2014 NFL Draft Positional Preview (Outside Linebackers)

By Nick Paulenich

Special to Pro Football Guru

Courtesy of NFL draft writer Nick Paulenich, here is the fourth 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, defensive ends and inside linebackers available in this year’s upcoming draft.

Part 4: Outside Linebackers.

Overview:

This year’s outside linebacker position is a good place to find value. Although three outside linebackers may come off the board in the first round, there were be plenty of quality options in the second- and third-rounds.  

The class is led by Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, who should be gone within the first five picks. If this happens, he will become the first Buffalo player ever to be drafted in the first round.

Next up is UCLA’s Anthony Barr. Barr is a polarizing player, with experts either really high on his potential or scared off by his lack of experience at the position.

Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier has been climbing draft boards this postseason. He is often compared to Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David, who has a similar lean build. The breakdown:

1. Khalil Mack, 6-2 5/8, 251 lbs., Buffalo

Mack got his 2013 season off to a roaring start by dominating at Ohio State. Against the Buckeyes, Mack returned an interception for a touchdown while recording nine tackles and 2.5 sacks. He capped off the 2013 season by being named Second-team All-American. Mack was named First-team All-MAC the last three seasons. He finished 2013 with 10.5 sacks, three interceptions and 100 tackles.

Strengths: Has great burst off the edge and is athletic, quick, and plays hard. Can beat blockers in a variety of ways and changes direction well.  

Weaknesses: Needs to improve range and instincts. Will make big jump in competition level.

Projection: Top-5 overall pick

2. Anthony Barr, 6-4 7/8, 255 lbs., UCLA

Barr is fairly new to the position after switching from running back in 2012. Barr became a Second-team All-American his first season on defense. This past season, he was a First-team All-American selection. Barr had 23.5 sacks in 27 games on defense. He ran a 4.45 at his Pro Day as opposed to the 4.66 40 at the Combine.

Strengths: Is very athletic. Possesses explosiveness, quick feet and an ability to play in coverage.

Weaknesses: Continuing to learn the nuances of the position.

Projection: Top-20 overall pick

3. Ryan Shazier, 6-2 1/4, 237 lbs., Ohio State

Shazier was First-team All-Big Ten the past two seasons and earned First-team All-American honors in 2013. Shazier was a tackling-machine, racking up 143 tackles in 2013 and 115 in 2012. He had an amazing 22.5 tackles for losses in 2013. Shazier ran 4.36 seconds in the 40 at his Pro Day. 

Strengths: Is a long, fluid and fast athlete. Has good coverage skills and the ability to finish plays.  

Weaknesses: Needs to bulk up more and improve strength.

Projection: Late first-round pick

4. Kyle Van Noy, 6-3 1/8, 243 lbs., BYU

Van Noy was a Third-team All-American in 2012. Van Noy, a three-year starter, finished his career with five defensive touchdowns and 27 career sacks (13 in 2012). He also had 17.5 tackles for losses in 2013.

Strengths: Has good technique, range, leverage and nose for the ball. Plays hard.  

Weaknesses: Needs to improve strength as well as avoiding getting out of position at times.

Projection: Second-round pick

5. Jeramiah Attaochu, 6-3 1/4, 252 lbs., Georgia Tech

Attaochu, who was born in Nigeria, was a Third-team All-American in 2013. He had a total of 22.5 sacks in his junior and senior seasons (he is the Yellow Jackets all-time sack leader). Attaochu tore his hamstring at the Senior Bowl but recovered to put on a strong showing at his Pro Day.

Strengths: Can play as either as defensive end or outside linebacker. Has a very aggressive playing style, athletic, good pursuit, good hands, worth ethic and football intelligence.

Weaknesses: Needs to smooth out the rough edges to play linebacker. Has to improve technique and play in coverage.

Projection: Second-round pick

Others to Watch: Carl Bradford, Arizona State; Adrian Hubbard, Alabama; Trent Murphy, Stanford; Telvin Smith, Florida State; Jordan Tripp, Montana

Small-School Sleepers: Tyler Starr, South Dakota; Tripp

Next up: Safeties

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