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tiggerpolice 04-19-2006 08:47 AM

Linebackers offer mix of talent for NFL Draft
This year's crop of linebackers offers a contrasting view. If you're a general manager looking for a solid outside linebacker to help you out, this may be the year to find one.

If you're in search of an inside linebacker, then maybe you're better off focusing on a different position.

The crop of outside linebacker prospects is deep with a couple of Big Ten studs headlining the group. The depth of inside linebacker prospects is only average though.

The best linebacker of the draft is Ohio State's A.J. Hawk. Hawk is the epitome of a Big Ten linebacker -- hard-nosed, aggressive and possessing an unceasing motor. He is as close to a sure thing as a player can get for the draft. Look for him to go in the top-10, possibly to the New Orleans Saints.

"(New Orleans) may trade down to get the guy they want, but we think the guy they want is A.J. Hawk," said former NFL scout Dan Shonka. "They need a leader on defense."

Iowa's Chad Greenway is another strong Big Ten linebacker, who's one of the best prospects regardless of position. He'll likely be a top-20 pick.

Even after the top two, outside linebacker has talented prospects. Players like Alabama's DeMeco Ryans and Ohio State's Bobby Carpenter are likely first-day selections too.

"I like Carpenter," said draft analyst Scott Wright ( "He didn't get as much attention and he was overshadowed by A.J. Hawk, but he has the total package.

"I think he's going to be a late first round or early second round pick. I have him as the fourth best linebacker in the draft."

The talent is so deep that former Stanford and Loyola star Jon Alston may be lost in the mix. However, Alston impressed plenty of scouts at the combine; he had the fastest 40 time among linebackers.

"He's a natural outside 3-4 rusher," said Shonka. "He reminded us of Joey Porter when he came out of Colorado State. You talk about a great combine workout.

"He's either going to be a Will linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, or be an outside rush guy in a 3-4."

The state ranks at linebacker are thin. There are some names out there -- Cameron Vaughn, LSU; Marvin Byrdsong, Northwestern State; Anthony Cannon, Tulane and Jeremy Hamilton, Louisiana Tech -- but Alston has the strongest chance of any of them of getting drafted.

Virginia junior Kai Parham, Maryland's D'Qwell Jackson and Iowa's Abdul Hodge top the inside linebacker draft candidates. Dallas might be in need of one to replace Dat Nguyen.

The Cowboys also could pursue an outside linebacker to complement DeMarcus Ware

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