2014 NFL Draft Position Preview: Linebacker

2014 NFL Draft Anthony Barr
2014 NFL Draft Anthony Barr
UCLA Bruins linebacker Anthony Barr Andrew Weber USA TODAY Sports

When you talk about the crop of linebackers in the 2014 NFL Draft, the word “special” should come to mind. While there is no such thing as a sure bet when it comes to NFL prospects, there are such things are players who have the chance to be great, the kind of difference-makers that can alter a team. And this year, there’s a chance there’s one or more of those game-changers.

The XN Sports linebacker rankings combines both inside and outside backers, and leading the ranking for the outside linebackers is UCLA’s Anthony Barr. The West Coast’s version of Jadeveon Clowney, Barr was more than just a thorn in the side of opposing quarterbacks, finishing 2013 with 10 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles for the Bruins. Barr is considered the premier 3-4 pass rusher in this year’s class, drawing parallels to the Green Bay Packers’ Clay Matthews.

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Playing second fiddle in terms of the outside backers is Buffalo’s Khalil Mack. A big player from a small school, Mack earned All-American honors this season after registering 100 tackles, 10.5 sacks and three interceptions, and finished off his career by setting an FBS record with with 75 tackles for loss and 16 forced fumbles. Not only is Mack a more-than-capable pass rusher, but he possesses the ability to drop back into coverage and is a sure tackler in the open field.

Rounding out the outside linebackers are some intriguing prospects in Ryan Shazier, Kyle Van Noy and Jeremiah Attaochu. Shazier is coming off a junior season at Ohio State in which he racked up 143 tackles, including 22.5 for loss. He’s a versatile prospect who can get to the edge with elite closing speed, as well as drop into coverage well. Van Noy was a jack of all trades at BYU, tallying four sacks, 17.5 tackles and a pair of interceptions, though his stock dropped a bit after a slight regression his junior year. Attaochu was one of only three ACC players to record double-digit sacks in 2013 and finished as Georgia Tech’s all-time leader with 31.5 in his career. He’s still a bit raw, according to scouts, but is expected to find a niche rushing the passer off the edge.

The No. 1 inside linebacker prospect this season is none other than Alabama’s C.J. Mosley. The Crimson Tide’s leading tackler each of the past two seasons, Mosley earned All-American honors and was named the Dick Butkus Award winner after a senior campaign in which he eclipsed 100 tackles, again, and finished third in the program history in terms of career tackles. Mosley is an instinctive linebacker and is capable of captaining a defense, much like a Ray Lewis.

XN Sports LB Rankings:

1. Anthony Barr

2. C.J. Mosley

3. Khalil Mack

4. Ryan Shazier

5. Kyle Van Noy

6. Telvin Smith

7. Jeremiah Attaochu

8.  Chris Borland

9. Adrian Hubbard

10. Carl Bradford

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Sam Spiegelman
Sam Spiegelman is a native New Yorker covering sports in New Orleans. He likes Game of Thrones way too much. Tweet him @samspiegs.