Here’s a look at my pre-Combine ranking of this year’s middle linebacker prospects.
#1 Kevin Minter, LSU – Minter is arguably the most pro-ready prospect at MLB. He’s scheme versatile, equipped to play in both a 4-3 and 3-4. When you sit down and watch film of Minter, the first thing that stands out is that he’s a tackling machine. His play recognition and quickness makes it easy for him to rack up tackles around the line of scrimmage. He also has that sideline-to-sideline speed to make plays on outside runs and passes in the flat.
Against the pass, Minter does a solid job getting deep in his drops, but he still has room to grow as far as man coverage against tight ends. Minter would be worth the Bears spending their 2oth pick on as he could develop into a solid player for them for many years.
#2 Alec Ogletree, Georgia – There’s not an ILB prospect with more superstar potential than Ogletree. Ogletree is one of the best athletes in this Draft class at 6-3, 236 pounds. He has great sideline-to-sideline speed and displayed great instincts as a run defender. His athleticism allows him to make impact plays around the line of scrimmage whether it’s in pursuit of the running back or quarterback.
Ogletree’s athleticism is also on display in pass coverage; he’s an ideal prototype to counter against the NFL’s play-making TEs. While Ogletree could possibly be the best ILB in this Draft, he’s number two on my board because of character concerns. He’s a classic high risk/high reward prospect.
#3 Manti Te’o, Notre Dame – Forget the girlfriend hoax for a second; the reason why Te’o is third on this list is because of the bad performance against Alabama in the National Championship game. He simply looked like a boy amongst men in that game as Alabama’s offensive line and RB Eddie Lacy physically dominated him throughout the night. In pass coverage he looked sluggish dropping back and keeping up with TEs and RBs.
While I feel Te’o will go in the first round, you have to wonder if the National Championship Game was just a bad night or him just showing he’s not ready against better competition.
#4 Jonathan Bostic, Florida – Bostic is not ready to contribute at ILB at the next level in his first year, but he certainly has the talent to develop into a starter at that position. Bostic displays great quickness shooting the gap to make plays in the back field and has the speed to drop into coverage and stick with TEs.
#5 Kiko Alonso, Oregon – Whether he’s playing in a 3-4 or 4-3 at the next level, Alonso would benefit himself spending a year in an NFL weight room. He’s a very decent athlete but could be more effective with some increased bulk.
#6 A.J. Klein, Iowa State – Klein is an underrated prospect in this Draft. Right now, most sites have him rated as a fourth-round prospect, but don’t be surprise if he starts climbing the boards. Klein is a very instinctive LB who displays nice coverage against RBs and TEs and great ball recognition on run plays. I could see Klein developing into a Sean Lee type of player at the next level.
#7 Kevin Reddick, North Carolina – Reddick is a talented player, but likely a better fit in a 3-4 scheme.
#8 Nico Johnson, Alabama – Johnson struggles in pass coverage, so a 3-4 defense where he could play downhill often would best suit him.
#9 Vince Williams, FSU – Williams had a strong performance at the Senior Bowl. He has all the ability to play MLB at the next level. Early on in his career, he will have to contribute on special teams before competing for a starting spot.
#10 Michael Mauti, PSU – Injury is the reason why Mauti is rated this low in my rankings. He would be a nice developmental pick for the Bears in either the fifth or sixth round.
Safe Choice: Kevin Minter
There are no glaring weaknesses to Minter’s game. Could he get better at covering TEs? Sure, but you can say that for the rest of the LB prospects as they are set to deal with highly skill TEs at the next level. Minter has shown at LSU that he can drop into coverage and defend the deep middle. In Mel Tucker’s defense, he will keep some of the same 4-3 cover-2 principles, so they will need a MLB who is athletic and instinctive enough in coverage if they decide not to bring back Brian Urlacher or Nick Roach.
Selecting Minter with the 20th pick would give the Bears a plug-and-play player with the potential of being a cornerstone guy on the Bears’ defense for years to come.
High Risk/High Reward: Alec Ogletree
There are not too many MLBs who come into the Draft built athletically like Brian Urlacher, but Ogletree is the closest thing to that in this year’s class. If the Bears are looking for a LB to counter against some of the good-to-elite TEs in this game, Ogletree is built to be that kind of player. The problem with Ogletree is that he has had two off the field offenses the past couple years, with the most serious one being a DUI charge that happened this past weekend.
Ogletree has all the talent in the world to be a star player at the next level, but the DUI charge a week from the NFL Scouting Combine is a pretty big concern. If the Bears decide to go with him with the 2oth selection, they will be taking a risk with a troubled but talented player.
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