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Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Updated: April 17, 9:49 AM ET
Bailey stands out among LBs

By Len Pasquarelli

Here is how rates the top 11 linebacker prospects in the draft:

  • OLB Boss Bailey (Georgia)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-3 1/8, 233 pounds, 4.44 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Three-year starter who averaged 81.7 tackles 2000-2002, terrific two-way player as evidenced by 10 sacks and nine interceptions in final two seasons. Really broke out with 114 tackles in 2002.
    Upside: Fluid athlete who runs like a tailback and owns a vertical jump that certainly is NBA caliber. Not only has speed, but possesses a quick burst that allows him to go from sideline to sideline and chase people down. Can close quickly on the ball. Good coverage skills and can run up the field, as well as track backs into the flat. When it comes to just running all day, he's like the Energizer bunny. Clearly at his best playing in space.
    Downer: Not a very solid power base and definitely has a game that's built for speed and finesse. Needs to use his hands better to shed blockers and to disengage from people. Gets into the habit of running around plays instead of taking them head-on.
    The dish: Could be a better player at the NFL level than in college, where he was miscast as a strong-side linebacker. His game is reminiscent of that of Tampa Bay star Derrick Brooks, and he should be used the same way, in a scheme that covers him up and allows him to just run to the football. Will be the first linebacker off the board, not among the first 10 picks, but certainly in the top half of the round.

    More on LB
  • Others: ILB Angelo Crowell (Virginia), OLB Mike Nattiel (Florida), OLB Eddie Moore(Tennessee), OLB Lance Briggs(Arizona), ILB Tony Gilbert(Georgia), ILB Matt Wilhelm (Ohio State), OLB Joe Odom (Purdue), OLB Chris Clemons (Georgia), ILB Mario Haggan (Mississippi State), ILB Mark Brown (Auburn), OLB Solomon Bates (Arizona State), OLB Scott Shanle(Nebraska), OLB Byron Hardmon (Florida), ILB Merrill Robertson (Virginia), OLB Chad Lee (Louisville), OLB Jeremy Loyd (Iowa State).

  • Rising: Robert Mathis of Alabama State was a defensive end in college but, at 230 pounds, will have to move to linebacker at the NFL level. He will be raw and, although he performed well in most linebacker drills for scouts in the last month, teams will have to be patient as he learns the new position. He runs in the mid-4.5s and is the Division I-AA single-season sack record holder, with 17 sacks in 2002. At worst, he can always be a situational, third-down rusher. Texas A&M's Jarrod Penright definitely is a late climber on draft boards. He's had some injuries in the past but, if he is healthy, could be a nice "edge" player in time.

  • Declining: LaMarcus McDonald of TCU was the Conference USA defensive player of the year in 2002, but has not done much to impress the scouts in the postseason. Although not very big he hasn't run well and he looks like a second-day pick now. Syracuse middle 'backer Clifton Smith entered the '02 season rated a possible first-round choice but doesn't move well and doesn't play very aware. Lawrence Flugence of Texas Tech runs well enough but doesn't look very tough.

  • Intriguing: Fresno State's Sam Williams has rare size (6-feet-4 and 257 pounds) and looks more like a defensive end than even some of the ends in this draft. The rangy defender is just a one-year starter and missed plenty of time in his career to injuries. But the guy has run in the high 4.5s, had a 38-inch vertical jump and did 21 repetitions on the bench press drill. Very raw but also very interesting.

  • Sleepers: Tracy White of Howard isn't very big (6-feet-0 and 236 pounds) but has run a 4.46 in the 40, is a terrific leaper and all-around athlete. No one knows if he can play in the NFL, even on special teams, but it will be worth a late-round gamble to find out. Vanderbilt's Hunter Hillenmeyer has size (6-feet-4, 244 pounds), is very smart, and made 168 tackles in 2002. he lacks speed but knows the game well and is an improving blitzer. Mars Hill outside linebacker Khalid Abdullah hasn't played at a very high level of competition but has some noticeable physical tools.

  • Notable: Boss Bailey is the younger brother of Washington Redskins star cornerback Champ Bailey. ... Matt Word of Iowa State is the brother of Cleveland Browns defensive end Mark Word. ... Pisa Tinoisamao of Hawaii is the nephew of the late Sal Aunese, who played quarterback at the University of Colorado in the late 1980s. ... Arizona State's Solomon Bates started for the Sun Devils as a 17-year-old freshman. ... Georgia's Chris Clemons is the nephew of Houston Texans linebacker Charlie Clemons. ... Angelo Crowell of Virginia is the brother of former Detroit Lions wideout Germane Crowell, currently an unrestricted free agent. ... Mike Nattiel of Florida is the nephew of former NFL wide receiver Ricky Nattiel.

  • Position trend: Where have all the 6-foot-2 linebackers gone? In what has to be driving scouts crazy, the position is shrinking, at least vertically. Ten years ago, the average starting linebacker in the NFL was nearly 6-feet-2. Of the top 11 linebackers in the 2003 draft class, only four are taller than 6-feet-1 and just two are 6-feet-2 or better.
  • OLB Nick Barnett (Oregon State)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-1 5/8, 236 pounds, 4.67 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Former safety moved full-time to linebacker for 2000 season and, over course of career, started at both strong-side and weak-side spots. Posted 121 tackles, 20½ for losses, and six sacks in 2002.
    Upside: Not nearly as athletic as Bailey, but perhaps more aware overall, and makes a lot of plays on instinct. Hard worker, a player who wants to be good, and a real student of the game. Pretty good in coverage and plays the ball well, a tipoff to his short-lived tenure at safety. Can run with tight ends and turn his hips and get upfield with most running backs.
    Downer: He has bulked up considerably over the past year but still has a fairly thin frame. Gets stuck to blockers when he's in a tight area scenario. More a cover player than a blitzer and might not be strong enough to play over the tight end, and control him, at the next level. Will have to get over his habit of freelancing.
    The dish: Stock has risen considerably since the end of the '02 season and Barnett has worked hard to get the attention of scouts. A chance that he will get into the first round but more likely a second-rounder.

  • ILB E.J. Henderson (Maryland)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-0 7/8, 245 pounds, 4.75 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Redshirted as freshman, then played all four seasons, three of them as a starter. Tackling machine who, in final three years, totaled 434 stops, including 150 in 2001 and 175 in 2002. Career also included 60½ tackles for loss and 17 sacks.
    Upside: Despite a lack of pure athleticism, super-productive defender with great feel for the game, able to anticipate plays, read quickly and get to the ball. Will just stack up everything between the tackles and can step up into the hole and stop a back in his tracks. Stocky and thick, able to take on and shed blocks, decent blitzer. Lots of hustle and just a good football player.
    Downer: Looks stiff at times and, when his pad level isn't right, can be pushed out of the play. Although he is usually moving faster than it looks, not very polished in pass coverage, and might be a two-down player. Has trouble even getting out into the flat and hook zones. A gambler who does not have the quickness to make up for missteps.
    The dish: Not quite as good as his hype, winner of the Bednarik and Butkus awards has had injuries in the past, and back woes will need scrutiny. If any middle linebacker goes in the first round, it will be Henderson, but he could slip into the second round.

  • OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa (Hawaii)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-0 3/8, 231 pounds, 4.63 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Started for the final 2½ seasons after entering school as a partial qualifier in 1999. Totaled 215 tackles in 2001-2002 and finished up strong, with 129 stops last season. Also had 11½ sacks over last two years.
    Upside: Tremendous quickness, explosiveness and burst. When he gets a good look at a play, is like a heat-seeking missile, and he can cover a ton of ground with an economy of motion. Makes himself hard to block because he is so active. Gets out of the traffic nicely and will redirect to the play that's going away from him. Good coverage who gets better every year.
    Downer: If he was an inch taller, might be the best weak-side prospect in the draft, but his lack of height is a factor. He could use a bit more tonnage, although he is thick in the thighs, too much weight might take away some quickness. Will get undisciplined at times, try too hard to make the play, and instead run himself right out of it.
    The dish: Has improved his temperament, but still no choir boy, and was convicted of felony assault as a high school senior. Will go off the board in the second round.

  • ILB/SLB Bradie James (LSU)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-2 3/8, 242 pounds, 4.68 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Three-year starter who began career on the outside but played more as a middle linebacker in 2002. Had 100-plus tackles each of the past three seasons and totaled 411 stops for his career, with 147 of them in 2002. Also added 14 sacks, with 8½ last season.
    Upside: Especially in a draft of munchkin-sized 'backers, very nice size, and has been a team leader. A big, powerful hitter, good strength, will make you play with your head on a swivel, because he isn't bashful about taking a run at a back or receiver. Can be an intimidating hitter when he's on his game.
    Downer: Doesn't always play with balance and vision and, while scouts love his size, he's not as good a pure athlete as some of the other players in the linebacker class. Has clocked better 40 times this spring but still is not a quick closer. Needs to play with better pad level.
    The dish: His lack of speed will hold him back a bit, but you've got to love his 'tude and his toughness. Can play inside or outside and teams like that. Looks like a second-round prospect.

  • ILB/OLB Gerald Hayes (Pittsburgh)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-0 7/8, 238 pounds, 4.75 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Got significant playing time as a true freshman in 1999 and then started the last three seasons. Recorded over 100 tackles each of last three years, with a career best of 133 in 2002, and averaged 98.3 for career. Added 51 tackles for loss and had 13½ sacks.
    Upside: Has always been very productive, owns a nose for the action, and will not shy away from anybody. When he squares his shoulders and gets in a hitting position, will deliver the classic rising blow, and can knock runners back into the hole. Long arms and gets them into the passing lanes. Knows the game and made most of the checkoff calls for the Panthers defense the past few seasons. Solid character guy whose lack of words belie his passion.
    Downer: Like many of the '03 prospects, lacks prototype height, and some teams aren't sure he can play in the middle, the position where he thrived. Has a little hesitation before he makes his move to the ball. Lets blockers get to his body too easily and won't always drive through the ballcarrier.
    The dish: He's been too productive to fall very far and some team will grab him in the second round and figure out where to play him.

  • ILB/SLB Victor Hobson (Michigan)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-0 ½, 252 pounds, 4.62 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Played four seasons after initial redshirt campaign and was a starter the past 3½ seasons. Averaged nearly 70 tackles over the course of his career, with totals rising in every season, and added 47 tackles for loss and 15 sacks. Went over 80 tackles in each of 2001-2002 seasons.
    Upside: Not always the prettiest guy around or the most technically correct, but makes a bunch of plays, and has heart for the game and good instincts. Plays a tick quicker than his clock speed and gets around the ball. Smart on and off the field. A tough kid and hard worker.
    Downer: Lacks explosiveness and true closing speed, will be a step late on some plays, even when he reads them right. Doesn't always finish plays and gets turned too easily by blockers. Must learn to use his hands better and to get his feet up and out of traffic.
    The dish: Might not get chosen until the third round. But whoever takes him is getting a player passionate about the game, a guy who'll run right through walls when asked to, and who will do all the little things to succeed.

  • ILB Terry Pierce (Kansas State)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-1 3/8, 251 pounds, 4.84 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Despite not starting until second half of season, was the Big 12 freshman of the year in 2000. In final two seasons, he had 172 tackles, 25 stops for losses, seven passed defensed and eight sacks.
    Upside: Better overall size than most of the prospects this year. Strong and resilient. Doesn't mind putting his nose into the action. Reads plays well and reacts with solid awareness. Durable and will play hurt. A real warrior.
    Downer: Really doesn't have the speed to get him outside to the edge and, in pursuit, will take sloppy angles and not reach the ball. If he improved his angles, he'd actually play faster, but that hasn't happened yet. Simply not a very good athlete.
    The dish: People were talking about him at the combine as a first-rounder, but that isn't going to happen. His stock has slipped, and that's too bad, because he is a solid kid and will play hard. A second-rounder.

  • OLB Chaun Thompson (West Texas A&M)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-1 7/8, 240 pounds, 4.53 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Four-year starter whose career was interrupted in 2000, when he fractured his elbow, and took a redshirt year. Was over 100 tackles in last three years of eligibility, with a high of 136 stops in 1999, and also had 38 tackles for loss and six sacks.
    Upside: Naturally strong and was able to add 15 pounds after the season with no appreciable dropoff in speed. Nice height, long arms, and those add to his ranginess. Will get his hands on a lot of balls. Moves fluidly and runs better than most tight ends.
    Downer: At this point in his career, still a better athlete than football player, but he continues to make strides. Plays best in space and doesn't seem to want to mix it up. Has problems getting off blocks and it appears he can't be given too many responsibilities. For all his speed, doesn't chase down as many plays as you'd think he might.
    The dish: Passes the eyeball test and some scouts are mesmerized by his speed and athleticism. Definitely a riser but not yet mature, has a ways to go before he is a finished product. The pundits who have him going in the first round are off. More realistically a second- or third-round pick by a team that will take him on the come.

  • OLB Cie Grant (Ohio State)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-0 3/8, 228 pounds, 4.54 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Remarkable combination of statistics, since he began career at safety and, incredibly, played cornerback in '01. Had three interceptions as a corner, finished career with 146 tackles, five sacks, four interceptions.
    Upside: Amazing versatility and has started at three different positions, and been more than solid at all of them. Superb speed for the position and owns a non-stop motor, flies all over the field. Very agile, can avoid the trash, and usually stays on his feet. Can run to all corners of the field. Very active and athletic. A hard worker and big-time character guy.
    Downer: For all his obvious athletic skills, a bit of a linear player, doesn't change directions and redirect well enough after a false step. Not very big and some teams feel he might be best suited to safety. Hasn't lined up at any position long enough to get familiar with it and that's stunted his progress. It has also meant he is not as instinctive as some other linebackers.
    The dish: Teams have really come onto him lately and it definitely is hard to ignore straightline speed. Should be a second-round pick who contributes on special teams as a rookie and eventually moves into a starting role.

  • ILB Kawika Mitchell (South Florida)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-0 7/8, 253 pounds, 4.65 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Matriculated at University of Georgia, redshirted in first year, then transferred after spring practice in 1999. Became four-year starter at South Florida and went on to average 91.8 tackles, with over 100 each in 2001-2002. Also played well on special teams.
    Upside: Tough guy who, between the tackle boxes, will make a ton of hits and who appears to relish contact. Not as tall as you'd like, a very common shortcoming of this year's class, but thick through the trunk and powerful in his thighs and butt. Difficult to knock off his feet. Has a natural habit of lifting his feet as he moves out of the box and that keeps him out of traffic. Doesn't play up to his stopwatch speed.
    Downer: Even with a decent base, when he gets too high, he gets backed off the action. Lateral speed is only adequate and won't make many tackles in the periphery. Only an average diagnostician. Very raw in coverage, really can't turn his hips and run deep, will have to improve overall footwork.
    The dish: A surprising number of teams have called about him and recent workouts have been strong. Just in the last couple months, has gone from a curiosity to a probable first-day choice.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for