Something less than a deep crop of linebackers awaits the Jaguars in next week's NFL 2001 draft. The big question is: Will the Jaguars use their first-round selection, 13th overall, on Miami middle linebacker Dan Morgan?
Morgan is the cream of the linebacker crop. He is the toughest of the tough guys; a player who has dedicated his life to football. Morgan is productive and durable, and the only question concerning his future in professional football would seem to involve athletic ability that is thought to be marginal for the lofty spot at which the Jaguars will be selecting.
Is Morgan as good as he's going to get? That's the question the Jaguars have to answer. Morgan fits a need, but does he fit the pick?
At least five other inside linebackers are expected to be first-day-of-the-draft picks: Georgia's Kendrell Bell, Oklahoma's Torrance Marshall, Western Illinois' Edgerton Hartwell, Vanderbilt's Jamie Winborn and Nebraska's Carlos Polk.
Bell is fast, athletic and offers big-hitter and blitzer qualities. However, he's smallish for the middle and will probably have to move to the weak side, but isn't adept at pass-coverage.
Marshall was the star of Oklahoma's national championship defense. He is a gifted athlete with great speed and instincts. He has the size to play the middle. The only rap on him is his learning curve at the position.
Hartwell is a no-name who dominated at a lower level. He has the size and speed to be a big-time player. His intangibles will attract a team in the late-second or third round.
Winborn was ultra-productive in Vanderbilt's rugged defensive scheme. He is short, fast and intense, and has been compared to Mike Singletary.
Polk has been moving up the boards. He has the size and speed to be an impact player at middle linebacker, but he's limited in pass-coverage.
At outside linebacker, seven players carry first-day grades: Florida State's Tommy Polley, North Carolina's Sedrick Hodge, Arkansas' Quinton Caver, Fresno's Orlando Huff, Tennessee's Eric Westmoreland, Syracuse's Morlon Greenwood and USC's Markus Steele.
Polley has trouble keeping his weight up and has a major knee injury in his past. Otherwise, he is a superb all-around athlete with top speed and the ability to be a player of impact.
Hodge has great size and speed, but is not the most physical of players.
Caver is long and lanky and looks more like a pass-rusher than a take-on-blocks linebacker. He'll attract a team with his pass-rush and pass-coverage skills.
Huff, no relation to Sam, has the body of a middle backer. He looks like he can do it all, which gives him great upside, but he wasn't always at his best on a lower level of competition.
Westmoreland is smallish but fast and fiery. He lacks the size to take on blockers, but he can run with backs. He's destined for the weak side.
Greenwood is as fast as they come for a short, stout linebacker. He has all of the intangibles and could become a great special teams player.
Steele was given number 55 at USC, where Junior Seau, Willie McGinest and Chris Claiborne wore the same number. Steele is a great athlete but doesn't yet fit into the Seau and company category. He's smallish and lacks power, but his speed is too good to pass up.
The Jaguars are expected to spend a high pick on a linebacker, and they may dip back into the crop in the later rounds.
Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.