Linebackers/defensive backs rankings: Part IV

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National Football Post takes a closer look at the nation's top linebackers and defensive backs. Since we started this series by ranking players No. 1 through 5, we resume our breakdown with prospects currently ranked 6 through 15.

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Dannell Ellerbee, left, and Jason Brinkley
(Brett Davis/US Presswire)

Inside linebackers

6. Jasper Brinkley, South Carolina (6-foot-2, 252 pounds)
7. Dannell Ellerbe, Georgia (6-1, 236)
8. Antonio Appleby, Virginia (6-4, 243)
9. Gerald McRath, Southern Miss (6-3, 231)
10. Jason Phillips, TCU (6-1, 239)
11. Spencer Adkins, Miami (5-11, 230)
12. Worrell Williams, California (5-11, 240)
13. Dave Philistin, Maryland (6-2, 235)
14. Brit Miller, Illinois (6-0, 243)
15. Stanley Arnoux, Wake Forest (6-0, 232)

South Carolina's Brinkley ranks sixth on our board and possesses ideal size and strength for the position. He's a smooth-footed athlete and changes directions very cleanly at the line of scrimmage. He's also a strong tackler but needs to do a better job playing as physical as his body indicates. A linebacker who definitely doesn't have a problem playing physical is Appleby. He's a big, thickly built athlete who does a great job attacking downhill and finding the ball. He's an instinctive player and looks like an ideal 3-4 inside linebacker.

Two inside linebackers who possess the fluidity and athleticism to play both inside and outside are Ellerbe and McRath. Ellerbe is a fluid athlete who redirects well in coverage and does a nice job breaking down in space. McRath is a bit high cut for taking on blockers inside, but he possesses the speed and range to consistently make plays sideline to sideline. Both players lack great physicality inside but offer some versatility to a linebacking core.

Finally, undersized prospects Williams and Adkins lack ideal height but possess thick, sturdy frames and know how to play with natural leverage. Adkins is an explosive, quick-twitch linebacker with the range and speed (4.48) to consistently make plays in pursuit. Williams has played in both 4-3 and 3-4 schemes during his time at California but looks best suited to man the middle spot in a 4-3. He also adds some pass-rush ability from the middle linebacker spot.

Outside linebackers

6. Marcus Freeman, Ohio State (6-1, 239)
7. Clint Sintim, Virginia (6-3, 256)
8. Tyrone McKenzie, South Florida (6-2, 243)
9. Kaluka Maiava, USC (6-0, 229)
10. Jason Williams, Western Illinois (6-1, 241)
11. Lee Robinson, Alcorn State (6-2, 249)
12. Zack Follett, California (6-2, 236)
13. Cody Brown, Connecticut (6-2, 244)
14. Julius Williams, Connecticut (6-2, 252)
15. Kevin Ellison, USC (6-1, 227)

Freeman and McKenzie, 4-3 outside linebackers, rank sixth and eighth on our board, respectively, and look like potential solid starters in the NFL. Freeman didn't have the type of 2008 season many expected because of injuries but looked good at the Senior Bowl and has impressed during postseason workouts. McKenzie has been solid all year and simply finds ways to make plays on the ball. He isn't as big or as fast as you'd like, but he redirects well in space and possesses the closing speed to finish plays. Maiava has been one of the most frequently overlooked prospects in this year's draft, but he showcases the toughness and fluidity to be a real factor in all aspects of the game. He's a bit undersized but plays with natural leverage and should hear his name called in the third/fourth round.

Small-school linebackers Jason Williams and Robinson have soared up draft boards during the postseason, and each looks to be solidifying himself a spot in the mid/late rounds. Robinson is a versatile, well-built athlete who knows how to get after the quarterback. He possesses impressive athleticism for a 250-pound linebacker and has the physical skill set to play in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. Not to be outdone is Jason Williams, who has really turned heads with his impressive workouts at a number of college pro days. Both guys have a lot of untapped potential and exhibit the physical skill sets to become starters in the NFL.

Virginia's Sintim and Connecticut's Brown are both 3-4 outside linebackers who should come off the board some time during the second/fourth rounds. One player who hasn't received the recognition he's due is Connecticut's other defensive end, Julius Williams. Williams has been very productive over the past two years (8½ sacks in 2007 and six in 2008) and actually possesses a much more explosive first step off the edge than teammate Brown. He impressed during his pro day workout with 36 reps on the bench, a 41-inch vertical and a 4.58 40 time. The guy looks like an ideal 3-4 outside linebacker with the burst and athleticism to develop into a productive pass rusher. It wouldn't surprise me to see Williams outperform Brown in the NFL.

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Butler (l) goes up to break up a pass.
(Bob Donnan/US Presswire)

Cornerbacks

6. Darius Butler, Connecticut (5-11, 183)
7. Asher Allen, Georgia (5-10, 194)
8. Kevin Barnes, Maryland (6-0, 187)
9. Coye Francies, San Jose State (6-1, 185)
10. Joe Burnett, Central Florida (5-10, 182)
11. Victor Harris, Virginia Tech (5-11, 198)
12. Jairus Byrd, Oregon (5-10, 207)
13. Christopher Owens, San Jose State (5-10, 181)
14. Brice McCain, Utah (5-9, 185)
15. Gregory Toler, St Pauls (5-11, 191)

Butler grades out similarly to the cornerbacks in our top five and could slip into the latter half of Round 1. He displays natural cover skills and has the versatility to play in both a man or zone scheme. However, it's his ability to stick his head in vs. the run game and tackle that makes him such an attractive cornerback prospect.

Barnes and Francies are both tall, long-limbed defensive backs with impressive balance, body control and footwork for their size. They do a nice job redirecting in space and have the closing speed to consistently get after the ball. Allen and Burnett lack ideal height for the position, but both exhibit smooth, compact back-pedals and are very coordinated in and out of their breaks. Burnett does a great job turning and closing on the ball down the field, while Allen has the mental toughness to come in and play from day one, as he was consistently asked to play on an island in the SEC since his sophomore year.

McCain has always been overshadowed by his more publicized teammate, CB Sean Smith, but he's a very good corner in his own right, and his 4.33 40 time at the Utah pro day opened some eyes. But no corner has moved up draft boards in the postseason like Toler. I was recently turned on to Toler, and when I finally was able to find some tape of him, I was shocked. He moves effortlessly in and out of his breaks and does a great job changing directions and redirecting in space. Obviously, there's a big concern about the jump in level of competition, but Toler certainly possesses the size, speed and footwork to warrant a mid-round pick.

Safety

6. Darcel McBath, Texas Tech (6-0, 198)
7. Louis Delmas, Western Michigan (6-0, 202)
8. Derek Pegues, Mississippi State (5-10, 199)
9. Brandon Underwood, Cincinnati (6-1, 198)
10. Emanuel Cook, South Carolina (5-10, 197)
11. Courtney Greene, Rutgers (6-0, 212)
12. David Bruton, Notre Dame (6-2, 219)
13. Michael Hamlin, Clemson (6-2, 214)
14. Trimane Goddard, North Carolina (5-9, 189)
15. Chris Clemons, Clemson (6-0, 208)

I have Delmas rated a bit lower than most draft boards because he simply takes to many bad angles in all areas of his game. I originally had him as one of my top safeties, but after watching him more closely, he consistently fails to break down in space and whiffs on too many potential tackles. He will produce some highlight-reel hits and flies around the field, but he doesn't showcase the type of instincts and balance I want in a higher rated safety. McBath, on the other hand, does a much more efficient job taking proper angles, which resulted in six interceptions last season. He does a great job jumping routes and has the range and deep speed to make plays in the center field-type role. He's also a solid tackler, breaks down well and shows a tenacity attacking the line of scrimmage.

Undersized safeties Cook and Pegues lack ideal height for the position but do a nice job redirecting in space and changing directions fluidly. Cook is a physical, strong safety who loves to throw his body around and bring down ball carriers. He lacks ideal straight-line speed but possesses the body control and balance to consistently get in and out of his breaks cleanly. Pegues is a former corner who possesses the footwork and ball skills for the position. He lacks ideal physicality but can play the center field-type role or kick into the slot on third downs.

Taller safeties like Hamlin (6-2) and Bruton (6-2) have nice-sized frames but lack the flexibility and quickness to redirect and get cleanly of their breaks. They're both striders who can run sideline to sideline and track the football. However, they will struggle when singled up in man coverage at the next level and are simply to "leggy" when asked to turn and run on all areas of the field.

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