Here is how ESPN.com rates the top nine linebacker prospects in the draft:
D.J. Williams (Miami)
Vital statistics: 6-feet-0¾, 250 pounds, 4.54 in the 40, and 22 "reps" on the bench press.
Numbers game: Played fullback as a freshman before switching to linebacker the spring of his sophomore season. Three-year starter, played in 47 games and started 34 of them, finishing career with 241 tackles, 28 tackles for losses, 10 sacks and 11 passes defensed. Had one fumble recovery and returned it 78 yards for a touchdown. As a fullback, he rushed 18 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns, caught 12 passes for 143 yards.
Upside: Agile and active defender who is decisive in flowing to the ball, can be an intimidating hitter when he's got momentum, and simply flies all over the field. Physical and will take on blocks, sheds nicely, really uses his hands well. A "form" tackler who usually breaks down into textbook hitting position, bends his knees and drives through the ball carrier. Doesn't get knocked off his feet. Solid range, can get back into the short zones, good enough to cover most backs. Excellent special teams player.
Downside: Sturdy and durable but shorter than you'd like. Might be about as big as he can afford to be before he starts sacrificing some quickness. Will sometimes try too hard to make the marquee play. Needs improvement in man coverage skills and will need to get a little better reading keys in general.
The dish: Either he or former Hurricanes teammate Jonathan Vilma will be the first 'backer off the board.
MLB Jonathan Vilma (Miami)
Vital statistics: 6-feet-0½, 233 pounds, 4.56 in the 40, and 23 "reps" on the bench press.
Numbers game: A two-time Butkus Award nominee who led the Hurricanes in tackles each of his last three seasons. Appeared in 46 games with 35 starts and had 371 tackles, 30 stops for losses, three sacks, four forced fumbles and seven recoveries, and 12 passes defensed. Member of the All-Big East team final two seasons.
Upside: Intelligence off the field translates to on-field situations, superior instincts and diagnostic skills, seems to naturally flow to the ball at times. Active player who is kind of like a shark, in that he is always in motion, gets himself out of the box and to the outside when he is chasing plays. Terrific motor, great intensity, a guy whose competitive speed is much better than his stopwatch times. Knows how to pick up his feet and get out of traffic. Can redirect and work his way back to the play, but rarely makes a misread, and takes excellent pursuit angles. Will step up into the hole. Good pass rusher, especially on delayed inside blitzes, and decent coverage ability.
Downside: As is the case with D.J. Williams, lacks height, and could use a little more lower body strength. Will occasionally run around a play and needs to use his hands better to shed blockers. Has battled some injury problems.
The dish: Too bad he isn't two inches taller and 10 pounds heavier because, based on his productivity, he would be a top 10 choice. Will be chosen somewhere around the middle of the first round and could be the top linebacker selected, depending on team needs.
OLB Karlos Dansby (Auburn)
Vital statistics: 6-feet-3 ¼, 251 pounds, 4.58 in the 40, and 15 "reps" on the bench press.
Numbers game: Began his career as a strong safety and moved to linebacker as a sophomore. Two-time Butkus Award semifinalist. Three-year starter who played in 36 games, posted 218 tackles, 31 tackles for losses, 10 sacks, eight interceptions, 15 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and seven recoveries. In 2002, he scored a touchdown on a seven-yard fumble return.
Upside: Fluid defender with outstanding pursuit ability, can chase down plays from just about anywhere on the field, very quick-footed. Looks best on plays run away from him. Great overall range, can get deep into the secondary and, as demonstrated by eight interceptions and 15 passes defensed, is a factor versus the pass. Good blitzer off the edge and has enough explosiveness to beat tackles with his first move, and overpowers backs with his strength. Breaks well on the ball and is very sure-handed.
Downside: Has added nearly 20 pounds since end of season but still needs to gain more football functional strength. More finesse than physical and tends to either run around the backside of plays or get engaged by blockers he is unable to shed. Not always effective at anchoring and will get pushed off the point of attack. Not a "form" tackler, and will grab instead of driving through a ballcarrier. Disappears for long stretches.
The dish: No doubt he's a first-round player in terms of potential, and will probably be chosen in the opening stanza. But the team that takes him had better be convinced it can push all the right motivational buttons.
OLB Teddy Lehman (Oklahoma)
Vital statistics: 6-feet-1½, 240 pounds, 4.56 in the 40, and 26 "reps" on the bench press.
Numbers game: Won both the Butkus Award and the Bednarik Award in 2003. Started in 38 games and appeared in 51 contests. Notched 323 tackles, 47 tackles for losses, four interceptions, 16 passes defensed, six sacks, three forced fumbles and two recoveries. His 47 tackles for losses are second-most in school history, trailing just Rocky Calmus, who now plays for the Tennessee Titans.
Upside: Tough and competitive, plays every snap like it might be his last breath, finds a way to overcome his limited athleticism. Disciplined and diagnostic, reads keys quickly, plays with his head as much as with his body. Flows laterally and makes plays down the line. Good body control, economy of movement, chops his steps to stay out of the wash, can redirect and work back to the ball on the rare occasion he is out of position. Solid tackler who doesn't slide off many hits. Versus the pass, a nice blitz/cover combo player, can come off the edge or get back into the secondary. Has enough long speed to run with tight ends up the seam. Accomplished special teams player.
Downside: Will struggle in space at times and not the kind of linebacker who steps up into the hole and plants a runner. Needs to use his hands more and do a better job of protecting his legs. Takes some dubious pursuit angles.
The dish: Superb college player who needs to upgrade some aspects of his game to reach his potential at the next level. His big heart and productivity, overall career, certainly will count for something. No worse than a second-rounder.
OLB Michael Boulware (Florida State)
Vital statistics: 6-feet-2, 225 pounds, 4.46 in the 40, and 15 "reps" on the bench press.
Numbers game: Second-generation Seminoles star, very active on campus, a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Played most of his career at strong linebacker, but sometimes backed off into secondary, where he lined up at strong safety. Played 46 games and started 37, posting 340 tackles, five interceptions, 15 passes defensed, 3½ sacks, seven forced fumbles and three recoveries. His 340 tackles rank as the 11th most in school history. Scored two touchdowns, one each via interception and fumble return.
Upside: Runs well and usually plays to the level of his 40-yard speed. Closes quickly and chases down plays in pursuit, in part by taking good angles to the ball.. Also has nice short-area quickness. Good athlete who relies on natural skills and speed to get him to plays. An aware and instinctive defender who reads well. Durable and will play hurt. Arguably the best pass defender in the linebacker pool.
Downside: Thin build, cut high, can get bounced out of plays run right at him. Not a very physical defender and, as a tackler, lacks natural explosiveness. More a grabber than a form tackler. Usually runs around plays rather than through them. Has trouble keeping blockers away from his long legs. Definitely needs more bulk. Has had series of shoulder problems in the past and that needs to be checked.
The dish: Despite some of the negatives, a fast-riser over the last few weeks, in part because some teams feel he can project to strong safety. He certainly has the movement skills to give it a shot. Solidly in the second round.
OLB Dontarrious Thomas (Auburn)
Vital statistics: 6-feet-2½, 241 pounds, 4.59 in the 40, and 26 "reps" on the bench press.
Numbers game: Won the Pat Dye Leadership Award as a junior and was a two-time all-conference selection. Made the All-SEC academic honor roll three times. Played strong-side linebacker for three seasons before moving inside to middle linebacker for 2003. Had 350 tackles, 30 tackles for losses, two interceptions, 15 passes defensed and 6½ sacks. Played in 48 games and started 36 times.
Upside: Excellent all-around athlete, had a 38-inch vertical jump and sub-4.6 time in the 40, and a good mix of size and speed. Once he commits to a play, flashes good burst, can close the gap with surprising quickness. Lots of range in the running game, can go from sideline to sideline, and showing improvement versus the pass. Will step up and take on blockers, pretty good hands, has enough strength to throw people by their pads. Good jumper, can get into the passing lanes and deflect the ball.
Downside: A much better athlete than he is a player. Despite recent weight gain, still too thin through the lower body. Stiff through the hips, doesn't change directions well, and will get washed out when he tries to get back to the ball. Wastes a lot of energy trying to compensate for misreads, too often takes himself out of position. Doesn't consistently wrap up the ball carrier.
The dish: Somewhere amid all the raw athleticism there lurks a football player waiting to be coached up. Will have to move back outside, perhaps to the weak side, after playing the middle in 2003. Most likely a second-round pick.
MLB Daryl Smith (Georgia Tech)
Vital statistics: 6-feet-1 5/8, 234 pounds, 4.59 in the 40, and 24 "reps" on the bench press.
Numbers game: In four years as a starter, led team twice in tackles, and his 48 tackles for losses are a Yellow Jackets record. Started in 44 of his 46 appearances and totaled 383 tackles, three interceptions, 15 sacks, 12 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and four recoveries. One touchdown, on an interception return, in his freshman campaign.
Upside: A naturally squared-up defender who plays with textbook form, works up and down the line, can step quickly into the hole and plant the back. Disciplined and alert, isn't often out of position and has a knack for taking away the cutback. Plays stronger than his size and good enough balance to anchor at the point of attack. Can slip blocks and uses his hands to ward off blockers. Quick-footed enough to get back into a play and redirects nicely. Good leverage and flexibility. Decent blitz/cover skills. Hard worker and a good character guy.
Downside: A little short and short-armed. Isn't able to fully extend when blockers are into his body quickly. Needs more lower body strength. Only an average player in space and sometimes his footwork is awkward when he roams too far outside the box.
The dish: Might have to move outside to succeed at the next level. Some teams rate him a high second-round pick, others have him as a third-rounder.
OLB Courtney Watson (Notre Dame)
Vital statistics: 6-feet-1 3/8, 237 pounds, 4.54 in the 40, and 22 "reps" on the bench press.
Numbers game: Member of the American Football Coaches Association "Good Works" team for his service to the community. Two-time finalist for the Butkus Award. Had 294 tackles, 8½ sacks, seven interceptions and eight passes defensed. Scored two touchdowns on defensive takeaways.
Upside: Thick build and very good straight-line speed. Good playing strength. Active and instinctive, very bright, reads plays well. Solid athlete who had a 38-inch vertical jump. Is aggressive and gets around the ball. Agile, good balance, plays on his feet.
Downside: Hesitant and doesn't play nearly as fast as his 40 time. Lacks a nasty streak. Played inside at the college level but will have to move outside in the NFL. More a "wrap" tackler than a guy who goes through people. Will allow a blocker to get locked on him and can't disengage. Very stiff in pass coverage.
The dish: Tough to read. In offseason workouts, he certainly flashed athleticism and lots of quickness, but he isn't that productive when you watch his tapes. Could be a solid special teams player while improving in some needs areas. A first-day choice.
OLB Keyaron Fox (Georgia Tech)
Vital statistics: 6-feet-2 3/8, 227 pounds, 4.69 in the 40, and 28 "reps" on the bench press.
Numbers game: Played in 45 games and earned 35 starting assignments. Finished career with 376 tackles, nine sacks, one interception, 14 passes defensed, six forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Upside: Finds the ball nicely and has good closing speed, either in a short area or in space, solid tackler who won't slide off many hits. Plays with lots of energy, active and alert, bright and reactive. Can chop his steps and avoid getting caught in the garbage at his feet. Pretty good range and has flashed some blitz skills. Understands pursuit angles and leverage nuances.
Downside: Thin-framed and will get run out of plays. Willingly takes on plays at the point of attack but doesn't anchor well. Plays too upright in reverse, backpedal looks a little clumsy, and needs work on coverage in general.
The dish: Not a finished product but skills with which to work. A first-day choice.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.