2018 Draft: Linebacker Rankings


For reference, my thoughts on 2017’s class can be found here.

Additionally, my top 10, pre-Combine “rankings” can be found here.

Lastly, I highlighted what I deemed as the Raiders’ “top needs” heading into the draft over here.

What does Oakland do?

You’ll see the timeline screaming for the Raiders to draft a linebacker at 10 overall before almost any other player or position. The thirst is real. To an extent, I get it.

Oakland’s second level of defense is annually torched by tight ends and the like, and at some point, enough’s enough.

The problem is, we know how general manager-by-title Reggie McKenzie feels about the position. In fact, his valuation isn’t uncommon across the league. The linebacker spot just isn’t seen as valuable and as such, we’re accustomed to late-Day 2, and normally, Day 3 selections. I largely expect that to continue. Jon Gruden might have something to say about all of this of course, but let’s work off of what we know at the moment., especially given the needs elsewhere on the roster.

Roquan Smith is a special talent, and one that should even be available at 10 overall. Oakland has already brought in free agent linebacker Tahir Whitehead, formally of the Lions. Additionally, NaVorro Bowman is still on the market, and it wouldn’t surprise if he’s back in the middle for one or two more years when all is said and done. Reports are that Gruden and key staff members are at least intrigued by some of the younger names at the position currently on the roster (i.e. Cory James, Nicholas Morrow).

Long story short: I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they punt the position once more, even if it means passing on someone like the Georgia linebacker.

This year’s class:

Player’s to note:

Roquan Smith may be the best off-ball prospect since Luke Kuechly. I know he’s better than the Alabama linebacker from last year, and we had these takes floating around pre-domestic violence case, mind you. Think Lavonte David and/or Debo Jones. Smith is an athlete, and an absolute menace in space. He’s everywhere. Leader.

We know the story about Tremaine Edmunds. He’s super-young, with a super-high ceiling to match. Once he gets in an NFL weight room, things could get scary. There are some lapses, as he would normally skate by off traits alone, but his athleticism and upside makes the hype understandable. He’s just built differently, and teams will covet that early as such. You can play him anywhere at the second level.

I think Rashaan Evans is closer to the names that top this list. I’m probably higher on him than the consensus, and ranking him over the Boise State product will probably be hot take-y for some. You saw the growth in 2017; one of the better players in and around traffic. Just a dependable playmaker. Combine surprised (disappointed), but Evans is one of the names where you have to simply “trust the tape” and believe in the ascension. He’s going to contribute immediately.

Jerome Baker‘s going to get those Darron Lee-comparisons and all the concerns that come along with it. I definitely have a type. Plus-athlete who’s solid in coverage and reacting in the open field. In today’s game, we want linebacker who can cover. Underrated tackler. Despite the size, effective in and around the line of scrimmage. He’ll get knocked around occasionally, but he’s tenacious and a factor for all four quarters.

Leighton Vander Esch has seen his stock steady-rise for months now. He’s going to be hard to ignore off looks alone. Not quite a top 32 player for me (but I get it); only one season as a starter. Despite the size, struggled through traffic (although his processing and awareness is notable); play-strength question marks. I think early-Day 2 is fair, but calling him the LB5 may look a little foolish down the road if things quickly come together for him. Last year’s production was elite, while also being the owner of a 97th percentile SPARQ score.

Genard Avery made some serious coin at the Combine. While he’s not a Vander Esch-level athlete, an 87th percentile SPARQ score will do just fine. Avery looks like a throwback linebacker. He’s rocked up, but obviously moves around effortlessly on the field (4.5 speed). His production during his time at Memphis is solid (20+ career sacks, 40+ career tackles for loss). We’re focused on coverage ability in linebackers, and that’s the “hole” in Avery’s currently game. My projection here is based on his test scores, in the hopes that can translate to other aspects of his game going forward. We’ve seen him drop his hips and move sideline-to-sideline.

Malik Jefferson was once touted as the “linebacker to look forward to”, and penciled into every first round mock and big board entering the 2017-2018 season. Unfortunately, the production and impact never quite matched the athleticism and hype. He’s moved between inside and outside spots, so perhaps a set role will benefit him the most moving forward? There are worse ways to spend a Day 2 selection.

Is there a better story in this year’s draft than Central Florida’s Shaquem Griffin? His impact rushing the passer, and production in general, was more than notable last year. He should hear his name called at some point on Day 2, despite any sort of “physical limitations” some may want to label him with. I read an interesting Su’a Cravens comparison.

What do we do with Jack Cichy? In 2017, had he remained healthy and declared, I’d have no issue putting his name right up there with players like Reuben Foster. The story is more or less the same this year, as I still think highly of the former Badger (he would’ve again been in the top three conversation), but the health questions followed once more. My “grade” is based on talent, but we have to be realistic given what we do know from the medical side. He’s a dice-roll, but one I’d be comfortable with as early as the 4th, given the potential.

Keeping the “my guy” flow going, Tegray Scales still feels somewhat underrated to me. His production in 2015 was some of the best from a linebacker. For reference, Genard Avery logged 22 tackles for loss in 2017. The Indiana product had 24 in 2016. Also tacked on 8 career interceptions. He’s labeled as “undersized” for most (my type, right?), but working downhill was no issue. Instincts and ability to read/react are top of the class.

If my Vander Esch grade didn’t throw you for a loop, perhaps my projection for Iowa’s Josey Jewell is the knockout punch. Athletically, he’s not quite there (4.8 speed) but in his defense, that hasn’t really limited him to this point. I imagine that becomes a bigger crutch at the next level, but he’s also proven to be one of the more savvy players at the position during his collegiate career. He brings that throwback mentality to the game. Relentless downhill; surprisingly not limited in coverage (anticipation is there).

Fred Warner, Oren Burks, and Dorian O’Daniel – the latter being the smaller of the three – all excel in coverage. Today’s NFL is a passing league. We don’t have to review this here. Both Warner and Burks, notably Burks, are strong athletes for their position. Same can be said for Matthew Thomas, checking in with a 98th percentile SPARQ score, which is obviously nutty. Point being is that it’s a good year for team’s who are looking to add bodies at linebacker. While I think there’s a drop-off after the initial handful of names, the depth throughout this year’s class is very solid. There will be several players who should stick long-term, and may even find themselves thrust into notable work early on.

Catch me on Twitter: @StillRyanFive


1 thought on “2018 Draft: Linebacker Rankings

  1. It feels as if you are reading my mind. I wrote a post wh Raiders wont draft Roquan Smith a’s nd went into cap mgmt details. I then wrote one I was wrong about Raiders drafting R.Smith…or was I, where I went into the process of rumors and draft strategies. I’m a little higher on Vander Esch and slightly less on Evan’s, basically switch em…but cichy all of them I like. Cichy would fit well as double a gap lb Vikes supposedly very interested so should we.

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