A deep crop of outside linebackers will tempt the Jaguars on the first day of this year's draft. Texas' Derrick Johnson figures to be a top-10 pick, but the next-best linebacker prospect may be available when the Jaguars go on the clock with the 21st overall selection.
"It's the best crop of outside linebackers in five or six years," jaguars.com draft analyst Tony Pauline said. "It's very good on the outside; a lot of good three-down defenders and a lot of versatility in guys who can play strongside or weakside, and guys who project well in a 3-4."
The inside position, however, is not as strong. "There's no Jonathan Vilma," Pauline said.
Johnson, 6-4, 235, is a superior athlete who runs a 4.6 and has the ability to play on the outside in a 4-3 or inside in a 3-4. He's big, forceful and explosive in any direction. He has great range, is good on the blitz and excellent in coverage. The only knock on Johnson is that he tends to arrive late on some tackles, the result of taking bad angles and employing too many steps. That can be expected to go away as Johnson is influenced by pro coaches.
Darryl Blackstock, 6-4, 240, has been compared to Lawrence Taylor by Virginia coach Al Groh. Blackstock is good in the box and shows skills in coverage. He's a perfect fit for a 3-4 but has impact skills that can be utilized as a strongside linebacker in a 4-3. Blackstock makes a lot of plays up the field and has top blitz potential. He ran a 4.73 at the scouting combine and figures to be a late-first round prospect.
The same goes for Tennessee's Kevin Burnett, 6-3, 235, a weakside linebacker in a 4-3. Burnett is fast, physical and blows up plays. He makes a lot of plays at the line of scrimmage but can also cover. He has 4.6 speed despite a severe knee injury three years ago. The rap on Burnett is that he's not always willing to fly around the ball. He's a late-first or early-second round prospect.
Troy State's Demarcus Ware, 6-4, 232, is an amazing specimen. A college defensive end, Ware has the athletic ability to make the move to strongside linebacker in the pros. He ran a 4.6 at the combine, where he turned in a great workout. He was also outstanding at the Senior Bowl and figures to go early in the second round. The only concern is for his ability to read and diagnose in space.
Florida's Channing Crowder, 6-2, 241, is the best of the middle linebackers. He makes a lot of plays against the run and against the pass. Crowder is fast to the sideline and excels on coverage units. He ran a 4.7 at his pro day and will be selected early in the second round.
Southern Miss' Michael Boley, 6-3, 218, is one of the top weakside prospects in the draft. Boley has great range, is outstanding in space and makes plays in pursuit. He's not big and sturdy against run but can be used in nickel situations. Boley ran a 4.66 at the combine but plays faster. He'll go late in the second round.
Odell Thurman, 6-1, 225, of Georgia is an undersized guy who projects at weakside. He's an explosive player who makes plays to either side of the field. Thurman might be better in a 3-4 because of size limitations. He stands out on film and ran a 4.79 at the combine. He's a late-second round prospect.
Jonathan Welsh, 6-4, 231, was a defensive end at Wisconsin. He's an outstanding athlete and ran a scintillating 4.64 at the combine. Welsh was rarely used in space at Wisconsin but showed those abilities at the combine. He'll be somewhat of a project as a strongside linebacker, which should force him into the third round.
Jordan Beck, 6-2, 231, of Cal Poly won the Buck Buchanan Award as Division I-AA's top defensive player. Beck can play inside or outside, in a 4-3 or 3-4. He is super smart, a great leader, outstanding in pass-defense and makes plays on balls in the air. He ran a 4.62 and turned in a 41-inch vertical jump at the combine. Great combine and pro-day workouts have Beck zooming up boards, though the level of competition will probably restrict him to the third round.
Barrett Ruud, 6-2, 240, was one of the few good things about Nebraska football last season. Ruud is smart and instinctive. He's good against the run and very efficient. He lacks size and speed, which figures to drop him into the third round.
Kirk Morrison, 6-2, 240, of San Diego State is a top run-defender; a tackling machine who was the best player in the Mountain West Conference last season. He's a pure middle linebacker but showed coverage ability at the Senior Bowl no one thought he had, which includes versatility in his resume. Morrison ran a 4.7 and may be best-suited to play inside linebacker in a 3-4. He's a late-third round prospect.
Tony Pauline is the publisher of tfydraftpreview.com, the internet's number one site for year-round coverage of the NFL Draft.