Draft preview
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. runs down this year's top linebackers and defensive backs.
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Real: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. breaks down the quality at the top of the draft.
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Mel Kiper's story archive

Sunday, April 22

Top linebackers in draft

My analysis of the linebackers available in the 2001 NFL draft (please note there are separate lists for inside and outside linebackers):

1. Dan Morgan, Miami (Fla.) -- After three outstanding years as an OLB with the Hurricanes, Morgan moved to the MLB spot out of necessity after Nate Webster moved on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The results again were top-drawer. The super-intense and focused 6-foot-2, 249-pounder delivered a number of superior performances, with his 17 tackles (14 solos) against Florida State the real headliner. He should be off the board between the 11th and 16th spots in round one. Drafted by Carolina, first round (11th)

2. Jamie Winborn, Vanderbilt -- While he checks in at just 5-foot-11 and 225-230 pounds, Winborn enjoyed a tremendously productive career with the Commodores. While he's not as explosive as Baltimore Ravens LB Ray Lewis, he's equally as instinctive, sifting through traffic well and doing a great job of flowing to the football. Look for Winborn to be taken off the board in round two. Drafted by San Francisco, second round (47th)

3. Kendrell Bell, Georgia -- After coming over from the juco ranks, the athletically gifted 6-foot-1, 235-pounder gave the Bulldogs two solid years between the hedges. With his 4.60 speed, Bell can cover the field from sideline to sideline, delivering bone-crunching hits when he fills the inside running lanes. With the improvement he's shown in terms of play recognition, I look for Bell to be difficult to overlook in the late-second or early-to-mid third round. Drafted by Pittsburgh, second round (39th)

4. Edgerton Hartwell, Western Illinois -- After transferring from Wisconsin, Hartwell became a tackling machine for WIU, leading the entire nation last season with 191 stops. The 6-foot-1, 250-pounder is strong, has decent, not great, straight-line speed, and is a top-flight natural athlete. Keep in mind, over the years the Leathernecks have sent a number of quality players to the NFL. That list includes such notables as Bryan Cox, Rodney Harrison, Frank Winters, and former Steeler Mike Wagner. Look for Hartwell to be off the board in the late first-day or early second-day area. Drafted by Baltimore, fourth round (126th)

5. Torrance Marshall, Oklahoma -- One of the more high-profile collegiate performers on the defensive side of the ball this past season, coming through with a number of game-changing plays. Marshall always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, but at the pro level the question will be how well he'll take on blocks and flow to the football. He could be a factor at MLB or on the outside, so he'll need to settle into a pro defense and define how his skills can be maximized. Even though I didn't grade him out this high, Marshall could end up in the second- or third-round area. Drafted by Green Bay, third round (72nd)

6. Brandon Spoon, North Carolina -- Led the Tar Heels with 131 tackles, bouncing back strong from a torn biceps injury that kept him out of action the majority of the '99 season. While he has superior weight-room strength and impressive straight-line speed, the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder doesn't appear quite as fast on film and could struggle when it comes to taking on centers and guards in the box at the pro level. Enjoyed an outstanding career at UNC, but I view him more as backup material in the NFL. On draft day, though, I expect his name to be called significantly earlier than my rating indicates. In fact, he could be taken off the board as early as round two. Drafted by Buffalo, fourth round (110th)

7. Carlos Polk, Nebraska -- Like UNC's Spoon and OU's Marshall, Polk was also a major headliner at the collegiate level, finishing second on the Huskers' defense with 90 stops. The 6-foot-2, 250-pounder was the veteran of the Husker defense, providing guidance and leadership. While you can't argue with the productivity, at the pro level Polk will need to work on getting off a block quicker and becoming more adept at taking the exact angles in pursuit. While Polk could end up in the third-round area, I didn't grade him out nearly that high. Drafted by San Diego, fifth round (139th)

Others of note:
Alex Lincoln, Auburn
Zeke Moreno, USC (Drafted by San Diego, fifth round (139th))
Anthony Denman, Notre Dame
Kris Micheaux, Baylor
Josh Parry, San Jose State
Matt Smith, Oregon
T.J. Turner, Michigan State
Cornelius Anthony, Texas A&M
Kamal Shakir, Memphis
Kautai Olevao, Utah
Jerry Phillips, Tulane
Mike Barnett, New Mexico
Wayne Rogers, Houston
J.J. Jones, Arkansas
Rashad Harris, Louisville

1. Quinton Caver, Arkansas -- Rangy 6-foot-4, 233-pounder who can really lower the boom when he arrives on the scene. He's a smooth athlete who flashed mid-first-round ability in several games last season, but after a solid, unspectacular performance during the Senior Bowl practices, appeared to lose some momentum. He now looks like a sure-fire second rounder. Drafted by Philadelphia, second round (55th)

2. Tommy Polley, Florida State -- Returned to action from the serious knee injury he sustained at the Nokia Sugar Bowl, putting together a decent 2000 campaign for the Seminoles. The key for Polley was just to be on the field and in the starting lineup every week. Keep in mind, his return from the knee injury was quicker than anyone could have anticipated. As a junior, he led the Seminoles with 109 tackles, while coming through with a number of impact plays both at OLB and on special teams. At the pro level, he'll need to upgrade his strength and do a better job of transitioning in coverage. Overall though, I view Polley as starting OLB material in the NFL, with the second round a definite possibility. Drafted by St. Louis, second round (42nd)

3. Sedrick Hodge, North Carolina -- When you combine his superior athletic ability with his size (6-foot-3, 245) and incredible 4.43 speed, it's easy to see why Hodge is being projected as a second-round draft choice. Once in the NFL, though, he'll have to work on maximizing all of that athletic/physical talent. Needs to do a better job of using his hands to work away from pressure, although he did show improvement last season in terms of play recognition. Drafted by New Orleans, third round (70th)

4. Morlon Greenwood, Syracuse -- True veteran of the collegiate wars, starting 48 games during his career with the Orangemen. Greenwood has outstanding speed and is a quality athlete, but tends to play more of a finesse game, not ranking as one of the more physical LBs available in the draft. That's why there figures to be some mixed opinion around the NFL as to how high Greenwood should project. I expect him to be off the board in round three. Drafted by Miami, third round (88th)

5. Eric Westmoreland, Tennessee -- Unheralded standout for the Vols, ranking as one of the top open-field tacklers of all the LBs available in the draft. Westmoreland is also adept at handling coverage responsibilities, while playing a smart, intelligent game. Due to the fact that he's 5-foot-11, 234 pounds, some may view him as a nickel LB and top special teamer, while others may feel he could land a starting job on the weakside. Drafted by Jacksonville, third round (73rd)

6. Markus Steele, USC -- After an impressive junior year, Steele lost some ground last season, then was hampered some late in the year by an ankle injury. Despite the less-than-spectacular 2000 campaign, I wouldn't be surprised to see a team reach into the second or third round to acquire his services. Remember, as a junior he posted about 15 tackles in games against Oregon, Arizona and Notre Dame. Drafted by Dallas, fourth round (122nd)

7. Brian Allen, Florida State -- Impressive collegiate LB with a tenacious approach, excellent speed and superior upper-body strength. At the pro level, the fact that he's just 6 feet tall creates a situation where he'll have to prove to the doubters that he can perform at a similarly high level as what transpired in the ACC. Drafted by St. Louis, third round (83rd)

8. Orlando Huff, Fresno St. -- Put together two fine years with the Bulldogs after coming over from the juco ranks, finishing this past year with 94 tackles, 10 sacks, 11 QB hurries and 16 stops behind the line of scrimmage. In the NFL, he'll need to work on doing a better job of breaking down in space to make a tackle. To his credit, Huff usually plays under control. Would make sense in the fourth- or fifth-round area. Drafted by Seattle, fourth round (104th)

9. Patrick Chukwurah, Wyoming -- Proved to be a real force in the Mountain West Conference, operating as an attacking DE/OLB who had the freedom to move around and confuse the opposition.At the pro level, the challenge for a defensive coordinator will be finding ways to allow Chukwurah to carve a niche. Needs to work on his ability to operate in reverse; that's why early on his main contributions figure to come on special teams. Drafted by Minnesota, fifth round (157th)

10. Keith Adams, Clemson -- His production and overall performance level with the Tigers was superior, but the fact that he's just 5-foot-10, 222 pounds and clocked just a 4.80 at the combine figures to push him down the draft board. Adams was able to run better during individual testing, posting a 40 time of 4.62. Whether that was good enough to make up for the lost ground is debatable.

11. Matt Stewart, Vanderbilt -- Played in the shadow of teammate Jamie Winborn, but the 6-foot-3, 236-pounder proved to be a quality performer for the Commodores. While he appears a little stiff on film and isn't a real knee-bender, Stewart will battle through interference and takes fairly precise angles in pursuit. His ability and experience as a deep snapper figures to strongly enhance his opportunity to stick on an NFL roster this summer. Drafted by Atlanta, fourth round (102nd)

12. Chris Edmonds, West Virginia -- A three-year starter for the Mountaineers, the athletically gifted 6-foot-3, 241-pounder gained a measure of consistency last season that had been lacking. With his impressive computer numbers, Edmonds figures to be an intriguing later-round choice.

Others of Note:
Jauron Dailey, Florida A&M
Ryan Goven, North Dakota
Riall Johnson, Stanford (Drafted by Cincinnati, sixth round (168th))
Jason Glenn, Texas A&M (Drafted by Detroit, sixth round (173rd))
Jeremiah Pharms, Washington (Drafted by Cleveland fifth round (134th))
Rick Crowell, Colorado State (Drafted by Miami, sixth round (188th))
Byron Thweatt, Virginia
Kole Ayi, Massachusetts
Josh Stamer, South Dakota
Roylin Bradley, Texas A&M
John Norman, Texas Tech
Anthony Sessions, Tennessee
Clayton White, N.C. State
Nick Colbert, Troy State
Merceda Perry, North Carolina
Aaron Gatten, Penn State

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