2018 Draft: Linebacker Watch List

We’re so close to some football, my friends. I’ve gone ahead and laid out preliminary thoughts and “rankings” on the skill positions at this point. You can find those here, here, and here.

I want to touch on some other positions, as well, but in a different format. I’ve seen the “#17for17” hashtag floating around on the timeline and I rather like that approach. I’m starting with linebackers, and hope touch on the ’18 cornerback class, as well.

Below are 17 names I think you should know – or some names that I’m going to be watching closely for one reason or another – heading into the season.

Same disclaimer applies here, as I noted on the watch list pieces linked above, because I know how some of you get with these types of articles:

The names presented below in no particular order. Thoughts and opinions can and will change (dramatically, in some cases) throughout the season.

Jack Cichy, Wisconsin

Redshirt Senior, 6010, 233 lbs.

Jack Cichy was a player that I had a late-Day 1 grade on last season. He suffered a pectoral injury during the Iowa game and in the end, obviously returned to school. It feels like nearly every year, there’s a Badger linebacker worth noting. With Cichy, you’re getting good size and reliable ability in coverage, despite (what I believe is) average athleticism. He’ll look to carry the “he plays faster” flag this year.

Update: Cichy’s lost for the season with an ACL tear. One of the my favorite prospects in this class, as alluded to above. Unfortunate, sad, and frustrating news.

Tegray Scales, Indiana

Senior, 5115, 230 lbs.

One of the better defenders in the country that simply doesn’t get the buzz that he deserves. That should, hopefully, change after this upcoming season. He fills up the box score, which is always fun, leading the nation in tackles for loss last season with a total of 24. He has the prerequisite size and necessary athleticism to play the position at a high level on Sunday’s.

The Indiana product might have some hands, as well.

Travin Howard, Texas Christian

Senior, 6002, 212 lbs.

Travin Howard “looks” and “plays” big, confidently working through the trash at and around the line of scrimmage. You then turn to his measurables, and note that he’s a good bit smaller than most other ‘backers. In 2016, Howard checked in at fifth in the country with 130 total tackles. He’s also fluid enough to operate in coverage. The first team All-Big 12 linebacker is going to have to continue to produce at a high level in order to ease any questions or concerns pertaining to his build.

Micah Kiser, Virginia

Redshirt Senior, 6011, 240 lbs.

The second-team All-American packs a punch. In 2016, Kiser was third in the nation with a total of 133 tackles. He’s the man in the middle, and a player I can see Raiders’ General Manager Reggie McKenzie gravitating toward based off the intangibles alone. He’s a hardworking, humble kid who loves to compete, and be around his teammates. You’ve probably heard McKenzie spit out similar clichés in the recent past.

Ulysees Gilbert III, Akron

Junior, 6002, 225 lbs.

Another Jim Cobern special. From the school that brought you Jatavis Brown, meet Mr. Ulysees Gilbert III (who could take the crown for the best name in the class). Gilbert might also end up being one of the better overall testers at the linebacker position this coming spring. NFL Draft Scout has him with 4.5 speed at 224 pounds. Production is certainly there as well. Only talking point initially will be the conference play, I imagine. The aforementioned speed and athleticism is pretty apparent early on.

Markus Bailey, Purdue

Junior, 6010, 235 lbs.

The Boilmaker just checks boxes. He’s got age on his side, notably, while producing at a consistent clip. He’s not as quick as some of the other linebackers on this list, but he’s an instinctive player who has all the intangibles you look for. If he’s able to keep pace with the level of production that he’s been able to set thus far into his career, I think we’re looking at starter-quality talent.

Jordan Jones, Kentucky

Junior, 6012, 220 lbs.

Kentucky’s Jordan Jones ran wild in the vaunted Southeastern Conference in 2016, during his sophomore campaign, notching 109 total tackles. At just under 6’2″, 220-something, he can hit. While he flies around and appears to be a bit reckless at times, Jones is a smooth player with appropriate strength and a good overall feel for the position. A name that I haven’t personally read or seen talked up enough, Jones is a player who may be quietly flying under the radar despite that SEC clout.

Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama

Senior, 5116, 230 lbs.

To the surprise of no one, we’re talking about another Alabama linebacker. Coming off a torn ACL, Hamilton was last seen running along side Reuben Foster. With Reuben now playing his football on Sunday’s, the spotlight is all Shaun’s. Hamilton is a strong, explosive athlete that’s able to handle his business in coverage as well.

Roquan Smith, Georgia

Junior, 6002, 217 lbs.

The Georgia linebacker has already received C.J. Mosely comparisons. High praise, to say the least. Mosley, to continue down this road, entered the draft at 234 pounds, standing at 6’2″. While the former-Alabama linebacker and current Baltimore Raven standout has a couple inches on Smith, speaking at SEC Media day, Smith noted that he’s already up to 233 himself. With the ability to play sideline-to-sideline, and the shoulder injury now behind him, Smith is one to watch.

He’s also one of the best behind the mic:

Cameron Smith, Southern California

Junior, 6010, 245 lbs.

There’s been plenty of buzz surrounding the Trojan’s middle linebacker, and for good reason for the most part. Playing at or around 245, per NFL Draft Scout, the Granite Bay hero carries the weight well, and fares well in coverage. With the build comes 4.7-something speed, however, which isn’t necessarily ideal.

Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

Junior, 6042 236 lbs.

Edmunds is a presence. He’s rangy as hell, standing at 6’4″, and at 240 pounds. For a player his size, he moves really well, I think. He’s able to cover a lot of ground efficiently and when he arrives, he delivers a pop; the tackling definitely stood out.

Malik Jefferson, Texas

Junior, 6015, 240 lbs.

My hunch is that Malik Jefferson is one of the more popular linebackers in this year’s class. He’s probably the most “well known” at the this point, at the very least. Despite the hype, evaluations have been all over the place entering the season. One thing that that we can all agree on, however, is that Jefferson’s pretty clearly an athlete. That’s always a good place to start. With a notable freshman campaign behind him, the junior will make the move from inside to outside linebacker in 2017. The production hasn’t quite matched the athleticism, but we’ve seen plenty of flashes at this point.

Chris Worley, Ohio State

Redshirt Senior, 6015, 225 lbs.

One of two Buckeye linebackers that’ll be making an appearance on the list (both Ohio State players also made the Butkus Award watch list), Chris Worley started all 13 games last season at outside linebacker. He had a notable performance again Michigan, racking up 11 tackles. With Raekwon McMillan making the jump to the league, Worley’s making the move to the inside.

Azeem Victor, Washington

Redshirt Senior, 6021, 222 lbs.

I watched a good amount of Victor last season. I scribbled down a few notes here and there during that time. I went back and watched a few more of his games as I was putting together this list, and wrote down some more notes. I then placed both sets of notes side-by-side, and the same words appeared, and reappeared. “High energy”, “attitude”, “tone-setter”, “relentless”, etc. Victor was a linebacker that I was much higher on in 2017, but finds himself in a more talented group in 2018.

Mike McCray, Michigan

Redshirt Senior, 6032, 248 lbs.

Another player in that “throwback” linebacker mold. For his size, he brings above average athleticism to the table and is surprisingly effective in zone. In fact, PFF ranked McCray as the second best coverage linebacker in the Big 10 last season. There are some questions about his three-down viability, which may keep him out of the early rounds. 2017 could prove as a big year for the fifth-year senior.

Jermaine Carter Jr., Maryland

Redshirt Senior, 5112, 235 lbs.

He’s been everything for that Maryland defense. Despite looking the part, Carter will need to be more consistent in order to get that draft stock jumping. Overall, and as things currently stand, Carter’s very well-rounded and a player that I believe has the potential to make a noticeable leap up boards this season just given his skill set.

Jerome Baker, Ohio State

Junior, 6005, 225 lbs.

Jerome Baker can cover some ground. He can also hit. He’s a playmaker. I’m thinking we’ll read Darron Lee comparisons given the position, school, and physical build. Entering the draft, Darron Lee stood 6-foot, 232 lbs. NFL Draft Scout has Baker at 6-foot, 225 currently. There’ll be some size concerns, as there were with Lee. What #they won’t question is the level of athlete that Baker is, however, checking in at 17 on Feldman’s list of freaks for the 2017 season.

Catch me on Twitter: @StillRyanFive