Richner: 2016 Top OLB

Last Updated: 5/1/2016 1:00 PM ET
This year's outside linebacker group is the talk of the scouting world. Not only are teams trying to figure out who is the best prospect but major, career threatening injuries are causing a couple top prospects to be red-flagged by teams. This group has a couple of talented outside pass rushers, such as Leonard Floyd and Joe Schobert.

In addition to some dominant pass rushers, a couple of these linebackers are converted safeties who have shown the remarkable ability to cover slot receivers and rush the quarterback. The likes of Myles Jack and Su'a Cravens can do just about anything you ask of them on the football field.

Injuries to both Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith could negatively affect each players draft stock. There are numerous reports about the extent of Smith's knee injury. Depending on each individual team's medical report, Smith could drop out of the first round. Before his injury, Smith was being talked about as a top fifteen overall draft pick.

There are a total of ten outside linebackers who graded out with either a first or second round grade. Some of these players will most likely drop into the later rounds. Teams that have other pressing needs, could wait until the late second round or early third round and find themselves a outside linebacker

The rankings below are split between the top pass rushers and top coverage outside linebackers.

One statistic that I incorporate is Impact Points. This is based on a formula that calculates an outside linebacker's point value based on total tackles, tackles-for-loss, sacks, forced fumbles, blocked kicks and their team's overall rush defense. Each player career's impact plays is then applied to the total number of games played so we can see the average number of impact plays per game. Hau'oli Kikaha (2.6) had the highest impact play average in last year's draft class.

The two highest rated averages for impact plays were two standout pass rushers in the 2014 draft class. Khalil Mack (4.0) and Anthony Barr (3.8) still hold the high water mark for average impact plays per game for any outside linebacker.

This year, Su'a Cravens has the highest impact play average amongst FBS level players with an average of 2.5 impact plays per game.

Another statistical category is called the pass rushing index percent: this is used to calculate a player's overall impact as a pass rusher. The pass rushing index percent takes, sacks, hits, throw away, hurries, and batted down passes. The index takes a weighted value for each category and applies it to the total number of pass rushing opportunities each player had over the past two seasons. The player who had the highest pass rushing index among outside linebackers is Jatavis Brown, at 15.3 percent. For a point of reference, this formula was applied to last year's top NFL outside linebackers. Von Miller (26.8), Khalil Mack (22.0) and Justin Houston ( 11.1) were tops at their position.

Pass rushing index only applies to players who played in the FBS level. Complete data for FCS players in terms of snaps played, and other statistical categories could not be verified. These players are still included in our overall draft rankings and review.

After each category is a list of all the top outside linebacker prospects, included are their draftable grade, total impact plays, average impact plays per game, and pass rusher index rating.

Outside Linebackers: Pass Rushers

1. Leonard Floyd (DE/OLB, Georgia):

Blessed with the length and speed to disrupt opposing quarterbacks, Floyd has the athletic skill set of a sprinter combined with a ferocious pass rusher. Few pass rushers in this draft class combine the rare skill set of speed and power as Floyd does.

At 6'4” and 244 pounds, Floyd is long and lean coming off the edge. What he lacks in brute strength, he more than makes up for with his speed and quickness.

In 38 career games, Floyd recorded 138 tackles, 17 sacks, 28.5 TFL, five forced fumbles, four pass breakups and one blocked kick. He had a total of 67.5 impact plays, an average of 1.8 impact plays per game.

When reviewing his game tape, the speed that Floyd exhibits to slip past opposing linemen is elite. Against Missouri this past season, Floyd had five tackles, one sack, three quarterback hits and four quarterback pressures. On his lone sack, Floyd's time from snap-to-sack was 3.37 seconds. His three quarterback hits came on an average snap-to-hit time of 2.46 seconds.

Floyd posted a pass rushing index score of 9.6 percent, one of the top rated times of any pass rusher in this draft class.

Floyd's great speed rush and ability to dip his shoulder underneath the offensive tackles and use his long arms to take down opposing quarterbacks are what intrigue scouts the most. He does a fantastic job of setting up the offensive tackle and showing an outside speed rush and coming back with a counter move to the inside. Opponents are quick to beat him to the corner by cheating a little bit off the snap. Floyd recognizes this and will come back inside with a spin move and force the quarterback out of the pocket and into an errant throw.

What separates Floyd from the rest of the pass rushers in this draft class is he attacks his opponent with a purpose and a plan. Every move is calculated and he understands that by showing a move once, he needs to have a counter move in the future. Few players come from college with this type of understanding of how to be a great pass rusher.

As an outside linebacker, Floyd is asked to put his hand in the ground and rush the passer, set the edge against the run or drop into coverage. Floyd is exceptional in all three phases and NFL scouts love his versatility and the fact that he can play in almost any defensive scheme.

In terms of talent and skill level, Floyd reminds me of a younger version of current New England linebacker, Jamie Collins. The Seattle Seahawks or the Atlanta Falcons would be a good fit for Floyd. These are teams who desire length and speed from their outside linebackers.

2. Joe Schobert (OLB, Wisconsin):

A do everything well type of prospect, Schobert exceled at just about every task that his coaches asked him to do. He can line up with his hand on the ground and rush the passer or drop into coverage and blanket a tight end or running back in the flat. As a two-year starter for the Badgers, Schobert had the consistent knack for making impact plays all over the field.

At 6'1” and 244 pounds, he checks off the height and weight requirement to play the outside linebacker spot in either a 4-3 or a 3-4 scheme. Schobert might be the most consistent producer in stopping the run and one of the most aggressive and technically sound tacklers in this draft class.

In 40 career games, Schobert finished with 133.5 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 35.5 TFL, 12 PB, seven forced fumbles, and one interception. With 85 impact plays, he averaged 2.1 impact plays per game.

As a pass rusher, Schobert was one of the most efficient players in the country over the last couple of years. For his career he posted a pass rusher index rating of 12.8 percent, fourth highest in this draft class. He was lights out as a pass rusher in 2015, posting an index rating of 19.5 percent, top in the nation.

In terms of production, Schobert is a quality prospect who excels at rushing the passer and being a lock down defender against the run. Some scouts feel his lack of speed and agility knock him down a few rounds. Schobert is most likely a third round prospect, but his pass rushing efficiency number suggests that he should be a second round pick.

3. Jatavis Brown (OLB, Akron):

Brown is an undersized outside linebacker who lacks the height, weight and speed measurements that most teams are looking for in their next starting linebacker. What Brown lacks in measurables, he more than makes up for in production and the consistent ability to be a playmaker on defense.

Even though Brown earned MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors, Brown was not invited to the NFL Combine. He started all 12 games in 2015 and led the team in tackles (89), TFL (20) and sacks (12). He is an absolute beast when he steps on the football field and is capable of defending the entire field.

Brown's speed and quickness jump off the tape when watching him play. He can knife through traffic and lay a thundering hit on a ball carrier. He broke the school record for tackles for loss (41.5) and sacks (18), both previously held by former NFL All-Pro, Jason Taylor.

To go along with his sack and tackles for loss marks in his career, Brown also posted an astonishing ten forced fumbles, top amongst the outside linebackers in this draft class. He finished with 93.5 impact plays, an average of 1.9 impact plays per game.

As a pass rusher, Brown does his best work when he can operate in space out on the edge and away from the traffic inside. He can use his speed and a variety of pass rushing moves to get after opposing quarterbacks. Brown posted the top mark amongst all outside linebackers in this draft class with a pass rushing index rating of 15.3 percent, an incredible mark for a player who the NFL won't even invite to the Combine.

His play on the field suggests that he should be a second round selection. In all likelihood, he could drop all the way to the fifth or sixth round.

4. Darron Lee (OLB, Ohio State):

Although Lee only played two seasons of college football, he made his mark as an elite pass rusher. His speed off the edge struck fear into opposing tackles. He was a standout performer at this year's NFL Combine, posting speed scores that rival elite safeties and cornerbacks. With NFL teams playing on average 60 percent of their defensive snaps in nickel coverage, the hybrid safety/linebacker position is becoming more prevalent.

Lee fits this hybrid role perfectly, though he will need some work in his coverage abilities. He has excellent timing and the ability to slip past blockers as he tracks down ball carriers. He won't get caught in the wash, as they say, and showcases the agility to hurdle defenders and sacrifice his body to make the play.

In 28 career games, Lee had 118.5 tackles, 12 sacks, 27.5 TFL, five pass breakups, three forced fumbles and three interceptions. He amassed a total of 62.5 impact plays, an average of 2.2 impact plays per game, third highest average amongst outside linebackers in this draft.

Lee posted an elite pass rushing index rating of 9.2 percent. He is able to make a significant impact coming off the edge.

For all his success, Lee has a ways to go in becoming a complete outside linebacker. He lacks proper technique in tackling the ball carrier. According to Pro Football Focus, Lee had 12 missed tackles in 2015. Once a lineman gets their hands on Lee, its lights out for him as he lacks the strength to shed blockers.

Lee is most likely a first round pick based on his athletic ability, but is still a raw prospect who might need additional time to develop.

5. Kyler Fackrell (OLB, Utah State):

The scouting world is still wondering if we have seen the best of Kyler Fackrell. A torn ACL injury in September of 2014 caused him to miss the rest of the season. It's not uncommon for a player to take a season or two before truly regaining their old form. Fackrell came back in 2015 with a vengeance. He was one of the nation's top outside linebackers in stopping the rush, posting 15 TFL last season.

With a powerful punch and the ability to stay stout, Fackrell doesn't get shoved around by offensive linemen too often. He can cover a tight end and has the strength to get a good press at the line of scrimmage.

Fackrell only had four sacks in 2015, not a number that puts him into the pass rushers' hall of fame. What makes Fackrell so dangerous is his technique and ability to consistently apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks throughout a game.

In 42 career games played, Fackrell posted 178.5 tackles, 12 sacks, 36 TFL, five forced fumbles, four pass breakups, and one blocked kick. He finished with 82 impact plays, an average of 2.0 impact plays per game.

If you combine sacks, quarterback hits and pressures, Fackrell was on par with some of the nation's top pass rushers in college football last season. He posted a pass rushing index score of 9.4 percent over the past two seasons.

He struggles with picking up the running back coming out of the backfield. He doesn't possess the quickness and ability to stay with his man in tight spaces. Fackrell is best suited to be a standup pass rusher who can use his strength and power rush moves to get after the quarterback.

He won't be a first round selection, but teams are always looking for elite pass rushers and Fackrell is a proven commodity. Look for teams such as the San Diego Chargers or Detroit Lions to be possible landing spots for Fackrell.

Coverage Outside Linebackers

1. Myles Jack (OLB, UCLA):

The “jack of all trades” line has been used a lot in terms of describing Myles Jack's talents on the football field. Whether he was asked to shut down an opponent's interior rushing attack or flip sides and become a short yardage tailback, he really can do just about anything and can do each job at an incredibly high level.

Jack, who had success as a two-way player at UCLA, most likely won't be asked to be a team's running back and linebacker in the NFL. A rare, superior athlete who is capable of being a dominant two-way player is almost unheard of in the NFL. The pounding and damage running backs take would more than likely shorten his career as a defensive player.

He can cover tight ends and roam the back end of a defense as though he is an All-Pro safety. He is tenacious at going after ball carriers, taking near perfect pursuit angles to track down his man.

When asked to drop into coverage at UCLA, he was assigned tight ends, running backs and in some instances, slot receivers. This versatility and athletic ability suggests that he will, in all likelihood, be a three down linebacker in the NFL. He shows a mental awareness and a high intelligence for the game, always being in the right place at the right time. When considering these traits along with his production, I wouldn't be surprised if Jack slides inside and becomes a middle linebacker in the NFL.

Jack suffered a torn meniscus last September, causing him to miss the rest of the season. All reports suggest that he should be in line to return to the field by training camp. It might take a half a season to dust off some rust, but for all intents and purposes, Jack should be healthy to start the season.

In just 29 career games played, the second lowest total games played among outside linebackers in this draft class, Jack recorded 147.5 tackles, one sack, 15 TFL, 19 pass breakups, one forced fumble and four interceptions. He amassed a total of 53 impact plays (defensive only stats applied), an average of 1.8 impact plays per game.

Though he didn't garner a lot of sacks, Jack wasn't asked to rush the pass on a consistent basis. He had a pass rushing index score of 6.2 percent. He has shown a quality bull rush, he understands leverage and gets underneath his opponent's pad level and drives him back into the pocket. He can put a lineman on skates and walk him straight back into the quarterback. He wasn't the most consistent pass rusher and will need to continue his development and technique.

What makes Jack more valuable than almost any other outside linebacker is his ability to drop into coverage and be used as defensive back or a safety. With more teams looking for versatility and hybrid type of players, Jack will likely be a top ten selection and he could jump into being one of the first five picks.

2. Su'a Cravens (OLB, USC):

NFL scouts love NFL prospects who show versatility. Being able to play multiple positions allows a player to fill more roles and makes them a more valuable player. Cravens played the outside linebacker role for USC, but he put his hand on the ground and rushed the passer as a traditional defensive end. He started his career as a strong safety, then moved down into the box as a full-time outside linebacker. Regardless of where he lined up on the football field, Cravens was a ball hawk and a playmaker.

At 6'1” and 226 pounds, Cravens isn't the biggest or most physically imposing linebacker in college, yet his speed and quickness to accelerate past a blocker to make the play was evident when watching his game tape.

As a pass rusher, Cravens is quick to beat his opponent at the snap of the ball. If he can get a step on his man then he is able to use his athleticism to turn his shoulders and attack the quarterback. It's Craven's ability to smother and eliminate an opponent's top receiving target that vaults him up NFL team's draft boards.

Where he lines up in the NFL is something scouts are asking themselves; he is a little light to be a traditional outside linebacker who rushes the pass on each down. Can he hold up and play outside leverage and shut down an opponent's rushing attack in the NFL or will he have to slide inside? The fact that he has played safety means that some teams might be inclined to give him a look there to and see if he can hold up.

The Arizona Cardinals have moved former safety, Deone Bucannon, to an outside linebacker but still drop him into coverage. This hybrid type of role is one that would be perfect for Cravens to play at the next level.

In 40 career games, Cravens recorded 170.5 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 34.5 TFL, 16 pass breakups, four forced fumbles, and nine interceptions. He amassed a total of 100 impact plays, an average of 2.5 impact plays per game. Craven's total impact plays and per game average are both the highest marks for outside linebackers in this draft class.

The versatility and ability to play multiple positions has made Cravens a highly sought after prospect. He is most likely a second round selection; look for teams such as the Cincinnati Bengals or the New York Giants as possible landing spots for Cravens.

3. Jaylon Smith (ILB, Notre Dame):

If these rankings didn't factor in injury history then Smith would be the top rated outside linebacker in this draft class. He was a phenom during his career at Notre Dame and, barring an injury, he could have been the first overall selection. Unfortunately, his injury did occur and he will likely miss all of the 2016 season.

Jaylon Smith is the type of athlete that doesn't come around too often. He is a wonderfully gifted athlete who had the most impressive skill set of any linebacker in college football in 2015. Smith was a starter for the Fighting Irish since day one, starting every single game at outside linebacker during his freshman year. He moved inside, taking over as captain of the defense, and was responsible for making all the defensive calls throughout the game.

At 6'2” and 223 pounds, Smith possess the size and, most importantly, the speed to be a three down linebacker in the NFL. He can rush the passer, fill in gaps on running plays, and is capable of shedding blockers with ease and dropping into coverage. Smith's speed is what jumps out on his game tapes. He is capable of catching a fleet footed wideout in open space and chasing down a running back in the open field for a game saving tackle.

Smith shows the intelligence and awareness that make him one of the nation's most coveted NFL Draft prospects. He is quick to diagnose a reverse and is able to contain the runner for minimal gain. He is a solid tackler in the open field, he doesn't go for the juke moves, stays low, solid bases and wraps up the ball carrier.

In 39 career games, Smith posted 233 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 24.5 TFL, 10 pass breakups, three forced fumbles, and one interception. He had a total of 51 impact plays, an average of 1.3 impact plays per game.

While he lacked in total sacks over the past two seasons, Smith was able to pressure and apply a couple of hits on opposing quarterbacks. He had a pass rushing index rating of 12.3 percent, fifth highest amongst outside linebackers.

His injury situation will scare off a few teams and couple of teams might even take him off their draft board completely. If a team is willing to let him rest, recover and put the time in to develop him, they could be getting a top five player. Look for the Green Bay Packers or the Houston Texans as teams that could be in the market for Smith come draft day.

Ranking Player School Draftable Round Impact Plays Avg. Impact Plays/Game Pass Rush Index
1 Leonard Floyd Georgia 1 67.5 1.8 9.6%
2 Myles Jack UCLA 1 53 1.8 6.2%
3 Joe Schobert Wisconsin 1-2 85 2.1 12.8%
4 Jatavis Brown Akron 1-2 93.5 1.9 15.3%
5 Jaylon Smith Notre Dame 1-2 51 1.3 12.3%
6 Darron Lee Ohio State 2 62.5 2.2 11.5%
7 Su'a Cravens USC 2 100 2.5 9.2%
8 Kyler Fackrell Utah State 2 82 2.0 9.4%
9 Ejiro Ederaine Fresno State 2 87.5 2.1 8.4%
10 Jordan Jenkins Georgia 2-3 85 1.6 2.5%
11 Ian Seau Nevada 3 88.5 2.4 6.4%
12 Steve Longa Rutgers 3 46 1.2 10.4%
13 Travis Feeney Washington 3 86.5 1.7 9.0%
14 Eric Striker Oklahoma 3 89.5 1.7 8.1%
15 T.T. Barber Middle Tennessee 4 87 1.8 11.4%
16 Beniquez Brown Mississippi State 4 47.5 1.2 9.5%
17 Deion Jones LSU 5 39 0.8 12.3%
18 Eddie Yarbrough Wyoming 5 82.5 1.8 5.7%
19 Gionni Paul Utah 5 63 1.7 10.5%
20 B.J. Goodson Clemson 5 36 0.8 13.4%
21 Montese Overton East Carolina 6 73 1.6 9.2%
22 Curt Maggitt Tennessee 6 55 1.6 8.8%
23 Cory Littleton Washington 7 53 1.1 8.4%
24 De'Vondre Campbell Minnesota 7 42.5 1.1 7.8%
25 Devante Bond Oklahoma 7-FA 25 1.3 5.2%
26 Stephen Weatherly Vanderbilt 7-FA 54.5 1.5 5.1%
27 Kris Frost Auburn FA 58.5 1.2 3.4%
28 Cole Fisher Iowa FA 20 0.6 14.2%
29 Antwione Williams Georgia Southern FA 52.5 1.1 8.9%