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NFL Draft 2018: Scouting the linebackers

Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds highlight an athletic linebacker class.

Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith runs the 40-yard dash

Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith runs the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Sunday, March 4, 2018. Photo Credit: AP / Michael Conroy

1. Roquan Smith, Georgia

Height: 6-1

Weight: 236

40 time: 4.51

Projected draft status: First round

Strengths: Has great range with speed and athleticism . . . Generally good at shedding blocks . . . Speed and quickness provide great ability to drop into pass coverage . . . Developed into a fine leader.

Weaknesses: A bit undersized, and teams may be reluctant to play him inside . . . Will occasionally overrun plays because of his aggressiveness.

Quote: ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper: “He’s physical. He can get sideline to sideline in a hurry. He’s a force in the middle. Smith was one of the best players on the field in the College Football Playoff National Championship.”

2. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

Height: 6-5

Weight: 253

40 time: 4.54

Projected draft status: First round

Strengths: The son of former Dolphins tight end Ferrell Edmunds has exceptional size for an inside linebacker and uses it to his advantage . . . Was a first-team All-ACC pick last year with 109 tackles, including 14 for loss and 5 1⁄2 sacks . . . Has excellent speed and covers a lot of ground.

Weaknesses: Has been criticized for sometimes becoming impatient when diagnosing plays . . . Overaggressiveness can lead to mistakes.

Quote: Edmunds on playing a different position than his father: “That’s just how it ended up. I always played linebacker. I always had a passion for it. Ever since I was a kid, linebacker was always something I wanted to play. It just stuck with me as I got older. To this day, it’s just been my position.”

3. Rashaan Evans, Alabama

Height: 6-3

Weight: 234

40 time: Did not run at NFL Scouting Combine (groin injury)

Projected draft status: First round

Strengths: Has prototype size and played in big-time program at Alabama, excelling in big games throughout his career . . . Led team with 74 tackles, including 13 for loss, in 2017 . . . Latest in a long line of successful Alabama linebackers.

Weaknesses: May not have same advantages in NFL as he did at Alabama, which boasted excellent defensive line play to make it easier on linebackers . . . Groin injury bothered him much of last season.

Quote: Evans: “As far as the ability, I think it was still there even with the injuries. I just kind of had to overcome the two groin injuries, which was something that was very difficult to do. But I’m just proud of myself to be able to fight through those things and be able to show that I’m a guy that can fight through adversity regardless of what happens to me.”

4. Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State

Height: 6-4

Weight: 256

40 time: 4.65

Projected draft status: First-to-third round

Strengths: Very productive player in 2017, selected as Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year with 141 tackles, four sacks and four forced fumbles . . . Basketball background adds another dimension of athleticism . . . Has good sideline-to-sideline range.

Weaknesses: Will be making quantum leap to NFL level . . . Scouts have noted an occasional inability to adequately shed blocks.

Quote: Vander Esch: “Playing weight this year was around 240. I weighed in [at the combine] at 256. I wanted to put on some weight because I know all the guys are bigger, faster and stronger in the NFL and I’ve gotta keep up. I knew that was important going into it. Like I have the whole time I was at Boise, I just developed myself physically to make sure I’m successful on the field.”

5. Lorenzo Carter, Georgia

Height: 6-6

Weight: 250

40 time: 4.46

Projected draft status: Second-fourth round

Strengths: Excellent speed as an edge rusher . . . Very athletic . . . Was the fastest linebacker at the combine, clocking a 4.46 in his first attempt at the 40.

Weaknesses: Needs to add bulk to compete against NFL tackles . . . Wasn’t as productive as his talent would suggest . . . Will need to be more physical at the next level.

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