2014 NFL Draft Positional Preview (Inside Linebackers)

By Nick Paulenich

Special to Pro Football Guru

Courtesy of NFL draft writer Nick Paulenich, here is the third in our series of positional previews for the 2014 NFL Draft. Nick’s rankings will include the Top 5 project players at each position. So far, Nick has previewed the top defensive tackles and defensive ends available this May.

Part 3: Inside Linebackers.

Overview:  This year’s inside linebacker class lacks depth with Alabama’s C.J. Mosley being the only first-round prospect. Wisconsin’s Chris Borland’s lack of size may keep him out of the first round. While Stanford’s Shayne Skov and Connecticut’s Yawin Smallwood have both been battling hamstring injuries this postseason.

With NFL team’s increased emphasis on the passing game, inside linebackers have dropped on draft day in recent years. Only one inside linebacker (Carolina’s Luke Kuechly) has been drafted in the first round since 2011.

Teams often find values in later rounds drafting players like Buffalo’s Kiko Alonso (second round, 2013), Seattle’s Bobby Wagner (second round, 2012) and San Francisco’s NaVorro Bowman (third round, 2010). Aside from Mosley, teams will most likely continue doing their inside linebacker shopping in rounds beyond the first. The breakdown:

1. C.J. Mosley, 6-2, 234 lbs., Alabama

A three-year starter for the Crimson Tide, Mosley is one of the most decorated players in the 2014 draft. The past two seasons he was a First-team All-American selection. Mosley also picked up the Butkus Award for being the nation’s top linebacker.

Strengths:  Is a very fluid player with range and instincts. Can handle tight ends and provide pass coverage. Has ability to locate the ball quickly. 

Weaknesses: Could be perceived to be a little on the small side. Needs to add bulk for next level. 

Projection:  First-round pick

2. Chris Borland, 5-11 1/2, 248 lbs., Wisconsin

Borland earned Second-team All-American honors in 2013. He was also a Three-time First-team All-Big Ten honoree. Borland is often compared to Zach Thomas.

Strengths:  Possesses toughness and non-stop hustle. Has very good instincts and wraps up well.

Weaknesses: Limited both in stature and athleticism. Can struggles at times in man coverage. Has had shoulder issues in the past.

Projection:  Second-round pick

3. Shayne Skov, 6-2 1/4, 245 lbs., Stanford

Skov has battled hamstring issues during the postseason. He did not run the 40 at either the Combine or on Stanford’s Pro Day. Skov was a Third-team All-American in 2013. 

Strengths:  Is a smart, instinctive, and tough player. Can locate the ball quickly and blow up plays. Has good technique.

Weaknesses: Lacks athleticism and fluidness. Has to prevent being overaggressive. Suffered torn ACL in 2011.

Projection:  Third- or fourth-round pick

4. Preston Brown, 6-1 1/4, 251 lbs., Louisville

Brown led the Cardinals with 98 tackles in 2013. He earned Second-team All-AAC conference honors.

Strengths: Possesses ideal length and frame. Is a reliable tackler who can blitz and shed blockers.

Weaknesses: Has limited explosiveness and range. Struggles coming out of back pedal.

Projection: Fourth- or fifth-round pick

5. Yawin Smallwood, 6-2 1/4, 246 lbs., Connecticut

Smallwood, a 2013 Butkus Award finalist, has had a disappointing postseason after injuring his hamstring at the Combine. The injury made Smallwood a limited participant at Connecticut’s Pro Day.

Strengths:  Can blow up plays and blitz. Has ability to shed blocks and locate the ball. Is a fluid athlete with lots of potential.

Weaknesses: Will bite on play action. Needs to work on wrapping up when tackling. Can be caught out of position.

Projection: Fourth- or fifth-round pick

Others to Watch: Lamin Barrow, LSU; Max Bullough, Michigan State; Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky; Christian Jones, Florida State; Avery Williamson, Kentucky;

Small-School Sleepers: Brock Coyle, Montana; Nate Dreiling, Pittsburg State

Next up: Outside Linebackers

Nick Paulenich is an experienced NFL writer and researcher and the founder of The Sports Savant. You can find Nick on Twitter at @npaulenich.