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Packers draft preview: Top inside linebackers

May 1, 2014
 
Ryan Shazier is the second-ranked inside linebacker in the draft.
Ryan Shazier is the second-ranked inside linebacker in the draft. / Getty Images

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1. C.J. Mosley, Alabama 6-2, 234, Round 1

Instinctive, explosive tackler who plays bigger than his weight. “I think Mosley is more of a fit for 4-3 mike linebacker,” one scout said. “Very physical guy. Things that happen, he’ll read and react, come forward and knock you out. Very good at the point of attack, good tackler.” Last year won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker and was named the Southeastern Conference’s defensive player of the year. Started the past two seasons at weak-side linebacker in an Alabama 3-4 scheme that was possibly the nation’s best defense and had 215 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss and four sacks. “He’s an instinctive, intense guy that will play even better in the NFL because he understands concepts,” another scout said. “He understands route combinations, blocking schemes. You can talk to him and he understands football.” Has had durability issues, which is a concern because as an undersized player at his position, he’ll take punishment. In ’11 had a dislocated elbow, in ’12 dislocated his hip in the national championship game, and later had offseason shoulder surgery. Didn’t bench or run at the combine because of a shoulder injury. Had a 35-inch vertical and at his campus workout ran the 40 in 4.62 seconds, which is a good but not great time for his position. “Instincts make you look faster,” a third scout said. “And I think he might time better (if he ran now), maybe he wasn’t working out as much because of the shoulder. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, because when you turn the film on, don’t even watch him, watch the ball, especially on the run plays, because he’s going to show up. That’s a telltale sign of a good defensive player.”

2. Ryan Shazier, Ohio State 6-118, 237, Round 1

Junior entry is fast, explosive and disruptive in the run and pass games, though lean for his position. Should be a three-down player because of his coverage and blitz abilities. “Nickel and dime (packages) is going to be his baby,” a scout said. “This guy is so athletic, it’s stupid.” Two-year starter had 249 tackles, 39½ tackles for loss and 11 sacks in ’12 and ’13 combined. Last season led the Big Ten Conference in tackles (134) and tackles for loss (22). At his campus workout, scorched the 40 in 4.38 seconds. “I’ll you what, Shazier can really, really, really run,” a second scout said. “Shazier can help a lot of teams. He’s the one guy you put out there and let him run. He can rush, too, that’s an advantage. Mosley isn’t a big blitzer. When you talk about getting from point A to point B, having some speed, the ability to rush the passer — (Shazier) has got to learn a little more about coverage and being aware, but this guy running to the football can be really, really good.” Didn’t run at the combine because of a tight hamstring but his 42-inch vertical was the best of all players regardless of position. “It bothers you when he gets hooked up on somebody and can’t get off,” a third scout said, “but the way he runs, he can run away from people, he can beat blocks before they get to him. I don’t have a problem with (his lack of size) at all.”

3. Chris Borland, Wisconsin 5-11½, 248, Round 2/3

Aware, instinctive, laterally quick and high-motor player, but also short with pedestrian straight-line speed. “One of the notes I put down was, ‘Always in the opponent’s backfield,’ ” one personnel director said. “He’s a sandlot, throwback football player. Shoots gaps, great production. You’ll see a drag-down sling tackle, then you’ll see he gets up and he’s pushing the guy’s face in the ground. He’s just a nasty little (jerk). I love it.” Some scouts liken Borland (4.82 seconds in the 40) with Zach Thomas, who also was short (5-1078) and straight-line slow (4.78-second 40) but went to seven Pro Bowls. Others don’t see the comparison. “A little bit of a throwback tough guy,” a second scout said. “Not a great athlete but good instincts and a physicalness about him. I’d think he’ll play on special teams for a long time, and when he plays he’ll make some plays. But I see him getting engulfed by all those bigger offensive linemen. I’m not even sure Zach (Thomas) would survive in this day and age.” Last season, was named Big Ten defensive player of the year. Started 45 games in his career, and in his final three seasons had 37½ tackles for a loss and seven sacks. His 15 forced fumbles ranks No. 2 in FBS history. Ran about the same at his campus workout (4.84 seconds) as at the combine (4.82) but improved his vertical to 35 inches from 31. Also did 27 bench reps. Had surgery to repair a tear in each labrum early in his college career, and in his final two seasons combined missed three games because of hamstring strains. “Really good football player that is short,” a third scout said. “Does everything you want him to do as a linebacker without the height. He doesn’t get engulfed on blockers as much as you think he might.”

4. Preston Brown, Louisville 6-1¼, 251, Round 3/4

Big, thick, tough and physical but with marginal speed and explosiveness. “I did (like him), but he can’t run,” a scout said. “He tries to knock you out, he’s inconsistent to bring his arms and wrap. Relies on explosive collision. He has good eyes to attack downhill. If he can get to you, he’s going to blow your (butt) up. He’s a slip-and-dodge guy, and he tries to knock you out with his head. Tough and competitive.” Three-year starter had 291 tackles, 20½, tackles for a loss and six sacks from ’11-’13. At the scouting combine, ran the 40 in 4.82 seconds, had a 33-inch vertical and did 23 bench reps. “Good special teams guy, you see it on punts and kickoffs,” another scout said. “Plays to the whistle. He not a (passing) down guy, he won’t be out there.”

5. Shayne Skov, Stanford 6-2¼, 245, Round 3/4

Tough, instinctive, physical player with limited athleticism. “Show up early, stay late, sleeping on the carpet and watching tape,” one scout said describing Skov. “He’s going to make it, no doubt in my mind. He’ll probably be an every-down guy.” Recovered from devastating injuries to his knee (torn ACL and MCL) and lower leg (broken tibia) that required three surgeries in ’11 to put up big numbers the past two seasons (190 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss and six sacks combined). “Effort guy, little bit of an overachiever,” another scout said. “Dependable, solid type player.” Couldn’t work out at the combine because of a calf injury or at his school’s regular Pro Day because of a hamstring injury, but on April 20 ran a slow 40 (5.09 seconds), had a mediocre 31-inch vertical and did 28 bench reps. “He’s not the best of athletes,” another scout said. “He’s extremely tough. When the ball’s run at him point of attack, he can handle that. He can get off blocks. Not a sideline to sideline player, but when the ball comes right at him, he does a pretty damn good job.”

Pdougher@pressgazettemedia.com and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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