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Top 10 OLB in 2016 NFL Draft – Jaylon Smith The Next Patrick Willis?

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With today’s NFL being such a ‘pass happy’ league, you’re starting to see franchises looking for ‘hybrid’ outside linebackers.

For example, it’s no longer enough for a linebacker to be just good at stopping the run, they need to be able to defend guys in the aerial game as well.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the top ten outside linebackers for the 2016 NFL Draft.

1. Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame – Not only is Jaylon Smith the top outside linebacker of this draft class, he’s arguably the best prospect in general.

Smith has good size at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds and he’s as versatile as anyone in his class. He provides pressure on the edge and he’s capable of being a run stopper in the middle of the field.

However, what truly separates him is his ability to cover in the pass game. On the season, Smith has defended five passes.

2. Myles Jack, UCLA – If not for tearing his meniscus earlier this season, Jack may have been the top linbacker selected, over Smith.

Jack runs a borderline 4.4 and when you combine that with his elite instincts, he has all the makings of being an excellent cover linebacker. The only question is, do teams have enough tape to take him early on draft night?

Bruins head coach, Jim Mora, has his doubts.

“My personal opinion is, he’s a tremendous football player and a tremendous athlete,” Mora stressed. “I think it’s risky to do this. Having been on that side, there’s going to be a lot of speculation as to what he is and where he fits. And as I told Myles on Sunday, NFL teams are very, very conservative, and if there’s any question whatsoever, they’ll pass on you in a heartbeat.”

3. Leonard Floyd, Georgia – It’s a major plus when having someone like Floyd, who’s capable of playing the traditional outside linebacker position, but is also flexible enough to put their hands on the ground at defensive end.

Standing at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Floyd is more than capable of doing both. He’s very explosive at the point of attack and he’s capable of covering tight ends in the open field.

4. Darron Lee, Ohio State – When it comes to pure athleticism at the linebacker position, you won’t find many much better than Lee.

He exploded onto the scene last year, earning freshman All-American honors.

On the flip side, he looks a bit undersized and can have trouble in the middle of the field at times. If he’s able to put on some weight while maintaining his unique athleticism, watch out.

5. Su’a Cravens, USC – This guy is very interesting because he’s a converted hybrid safety to outside linebacker. Cravens added on some weight in the off-season and he appears to be handling it very well.

Some have compared him to to Steelers great Troy Polamalu.

On the year, Cravens has totaled 70 tackles, 5.5 sacks and two interceptions.

6. Scooby Wright, Arizona – Just a season ago, Wright was awarded the Chuck Bednarik and Bronk Nagurski awards, which are awarded to the best defensive player in college football.

When you look at his stats from last year, you’ll see why he deserved everything he received. He totaled 163 tackles, 29 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks.

Unfortunately, similar to Myles Jack, Wright has missed majority of this season due to injury (foot). The only difference is he hasn’t declared for the draft just yet.

7. Jordan Jenkins, Georgia – This senior leader is one of the safest picks at his position because you know exactly what you’re getting.

He’s one of Georgia’s captains, which is very deserving.

Jenkins is listed at 6-foot-3, 253 pounds, but with his 4.63 speed, he’s capable of covering tight ends. With that being said, Jenkins is a guy who may play with his hands on the ground more.

It’ll all depend on the system he goes to at the next level.

8. Joshua Perry, Ohio State – When watching the next Buckeyes game, I challenge you to look at who’s around the football most of the time.

Odds are, when you comeback to me, your answer will be Joshua Perry.

Perry led the Buckeyes in tackles last season with 124 and at his size of 6-foot-2, 252 pounds, he has good range sideline to sideline.

9. Tyler Matakevich, Temple – He may not be the most physical gifted prospect on this list, but no one is going to outwork him.

After watching Temple play, it’s clear that everything runs through him defensively. He is the heart and soul of this unit. On the season, he has 107 tackles, four sacks and five interceptions.

During his recruiting process, big schools overlooked him and it’s caused him to play with a chip on his shoulder ever since.

10. Eric Striker, Oklahoma – There’s a lot of things to like about Striker’s game. When looking at film, Striker seems to always be around the ball and he has the ability to hold his own in zone coverage.

The thing holding him back a bit will be his size.

At the next level, he’ll be limited when it comes to bull rushing opponents and executing spin moves on a consistent basis.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.