Carolina Panthers

2017 NFL draft: Top 10 linebackers | Will Panthers seek depth in late rounds?

Alabama's Reuben Foster (9) is the best of this linebacker class, but is expected to slide in the NFL draft after he provided a diluted sample at the drug test at the scouting combine.
Alabama's Reuben Foster (9) is the best of this linebacker class, but is expected to slide in the NFL draft after he provided a diluted sample at the drug test at the scouting combine. AP

The top 10 linebackers available in the 2017 NFL draft:

1. Reuben Foster

College: Alabama.

Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 229.

Projected round: 1st.

Comment: The best of this LB class, but is expected to slide after he provided a diluted sample at the drug test at the NFL scouting combine.

2. Haason Reddick

College: Temple.

Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 237.

Projected round: 1st.

Comment: Former walk-on could be top-10 pick after strong showings at Senior Bowl and combine.

Jarrad-Davis
Jarrad Davis, out of Florida, is an aggressive tackler who can play all three linebacker spots. Phelan M. Ebenhack AP

3. Jarrad Davis

College: Florida.

Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 238.

Projected round: 1st.

Comment: Aggressive tackler who can play all three LB spots; slowed by ankle injury last season.

4. Zach Cunningham

College: Vanderbilt.

Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 234.

Projected round: 1st-2nd.

Comment: Long, lean playmaker needs to add bulk to be an every-down linebacker.

5. Raekwon McMillan

College: Ohio State.

Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 240.

Projected round: 2nd.

Comment: Has the size and tackling ability to play MLB, but weak in coverage and as a blitzer.

TJ-Watt
Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Watt – the latest Watt brother has – surprise! – a huge frame and a big motor. Michael Conroy AP

6. T.J. Watt

College: Wisconsin.

Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 252.

Projected round: 2nd-3rd.

Comment: Latest Watt brother has – surprise! – a huge frame and a big motor.

7. Duke Riley

College: LSU.

Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 232.

Projected round: 2nd-3rd.

Comment: Voted Tigers’ MVP last year after finishing with 93 tackles and an interception.

8. Kendell Beckwith

College: LSU.

Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 243.

Projected round: 2nd-3rd.

Comment: Big inside LB coming off knee surgery that sidelined him for combine and pro day.

9. Ryan Anderson

College: Alabama.

Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 253.

Projected round: 3rd.

Comment: Limited coverage skills, but could thrive as an edge rusher in a 3-4 scheme.

10. Alex Anzalone

College: Florida.

Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 241.

Projected round: 3rd-4th.

Comment: Fast and athletic enough to cover TEs, but struggled to stay healthy in college.

Panthers’ perspective

TannerVallejo
Boise State linebacker Tanner Vallejo is a late-round prospect who could play special teams and add depth for the Carolina Panthers. David J. Phillip AP

The Panthers are set with their starting linebackers. But after backup MLB A.J. Klein left in free agency, it wouldn’t be bad for Carolina to pick up another linebacker on the second or third day of the draft. The Panthers worked out Boise State’s Tanner Vallejo, a late-round prospect who could play special teams and add depth.

ben-boulware
Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware did not test well at the NFL combine but could be a late-round pick. David J. Phillip AP

Local connection

Clemson inside linebacker Ben Boulware was one of the emotional leaders on the Tigers’ national championship team. Boulware led Clemson with 116 tackles and also forced three fumbles. The native of Anderson, S.C., did not test well at the combine but could be a late-round pick.

connor-harris
In 48 career starts at middle linebacker, Lindenwood linebacker Connor Harris set the NCAA record with 633 tackles. David J. Phillip AP

Sleeper

Connor Harris, who starred at Division II Lindenwood (Mo.), lacks height (5-11) and strength (only 18 reps on the pro bench at the combine). But the former high school safety knows how to tackle: In 48 career starts at middle linebacker, Harris set the NCAA record with 633 tackles. That should be good enough to make him a late-round pick and an immediate contributor on special teams.

Worth noting

Illinois LB Carroll Phillips is the cousin of rapper (and Miami booster) Luther Campbell. Phillips signed with Cincinnati initially, but failed to qualify. ... There are a lot of family connections among Illini LBs. Hardy Nickerson is the son of the All-Pro LB by the same name who played 16 seasons in the NFL. ... Wisconsin’s Vince Biegel grew up on a cranberry farm, and also played ice hockey in high school.

With the No. 8 pick in the NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers have plenty of options to address several needs. Panthers beat reporter Jourdan Rodrigue breaks down who the team might pick in the first round and offers other names to look out for.

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