2012 NFL Draft: Linebackers

The opinions and analysis contained in this feature are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the thoughts and opinions of the Seahawks’ coaching staff and personnel department.

A look at the position heading into the April 26-28 draft:

Best of the bunch

Player, school                                         Ht.   Wt.   Projection

OLB Melvin Ingram, South Carolina   6-1   264   Top 15 pick

ILB Luke Kuechly, Boston College       6-3   242   Top 15 pick

OLB Whitney Mercilus, Illinois            6-4   261   Mid-to-late first round

OLB Shea McClellin, Boise State         6-3   260   Mid-to-late first round

ILB Dont’a Hightower, Alabama         6-2   265   Late first, early second round

(Rankings and projections by Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com)

What it all means: If it’s a linebacker you want – or need – this draft class has them in a variety of sizes, styles and skill sets. It starts with Kuechly, who is considered the best inside/middle linebacker prospect in years. It includes where-to-play-them pass rushers like Ingram and McClellin, who played just about everywhere at South Carolina and Boise State. It features Mercilus, one of several players who enter this draft after only one productive season. Then there’s Hightower, who has blitz ability despite his run-stuffer size.

What about: Zach Brown. The North Carolina outside ’backer began the draft season ranked among the best at the position, in large part because of his speed (4.50 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine; 4.48 at his Pro Day workout). But he has slid to later-round status in recent weeks. “I’m not as impressed with Zach Brown as most of the league is,” said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who labels Brown’s sliding stock “one of my hot buttons.” Added Mayock, “You rarely see a linebacker that’s faster than most of the corners in a draft. So from a height, weight, speed perceptive, he’s a first-round pick. When you watch the tape, he makes a lot of plays. But they are almost all in space.” So what’s not to like? “Any time a big body gets on him, actually any time anybody gets on him, his feet stop and he’s not physical at all,” Mayock said. “He’s a run-and-chase linebacker that’s going to make plays with his speed. But I think he’s going to get enveloped by anybody.”

Don’t forget about: Vontaze Burfict. That’s the problem with the playmaking inside ‘backer from Arizona State – too many seem to be forgetting about him. Once considered a second- or third-round pick, Burfict could go undrafted following a 2011 season that featured more regrettable penalties than memorable plays. “I think you look at Vontaze Burfict as a guy that has probably dropped as much in this draft in terms of his rating as probably any prospect in recent times in terms of going from an early-rounder to being talked about now as a sixth-, seventh-rounder or undrafted free agent,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “In an inside linebacker group that frankly is very poor, very weak.”

Seahawks situation: Once the priciest position on the team when Julian Peterson, Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill were manning the second level from 2006-08. Only Hill is still around, and he just re-upped on a one-year deal. The Seahawks “found” the versatile K.J. Wright in the fourth round of the draft last year, but just lost leading tackler and middle linebacker David Hawthorne in free agency. So they have a mix of youth – Wright, Malcolm Smith and Mike Morgan; and veterans on one-year contracts – Hill, Barrett Ruud and Matt McCoy. It has caused some to wonder how much the Seahawks value the position. “No, that’s not our philosophy,” GM John Schneider said when asked if the club undervalued linebackers. “We value that position as highly as all other positions.” And the Seahawks need to add to the depth and talent level at the position in his draft.

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