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College Football: Top 10 Inside Linebackers

Oct. 09, 2019 - Michael Stewart

College Football: Top 10 Inside Linebackers

Introduction: The inside linebacker class for the upcoming 2020 NFL draft is not as deep as the outside linebacker class, but there is talent to be found. It seems that most of the inside linebackers excel best between the tackles and are your traditional type of inside linebacker. Here are my top 10 selections for this season:

  1. Dylan Moses (Alabama) 6’3/235: Moses is extremely athletic with elite sideline to sideline speed to make plays. Moses can create havoc and make plays behind the line of scrimmage and also cover running backs/tight ends in pass coverage.
  2. Joe Bachie (Michigan State) Bochie is a gap clogging, run stopping machine that is often referred to as a blue collar player. Bochie’s relentless style of play makes him an interesting prospect for teams looking for a reliable inside linebacker to come to work each day. 
  3. Jacob Phillips (LSU) 6’4/230: Phillips has a high football IQ and can make plays all over the field. Phillips ability to defend the run is equal to his ability in pass coverage as he is a 3 down linebacker.  Phillips draft stock could rise from now until the end of the season.
  4. Shaq Quarterman (Miami) 6’1/240: Quarterman plays with aggression and can be effective as a pass defender in zone coverages. Quarterman is more productive between the tackles and not as a sideline to sideline playmaker. Quarterman needs to refine his game a little, but has the intangibles of becoming a quality linebacker in the NFL.
  5. Paddy Fisher (Northwestern) 6’4/240: Fisher is a tackling machine between the tackles and has a relentless motor.  Fisher has good mobility and agility to be able to cover backs/tight ends in pass defense.
  6. Troy Dye (Oregon) 6’4/225: Dye is extremely active at the inside linebacker position and is very comfortable going sideline to sideline making plays. Dye is also very efficient in pass coverage and it’s out of comfort zone to cover a back/tight end deep down the field. Dye has the body frame to add muscle without affecting his performance.
  7. Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma) 6’2/240: Murray is athletic and versatile and is still learning the inside linebacker position. Murray is more comfortable playing between the tackles and has shown excellent reaction in pass coverage assignments. Murray is a sound tackler who rarely misses his intended target.
  8. David Reese II (Florida) 6’1/248: Reese is extremely quick and eludes on coming blockers effortlessly. Reese sideline to sideline skills and looks comfortable in pass coverage. Reese needs to work on the ability to tackle in the open field as he sometimes doesn’t breakdown well before engaging.
  9. Shaq Smith (Maryland) 6’2/250: Smith transferred from Clemson and should solidify himself as one the top defenders for the Terps this season. Smith can make plays from sideline to sideline, but is more comfortable between the tackles making plays.  Smith should thrive in Maryland’s 3-4 defensive schemes.
  10. David Woodward (Utah State) 6’2/220: Woodward is considered a tweener (linebacker/safety) at this stage based on his size. When you watch him on film, he seems to be in on every defensive play and usually plays inside linebacker for Utah State. There’s no mistaken the play making skills of Woodward at the college level, but gauging his success at the pro level will be a challenge for many NFL teams on draft day. There might be better inside linebackers at the college level than Woodward projected at the next level. However; purely based on productivity in college, Woodward is a top 10 inside linebacker.

Final Thoughts: The consensus is that roughly 12-15 inside linebackers should hear their name called throughout the draft.  The NFL seems to be shifting over to talented playmakers on the defensive side being more on the outside (defensive ends, outside linebackers & cornerbacks). NFL teams have drafted more & more for playmakers at these positions over the last few years. It’s unclear if this trend will continue moving forward, but based on the positions with the most talent in college football; it looks like it will.