' first-round pick.
Chad Greenway, 6-2, 242, of Iowa is a player the Jaguars would love to see fall to them. Greenway is a consistent play-maker and a natural weakside linebacker. He has keen instincts and is effective against run and pass. Greenway ran a 4.8 at the combine and is likely to go in the early 20's. The Giants like him.
Alabama's DeMeco Ryans, 6-1, 236, could be available when the Jaguars pick and he might be difficult to pass up. Ryans is another weakside player who plays smart – he graduated in seven semesters – and makes plays on a consistent basis. He had a great senior season. The only concern about Ryan is for his smallish size. He has to play in a gap system, which the Jaguars employ.
UTEP's Thomas Howard, 6-3, 239, plays with great speed (4.49) and aggressiveness. He has the disruptive qualities the Jaguars want. Howard showed at the Senior Bowl that he can cover and that shot his stock up. He's a phenomenal athlete but not exactly what you want in body type for an outside linebacker. Howard is tall and thin, doesn't take on blocks and doesn't play to his size. He's the right pick for a team seeking a run-around guy.
Bobby Carpenter, 6-2, 256, of Ohio State could be one of the steals of the draft. Carpenter has good size and speed (4.7) and he plays to both. He's an outside linebacker who can be used with his hand on the ground; has Mike Vrabel qualities. Carpenter is not as polished as Hawk and was somewhat of an under-achiever last season. He broke his foot against Michigan, didn't play in the Fiesta Bowl or the Senior Bowl, which dropped his stock. He's an early-second round pick.
Iowa's Abdul Hodge, 6-1, 236, is the epitome of productivity. Hodge is an every-downs linebacker who would fit best as an inside guy in a 3-4 or at weakside in a 4-3. He's good in all phases, roams sideline to sideline and is good in coverage. He'll probably last until the third round, however, as a result of his smaller stature. He ran a 4.82 at the combine.
Maryland's D'Qwell Jackson, 6-0, 230, is a tremendous run-defender who will be best on the inside in a 3-4. He struggled in pass-coverage at the Senior Bowl but ran a 4.79 at the combine. Jackson is a third-rounder.
Clint Ingram, 6-1, 244, of Oklahoma may be the most underrated linebacker in the draft. He defeats blocks and is good against the run and offers coverage potential. He's a strongside prospect who will go late in the third round.
Georgia Tech's Jerris Wilkinson, 6-3, 233, is likely to be a strongside project. He's a top athlete who played the middle at Tech but will need to move outside in the NFL. Wilkinson ran a 4.68 and has all of the tools to be good in coverage. The problem is that he's done very little of it. A patient team will draft him in the third round.