football Edit

Pre-Combine rankings: Linebacker

The NFL Combine is set for the end of the month, so we are taking a look at each position and how the players rank heading into the big event. In tradition, we also look back at how they ranked out of high school.

Today we look at our top linebackers.



The skinny: Alabama was Williams’ first offer, and soon after his official visit to Tuscaloosa in January, the four-star prospect committed to the Crimson Tide. Miami was also a serious contender, along with Florida State and LSU. This season, Williams finished with only 31 tackles, but he had 16 for loss and nine sacks. He also forced two fumbles and recovered one.

Interesting note: While Alabama has done a tremendous job recruiting the state of Louisiana, Williams was the last Alabama signee out of Baton Rouge until four-star Chris Allen inked with the Tide this past recruiting cycle.

Farrell’s take: Situational pass rushers are all the rage in the NFL Draft lately, or at least uber-talented ones like Aldon Smith, Dion Jordan, Vic Beasley and Leonard Floyd, and Williams could be the best of the group. He is so disruptive off the edge as a situational pass rusher and his bend around the edge is unrivaled. Couple that with his pure speed and he’s unstoppable at times. We saw him as a hybrid guy who would eventually have his hand down permanently, but I never expected him to be this explosive and fast.

The skinny: The five-star linebacker made an early commitment to Alabama, only to decommit and pick Auburn. Foster then took official visits to Washington and San Diego State weeks before Signing Day and then reportedly left his late Auburn official early to take a trip to Alabama one last time. He ended up signing with the Crimson Tide. Foster led Alabama this season with 115 tackles (13 for loss) and five sacks.

Interesting note: Foster had 110 tackles in his freshman season of high school and performed well against top recruit Isaiah Crowell in a game Foster called, according to reports, his “coming out party.” He finished the next season with 112 tackles.

Farrell’s take: Foster was a huge linebacker with a ton of potential who could thump downhill but also move laterally. But he also had a major bust factor tag between a knee injury that limited him late in high school and his bizarre recruiting process. But he waited his turn and has panned out. Despite all the questions, we still had him as the No. 13 player in 2013 and No. 1 inside linebacker because he was so talented. He’s now showing he can put it all together. Foster is the best inside linebacker in this class, and shedding some weight before this past season has been huge for him.

The skinny: Cunningham chose Vanderbilt over Auburn, Colorado, Miami, Oregon, UCLA, Texas and Tennessee on National Signing Day. He finished with 194 tackles (43 for loss) and 12 sacks in his senior season of high school.

Interesting note: It was reported last month that one NFL scout is concerned about Cunningham because of a belief that he should make more tackles and that he “whiffs a lot.” This was a reservation despite the fact that Cunningham finished with 125 stops (16.5 for loss) along with four fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles this season.

Farrell’s take: Cunningham was a tall, skinny linebacker who continued to rise in our rankings throughout his cycle. He started off as a three-star and ended up as a four-star outside of our Rivals250. He was a tackling machine during his high school career, especially as a senior where he nearly eclipsed 200 tackles. He was always in the backfield and made a living making tackles for a loss, but his thin frame was what kept him back from a higher ranking. Those tackling instincts have obviously continued in college and now he’s being talked about in the first-round range.

The skinny: A former Auburn commit, Davis pledged to the Gators shortly after his official visit to Florida in mid-December. Tennessee and Duke were two other programs involved in the three-star’s recruitment. Despite playing in only nine games this season, Davis was second on the Gators with 60 tackles (six for loss) and two sacks.

Interesting note: Florida defensive coordinator Randy Shannon has described Davis as a mix between Jonathan Vilma, Jon Beason and Ray Lewis.

Farrell’s Take: Davis had good size and was a kid who covered a lot of ground and could tackle but needed work at the point of attack and shedding blocks. He was overlooked in the Florida linebacker class by bigger names like Alex Anzalone (also a high draft pick at LB this year), Matt Rolin and Daniel McMillian, but he’s developed better than all of them. His ability to drop in coverage is off the charts, and he had another excellent season despite the injury. He’s an inside guy but can cover a lot of ground and is excellent in the passing game.

The skinny: About a week after landing an Alabama offer, Anderson traveled to campus for A-Day and committed to the Crimson Tide. Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois and others were involved. He finished this season with 61 tackles, including a team-high 19 for loss, along with nine sacks. Anderson also intercepted a pass, forced four fumbles and recovered three.

Interesting note: Anderson was one of two Daphne, Ala., stars to commit to the Crimson Tide’s 2012 recruiting class. The other was five-star running back, Anderson’s close friend T.J. Yeldon.

Farrell’s take: Anderson was a huge linebacker out of high school and was always moving with a great motor. He had a natural ability to get into the backfield. Anderson was explosive and had good pass-rushing technique from the start. He couldn’t be solo blocked when coming off the edge and was much faster than he looked, which is why he was a Rivals100 prospect in 2012. He’s overshadowed by Williams and Foster, but he could be a better pro than either - he’s that talented.