There haven’t been a ton of good 4-3 LB prospects in recent years. The 2012 draft looks to be different. Here’s a few guys to keep your eyes on as the season rolls along. There is no particular order. The bigger names are up top, but I’ve not begun to seriously sort through who should go where. Still early for that. The focus here is on 4-3 players so you won’t see Alabama’s Donta Hightower or Courtney Upshaw, even though they are clearly outstanding LBs.
Vontaze Burfict – Arizona State – 6’3, 250 — Great highlight player. Does things that make your jaw hit the floor. Has periods where he looks pedestrian. Lacks great instincts. Downhill player that is best on the attack. Might be best suited to a 3-4, but has the potential to be a good 4-3 MLB if he continues to get better at the little things. Very good athlete. Only a Junior.
Manti Te’o – Notre Dame – 6’2, 255 — Plays ILB for the Irish. Could play MLB in the NFL, but might work as an OLB as well. Good athlete. Powerful guy. Lacks great instincts. More of a “see ball, get ball” type. In his 3rd year as a starter. Playing his best football, but still hasn’t fully realized his potential. Good player, but not dominant. Only a Junior.
Zach Brown – North Carolina – 6’2, 230 — Great athlete. Meant to be a WLB. Let him stay off the ball and use his speed to run around and make plays.
Luke Kuechly – Boston College – 6’3, 235 — Tackling machine. Leads the nation in tackles. 3-year starter. Great instincts. Good enough athlete, but nothing special. Does solid job of shedding blocks. Takes great angles to the ball. Anticipates plays well. Doesn’t have the speed that everyone would want in a MLB. Only a Junior.
Audie Cole – NC State – 6’5, 239 — Classic SAM LB. Big guy with good skills. Can cover TEs. Has played some MLB due to injury. Isn’t natural in there, but has been productive. Solid athlete.
Sean Spence – Miami – 6’0, 225 — 4-year starter and a tackle machine. Plays WLB. Undersized, but has good motor and runs very well. Won’t fit every team due to size, but can be a good player in the right system. One downside is that he’s not been more of a playmaker. Tons of starts, but only 1 INT, 3 FFs in his career.
Tank Carder – TCU – 6’3, 237 — Plays ILB in TCU’s 4-2-5 system. Could play MLB in the NFL, but also could play SAM/WIL. Good size. Looks like solid athlete. More playmaker than tackling machine. In his 3rd year as starter. 3 INTs, 1 FF, 18 passes defensed, 21.5 TFLs.
Travis Lewis – Oklahoma – 6’2, 233 — 4-year starter and maybe the most productive LB in the nation in that time. 8 career picks. 28 TFLs. Meant to be OLB. Can be physical player, but isn’t meant to play the middle. Tackling is a bit sloppy. Too high at times. Team leader. Looks to be a solid athlete. Best fit should be WIL, but could play SAM in some systems.
Lavonte David – Nebraska – 6’0, 228 — Former JC transfer hit Nebraska on the run in 2010 and has been an impact player in his 2 years. Undersized and that will hurt his value. Could be good WLB in the right system. Isn’t meant to deal with blockers. Tough, productive player. Good tackler. Leader.
Danny Trevathan – Kentucky – 6’1, 230 — Classic WLB. Covers well. Runs well. Tackling machine. Has potential as a playmaker. Only has 1 INT, but has 8 FFs and 265. TFLs. Good athlete.
Bobby Wagner – Utah State – 6’1, 232 — Another tackling machine type. I need to watch more tape of him. Watched one game this year and was completely unimpressed at times, but for parts of the game he looked good.
Kenny Tate – Maryland – 6’4, 220 — Mystery player. Played S/LB hybrid in the past and was an impact player. New coach Randy Edsall made him a full-time LB and Tate has struggled. Does have 2 INTs, 1 FF this year so you can see he still has playmaker skills. Some teams might see him as SAM because of frame. Other teams will want his speed at WIL. Could be some teams will want him as SS, but I think he’s meant to play in the box no matter what you call him.
James-Michael Johnson – Nevada – 6’2, 240 — Has played OLB and MLB. Has some playmaking ability. A player I haven’t studied thoroughly.
JK Schaffer – Cincinnati – 6’1, 232 — Interesting player. Watched him vs NC State. Had a nice INT in the game. Looked to be a smart player. Plays MLB. Good production. 7 career INTs. Need to study him more to get a better feel for how he sheds blocks and deals with a strong running team.
Keenan Robinson – Texas – 6’3, 235 — MLB stood out to me in 2010, but has been somewhat quiet in 2011. Looked very good at times last year. I expected him to be a major player this year. Hasn’t happened so far.
Tahir Woodhead – Temple – 6’2, 228 — Interesting guy. Has some playmaking ability. Athletic guy with good closing speed. Doesn’t look like a good run defender. Probably meant to be a WLB and stay off the ball.
Chris Galippo – USC – 6’2, 250 — Big guy, but I’m not sure if he’s athletic enough to start in the NFL. Shows flashes of ability. Has 5 career picks. For a big guy who should control the middle well, he isn’t in on that many tackles. Has 11 solo tackles in 5 games this year. Luke Kuechly has had that many in a half.
Chris Marve – Vanderbilt – 6’0, 242 — Another guy that I need to study more. Watched a bit of him and see some NFL potential. Vandy has a new Defensive Coordinator this year and Marve seems to be liking it. He’s on pace to have his best season.
The list isn’t complete. There are some other good LBs out there. We’re just halfway through the season. A few more names will pop up in the next couple of months.