The Cleveland Browns 2017 season is over and we are now in full fledge draft mode. The 2018 NFL Draft holds the key to future of the organization with a treasure trove of picks to upgrade the roster that went 0-16 in 2017. The Browns have the first and fourth overall picks and five draft choices in the first two rounds. The opportunity is there for Cleveland.
With the importance of the 2018 NFL Draft for the Browns clear as day, WFNY has taken an early glance at what the 2018 NFL Draft may hold. WFNY’s Joe Gilbert and Jake Burns have gone through most of the offensive position classes in the draft and have moved over to the defensive side of the ball over the past few weeks. Today, the duo moves to the center of the defense to examine the linebacker class in the 2018 NFL Draft.
So, let’s take a look at Gilbert’s and Burns’ top five linebackers and their overall thoughts on the class.
|Joe Gilbert’s Top 5 LBs||Jake Burns’ Top 5 LBs|
|1. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech||1. Roquan Smith, Georgia|
|2. Roquan Smith, Georgia||2. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech|
|3. Rashaan Evans, Alabama||3. Rashaan Evans, Alabama|
|4. Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State||4. Josey Jewell, Iowa|
|5. Jerome Baker, Ohio State||5. Micah Kiser, Virginia|
Best of the Rest: Shaun Dion Hamilton (Alabama), Malik Jefferson (Texas), Chris Worley (Ohio State), Josh Allen (Kentucky), Cameron Smith (USC), Nyles Morgan (Notre Dame), Lorenzo Carter (Georgia), Tegray Scales (Indiana), Darius Leonard (South Carolina State) and Nick DeLuca (North Dakota State)
Which linebacker do you feel stronger about than most people?
Joe: I feel stronger than most people about Tremaine Edmunds of Virginia Tech. I think he is the best inside linebacker in the class. He is not a player without some attention, but he is not getting a lot of publication about being the top inside linebacker in the class. His film is really good and his athleticism is just hard to match in the class.
Jake: I really enjoy what Micah Kiser has done at Virginia. He is tackling machine who totaled 117,134, and 145 tackles over a three year span. He has the instinct for finding the football that I love for the positon. He wont get the hype Smith and Edmunds do, but he will have a really long and productive NFL career thanks to his natural ability for the position.
Who is your No. 1 linebacker in the class and why do you believe he is the best linebacker?
Joe: As I noted earlier, Tremaine Edmunds of Virginia Tech is my No. 1 inside linebacker. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Edmunds runs very well with the change of direction to play sideline to sideline. He is athletic enough to play in coverage against smaller receivers and big enough to take on the bigger tight ends in coverage. He has the athleticism and size to take on traffic and fight through contact to make plays behind or at the line of scrimmage. Edmunds is an all-around linebacker who can be a difference maker against the run and pass.
Jake: Georgia’s Roquan Smith is my number No. 1 linebacker in this class and I don’t think it’s close. He reminds me of Buccaneers play-making linebacker Lavonte David, and he is just such a joy to watch play the positioning. He is sideline to sideline at with a closing speed that will make you sit up in your chair. At 6’1 230, he has the size to play the run game, and is quick enough to cover middle of the field tight ends in coverage. He makes his mark in defending the run game, but he is fully capable against the pass and proved so on the biggest stage in 2017.
What are your thoughts on the overall linebacker class? How would you rate the class?
Joe: Overall, I think the inside linebacker class is solid, but I do not see an elite talent in the class. I think the depth is pretty good and is better or the same as last season’s class. It just does not have an elite talent like Reuben Foster. But, there should be quite a few starters that eventual come out of this class.
Jake: I like the class. I think Roquan is going to be a big time NFL talent and Edmunds has that potential too. The group just has guys that have really produced at the college level and can provide some really good years in the NFL. I don’t think the group will test ridiculously well, but I do think several will be on NFL rosters for a really long time.
Who has the best single skill set and what is that skill set?
Joe: The best overall skill set in the inside linebacker class is Roquan Smith’s tackling. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith has no missed tackles versus the run and just two missed tackles against the pass. He is a sound tackler, who has the ability to make tackles in space. He is just a technically-efficient tackler.
Jake: I hate when we do this, but I am going to echo Joe. Smith’s ability to seek the football and make the necessary tackle covering all 53 1/3 yards from sideline to sideline is unmatched. His closing speed is breath taking at times and he will lead a defense immediately.
Who is a sleeper linebacker who you are keeping an eye on?
Joe: Chris Worley of Ohio State is a sleeper inside linebacker you should keep an eye on. He is not as heralded and athletic as his teammate, Jerome Baker, but Worley was a productive linebacker for multiple years in Columbus. He has solid size and OK athleticism. But, he is pretty good at getting through traffic and making plays at the line of scrimmage.
Jake: An under the radar name to keep an eye on is Darius Leonard at South Carolina State. He is really quick for his size (6’2, 235) and can really get after the football. Plays the run game well, often making tackles for loss, and can cover up the hashes well as a MIKE linebacker. He dominated his competition and is primed to attack the Senior Bowl and combine to impress scouts for his position. I expect his name to go much higher than people realize.
What is the impact of this linebacker class to the Browns?
Joe: The Browns do not need a linebacker. The Browns should not waste a pick on this position. Christian Kirksey, Joe Schobert and Jamie Collins is a really good linebacker corps. Plus, James Burgess was OK filling in for Collins, so the Browns have a good backup. There is just no need to add another inside linebacker.
Jake: I don’t expect the Browns to make any sort of high selection on a linebacker as they have committed plenty of cap dollars and resources to the position. They feel good about their tandem outside in Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins, and Joe Schobert was the first Browns linebacker selected for a Pro Bowl since 2002. I expect them to add some depth to the position with a pick around the fifth round, and try to find a sleeper who can contribute in special teams while perhaps progressing into a role in the next few years. Keep and eye on Indiana’s Tegray Scales or North Dakota State’s Nick DeLuca.