Top Linebacker Prospects
MLB Rolando McClain (JR) 6-4 • 255 • Alabama
McClain (below) is an instinctive defender who possesses a rare blend of size and speed and has the ability to take over a game. He diagnoses the action extremely well, flows to the ball with ease using his lateral quickness and arrives on the scene with suddenness. He has to improve his ball skills and develop into a much greater playmaking threat. Projection: First Round
OLB Brandon Graham • 6-1 • 263 • Michigan
Graham is a physically gifted defender who forces the action and makes an impact on the field. He breaks down well, plays off blocks and gets to the action. He’s tough to knock off his feet. He’s a tweener who doesn’t have desired height or speed, and may strictly be a pass rusher. Projection: First Round
OLB Sean Weatherspoon • 6-1 • 241 • Missouri
Weatherspoon is an instinctive defender who plays the game with great passion and enthusiasm. He has a solid frame and possesses great awareness. He diagnoses the action quickly, has the lateral agility to pursue sideline-to-sideline and demonstrates proper tackling technique. He’s an energetic player who has to control his emotions on the field, because he plays overly aggressive at times and gets caught out of position. Projection: First Round
OLB Sergio Kindle • 6-4 • 239 • Texas
Kindle a solid frame and the length to make an impact as a pass rusher and in coverage. He shows great range and possesses a burst of closing speed that allows him to have an impact against the run. He lacks ideal bulk for his stature and has to improve his upper-body strength. Projection: First Round
OLB Navorro Bowman (JR) 6-1 • 230 • Penn State
Bowman is an explosive, instinctive defender who brings an all-around game to the field. He has good upper-body strength and strong hands that allow him to shed blocks. He lacks ideal size and is good in coverage, but gives up big plays against tall pass catchers. Projection: Second Round
MLB Daryl Washington • 6-2 • 226 • TCU
Washington is an explosive, hardworking defender who, despite his size, can play all three linebacker positions. He possesses outstanding straight-line speed and the lateral agility to alter his path of attack instantly. He lacks prototypical size for a linebacker and has to improve his upper-body strength. He plays overly aggressive at times. Projection: Second Round
OLB Ricky Sapp • 6-4 • 240 • Clemson
Sapp has the size/speed combination that makes him a perfect fit at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He has an elite frame, long wingspan and the speed to be effective as a pass rusher. He has to add bulk to his frame and improve his upper-body strength to even be considered as an option at defensive end. Projection: Second Round
MLB Brandon Spikes • 6-3 • 258 • Florida
Spikes is an aggressive and versatile linebacker who brings the complete package to the field. He has great size, quick feet and the instincts to always be around the ball. He tends to be undisciplined at times and will miss tackles because he over pursues. Projection: Second Round
OLB Jerry Hughes • 6-2 • 225 • TCU
Hughes possesses the quickness and hand placement to be a terror off the edge. He has a quick first step and is tough to control off the edge. He’s a tweener who doesn’t have a natural position. Projection: Second Round
49ers Need at Position: 5
Current Players: Patrick Willis (ILB), Manny Lawson (OLB), Parys Haralson (OLB), Takeo Spikes (ILB), Ahmad Brooks (OLB), Matt Wilhelm (ILB), Scott McKillop (ILB), Diyral Briggs (OLB), Martail Burnett (OLB)
Positional Overview: Willis is, simply put, the best linebacker in football. Lawson led the team with 6.5 sacks and is pretty solid in coverage, while his bookend, Haralson, is more of a one-dimensional edge rusher. The veteran Spikes was better in 2009 than the year before despite dealing with nagging injuries all season. Brooks really came on as a nickel rusher late in the year and has lots of potential. Wilhelm was re-signed to be the primary backup inside, and McKillop is still trying to show his coaches that he’s more than just a special teams guy. Briggs is trying to add more bulk so he can survive at this level.
When to Address: Fifth round.
Who’s There: Graham was an explosive end at Michigan who’ll be converted to a 3-4 outside ‘backer in the NFL. I like him a lot, but I the 49ers are fine with their starters. Weatherspoon is another big time playmaker, but he’s more of a 4-3 guy. Utah’s Koa Misi is an athletic mid-round prospect who’s drawn interest. In the middle, McClain would look awfully good playing next to Willis for the next decade, but I don’t think they’ll use another high pick there. Florida’s Spikes is a distant relative of Takeo, and he’s a second round possibility, while Pat Angerer led a tough Iowa defense in the rugged Big Ten.
SFI’s Pick: Pat Angerer, Inside Linebacker, Iowa, 6’1” 232 lbs. On the surface, Angerer might not look too different than McKillop, but he plays with more of a mean streak, has better instincts, and has the leadership skills that coach Mike Singletary is looking for. He’d be the perfect guy in the middle rounds to groom as Spikes’ replacement next to Willis.