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Draft Positional Analysis Linebackers
February 8th 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
The 49ers will surely be looking for help at linebacker, but not in the starting area. The team needs depth because the talent level drops off significantly after Julian Peterson, Derek Smith, Jeff Ulbrich and Jamie Winrborn. The team was lucky last season that this group remained relatively healthy and thus weren't exposed much this season. However the team will be looking for some help this off-season at linebacker, and the later part of the draft will likely be where they get it.

While many linebackers play both inside and outside, I've done my best to try and categorize them.

Top Five Inside Linebackers

  1. Robert Thomas Sr. 6'2" 240 4.8/40 UCLA
  2. Trev Faulk Jr. 6'2" 237 4.5/40 LSU
  3. Rocky CalmusSr. 6'2" 230 4.7/40 Oklahoma
  4. Josh ThornhillJr. 6'2" 237 4.7/40 Michigan St.
  5. Bradley JenningsSr. 6'3" 230 4.9/40 Florida St.
Top Five Outside Linebackers
  1. Levar Fisher Sr. 6'1" 228 4.6/40 N.C. St.
  2. Saleem Rasheed Jr. 6'2" 226 4.6/40 Alabama
  3. Nepoleon Harris Sr. 6'2" 246 4.6/40 Northwestern
  4. James Allen Sr. 6'3" 226 4.6/40 Oregon St.
  5. Jashon Sykes Sr. 6'2" 226 4.6/40 Colorado

Robert Thomas is not a big linebacker by any means. He's listed as 6'2" but is likely two inches shorter than that. He carries his weight well, and moves laterrally with good balance. Is excellent in pass coverage despite lacking amazing speed. A very smart player that knows how to control a running back with proper containment. Has faught nagging injuries throughout his college career but for the most part plays through them.

Trev Faulk is a very well sized linebacker who has good speed. Excels in blitz formations and can get to the quarterback. He has bulked up tremendously from the end of the season and doesn't seem to have lost a step either. Faulk seems to have an incredible upside too. Covers the field very well, but has been known to take bad angles or get tied up in traffic. Faulk is a bit of a project but will be a great help to any team that drafts him.

Rocky Calmus is a good linebacker who excels in play recognition. He is a good run blocker but does get tied up in traffic at times. Needs work on his tackling technique at the next level. Has good physical tools to be a good player, but is not the 'impact' player some teams need. He will however contribute nicely on special teams.

Josh Thornhill needs to work on his consistency before he can really be considered among the elite in the draft class. He is however extremely versatile and can play all the spots along the line. He's very quick off the ball and can get tot he quarterback. Thornhil needs to learn to utilize his size, and improve his open field pursuit. Needs work but could be a valuable project for the future.

Bradley Jennings is not the quickest linebacker in the draft but he does have good closing speed and he knows how to work through traffic to make plays. Is very in tune with the mental part of the game, but is sometimes fooled on angles and struggles in moving laterally. Will benefit from the improved coaching at the next level.

Levar Fisher had a great command of his defense in college, and likely will learn his NFL defense to an even better extent. Is a very intense player, who is not blazing fast or big, but has great instincts that allow him toclose on the ball. Needs to work on his footwork to make sure that he isn't hurt by mis-direction plays at the higher level. Is a bit of a project but can play inside or outside linebacker and should make just about any NFL team happy.

Saleem Rasheed is very quick off the ball and is an explosive blitzing linebacker. He has a very large upside but will have a hard time adding bulk to his frame. Has great instincts and is always around the ball. Makes the tackles he needs to make and will catch people from behind. Needs to learn to keep his cool after missing out on a play. Will make an immediate impact on a team, but isn't likely to be an every down player in his first year.

Napolean Harris is a heck of a linebacker that plays very well against the pass and the run. He goes all out on every play and has very good lower leg drive. Is fast enought to seal the corner against running backs. Does need to improve his play recognition. Eleveats his play when needed, but it would be nice to see him always play at the elevated level. He's quite agile to and will make some NFL team very happy.

James Allen plays with good upper body strength and speed. The largest knock on this linebacker is his durability. Plays better against the run then the pass. Has good latteral movement and locks up his tackles. Needs to improve his overall speed and instincts. Needs to be in the right system and with some intense coaching but is a pretty good future prospect. Could be a late bloomer.

Jason Sykes is a very versatile linebacker and plays with good speed. Has been known to be inconsistent and his durability is questionable, but he does have potential. Needs to be more aggressive but plays with good leveage and is a good athlete. He can play both the inside and outside position. He is a bit of an under-achiever. Is very athletic but not a big play kind of guy. Will provide good depth and excel on special teams if he can stay healthy in the NFL.

This season's linebacking crew is rather week across the board. They seem to be the type of players that for the most part will provide depth in the NFL and wont likely emerge as stars. It's kind of a shift considering some of the studs that have come out in the past two or three seasons. The 49ers need depth and not a starter and thus they may be able to find a talented bench player from this group.

This year's group of cornerbacks has ltos to offer the NFL. The top tier is filled with playmakers and will likely be grabbed pretty quickly. The 49ers need another player with the skill of Plummer and Webster in order to take a step to the next level. They may find that player in this season's draft.

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