Mel Kiper continued his series of releasing his preliminary prospect rankings for the 2015 NFL Draft and tonight unveiled his ranking for the top players at outside and inside linebacker.
Kiper has previously released his rankings for the top senior and junior prospects at defensive end, defensive tackle, cornerback and safety earlier this week, so now the entire defensive rankings are complete.
Let’s take a look at the top senior prospects at inside linebacker and then the top juniors on Kiper’s list.
The top seniors at the position both hail from the SEC where Georgia’s Ramik Wilson and Tennessee’s A.J. Johnson take the top two spots on the list. Both are tackling machines as Wilson is coming off a 133-tackle season last season with the Bulldogs and Johnson is a former conference leader in tackles and has more than 300 in his Volunteer career.
Coming in at No. 3 is Clemson’s Stephone Anthony who had 131 tackles last season, including 13.5 for loss.
No. 4 is Michigan’s Jake Ryan who was coming off a knee injury in 2013, but now fully healthy should revert to the player we saw for the Wolverines in 2012 who is also a crafty pass rusher.
Rounding out the top five seniors is Trey DePriest from Alabama who is taking over for C.J. Mosley as the leader in the middle of the Crimson Tide defense. He is a solid and steady contributor for one of the nation’s best defenses. Baylor’s Bryce Hager comes in as 5B on Kiper’s list and is an experienced defender and leader for the Bears who is also an underrated athlete.
The top junior on Kiper’s list is Benardrick McKinney from Mississippi State who is one of the freakiest athletes in all of college football. At 6-5 he is a large prospect in the middle and some teams could view him as an outside linebacker or even as a defensive end. He is an explosive athlete and one of the best players in the SEC who should be a first round pick next year.
Coming in after McKinney is Florida State’s Terrance Smith, Florida State who came on strong at the end of the season for the Seminoles in their championship run and is a player capable of making plays sideline-to-sideline at 230-pounds.
Each of these players have undeniable talent and traits NFL teams look for in the middle linebacker position, but each will need strong junior seasons before making the decision to declare for the 2015 NFL Draft or return to school. The upside is there for each of them to be taken in the first 100 picks with a big 2014.
Who do you think will be the first inside linebacker taken in the 2015 NFL Draft?
Kiper completed his offensive rankings earlier on Friday with the offensive lineman and you can see his top prospects at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive tackle, offensive guard and center.