NFL Draft: Top 10 linebackers in 2017 class

The 2017 NFL Draft linebacker class is not the deepest, but it includes plenty of first-round-worthy talent.

Including both inside and 4-3 outside linebackers, the 2017 NFL Draft LB class may lack depth after the first few rounds, but it has plenty of first-round-worthy talent.

Tyus Bowser of Houston has been a late riser in the draft process, but this list of top 10 linebacker prospects includes first-round locks (like Alabama’s Reuben Foster), potential surprises (like Florida’s Jarrad Davis) and names that look familiar (Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt).

NFL DRAFT: Top 50 prospects | Mock Draft

NFL Draft: Top 10 LB prospects in 2017 class

10. Duke Riley, LSU

Riley offers solid fluidity, bend and explosiveness as a linebacker but lacks ideal bulk or size, meaning he should not be relied upon as anything more than an athlete in space. He'll need time and patience in the NFL.

It’s in coverage that Riley has his truly special potential. His drops, anticipatory reads, composed athleticism in space and natural ball skills all speak to his value as a Cover 2 linebacker and an ideal nickel linebacker. His NFL projection is the kind of versatile linebacker NFL teams covet in today’s game.

9. Jarrad Davis, Florida

Davis’ passion, leadership and love for the game, as cheesy as it sounds, jumps off the film and in interviews. He’s the type of linebacker a defense can be built around from a leadership standpoint.

He tracks the ball well in traffic, and he's either making a play on the ball or redirecting the ball carrier. Davis boasts remarkably strong hands and a thick trunk that work in unison as he scrapes laterally and keeps his balance on the move. He's adequate in coverage, picking up short-area tight ends and dissecting screens early enough, but he still needs to improve his timing of breaks and reaction to play action or perimeter breaking tight ends at the NFL level.

8. T.J. Watt, Wisconsin

J.J. Watt’s little brother has a chance to be a very good player in his own right. He has good technique as a pass rusher, although he can struggle to pick out the proper times to use counter moves. As a run defender, Watt's athleticism shows. He has the quickness and explosion off the snap to initially defeat blockers and break into the backfield in a hurry.

Due to Watt's tall and lanky frame, he often ends up playing high when taking on blockers, which doesn't help when he already has limited strength. Watt has a lot of traits on which to build, but he has a lot of developing to do if he wants to reach his full potential and follow in his brother’s footsteps as a dominant defensive force.


7. Tim Williams, Alabama

For Williams, the questions come down to his off-field issues rather than his play. On the field, there is no doubt he’s a premier prospect. As a pass rusher, Williams has elite skills, and his athleticism might be better than that of any other edge rusher in the class. His use of counter moves is underdeveloped, but given how good he is at winning with natural athleticism, it may not matter.

Williams has a fantastic understanding of body positioning and how to read his keys in run defense. At the next level, he fits best as a 3-4 outside linebacker or perhaps even a 4-3 outside linebacker.

6. Haason Reddick, Temple

Reddick, one of the best weakside/inside linebackers in the draft, brings high character, a clear work ethic and rave reviews from coaches. He's a well-balanced and coordinated athlete who plays with a proper base, and he can generate force easily without build-up speed or wide movements.

He should be able to play well as a 4-3 linebacker. He still has much to learn in underneath route coverage and zone drops, but he's a quick study and has short-area explosiveness to make up for any immediate shortcomings.


5. Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State

McMillan's best work comes as a run defender. He’s smart and menacing. He crashes the line of scrimmage and plugs running lanes. He forces running backs to change or halt their paths, allowing the rest of his front seven to make plays. He shows strength and proper technique when taking on blockers, allowing him to stand his ground against even the toughest of offensive linemen.

He's not going to knife through the offensive line or fly out to the boundary to make tackles all that often, but McMillan can be counted on to make plays at the line of scrimmage and between the numbers. On passing downs, he's not a star, but he has the awareness in coverage and power as a blitzer to stay on the field and be impactful.

4. Derek Rivers, Youngstown State

A high-motor edge player who displays a passion for film study, Rivers has been able to capitalize on his ideal body type and explosive adjustments. He has the frame and length to hold firm at defense end, and while he could grow his coverage value and be a pure 3-4 outside linebacker, he has shown the capability to add more weight if needed.

As a pass rusher, Rivers does a tremendous job converting speed to power, driving with his hands and keeping his lower half bent. His confidence in his rush repertoire has grown and should continue to grow at the next level with NFL mastery.

3. Tyus Bowser, Houston

Bowser played both defensive end and outside linebacker for Houston and saw a wide range of reps as a pure pass rusher, a versatile edge player and a drop-back linebacker. He shows great lower-half coordination to produce force and push the pocket, but at times, he’s susceptible to missteps, pulling and trap blocks and backfield blockers.

As a pure linebacker, Bowser dips into coverage surprising well. He's able to meet and engage tight ends and running backs but doesn't have the eye discipline to stay true in coverage. He's a bit of a tweener, but Bowser meets all the measurable thresholds for an outside linebacker in the NFL.

2. Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt

Cunningham is a rangy, speedy, intelligent, three-down linebacker who has a nose for the ball. His run-stopping approach is perfect for an outside linebacker on the weak side, and he has flashed range and play-making ability in coverage.

Cunningham is a willing run defender capable of taking on and defeating blocks, but he must improve on his strength in tackling and his ability to finish plays. While he isn't the best tackler, his production cant be ignored. Cunningham's instincts and ability to fight through blocks are why he can be great on the outside.

1. Reuben Foster, Alabama

Foster is the prototypical inside linebacker who can run sideline-to-sideline with elite speed. He can guard running backs out of the backfield, and he can go across the field with tight ends. A true run-thumper, Foster analyzes holes and fills them with aggression. His instincts also are top-notch, as he can be found near the ball at all times.

With Foster's athletic ability, speed, range and vicious attacking mentality, it’s easy to see why he is the top inside linebacker in the draft. Despite injury history concerns and Alabama being known to max out their players, Foster is a lock to go in the top 15 as a three-down linebacker who can play in any scheme.


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