Best 2018 NFL Draft Prospects: Linebackers

Linebacker is a position that is often overlooked, but very important nonetheless. In the 2017 NFL Draft there were plenty of talented linebackers selected. There are a lot of linebackers in this class that have potential, but will have to play well to justify a high draft pick. Here are the top prospects heading into the 2017 college football season:

Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

Tremaine Edmunds NFL

Tremaine Edmunds (Photo by: zimbio.com)

Edmunds is one of three brothers that have played for Virginia Tech and will look to have a big junior year. He has the most draft potential and has great size at 6’5″ and 236 pounds.

Last year Edmunds finished with 94 tackles. He has a great all around game with 16.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, an interception and three passes defended. If he can improve his coverage skills this season and keep consistent production, he will be a highly sought after prospect.

The Hokies play West Virginia, Clemson, North Carolina, Miami and Pittsburgh. Edmunds will need to step up in the game against Clemson for his team to win and if he does, his draft stock will be improved.

Malik Jefferson, Texas

One of the more highly touted linebackers coming out of high school, Jefferson has played early and often for the Longhorns. With solid size at 6’3″ and 238 pounds, he has all the tools to be the first linebacker selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Jefferson has 121 total tackles in his two seasons at Texas. He has great athleticism that makes him a well-rounded linebacker. With 16 tackles for loss, nine sacks, five passes defended and a touchdown scored he makes a lot of plays. Coverage and ball skills are things he will need to work on this season, but what he has already accomplished has made him a top prospect.

Texas has some big matchups this year that will require Jefferson’s best. They play USC, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. If he can help slow down the USC and Oklahoma offenses, he could be the first linebacker taken in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Kendall Joseph, Clemson

Joseph may have been overlooked because of all the talent on Clemson’s roster last year, but he will need to be the one making headlines this season. He is a little undersized at 6’0″ and 230 pounds, but makes plays.

Last year was his first season getting a lot of playing time and he broke out. He finished the season with 106 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. If he can have a solid campaign to follow up his breakout season, NFL teams will move him up on their boards.

Clemson plays Auburn, Louisville, Virginia Tech and Florida State, which should give Joseph a lot of opportunities to prove what he can do. He needs to produce against these good offenses this season to hold his ranking.

Skai Moore, South Carolina

Skai Moore NFL

Skai Moore (Photo by: cbssports.com)

Moore is a good prospect, but did miss all of the 2016 season with a neck injury. Staying healthy will be key to preserve and enhance Moore’s draft stock. He has average size at 6’2″ and 220 pounds.

In 2015, the last season he played, Moore finished with 110 total tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. He is a good run stopper and coverage linebacker, with 11 career interceptions, but could improve his blitzing ability. If his neck checks out and he has a productive year he will be one of the first linebackers taken.

The Gamecocks have Texas A&M, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Clemson all on the schedule. Moore will be called upon to be at his best this season for South Carolina and will reap the rewards if he answers that call.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

South Carolina Gamecock Spring Ball

This next football season will be South Carolina’s first season without legendary Coach Steve Spurrier. But after seeing what I saw at their spring game, I think Coach Will Muschamp will have the Gamecocks ready for the season opener at Vanderbilt. Here’s some of the good and the not so good I saw from the spring game.

Courtesy of thestate.com

Courtesy of thestate.com

Good: The play of true freshman quarterback Brandon McIllwain. The faithful here in Columbia, South Carolina have been looking for an answer at quarterback and I think they found their golden arm. McIllwain started the game with the starters and had a really good outing. He went 19 of 26, threw 2 touchdown passes, and also carried the ball into the endzone one time for the score.

I expect Coach Muschamp to drag the quarterback battle well into the summer camp, but I really think he should end it early and name a starter so the team can be in rhythm with one quarterback. And I think that quarterback starter is McIllwain. He is pretty far ahead of the pack, if you factor in that he should still be in high school and that he is also playing baseball for the Gamecocks this spring.

He is also working on his timing with fellow freshmen Bryan Edwards. Edwards was on the receiving end of both of McIllwain’s two touchdown passes. McIllwain throwing to 6’3″ Edwards might be one of the favorite combos for Gamecock faithful next year.

The play of redshirt freshman wide receiver Javon Charleston should help the passing attack of the Gamecocks next season. The receiving corp has a whole new look. For the most part all of the receivers are big for the Gamecocks.

Joe Robbins/ Getty Images

Joe Robbins/ Getty Images

Questionable: I don’t want to use the word “bad” because it is only April, so everything is relatively fixable. The Gamecock’s secondary still looks shaky. The linebackers will be lead by T.J. Holloman and Skai Moore and should be fine. I can’t really judge the pass rush since in a spring game there really is no pass rush. As a whole the secondary looked weak and far from ready. Yes, I am mostly talking about the second string defense, but some of those guys will have to play some minutes this year.  There were breakdowns throughout the game. Connor Mitch and Brandon McIllwain threw for 3 TD and over 300 yards.

The run game of the Gamecocks was inconsistent and it seems like one running back separated from the pack. Junior, Jamari Smith, had some really good plays in the slot and the backfield, but he will probably not be the starting the running back for the Gamecocks.

The longest run of the game was by Deebo Samuels, a wide receiver. Junior, Rod Talley, had a game high 34 rushing yards. The offensive line and the running backs need to be able to have some run game to protect their quarterback next year. Hopefully the holes will start to get wider for David Williams and the other running backs.