The Observer’s top 10 linebackers available in the 2014 NFL draft:
|1. Khalil Mack||Outside linebacker||Buffalo||6-3||251||1||Incredible instincts, best linebacker.|
|2. Anthony Barr||Outside linebacker||UCLA||6-5||255||1||Converted RB with great initial quickness.|
|3. C.J. Mosley||Inside linebacker||Alabama||6-2||234||1||QB of one of college football’s best defenses.|
|4. Ryan Shazier||Outside linebacker||Ohio State||6-1||237||1||On the smaller side but has good speed.|
|5. Kyle Van Noy||Outside linebacker||Brigham Young||6-3||243||1-2||Highly disciplined player who knows the position.|
|6. Jeremiah Attaochu||Outside linebacker||Georgia Tech||6-3||252||2||Nigerian-born player with great size.|
|7. Chris Borland||Inside linebacker||Wisconsin||5-11||248||2-3||All-America player who’s second-best ILB.|
|8. Trevor Reilly||Outside linebacker||Utah||6-5||245||3||Good height and balance.|
|9. Carl Bradford||Outside linebacker||Arizona State||6-1||250||3||Had 40.5 tackles for loss in final two seasons.|
|10. Devon Kennard||Outside linebacker||Southern California||6-3||249||3-4||Had 13 tackles for loss and nine sacks last season.|
PANTHERS’ PERSPECTIVE: The linebacking corps is one of the Panthers’ greatest strengths going into the 2014 season. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly was named the NFL’s top defensive player, and the Panthers picked up outside linebacker Thomas Davis’ option that will give him a $5 million bonus after spectacular play in 2013. Carolina also had a find in the fifth round with outside linebacker A.J. Klein, who may become a starter. If they add a linebacker this year, it will likely be later in the draft for depth and not need.
LOCAL CONNECTIONS: Notre Dame OLB Prince Shembo should be a mid-round draft pick. Shembo, an Ardrey Kell graduate, had 14 sacks in his final two seasons with the Irish. But his involvement in a 2010 sexual assault allegation – he says he is innocent – may hurt his draft stock. Shembo was never charged by police or suspended by the school, and he said at the combine he was told not to say anything so as “to keep everything confidential.” The woman who made the complaint committed suicide less than two weeks later.
SLEEPER: Alabama OLB Adrian Hubbard has a huge frame and can be used both as an outside linebacker and as an edge rusher. He has long arms and a strong core that can dominate a blocker. He totaled 17 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in his final two seasons at Alabama, and he was able to graduate in three years. If Hubbard can land on a team with a creative defensive coordinator, his situational value could be much higher than his round projection.
WORTH NOTING: It’s difficult to get an inside linebacker out of college, and they don’t come around often. Kuechly is the only linebacker drafted since 2011 who starts at middle linebacker in the league. Mosley will likely become the next, but he could begin his career outside so he can adjust to NFL speed. Playing in the SEC can prepare a player for a lot of things, but one of the most difficult aspects to adjust to is the speed of NFL players.