NFL DRAFT PREVIEW: LINEBACKERS
By Kevin Lyttle and Suzanne Halliburton
This year’s three-day draft begins April 27 in Philadelphia in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
April 27: Round 1, 7 p.m.
April 28: Rounds 2-3, 6 p.m.
April 29: Rounds 4-7, 11 a.m.
TV: ESPN, NFL Network
ON THE CLOCK
Thursday: Defensive backs
Saturday: Defensive linemen
Sunday: Offensive linemen
Monday: Wide receivers
April 25: Running backs
April 26: Quarterbacks
FIRST ROUND DRAFT ORDER
2. San Francisco
6. N.Y. Jets
7. L.A. Chargers
11. New Orleans
19. Tampa Bay
23. N.Y. Giants
27. Kansas City
29. Green Bay
32. New Orleans
LB FOCUS: REUBEN FOSTER, ALABAMA
Reuben Foster emerged from last season as one of the few can’t-miss prospects in this draft. Leader of the nastiest defense in college football, hits like a ton of bricks, possesses the instincts and laser focus to patrol receivers over the middle.
Then came rotator-cuff surgery, reports of a slow healing process, poor interviews and expulsion from the combine because he got into a shouting match with a hospital worker.
It was reported Thursday that NFL notified Foster that his urine sample at the NFL combine tested as diluted, which the league will treat as a positive result. That means Foster will enter the NFL’s drug program upon being drafted.
Prior to knowledge of the drug test, several NFL execs pegged Foster as a player who could have an unexpected fall on draft day. Others disagree, but the positive test may make his fall all but certain. One NFL personnel exec has Foster as the No. 2 overall prospect behind Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, according to ESPN’s Adam Caplan. Another said Foster will be gone by No. 11.
“If you’re looking for a good teammate, Reuben’s going to be very, very good,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told CBS Sports. “If you’re looking for somebody to be a candy striper and nice to everyone at the hospital, maybe not.”
Exactly. Turn Foster loose on the field, and he’ll deliver. The Butkus Award winner racked up 115 tackles, 13 for loss, and five sacks last year. He made a career-best 12 tackles in the national championship game against Clemson.
And, oh, yeah, about that combine gaffe: He wrote a letter of apology to teams and offered to reschedule interviews, a gesture that went over well.
— KEVIN LYTTLE
WHO NEEDS A LB?
Chargers (7); Cardinals (13); Colts (15); Redskins (17); Lions (21); Giants (23); Texans (25); Chiefs (27); Steelers (30).
COWBOYS’ LB NEEDS
LOW: The most exciting rookie in camp this summer could be MLB Jaylon Smith, who missed 2016 but is on the mend. Smith was a top-10 overall talent from Notre Dame who fell to the second round because of a devastating knee injury. Sean Lee, Smith and Damien Wilson could be a pretty salty group.
TEXANS’ LB NEEDS
LOW: With standout veterans Whitney Mercilus, Brian Cushing and Bernardrick McKinney in place, the team is in good shape. In the middle rounds Houston could try to replace starting OLB John Simon, who signed with the Colts as a free agent, leaving undrafted Brennan Scarlett and Shakeel Rashad to fight for that job.
THE FOUR BEST LB PROSPECTS
1. Reuben Foster (Alabama): More than a run-stuffer. Owns the versatility to fit any scheme, understands the game and his mean streak should serve him well.
2. Haason Reddick (Temple): The former walk-on from Camden, N.J., who nobody wanted made himself into a first-round NFL prospect under now Baylor coach Matt Rhule. Had 22.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in 2016.
3. Jarrad Davis (Florida): An ankle injury kept him out of the combine, but he clicked at pro day with a 4.58 in the 40 and a 38.5-inch vertical, backing up the elite speed and raw explosiveness seen on film as a Gator.
4. Tim Williams (Alabama): Will disappear against the run, but teams can get past that from an edge rusher who pressured the quarterback once every 4.9 snaps in the SEC.
OTHER BIG 12/STATE PROSPECTS
Tyus Bowser (Houston): Played both basketball and football early in his career. Could sneak into first round as either linebacker or rush defensive end.
Jordan Evans (Oklahoma): Three-year starter for the Sooners. Had nice pro day, but the knock on him is he’s a finesse player and doesn’t seek out contact.
LB: 2016 FIRST PICK
Did not disappoint with seven sacks, second on the team, and a positive coverage grade from Pro Football Focus.
LB: 2016 BEST VALUE PICK
Despite starting only seven games, the 5-11, 221-pound ball of energy topped the team with 79 tackles.