The 2006 crop of outside linebackers was special. After two years (2004-'05) with two outside linebackers being selected in the first round, that number doubled in 2006 when A.J. Hawk, Ernie Sims, Chad Greenway and Bobby Carpenter were off the board after 18 picks. As it looks right now, the 2007 senior class has two prospects -- Paul Posluszny (Penn State) and Rufus Alexander (Oklahoma) -- worthy of first-round consideration.
Posluszny is a good athlete with great instincts and intangibles, but comparisons to Hawk are exaggerated. In order to maintain his high draft status, Posluszny must return to form following a knee injury suffered in the Orange Bowl. Alexander isn't quite as big or physical, but his impressive blend of speed and agility is why NFL scouts covet him.
With more and more NFL teams implementing 3-4 defensive alignments, an increased emphasis is being placed on the inside linebacker position. Unfortunately, the same is not true in the college game, so the supply has not caught up with the demand. The last two drafts have seen an average of six inside linebackers selected on the first day, but none in the first round. Next spring's inside linebacker class should break that streak, thanks to Ole Miss' Patrick Willis, who projects as a mid to late first-round pick. Willis lacks ideal size and frequently gets nicked, but his instincts, quickness, power and toughness are what make him a special talent. H.B. Blades (Pittsburgh) is the second-best inside linebacker, in my opinion. He lacks Willis' range, but Blades is bigger and stronger.
Many NFL inside linebackers are transplanted outside linebackers. Prospects who potentially fit that mold include Tim Shaw (Penn State), Nate Harris (Louisville), Buster Davis (Florida State) and Sam Olajubutu (Arkansas).
Similarly, many NFL outside linebackers -- particularly in the 3-4 scheme -- are transplanted defensive ends. A few of those exist in this year's senior class, including LaMarr Woodley (Michigan), Brian Smith (Missouri) and Larry McSwain (UAB).
At least three underclass linebackers display enough potential to eventually warrant first-round consideration, including OLB Lawrence Timmons (Florida State), ILB Brandon Siler (Florida) and OLB Vince Hall (Virginia Tech).
The University of Michigan, which employs a 3-4 defensive scheme, could see three of its four starting linebackers selected next spring. Woodley is the highest rated of the three, followed by OLB Prescott Burgess and ILB David Harris. While it would be an impressive accomplishment, Ohio State's act from this year's draft will be tough to follow, as A.J. Hawk (Packers, first round), Bobby Carpenter (Cowboys, first round) and Anthony Schlegel (Jets, third round) were all selected on Day 1.
Other schools with multiple talents at the linebacker position include Penn State (Posluszny, Shaw and junior Dan Connor), Oklahoma (Alexander and Zach Latimer), Florida (Siler and Earl Everett) and USC (Oscar Lua, Dallas Sartz and junior Keith Rivers).
This year's senior class of linebackers is void of first-day talent from the small-school ranks, but OLB Zak DeOssie (Brown) and ILB Justin Durant (Hampton) are two prospects who could justify late-round picks with dominant senior campaigns, followed by strong postseason workouts.
The following is a graphic representation of the number of linebackers (inside and outside) selected in each round of the previous three NFL drafts. Most NFL teams use this type of chart to study position trends when setting up their respective draft boards each year.