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.