A breakdown of this year's outside linebacker draft prospects, including a handful of game-changers…
Linebacker help could be on the way for Cards
POSITION REPORT CARD: This group lacks depth in 4-3 outside linebackers and a lot of the 3-4 prospects will be making the transition from defensive end. It's hard to put too much stock in players changing positions and there is a dropoff in talent after the first two days anyways. This group earns a C-plus grade.
The 2011 outside linebacker class offers a variety of pass-rushing threats that can bring pressure off the edge from a stand-up position. Franchises employing the 3-4 alignment will have a good chance to add a quality player on the outside. In fact, all of the top five prospects in this group project best to the 3-4 scheme. On the other hand, this crop is thin on 4-3 outside linebackers and teams utilizing that scheme may be out of luck.
Simply put, Texas A&M's Von Miller is far and away the best player of the group and one of the elite overall prospects available in 2011. The Butkus Award winner is a relentless pass-rushing threat with amazing athletic ability and won't wait very long to hear his name called. No other prospect from this group is a first-round lock, but several have a chance to go on day one.
UCLA's Akeem Ayers is another stellar athlete that made plays worthy of any highlight reel during his tenure in southern California. He starred as a 4-3 outside linebacker for the Bruins, but saw plenty of action rushing the quarterback with his hand on the ground and projects better to the 3-4. Georgia's Justin Houston also fits well in the 3-4, but his transition has already begun. After playing his first few seasons as a defensive end, Houston converted to outside linebacker when the Bulldogs installed a 3-4 scheme prior to the 2010 campaign. Both players could be selected in the second half of the first round.
The next tier features two college defensive ends that lack great size and will more than likely convert to 3-4 outside linebacker. Arizona's Brooks Reed often earns comparisons to Clay Matthews. Aside from the obvious similarities in hair, both play with great intensity and their motors on high. However, Reed doesn't own the same athletic upside as Matthews and isn't a sure thing in the first round. Texas' Sam Acho is another high-energy player that is constantly hustling. He lacks the size to play with his hand in the dirt at the next level, but looks like a day-two prospect as a 3-4 linebacker.
The top two 4-3 prospects could go anywhere between the second and fourth rounds. North Carolina's Bruce Carter is a fantastic athlete with first-round talent, but a major knee injury suffered late in his senior season leaves his health as a major risk. Washington's Mason Foster is less of an athlete and more of a good fundamental football player. The Husky defense was an atrocious unit, but Foster was a tackling machine that was forced to make plays all over the field due to a less-than-stellar supporting cast.