2014 NFL Combine Tale Of The Tape: Linebackers

Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier recorded the highest vertical jump of any prospect at the Combine. - Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

There's a chance the Cowboys will be looking to add a linebacker via the draft this year. Perhaps not in the early rounds, but there might be some interesting candidates later. Which is why we dig into the numbers to figure out whether there's anybody we really like in this year's draft class.

Today we're putting linebackers under the microscope based on their Combine performance, and we're going to do so in largely the same format we've used for the previous posts. Once again we'll start by looking at the target measurements for linebackers. Note that there are different expectations for OLBs and ILBs as listed below:

Drill Significance OLBs ILBs
40-yard dash Speed over distance 4.70 4.80
225-pound bench press reps Upper body strength 23 24
Vertical jump Explosiveness, leg strength 36 33
Broad jump (inches)
Explosiveness, leg strength 9'9" (117 inches)
9'6" (114)
20-yard shuttle Flexibility, burst, balance 4.10 4.20
3-cone drill Agility, change of direction 7.10 7.20

Because there are significant differences in the two positions, I've split them into two tables, based on the position designation for each player on the CBSSports big board. We'll start with the OLBs and look at how many target measurables each prospect met:

OLB 2014 Combine results (click column header to sort)

Rank Player Height Weight 40 yds (4.70)
Reps (23)
Vert (36)
Broad (117)
20 S (4.10)
3 Cone (7.10)
Targets Met
8 Mack, Khalil 6'3" 251 4.65 23 40 128 4.18 7.08 5
10 Barr, Anthony 6'5" 255 4.66 15 34.5 119 4.19 6.82 3
33 Shazier, Ryan 6'1" 237 25 42 130 4.21 6.91 4
38 Van Noy, Kyle 6'3" 243 4.71 21 32.5 112 4.20 7.22 0
43 Murphy, Trent 6'5" 250 4.86 19 35.5 118 4.20 6.78 2
46 Reilly, Trevor 6'5" 245 26 1
60 Smith, Telvin 6'3" 218 4.52 31.5 119 2
67 Bradford, Carl 6'1" 250 4.76 23 37.5 122 4.30 7.25 3
85 Attaochu, Jeremiah 6'3" 252 0
93 Kirksey, Christian 6'2" 233 16 32 122 1
107 Zumwalt, Jordan 6'4" 235 4.76 33 116 4.25 6.99 1
117 Tripp, Jordan 6'3" 234 4.67 22 37.5 120 3.96 6.89 5
133 Hubbard, Adrian 6'6" 257 4.69 38.5 117 3
146 Shembo, Prince 6'1" 253 4.71 26 38.5 122 4.31 7.29 3
158 Powell, Ronald 6'3" 237 4.65 21 35.5 114 1
170 Kennard, Devon 6'3" 249 4.70 23 30 113 4.32 7.25 2
210 Pierre-Louis, Kevin 6'0" 232 4.51 28 39 128 4.02 6.92 6
215 Brown, Jonathan 6'1" 251 5.03 18 31 108 4.56 7.77 0
221 Fortt, Khairi 6'2" 248 4.70 30 36 120 4
245 Starr, Tyler 6'4" 250 4.95 24 32 116 4.15 6.64 2
288 Lokombo, Bo 6'2" 225 4.66 122 4.30 7.15 2
325 Hitchens, Anthony 6'0" 240 4.74 23 31.5 116 4.45 7.15 1

A word of caution about this table. For one thing, there are many measurables missing here. Some of them may be missing because they haven't been reported yet, some are missing because the player wasn't able to participate in the drill. Take Ryan Shazier. Shazier didn’t run the 40-yard dash because of a minor hamstring injury. He told reporters he expects his 40 time to be in the 4.4s when he runs it at Ohio State's Pro Day on March 7. If you factor that in for Shazier and the other prospects, your read on a given prospect would likely change.

The other thing to consider is that research conducted by Ourlads.com on the physical attributes that result in NFL success, found that the best predictor of NFL success for linebackers was to exceed peer average in the 40 (4.70) and five of the six other attribute tests (this would include the 60-yard shuttle, which doesn't show up here). That's basically a no-brainer, because what those findings effectively say is that the better athletes are more successful in the NFL. Then again, what's the point of drafting a fast player if all he does is run fast in the wrong direction?

Linebacker is one of the more cerebral positions in the NFL, so good athletic markers alone won't make you successful in the NFL. Case in point: Jason Williams, the Cowboys' 2009 third-round pick. At his pro day, Williams ran a 4.49 40-yard dash, put up 26 reps, had a vertical of 39 inches and a broad jump of 10'09" - all results exceeding the position targets quite handily. In this year's OLB class, only three players managed to exceed the targets in those four drills, yet Williams never amounted to much in the NFL, notching four starts in five NFL seasons.

With all of that in mind, the standout prospect as measured by their Combine performance are Kevin Pierre-Louis out of Boston College, Khalil Mack and small-school prospect Jordan Tripp out of Montana,which is the Alma Mater of former Cowboys draft pick Caleb McSurdy. Ryan Shazier and USC's Khairi Fortt could join that group with good performances at their respective pro days.

On to this year's crop of inside linebackers:

ILB 2014 Combine results (click column header to sort)

Rank Player Height Weight 40 yds (4.80)
Reps (24)
Vert (33)
Broad (114)
20 S (4.20)
3 Cone (7.20)
Targets Met
16 Mosley, C.J. 6'2" 234 35 118 4.40 7.30 2
76 Smallwood, Yawin 6'2" 246 5.01 18 36.5 108 1
92 Borland, Chris 5'11" 248 4.83 27 31 114 4.27 7.18 3
115 Skov, Shayne 6'2" 245 0
124 Jones, Christian 6'3" 240 4.74 33.5 115 3
143 Barrow, Lamin 6'1" 237 4.64 22 35 123 4.35 7.24 3
176 Brown, Preston 6'0" 238 4.86 23 33 116 4.26 6.98 3
214 George, Jeremiah 5'11" 234 4.91 28 33 116 3
237 Jackson, Andrew 6'1" 254 0
250 Bullough, Max 6'3" 249 4.78 30 31 112 4.30 7.22 2
294 Unga, Devin 6'1" 231 0
309 Williamson, Avery 6'1" 246 4.66 25 30.5 120 4.07 7.11 5
330 Morris, James 6'1" 241 4.80 18 34.5 117 4.36 6.94 4

The same caveats apply here as they did in the table for OLBs, but I'll add one more: these numbers don't show an inside linebacker's ability to diagnose plays, his ability to defend the pass or his ability to be a "sideline-to-sideline" player.

C.J. Mosley for example is an outstanding linebacker, as anybody who has seen him play will attest, but his Combine performance is so-so. Perhaps his pro day will better reflect the athleticism he has consistently shown on the field.

Still, it's hard to get excited about this year's class of inside linebackers, based only on their combine measurables. Avery Williamson out of Kentucky, and James Morris out of Iowa could make for some interesting later-round prospects, but overall, this may not be the best year to get an inside linebacker unless you invest a very high pick.

Perhaps there is more to be gleaned by looking at the college production of the LB prospects in this year's draft class. To do that, we'll use a metric which we'll call "Productivity Score." The metric is pretty straightforward, as it looks at the available linebacker stats and weights them with a point system as follows:

Productivity Score points system
Stat Points
Tackle 1
Tackle For Loss 3
QB Hurries 3
Pass Breakup 3
Sack 6
Forced Fumble
6
Interception 9

We've used the same metric to evaluate safeties, you can go read up on some more details about this metric by following this link.

2014 Linebacker Production Score (click column header to sort)

Rank Player POS Proj. Rd Games Tkl TFL QBH PBU Sack FF INT Prod. Score
8 Mack, Khalil OLB 1 24 194 39.0 10 9 18.5 9 3 19.4
10 Barr, Anthony OLB 1 27 148 41.0 6 6 23.0 10 0 14.6
16 Mosley, C.J. ILB 1 25 215 17.0 12 7 4.0 2 2 13.9
33 Shazier, Ryan OLB 1-2 26 258 40.5 9 15 12.0 7 1 19.2
38 Van Noy, Kyle OLB 1-2 26 119 39.0 18 12 17.0 6 4 15.8
43 Murphy, Trent DE 2 28 118 41.5 11 10 25.0 3 2 13.4
46 Reilly, Trevor OLB 2 24 169 23.0 3 6 13.5 4 2 13.5
60 Smith, Telvin OLB 2 28 154 19.0 4 7 3.0 1 3 9.5
67 Bradford, Carl OLB 2-3 27 141 39.5 6 8 20.0 6 2 13.9
76 Smallwood, Yawin ILB 2-3 24 238 24.5 1 13 8.0 4 1 16.1
85 Attaochu, Jeremiah OLB 2-3 26 114 28.0 5 3 22.5 2 0 10.5
92 Borland, Chris ILB 3 24 215 18.5 7 8 8.5 4 0 14.4
93 Kirksey, Christian OLB 3 25 199 8.5 8 3 4.5 3 3 12.3
107 Zumwalt, Jordan OLB 3-4 26 162 13.5 1 1 2.0 3 2 9.1
115 Skov, Shayne ILB 3-4 27 189 22.0 12 5 8.0 3 0 12.1
117 Tripp, Jordan OLB 3-4 24 195 19.0 3 4 7.5 5 4 14.3
124 Jones, Christian ILB 4 27 151 15.0 7 3 2.0 0 1 8.4
133 Hubbard, Adrian OLB 4 27 74 16.5 8 4 10.0 3 0 7.1
143 Barrow, Lamin ILB 4-5 26 195 13.0 7 7 1.5 1 0 10.5
146 Shembo, Prince OLB 4-5 26 99 16.0 29 1 13.0 1 0 10.2
158 Powell, Ronald OLB 5 23 58 16.0 11 0 10.0 1 0 6.9
170 Kennard, Devon OLB 5-6 14 60 13.0 10 4 9.0 0 0 11.1
176 Brown, Preston ILB 5-6 26 206 16.5 10 5 4.5 3 1 12.5
210 Pierre-Louis, Kevin OLB 6-7 22 193 14.5 0 4 8.0 0 1 12.1
214 George, Jeremiah ILB 6-7 25 220 20.0 2 9 3.5 3 2 13.6
215 Brown, Jonathan OLB 6-7 21 178 24.5 2 5 7.5 2 1 13.9
221 Fortt, Khairi OLB 6-7 11 62 3.5 1 0 0.5 0 0 6.7
237 Jackson, Andrew ILB 7 24 95 26.0 8 3 3.0 4 0 8.9
245 Starr, Tyler OLB 7 23 145 22.0 9 6 13.0 6 1 13.8
250 Bullough, Max ILB 7 26 186 22.0 13 6 4.0 2 1 12.3
288 Lokombo, Boseko OLB 7-FA 26 102 11.5 9 7 5.0 2 3 8.7
294 Unga, Devin ILB 7-FA 26 166 10.5 1 4 1.0 2 1 8.7
309 Williamson, Avery ILB 7-FA 24 237 8.5 4 4 4.0 2 1 13.0
325 Hitchens, Anthony OLB 7-FA 24 236 19.0 4 2 3.0 2 1 13.4
330 Morris, James ILB 7-FA 25 219 26.0 3 7 8.5 3 5 15.6

The data is taken from cfbstats.com, the rank and projected rounds are taken from the CBSSports big board.

No surprise at the top, where Khalil Mack tops this list as the most disruptive college player over the last two years. Mack also aced five of six Combine drills, so he'll very likely be a great asset for the team drafting him, or as Bob Sturm would say:

Ryan Shazier sits right behind Mack both in terms of college production and athletic markers. Shazier has been creeping up draft boards, and it won't be long before he is firmly established as a first-round prospect.

Yawin Smallwood and Kyle Van Noy also had very good production in college, but the watchout here is that they don't show the type of athletic markers that are conducive to NFL success.

The Cowboys could very well be looking for a linebacker again this year. Who would you have the Cowboys target?

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