Top 5 outside linebacker prospects
Anthony Barr could have been the first OLB taken in 2013
If you want a sense of how occasionally confusing the projections around what will make a great NFL outside linebacker can be, consider the 2013 draft.
The guy who was the No. 1 outside linebacker on my board by draft time was Dion Jordan, who at 6-foot-6 and a wiry 248 pounds fits the profile of a dynamic edge-rusher who can also drop and play in space. Fittingly, Miami moved up to get him -- and the Dolphins don't even play a 3-4 as their base defense. Jordan really aced the draft evaluation process, but he's still developing as a player and when recruited to Oregon was also looked at to play tight end. During the 2012 college football season, he wasn't the best outside linebacker prospect in his conference. That was Anthony Barr, who piled up 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss.
How well did Barr fit the profile of an eventual star at outside linebacker? He fit it so well that 12 months earlier he made seven starts for the Bruins as a fullback and also saw work on special teams.
The thing about outside linebacker, perhaps more than any position right now, is you're constantly on the look for traits: length, explosiveness, bend and the ability to change direction, work in space and pursue. You're looking for indicators. Jordan has them, so much so that Miami thinks he's capable of becoming a great pass-rusher, regardless of scheme. And Barr clearly had those indicators, which is why the UCLA coaches made the positional move.
Here's a look at the top-ranked prospects at outside linebacker headed into 2014:
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