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Willis tops linebacker crop

5920.jpg previews the 2007 NFL draft in an eight-part series. Part VI features the linebackers.

A nice mixture of inside, outside and middle linebackers will offer something for everybody in this year's NFL draft.

Want a classic, 4-3 middle linebacker? Patrick Willis (pictured) is your guy.

How about a traditional 4-3 outside linebacker? Paul Posluszny is the man.

The 3-4 is your defense? Don't fret because there are several linebackers perfectly-suited to make the transition.

Willis is likely to be the first linebacker selected. The 6-1, 242 Ole Miss product is a run-stuffer extraordinaire. Willis is smart, explosive and plays bigger than his size. He recently ran a 4.45 at his personal workout. Though he wasn't used as a blitzer in college, he should be able to make plays up the field in the pro game. Willis will go off the board by the middle of round one.

Penn State's Paul Posluszny, 6-1, 238, offers versatility. He's perfect as a 4-3 outside guy, but he can play inside in a 3-4. He's a high-revving, intense competitor with great instincts and intellect. Posluszny anticipates plays before they unfold, plays hard and makes plays up the field. He was a combine star who ran 4.7, then 4.6 at his pro day. Posluszny, who Jack Ham calls the greatest linebacker in Penn State history, had a top Senior Bowl performance and is likely to be selected in the second half of round one.

Outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, 6-1, 234, is a top athlete with sideline-to-sideline range and shows force at the point of attack. He was a one-year starter at Florida State, so he's considered to have major upside. His game needs refinement. He ran a 4.7 and will go late in round one.

Jon Beason, 6-0, 237, of Miami is another solid athlete who makes plays in all directions. Beason is explosive and takes good angles to the ball. He's an aggressive outside linebacker who ran a 4.81 at the combine on a sore knee. He's likely to go early in round two.

David Harris, 6-2, 243, could turn out to be the steal of the draft. Harris was the quiet leader of a Michigan defense that was so laden with talent that it's causing some scouts to think they fed off each other and may be overrated. That kind of thinking could cause Harris to go later than he should. He's best as an inside guy in a 3-4. He's strong against the run; a complete player who ran a 4.64 at the combine. draft analyst Tony Pauline thinks Harris could have the earliest and most lasting impact of all the Michigan players. "Immediate starting potential," said Pauline, president of Harris figures to go off the board in the middle of the second round.

Florida's Brandon Siler, 6-1, 241, is a big, strong, intimidating defender who makes his presence felt. He shows a lot of playing strength and is aggressive. Siler is a disciplined, assignment-football defender who's best in the tackle box. He doesn't make plays up the field. He ran a 4.7 and is predicted for late in the second round.

Stewart Bradley, 6-3, 254, of Nebraska will be best as an inside guy in a 3-4. He's big, strong, sturdy and forces the action. Bradley defeats blockers to get to the ball carrier, plays heads-up football and runs a 4.75. His downside is that he's limited in pass coverage and struggles over the tight end. He's a late-second round guy.

Quincy Black, 6-1, 235, of New Mexico is a fabulous athlete who offers great range. Black makes plays in all directions. He's explosive and flashes on the scene. He can be an every-downs guy but won't go until the third round, despite having run a 4.51. The knock on Black is that he's undersized and has trouble getting off blocks. He tends to play out of control and is a better athlete than player.

Penn State's Tim Shaw, 6-1, 236, is the fastest-rising guy in the draft. Shaw had a fantastic combine. He opened eyes by running in the high 4.4's, then ran in the low 4.4's at his pro day.

"This is a prospect on the rise," said Pauline. "He's a smart, hard-working guy who is good in pursuit and plays with discipline."

The knock on Shaw is that he was used as a rush linebacker and rarely made plays in reverse. That could cause him to fall into the third round, where Shaw could become a "steal" selection.

Antwan Barnes, 6-0, 240, of Florida International is an intriguing project. Barnes is a sensational athlete who will have to make the transition from college defensive end to pro outside linebacker. He ran in the high 4.4's at the combine and flashes sideline-to-sideline range. Figure him to go in the third or fourth round.

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