NFL Media's Mike Mayock recently released his top five prospect rankings for each position heading into the NFL Draft in April. We take a look at his rankings starting today, using the Miami Dolphins' draft needs as a guide, and we begin with a look at the linebackers.
Of course, these rankings will change with things like the NFL Scouting Combine still to come, but it gives us a starting point as we look at where the Dolphins could look when the Draft does roll around.
Mayock's top linebackers are:
1. Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
2. Myles Jack, UCLA
3. Reggie Ragland, Alabama
4. Darron Lee, Ohio State
5. Deion Jones, LSU
Smith is going to be a difficult player to evaluate this offseason, with teams being scared away by the major knee injury he suffered at the end of the college season. Smith tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee on New Year's Day and may not be able to play at all in the 2016 NFL season. Smith is an incredible talent and would be in the discussion as a top five or ten pick in the Draft if he were healthy. He still warrants a first-round grade, but would Miami be willing to use their first pick in the Draft on a player who could spend the entire season on the sideline?
Jack also comes with knee injury concerns, having surgery in September and ending his season. He is expected to be ready to play for the NFL season, but he has to prove that the knee is ready. His athleticism is clear, having started his college career playing both running back and linebacker before settling into the defensive side of the ball. He should be able to cover running backs and tight ends at the pro level, and he is a solid tackler. Teams will likely look to move him to a weakside linebacker role in the NFL.
Ragland should come in to the NFL and be able to take the starting middle linebacker position for someone. He has good instincts and makes solid tackles. He probably is not the best prospect when it comes to coverage responsibilities, but he will be able to quickly pick up an NFL defense and make sure he and his teammates are in the right position to make plays.
Lee was a high school quarterback, then started his first season at Ohio State as a safety. He moved to linebacker during his redshirt season, then took over as the team's strong-side linebacker in 2014 and 2015. Having only two years at the linebacker position is a concern, but he has shown the instincts and the tackling ability are there. He is effective in coverage and he has the speed to cover or blitz. He still has to refine his work as a linebacker, but he should be an upgrade to a defense as soon as he arrives in town.
Jones is going to be an interesting player to watch in the draft build up. He was not a starter for LSU until this past season, but he is someone who quickly demonstrated that he is ready to be a true three-down linebacker in the NFL. He is a mobile guy, and can quickly get from sideline-to-sideline, he gets into the gap and takes on blockers. He has to refine his game a little still, and he needs to do some work on his tackling and coverage, but he is going to come into an NFL team and take over one of the outside linebacker positions in a 4-3 defense.