Analysis by position: Linebackers
The 2004 crop of linebackers might be the fastest of any group I can remember. I think the reason we have this speed at the position is because schools are taking high school running backs (D.J. Williams at Miami, Fla., and Teddy Lehman at Oklahoma) and defensive backs (Michael Boulware at Florida State and Demorio Williams at Nebraska) and converting them to linebacker.
You might remember the 2003 crop of linebackers did not look very strong. Only one (Nick Barnett, Green Bay) was selected in the first round. (The Ravens selected Terrell Suggs but converted him to a defensive end.) The 2003 season ended with six rookie linebackers starting four or more games for the teams that drafted them. The past three drafts have produced only four first-round selections; there were seven in the 2000 draft alone. Over the past 10 years, 32 linebackers have been selected in the first round.
Expect to see a run on linebackers in the second and third round this year. Those two rounds produced 13 linebackers in the 2003 draft and 11 in the 2002 draft.
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INSIDE THE SCOUTS
What scouts look for when grading linebackers:
2. Ability to learn football
3. Competitive toughness
4. Work habits
5. Athletic ability
3. Pass defense
4. Hands (catching)
5. Strength at point
6. Stays on feet
7. Use of hands
8. Tackling ability
9. Pass rush
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