Football

Rating the top inside linebackers in the NFL Draft

UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks (right) guarded Southern California running back Justin Davis on Nov. 22 in Pasadena, Calif. UCLA won 38-20.
UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks (right) guarded Southern California running back Justin Davis on Nov. 22 in Pasadena, Calif. UCLA won 38-20. AP

1. Eric Kendricks, 6-0, 232, UCLA

Bio: Three-year starter and two-time team captain who had 145 tackles (11.5 for loss), four sacks, three interceptions (one touchdown and two pass deflections in 13 games in 2014. Is 23 years old. 31-inch arms. 9 5/8-inch hands. 4.61 40-yard dash. 22 bench reps. 38-inch vertical. 124-inch broad jump. 7.16 3-cone drill. 4.17 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: All-Juice Team member. The 2014 Butkus Award winner is very instinctive and a tough, emotional player who gets after it. Plays faster than his timed speed. Is scheme-versatile — a plug-and-play starter in a 3-4 or 4-3. Stocky with short arms, but is very aggressive; tries to make plays and often does. Shows comfort in coverage, where he can use his plus athleticism to stick with skill players or drive on the ball in zone coverage. Needs to improve as a blitzer. Can be overwhelmed by oncoming linemen vs. the run but generally does a good job sifting through the trash and beating oncoming blockers to the spot. Powerful tackler who drives through ball carrier. Plays with an attitude and reportedly is a respected team leader.

Grade: 7.0

Story: UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks is confident that his effort, passion and preparation will translate to NFL

2. Stephone Anthony, 6-3, 243, Clemson

Bio: Three-year starter and team captain who had 75 tackles (10.5 for loss), 2.5 sacks, one interception and three pass deflections in 13 games in 2014. Is 22 years old. 32.25-inch arms. 10 1/8-inch hands. 4.56 40-yard dash. 23 bench reps. 37-inch vertical. 122-inch broad jump. 7.07 3-cone drill. 4.03 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Fast, aggressive downhill thumper who can run and hit and sift through the trash. Emotional player with good play strength. Has a good frame — prototype size with a good closing burst. Must continue to develop his instincts — can be a tick late to diagnose vs. playaction — but is twitchy, can run and hit and has sideline-to-sideline speed. Was more productive as a junior, when he had 131 tackles, but was surrounded by lots of talent in 2014. Uses his physical gifts to become a good “A”-gap blitzer. Needs to continue developing his coverage instincts but has the speed to carry tight ends up the seam and be a factor in coverage. Is always around the ball. Good effort. Needs to be more consistent tackling.

Grade: 6.7

3. Denzel Perryman, 5-11, 236, Miami (Fla.)

Bio: Three-year starter and team captain who had 110 tackles (9.5 for loss), two sacks, one interception and five pass deflections in 13 games in 2014. Turns 22 this year. 31.25-inch arms. 9.75-inch hands. 4.78 40-yard dash. 27 bench reps. 32-inch vertical. 113-inch broad jump.

Evaluation: Short and stocky with good short-area quickness and instincts. Has some burst and decent sideline-to-sideline speed but is not a fast-twitch guy. Good instincts. Violent hitter with a thumper’s mentality who uses his natural leverage to his advantage; can deliver a blow, both to ball carriers and oncoming blockers. Limitations in man-to-man coverage could make him a two-down player. Gives good effort. Shows good closing burst. Reportedly has very good football character and leadership traits.

Grade: 6.7

4. Paul Dawson, 6-0, 235, Texas Christian

Bio: Two-year starter who had 136 tackles (20 for loss), six sacks, four interceptions (one touchdown and five pass deflections in 13 games in 2014. 31.5-inch arms. 9.5-inch hands. 4.93 40-yard dash. 21 bench reps. 28-inch vertical. 109-inch broad jump. 6.76 3-cone drill. 4.49 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: 2014 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Incredibly productive; has excellent football intelligence, is always around the ball and makes a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage. Is small for a linebacker and isn’t an elite athlete — posted very pedestrian combine numbers — but he triggers fast, finds alleys and gets to the ball. Understands angles; can sift through the trash and get home. Has above-average closing speed. Has experience playing in space; is often deployed in coverage, where he’s shown instincts and ball skills. Profiles best as a weak side OLB in a 4-3 scheme but can play weak-side inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Needs to be more consistent as a tackler but gets the job done more often than not. Is the second-best linebacker in the draft, talent-wise, but teams will dig into his character after reports that questioned his work ethic and accountability. Plays hard.

Grade: 6.6

5. Benardrick McKinney, 6-4, 246, Mississippi State

Bio: Three-year starter and early entrant who had 71 tackles (eight for loss), three sacks, zero interceptions and four pass deflections in 13 games in 2014. Is 22 years old. 33-inch arms. 9-inch hands. 4.66 40-yard dash. 16 bench reps. 40.5-inch vertical. 121-inch broad jump. 7.21 3-cone drill. 4.27 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Has imposing size and is big for his position — could outgrow it in today’s NFL. Fairly light on his feet but makes most of his best plays vs. the run inside the box. Great acceleration when blitzing and zeroing in on a target. Shows good feel for coming on the delayed blitz. Will miss tackles in space. Played special teams — punt coverage. Plays fairly hard. Has got some jolt in his hands. Might have coverage issues on passing downs due to his tight hips but shows some promise as a third-down edge rusher. Instincts are okay. Packs a punch on ball carriers but could be a little stronger against oncoming linemen. Is okay sifting through the trash. Profiles best as a 3-4 strong-side inside linebacker.

Grade: 6.6

6. Jordan Hicks, 6-1, 236, Texas

Bio: Three-year starter who had 147 tackles (13 for loss), 3.5 sacks in two games in 2014. Turns 23 this year. 32-inch arms. 10-inch hands. 4.68 40-yard dash. 20 bench reps. 38-inch vertical. 124-inch broad jump. 6.78 3-cone drill. 4.15 20-yard shuttle. 11.34 60-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Emotional player who gets after it. Does a really nice job shifting through the trash. Is light on his feet with good sideline-to-sideline range. Good tackler in space. Good closing burst on the blitz. Can get mauled a bit against the run — needs to shed better. Clicks and closes pretty fast in coverage. Plays with an edge. Keeps his head on a swivel in zone coverage. Flashes some upside as an A-gap blitzer; is quick. Instincts are OK, overall, but must continue developing. Regardless, is often around the ball and has starter-caliber potential if he can stay healthy. Has dealt with multiple injuries.

Grade: 6.4

7. Jake Ryan, 6-2, 240, Michigan

Bio: Three-year starter and two-time team captain who had 112 tackles (14 for loss), two sacks in 12 games in 2014. Turned 23 this year. 31-inch arms. 9 3/8-inch hands. 4.65 40-yard dash. 20 bench reps. 34.5-inch vertical. 120-inch broad jump. 7.11 3-cone drill. 4.20 20-yard shuttle. 11.65 60-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Plays his tail off and is physical. Possesses only marginal agility but flashes speed going upfield. Average play speed, overall, but has some closing burst on plays inside the box. Possesses average power and gets stuck on blocks, but again, is better attacking upfield. Still developing his instincts in the middle after spending most of his career as an edge rusher. Average tackler, a bit stiff in space. Reportedly has very good football character and is a good worker.

Grade: 6.3

8. Taiwan Jones, 6-3, 245, Michigan State

Bio: Two-year starter who had 60 tackles (12.5 for loss), four sacks, one interception and two pass deflections in 13 games in 2014. Turns 22 this year. 34-inch arms. 10-inch hands. 4.82 40-yard dash. 19 bench reps. 33.5-inch vertical. 115-inch broad jump. 7.25 3-cone drill. 4.33 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Isn’t a great athlete but is a tough, durable player who is big and physical enough to be a two-down guy. Doesn’t take false steps and is powerful; can defeat blockers and is stout against the run. Shows stack-and-shed ability and possesses a surprising closing burst. Good tackler with average range. Instincts are only OK. Has tight hips and is hasn’t been much of a factor against the pass. Plays with a bit of an edge.

Grade: 6.3

9. Ben Heeney, 6-0, 231, Kansas

Bio: Three-year starter and two-time team captain who had 127 tackles (12 for loss), 1.5 sacks, one interception and one pass deflection in 12 games in 2014. 30.75-inch arms. 9-inch hands. 4.59 40-yard dash. 19 bench reps. 33.5-inch vertical. 120-inch broad jump. 6.68 3-cone drill. 4.00 20-yard shuttle. 11.06 60-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Stocky with short arms. Good straight-line speed. Instinctive and does a good job of finding the football. Is willing to take on blockers and shed, but can be overpowered by linemen and stuck on blocks due to his lack of size. Packs a punch and plays bigger than his size when tackling. Has a closing burst. Plays very hard — an all-day sucker. Was not surrounded by much talent in college. Lack of size could work against him, durabilitywise, in the long term, but could be a good special-teamer, at the very least.

Grade: 6.2

10. David Mayo, 6-1, 235, Texas State

Bio: Juco transfer. Three-year starter and team captain who had 154 tackles (4.5 for loss), 1.5 sacks, zero interceptions and two pass deflections in 12 games in 2014. Turns 22 this year. 4.70 40-yard dash. 24 bench reps. 34.5-inch vertical. 108-inch broad jump. 7.15 3-cone drill. 4.33 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Plays in space. Has some power at the POA. Can use his hands to keep linemen off his body. Violent and emotional. Quick. Finds the ball and has sideline-to-sideline speed but lack of tackles behind the line of scrimmage is a concern. Level of competition wasn’t great. Willing to stick his nose in there. Has some burst through the A gap. Finishes tackles with gusto.

Grade: 6.2

11. Ramik Wilson, 6-2, 237, Georgia

Bio: Two-year starter who had 110 tackles (ten for loss), three sacks, one interception and one pass deflection in 13 games in 2014. Turns 23 this year. 33-inch arms. 10 5/8-inch hands. 4.77 40-yard dash. 23 bench reps. 35-inch vertical. 111-inch broad jump. 4.51 3-cone drill.

Evaluation: Is bigger than he looks on tape; has long arms and good overall athleticism. Has the speed to go sideline to sideline and help in coverage, though he’s still very much a work in progress there because of his average instincts and hips. Also has a closing burst on ball carriers. Uses his quickness to elude linemen, though he’ll get overpowered if he doesn’t. Is not a striker as a tackler. Probably profiles best as a weakside 4-3 linebacker but might be able to play in a 3-4.

Grade: 6.2

12. Kwon Alexander, 6-1, 227, Louisiana State

Bio: Two-year starter who had 90 tackles (7.5 for loss), 1.5 sacks in 12 games in 2014. Declared after his true junior season. Turns 21 this year. 30 1/4-inch arms. 9 1/4-inch hands. 4.55 40-yard dash. 24 bench reps. 36-inch vertical. 121-inch broad jump. 7.14 3-cone drill. 4.20 20-yard shuttle.

Consensus: Is young for a prospect. Is undersized but generally does a good job locating the football and is nifty enough to elude the trash in the middle. Play speed doesn't match excellent timed speed; was productive as a junior but seemed a tick more explosive as a sophomore. Can be overpowered at the point of attack and takes too many false steps vs. the run but can make plays when kept clean. Has the look of a 4-3 outside linebacker. Instincts and awareness are okay but have room for improvement.

Grade: 6.2

13. Hayes Pullard, 6-0, 240, Southern Cal

Bio: Four-year starter and two-time captain who had 95 tackles (5.5 for loss), zero sacks, one interception and eight pass deflections in 13 games in 2014. Turns 23 this year. 30 7/8-inch arms. 9.75-inch hands. 4.69 40-yard dash. 19 bench reps. 31-inch vertical. 110-inch broad jump. 7.07 3-cone drill. 4.39 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Productive college player who has made some real strides in coverage — has decent hips and awareness and actually might have a future as a nickel ‘backer, at worst. Quickness and speed are adequate. Has a bit of closing burst on ball carriers and instincts are OK. Needs to clean up his technique against the run. Takes false steps and can be run at and overwhelmed at the point of attack because of his lack of size but sometimes shows the ability to slip blocks and get through the trash, anyway.

Grade: 6.1

14. Quayshawn Nealy, 6-1, 235, Georgia Tech

Bio: Four-year starter and two-time captain who had 90 tackles (six for loss), 1.5 sacks, two interceptions and ten pass deflections in 13 games in 2014. Turns 24 this year. 29.75-inch arms. 8.75-inch hands. 4.62 40-yard dash. 36-inch vertical.

Evaluation: Is old for a prospect. Productive player who gives great effort. Small with very short arms but takes on blockers willingly and with as much power as he can muster but might have a hard time doing that to NFL linemen. Shows some athleticism in zone coverage and is an instinctive player, overall. Athleticism is OK.

Grade: 6.0

15. Martrell Spaight, 6-0, 236, Arkansas

Bio: Juco transfer. First-year starter who had 128 tackles (10.5 for loss), one sack, one interception and three pass deflections in 13 games in 2014. Turns 22 this year. 32.75-inch arms. 9 1/8-inch hands. 4.88 40-yard dash. 25 bench reps. 35-inch vertical. 120-inch broad jump. 7.66 3-cone drill.

Evaluation: An emotional, productive player who is into the game and willing to take on blockers but lacks the size and power to consistently do it head on and needs to do a better job of using his hands when shedding. Plays hard. Makes most of his plays inside the tackle box. Average tackler with some power and good awareness.

Grade: 6.0

16. Neville Hewitt, 6-1, 231, Marshall

Bio: Juco transfer. Two-year starter and team captain who had 123 tackles (13 for loss) and five sacks in 14 games in 2014. Turned 22 this year. 31 5/8-inch arms. 9-inch hands. 4.65 40-yard dash. 37-inch vertical. 119-inch broad jump. 7.14 3-cone trill. 12.05 60-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: 2014 Conference USA defensive player of the year. Looks heavier than he is. Is not a striker — more of a drag-down tackler — but plays hard and is always into the game. Has good straight-line speed and a solid closing burst on ball carriers. Will need to continue training his eyes; takes some false steps and sometimes takes a tad too long to diagnose but will come up and fill hard. Plays with an attitude. Takes a tad too long to diagnose.

Grade: 6.0

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @TerezPaylor.

Grading scale

7.5-7.1: Top 10 pick

7.0: 11-20

6.9: 21-32

6.8: Top half of the second

6.7: Bottom half of the second

6.6: Top half of the third

6.5: Bottom half of the third

6.4: Fourth round pick

6.3: Fifth-round pick

6.2: Sixth-round pick

6.1: Seventh-round pick

6.0: Priority free agent

NOTE: All rankings are based on a combination of extensive personal film study, interviews conducted with draft analysts and information gleaned from NFL Network draft broadcasts. Evaluations are cross-checked with multiple draft resources. Measurements and testing results are from the combine and pro days, according to NFL.com. Grades are assigned based on where The Star believes the Chiefs should take each player, based on their needs and scheme-fit.

Related stories from Kansas City Star

  Comments