NFL Draft 2013: 3-4 Outside Linebacker Rankings

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

As we begin to take a closer look at the upcoming 2013 NFL Draft, we examine and rank the top 3-4 outside linebackers.

As most of you know, the NFL Draft is a hobby that I spend a lot of time on, and consequently I will be spending the long winter months bringing you the best draft coverage that I can provide. Here's what I plan to do over the coming weeks and months:

With the Cowboys' 18th pick in mind, I will break down each position group and present a ranking of the top prospects in each group. I will start each position group with an initial rankings post, which will then be followed by a detailed scouting report for each relevant prospect on the list. After all of the scouting reports have been posted, I will have a wrap-up post in which we'll review the position group and re-assess the initial rankings.

Today we kick things off with the 3-4 outside linebackers. Entering the draft, outside linebacker will be a need for the Cowboys. DeMarcus Ware is still one of the best in the game, but age and nagging injuries are beginning to slow him down. Ware will still be a force, but the Cowboys need to begin the long and tedious process of preparing a pass rusher who could possibly replace him down the road. Ware has been consistent and productive his entire career, but don't be surprised if he begins to have a decrease in production.

Anthony Spencer and Victor Butler are both free agents. Spencer needs to be re-signed because of his versatility. Believe it or not, losing Spencer would be a disaster that would change the dynamic of the entire defense, and the Cowboys cannot afford to let him go. As for Butler, he is a nice role player, but his re-signing isn't entirely necessary. The only other "natural" outside linebacker on the roster is 2012 fourth-round draft pick Kyle Wilber, and right now he is an unknown commodity.

The Cowboys really need to beef up the pass rush. They simply don't have enough firepower and ammunition to do serious damage in that area.

What To Look For In A 3-4 Outside Linebacker

My Prototypical 3-4 Outside Linebacker: Aldon Smith

When evaluating 3-4 outside linebackers, you need to look for a prospect who can rush the passer. The 3-4 outside linebacker has a job designed to generate pressure. Obviously they need to stop the run, but the most important element of their game is to be a disruptive pass rusher who gets after the quarterback.

They must possess an outstanding first step or have a variety of pass rushing moves. Another important characteristic of a good pass rusher is the ability to drop his shoulders and get around offensive tackles. If they can also have enough strength to drive offensive lineman back, then that pass rusher can dominate by going outside and inside.

There will be times when they must drop back into coverage, so they must also be able to move fluidly. It's not the most important skill for a 3-4 outside linebacker, but they must be somewhat adequate when dropping back.

Due to a variety of reasons, this is one of the hardest positions to evaluate. In college, most teams shy away from the 3-4 defense. It's very rare to come across a college football team running a traditional 3-4 defense. If you can find a prospect who came from a 3-4 defense in college, then he is already ahead of the learning curve.

Most of the time, NFL teams will have to draft a 4-3 defensive end and convert him into a 3-4 outside linebacker. Going from having your hand in the dirt to standing up is a difficult conversion.

It takes time for them to hone their craft. This is a very difficult position to learn, not every prospect is going to be able to make the transition. The adjustment can cause some players to flame out before they even reach their peak in the NFL.

Physically, you want a player who is between 6'2" to 6'6" tall and weighs anywhere from 245-265 pounds. These prospects usually come in two forms. There are the shorter and more compact players, and the taller players who have a lean and muscular frame.

This Year's top 3-4 OLBs

2013 NFL Draft 3-4 Outside Linebacker Rankings
Rank Name School
1 Bjoern Werner* Florida State
2 Jarvis Jones* Georgia
3 Damontre Moore* Texas A&M
4 Dion Jordan Oregon
5 Barkevious Mingo* LSU
6 Sam Montgomery* LSU
7 Ezekiel Ansah BYU
*denotes underclassman

It's still very early in the draft process, so you may see these rankings change and fluctuate as I examine and get a better feel for the prospects. Over the next couple of weeks, players will begin declaring for the draft. There will also be some who decide to change their mind and stay in school. We will revisit these rankings periodically and adjust them accordingly, but as for right now they basically are what they are

As we go through the key prospects at each position, I will eliminate the players who probably won't be available for the Cowboys when they go on the clock with the 18th overall pick. By eliminating players from the list, we can get right into who makes sense for the Cowboys at 18. Of course, players will fall in the draft and there is always the chance of the war room making another Morris Claiborne type of trade, but in the long run, this will make things easier.

Players who'll likely be out of reach for the Cowboys

Bjoern Werner is one of the most consistent players in college football. Unless the Cowboys trade up, then Werner will be long gone before we go on the clock (sorry OCC). If Jarvis Jones has some issues with medical concerns at the combine, then you could see him fall, but not all the way to us at 18. As for Damontre Moore, he is simply too good of a prospect to fall past the first 12 picks. With all of that mind, we can eliminate those three prospects from our scouting reports.

Coming up next: Dion Jordan's Scouting Report

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