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News » Linebackers and defensive backs at a glance

Linebackers and defensive backs at a glance

Linebackers and defensive backs at a glance
After discussions with scouts, general managers and other personnel executives around the league as well as video review, Jeff Legwold ranks the top prospects at linebacker and defensive back in this year's draft.


  • Butkus Award: Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
  • Lott Award: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
  • Bednarik Award: Rey Maualuga, USC
  • Butkus Award (2007): Laurinaitis
  • Nagurski Award (2006): Laurinaitis

    The lowdown

    This is a far better class than personnel executives have had to look at in the past few years, led by the guy who may be the safest pick of the draft in Aaron Curry.

    1. Aaron Curry, Wake Forest (6-1 3/4, 254 pounds, 4.52 in the 40): Would be easier to list what he can't do. Smart, durable, plays the run, rushes the passer and will fit in almost any defense.

    2. Rey Maualuga, USC (6-1 3/4, 249, 4.81): Ran slightly faster at his pro day (4.72). A big-time finisher, he's the power hitter in this group. Not top-flight speed, but at the point of attack may be the most explosive on the board.

    3. Clay Matthews, USC (6-3 1/8, 240, 4.63): Went from walk-on to starter with the Trojans. Has played defensive end, linebacker and was the team's special teams players of the year three times.

    4. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State (6-1 7/8, 244, 4.81): Had three 100-tackle seasons for the Buckeyes. Didn't time as fast as some thought he might, but he's consistent and the production is there.

    5. Brian Cushing, USC (6-2 7/8, 243): Played at defensive end, outside linebacker and at middle linebacker in his time with the Trojans. Athletically gifted and versatile. Only drawback is injury history — has had surgeries to repair ankle, knee and shoulder as well as playing with a fractured hand in '08.

    Other names to keep handy

    Clint Sintim, Virginia; Marcus Freeman, Ohio State; Scott McKillop, Pitt; Kaluka Maiava, USC; Zack Follet, California-Berkeley; Jason Phillips, TCU; Darry Beckwith, LSU; Jasper Brinkley, South Carolina; Gerald McRath, Southern Mississippi; Dannell Ellerbe, Georgia; Lee Robinson, Alcorn State.

    Small school hero

    Terrence Jackson, Indiana (Pa.) Had 69 tackles in nine games in '08.

    Things to know

  • Laurinaitis, native of Wayzata, Minn., was the captain of his high school hockey team.
  • South Florida's Tyrone McKenzie played at three different schools in his career — Michgan State, Iowa State and then two years with the Bulls. Had to help his family, which is why he transferred, but still had 100-tackle seasons at Iowa State and South Florida.
  • To help his family in 2005, McKenzie left school to take the overnight shift — 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. — at a Hampton Inn to help pay the bills.
  • McKillop was 109-10 in his career as a prep wrestler, including 79-2 over his last two years on the mat.
  • If Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji is a first-round pick as many expect, he may want to send a little something to Brian Toal, a former BC linebacker. Toal missed eight games last season when he fractured his leg after Raji rolled up on him. Raji also hit Toal helmet to helmet in '05 that caused Toal to miss time with a neck injury.

    Defensive backs

  • Thorpe Award: Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State

    The lowdown

    Last year eight cornerbacks ran in the 4.3s for the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, but this year's class doesn't have that kind of speed with just one at the combine getting under 4.4.

    1. Vontae Davis, Illinois (5-11 1/8, 203 pounds, 4.41 in the 40): Some say he freelances too much and is hard to coach, but with his size, speed and strength — benched 225 pounds 25 times at the combine, or more than some offensive linemen — plenty will want to try.

    2. Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest (5-9, 193, 4.48): Most folks won't have him this high because of his size, but is smart, is the ACC's all-time leader in interceptions (21) and knows how to do his job. Will compete early to get on the field.

    3. Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State (6-0 1/8, 204, 4.52): Biggest reach of any CB at the combine — arm measured 34 1/2 inches — and very physical. Some looking to make him a safety.

    4. Darius Butler, Connecticut (5-10 3/8, 183, 4.42): One of the smaller corners on the board so some will simply pass him by. But has good feet and is explosive (43-inch vertical jump at combine).

    5. Louis Delmas, Western Michigan (5-11 3/8, 202, 4.51): Leads a thin safety class. Tough guy and will have impact quickly on special teams. Good speed and agility numbers.

    Other names to keep handy

    Patrick Chung (S), Oregon; Jairus Byrd, Oregon (CB); Rashad Johnson, Alabama (S); William Moore, Missouri (S); Darcel McBath, Texas Tech (S); D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt (CB); Kevin Barnes, Maryland (CB); Sean Smith, Utah (CB).

    Small school hero

    Jabir Perkins, Texas A&M-Kingsville (S): Had five interceptions this season — his only one at A&M-Kingsville after his transfer from Southeastern State — recovered a fumble for a touchdown and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.

    Things to know

  • Chung started 51 games for the Ducks in his career, one of only a handful of players to top 49 starts on the draft board.
  • Before he became a cornerback at Wake, Smith was a high school quarterback in Pahokee, Fla. He threw for 32 touchdowns in his senior season there to go with six rushing. He returned four interceptions for touchdowns in his career at Wake.
  • Johnson was a two-time captain for the Crimson Tide, a rarity since non-seniors are rarely even nominated.
  • Byrd's father, Gill, was a first-round pick by the Chargers in '93 and a two-time Pro Bowl selection.

  • Author:Fox Sports
    Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
    Added: April 8, 2009

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