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Combine Watch List: The top six linebackers

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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Rolando McClain (Alabama):
The leader of the Crimson Tide's dominant defense, McClain brings a mental strength to the game that takes his physical gifts to another level. He's a film rat, which shows on the field in his ability to read and react very quickly. He's great at sifting through trash and getting to the ballcarrier at the first level. Pass defense is not a specific strength, but at 6-foot-4 and 260, teams will be looking more for his ability to translate his "thumper" ability to the NFL. If he doesn't have a ginormous nose tackle crunching up the gaps as he did in college, there may be concerns about his ability to take on first-strike blockers and still make plays.

Brandon Spikes (Florida): Spikes' primary asset is his speed off the blocks -- for a 6-foot-3, 256-pound man, his burst to the line is terrific. He also has the change of direction needed to right himself against agile ballcarriers - even when he doesn't sniff out misdirection, he can recover to stomp it out. Better in pass coverage than you'd expect for his size, and with a nasty streak a mile wide (something he'll have to watch in the NFL), Spikes can be legitimately compared to his cousin, Takeo Spikes(notes), who has played 12 years in the NFL.

Daryl Washington (TCU): At 6-foot-2 and 226 pounds, Washington struggles to release from power blocks, and he can be washed out in space by a pulling lineman. However, the caveat is -- if you can catch him. With legit 4.5 speed, tremendous range from side to side, and great blitzing ability, he might be best used as a pursuit specialist in a 3-4 defense. He might be able to take the strong side in a 4-3, but like Julian Peterson(notes) (who he reminds me of), Washington could be the beneficiary of a creative defensive coordinator and used in many different ways.

Ricky Sapp (Clemson):
Though he's tagged as an outside linebacker, Sapp could easily be classified as a pass-rushing defensive end. He would seem to be a natural in that role with his dominant first-step quickness. Where he'll have to convince the NFL is in his medical checks -- he suffered several injuries at Clemson -- and his ability to handle certain fundamentals. Sapp has demon speed off the line, but he was wash himself out of plays too easily at times. At 6-foot-4 and 248 pounds, he'll either need to bulk up or lose the notion of any 4-3 outside stuff.

Sergio Kindle (Texas): Kindle is a guided missile, especially in the pass rush; off the edge, he's got great turn speed and hand moves to separate from blockers. He plays too high at times and will need to learn to "dip" when he turns at the NFL level, or he'll get stood up too often. Off-field issues will have to be dealt with -- in 2009, Kindle ran his car into an apartment building because he was "texting while driving" Surely, a lesson for us all.

Sean Weatherspoon (Missouri): Weatherspoon greatly impressed the Detroit Lions' coaching staff at the Senior Bowl when he was on the North team. Head coach Jim Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham tried him at every possible linebacker position during the week of practice. At 6-foot-1 and 241 pounds, he will face the same size debits that have plagued Zach Thomas(notes), Derrick Brooks(notes) and Lofa Tatupu(notes), but he's got the ability to transcend them as his predecessors did. Teams that require their linebackers to fight off initial blocks may balk at his relative inability to shed, but defenses that put tackles at the point to create lanes will love his style.

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