Walters Position Review: 3-4 Outside Linebackers


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Position Review: 3-4 Outside Linebackers

3-4 Outside Linebacker Class
Early-round talent: A
Mid-round: B+
Late-round: B
Overall grade: A-

2015 prospects vs 2014
Dante Fowler < Jadeveon Clowney
Vic Beasley < Khalil Mack
Shane Ray < Anthony Barr
Randy Gregory > Dee Ford
Bud Dupree > Marcus Smith
Eli Harold > Demarcus Lawrence
Owa Odighizuwa = Kyle Van Noy
Lorenzo Mauldin < Trent Murphy

For the second straight year, there college ranks have produced an excellent class of 3-4 outside linebackers. The group of Clowney, Mack, and Barr have the potential to be a legendary class. All of them played well as rookies, although Clowney missed the vast majority of the season.

Last year's draft featured three 3-4 outside linebacker candidates who went in the the top 10, five in the first round, and four more in the second round. The 2015 class should have at least seven 3-4 outside linebackers in the top 64 selections. there could be as many as six taken in the top 25 picks of the 2015 draft, so this class is definitely talented.

If you were to merge the two classes together, Fowler would be the fourth rated player behind Clowney, Mack and Barr. Fowler, Beasley, Ray, Gregory, and Dupree would all be better prospects than Ford. Harold is on a par with Ford and Smith as prospects in the 20s. Odighizuwa and Van Noy are roughly equal as early second-rounders, and Mauldin would go behind Murphy.
Safest Pick: Dante Fowler, Florida



Fowler looks like a safe pick to turn into a good 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL. He has the strength, length, athleticism and quickness to thrive on the edge. Fowler can rush the passer, has the potential to be strong in run defense, and can drop into pass coverage. The 6-foot-3, 261-pounder has versatile size. Fowler has a tendency to freelance, but that could be turned into an asset in a 3-4. Quickly in his NFL career, Fowler should turn into a good 3-4 outside linebacker if he's drafted into that scheme.

Previous Picks:
2014: Jadeveon Clowney
2013: Dion Jordan

Biggest Bust Potential: Randy Gregory, Nebraska


This is only because of off-the-field issues. As a player, I think Gregory is excellent and the best pure pass-rusher in the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory admitted to failing the Combine drug test and having a real problem with marijuana. He has other off-the-field problems that have teams concerned about how he will transition to the NFL and if he can avoid getting suspended. Gregory has a ton of talent, but he has bust potential because of the issues away from the game.

Previous Picks:
2014: Dee Ford
2013: Barkevious Mingo

Read more at 3-4 Outside Linebackers Rankings by Attributes

Pass Rush:
NFL prototype: DeMarcus Ware, Broncos
  1. Randy Gregory
  2. Dante Fowler
  3. Vic Beasley
  4. Shane Ray
  5. Eli Harold
  6. Bud Dupree
  7. Owa Odighizuwa
  8. Lorenzo Mauldin

Recap: The NFL is a passing-driven league, and 3-4 defenses need edge rushers who can consistently get to the quarterback. Rushing the passer is the primary responsibility for a 3-4 outside linebacker. Some college defensive ends can struggle to make the transition to rushing off the edge as they move out wider from offensive tackles. Other players thrive with the change.

In my opinion, Gregory is the best pass-rusher in the 2015 NFL Draft. He is extremely fast off the edge with repertoire of moves. He uses a spin move, swim move and bull rush effectively. Gregory is really smart about when he deploys those moves. He seems to diagnosis his blockers in an instant to know what type of rush will work best. For example, he doesn't mess around by using the bull rush on heavy offensive tackles. Gregory catches smaller blockers by surprise with his bull rush and uses his speed moves on the slower tackles.

After Gregory it was tough to pick. I went with Fowler because he translates the best to the NFL. He is fast and physical off the edge with the ability to shed blocks or run around them. Others produced more sacks than Fowler, but his skill set is better suited for the next level than Beasley or Ray.

Beasley and Ray are both fast edge rushers. Both have excellent get-offs with the speed to close on the quarterback. I went with Beasley (6-3, 246) ahead of Ray (6-3, 245) because Beasley is more agile and not as stiff. Beasley does a better job of weaving around blockers. Although Ray is better at converting speed to power, he doesn't have the same agility. Both players though could see fewer opportunities early on as their run defense could keep them on the sideline in the early going of their careers.

Harold is similar to Beasley and Ray. Harold is fast off the edge with the ability to close on the quarterback. He could use more strength to battle offensive tackles in the NFL, but does a nice job of using his hands to fight.

Dupree is big and quick, but he could use more development of pass-rushing moves. At times, he can be overwhelming with a tenacious presence off the edge. Other times, he seems to get stymied when his primary moves aren't working. Dupree didn't get as many pass-rushing opportunities at Kentucky, and that hurt not only his sack totals, but also his NFL development. He has a ton of upside, so in a few years, he could be higher on this list.

Odighizuwa has the skill set to produce pass rush, and there are times where he gets hot, but he also has stretches where he falls quiet. Odighizuwa needs to get more consistent and didn't produce as much pass rush as the other three.

Mauldin is last, but he also can get after the quarterback. He had 6.5 sacks at outside linebacker last year. In 2013, Mauldin had 9.5 as a defensive end on the other side from Marcus Smith. Mauldin isn't quite as explosive as the players ranked above, but Mauldin (6-4, 259) should be a nice value.

Run Defense:
NFL prototype: Ryan Kerrigan, Redskins
  1. Bud Dupree
  2. Owa Odighizuwa
  3. Dante Fowler
  4. Lorenzo Mauldin
  5. Randy Gregory
  6. Eli Harold
  7. Shane Ray
  8. Vic Beasley

Recap: Many 3-4 defenses typically don't require their outside linebackers to be an asset against the run because they rely on their 3-4 defensive ends, nose tackle and inside linebackers to lead the way in run defense. However, the success of the read option is changing that as the edge linebackers play a critical role in defending against it. Being tough versus the run could become a more important attribute in the seasons to come.

Dupree (6-4, 269) is the best run-defender for the NFL in this class. He had 74 tackles in his final collegiate season, but often did that after shaking blocks and chasing down backs. Dupree is strong and tough at the point of attack. His run blocking should be an immediate asset.

Odighizuwa (6-3, 267) is strong at the point of attack. He can hold his ground, disengage and make tackles in run support. As a 3-4 outside linebacker, Odighizuwa should be able to play quickly in run-defense situations.

Fowler is kind of a mixed bag as a run-defender. He can blast into the backfield and rock running backs. He also can chase them down from behind. However, Fowler can struggle when downhill runs come straight at him.

Mauldin (6-4, 259) can also hold his own in the ground game. He had 51 tackles last year and showed improvement from his junior year. Mauldin has the bulk to play the 3-4 edge.

Gregory lost weight before the Combine and since then has gained some back, so that makes him harder to evaluate. In games, he can get worn down against downhill rushing attacks coming straight at him (see Wisconsin), but he did show the ability to fight at the line of scrimmage and not get pushed out of his gap. Gregory had 56 tackles last year and 66 the year before. He has some natural functional strength, and in time, he should be well-rounded as long as he remains on the field.

Harold had 56 tackles last year, but he needs more strength for downhill runs in the NFL. The same goes for Beasley and Ray. Sources say that Beasley and Ray need a lot of improvement in their run defense for the NFL and won't be on the field in running situations early in their careers. Beasley had only 33 tackles last year and 41 the year before. As a sophomore, Beasley had eight sacks, but only 14 tackles. His run defense has major room for improvement.