Carolina Panthers

NFL draft: Top 10 Linebackers

An athletic freak with violent hands, Florida’s Dante Fowler could be the first defensive player off the board in the 2015 NFL draft.
An athletic freak with violent hands, Florida’s Dante Fowler could be the first defensive player off the board in the 2015 NFL draft. Getty Images

The Observer’s top 10 linebackers available in the 2015 NFL draft:

1. OLB Dante Fowler Jr.

College: Florida

Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 261

Projected round: 1st

Comment: An athletic freak with violent hands, Fowler could be the first defensive player off the board Thursday night.

2. OLB Vic Beasley

College: Clemson

Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 246

Projected round: 1st

Comment: He played defensive end with the Tigers, so there’s no tape at outside linebacker, but his body and range will make him a force in the NFL.

3. OLB Bud Dupree

College: Kentucky

Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 269

Projected round: 1st

Comment: Racked up 231/2 sacks for the Wildcats in his career and is one of the most agile linebackers in this year’s class.

4. OLB Eli Harold

College: Virginia

Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 247

Projected round: 1st

Comment: A strong player who can rush the passer with his hand in the dirt or standing up. Teams will like that versatility.

5. LB Eric Kendricks

College: UCLA

Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 232

Projected round: 1st-2nd

Comment: The Butkus Award winner, he had 10-plus tackles in 11 games last season and can swarm to the ball on the outside.

6. ILB Denzel Perryman

College: Miami

Ht.: 5-11 Wt.: 236

Projected round: 1st-2nd

Comment: He impressed a number of teams with a strong combine and pro day and might be taken on the first night of the draft.

7. ILB Stephone Anthony

College: Clemson

Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 246

Projected round: 1st-2nd

Comment: One of the most consistent players for Clemson last season, Anthony has great recognition and a good first step.

8. OLB Shaq Thompson

College: Washington

Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 228

Projected round: 2nd

Comment: Still needs to be stronger to be an outside linebacker in the NFL, and a team could move him to safety.

9. ILB Benardrick McKinney

College: Mississippi State

Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 246

Projected round: 2nd

Comment: He has the height and weight of an inside linebacker but has long arms (33 inches) and speed (4.66) to be on the outside.

10. ILB Paul Dawson

College: TCU

Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 235

Projected round: 2nd-3rd

Comment: There’s not a better tackler in this class, but Dawson has so many character concerns from failed drug tests to tardiness that he falls to a later round.

Panthers’ perspective

Carolina has arguably the league’s brightest middle linebacking star in Luke Kuechly and one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in Thomas Davis, who’s set to receive an extension some time this offseason. The Panthers don’t have a huge need at linebacker, but they could target an outside backer in the late first round to serve as Davis’ understudy or to morph into a defensive end over time.

Local connection

Stephone Anthony grew up a Green Bay Packers fan, and with the 30th pick in this year’s draft, the Packers are in need of an inside linebacker. Anthony might be a reach at the end of the first round, but he proved to be a great team leader at Clemson and would be on one of the best teams in the NFL if they scoop him Thursday night.

Sleeper

Oklahoma outside linebacker Geneo Grissom had one of the best verticals at the combine at 37 inches. His long arms (333/8 inches) are also appealing. Grissom played well at the Senior Bowl, but he’s raw. He’s played his career at defensive end, but he might may be better suited standing up.

Worth noting

If you noticed a few names missing from the chart, we took players who went to the draft as linebackers and not defensive ends, which will publish in Tuesday’s paper. ... Louisville’s Lorenzo Mauldin has the talent to be a first-rounder in a lot of other drafts, but this one is so deep at outside linebacker. ... Harvard’s Zach Hodges, who last week was profiled in the Observer after spending part of high school at Independence, will be chosen on the third day of the draft.

Jonathan Jones

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