Pre-Combine Look at Top Inside Linebacker Prospects for Packers in 2015 Draft

A breakdown of the top ILB prospects ahead of the 2015 combine. 

TCU inside linebacker Paul Dawson—Brett Davis, USA TODAY Sports.

TCU inside linebacker Paul Dawson—Brett Davis, USA TODAY Sports.

For the last two years, I have been responsible for putting together the inside linebacker rankings and breakdowns for the Cheesehead TV Draft Guide. I will be completing the exercise for a third year in 2015. 

The inside linebacker position figures to be an important one in this year’s draft, given Green Bay’s obvious lack of talent and playmaking ability at the position and the potential departures of A.J. Hawk (cap casualty), Brad Jones (cap casualty) and Jamari Lattimore (free agent). Many mock drafts have connected the dots, slotting an inside linebacker to the Packers with the No. 30 pick in the first round. 

The draft is still a few months away. The combine starts up this week. Our draft guide won’t be out until April. I have still have homework to do on all the potential inside linebacker prospects, but my work has begun at the top of the rankings. 

Four names have consistently stood out at inside linebacker for the 2015 draft. Here are my early impressions and notes—given a viewing of just a few games—of each player:

 

Denzel Perryman, Miami (Fl.)

Has a reckless, heat-seeking style that will be very appealing. He’ll steal your lunch money, stuff you in a locker and then tell you all about it through the locker door. Toughness is no issue. Took on one 300-plus pound pulling guard and nearly de-cleated him in the hole. Completely unafraid to take on free blockers. Athleticism is not his calling card, especially in space. Plays frighteningly heavy footed. Doesn’t always react in a hurry to what’s in front of him. Combination of slow feet and delayed reaction time could be a big problem. Opponents will expose him in coverage at the next level. Hard to see how he’ll hold up as a three-down player in the NFL. Didn’t make nearly as many impact plays as you’d expect. Probably not a first-round talent. 

 

Eric Kendricks, UCLA

Always playing downhill. Reads and reacts in an instant, creating plentiful opportunities in the backfield. Turnover creator. Plays much bigger than his frame (6’0”, 230 pounds) would indicate, but size might be an issue at the next level. Form tackler; rarely misses. Can be occasionally manipulated by play-action, losing seam responsibility, but is otherwise comfortable in any coverage situation. Covers running backs man-to-man and sideline-to-sideline, and fully aware dropping into zones. Blankets the flat in the passing game. Often played as the lone linebacker in the dime defense; playing in space is a strength. Isn’t a mauler taking on blockers, typically favoring to use agility to shed at the point. Experience playing behind a three-man front, but some might peg him as a better fit in the 4-3. Will play many years in the NFL, regardless of scheme. 

 

Paul Dawson, TCU

Plays like he’s shot out of cannon. Moves very well in space. Makes quick decisions, relying on his eyes and instincts to shoot gaps and make impact plays behind the line of scrimmage. Occasionally looks like he’s playing the game at a different speed than everyone else on the field. A little lanky for a pro inside linebacker but offensive linemen struggle to block him because he’s so quick and agile in the hole. Makes blockers swing and miss consistently with side steps and swim moves. Former receiver with great hands, using them to create turnovers. Comfortable blitzing and dropping into coverage. Never takes plays off and fights to the whistle. Size will be a question mark in the 3-4, but you simply can’t teach many of the attributes he brings to the field. 

 

Benardrick McKinney, Miss. St. 

An imposing-looking athlete with NFL-ready size. Takes on blockers without hesitation, using his massive frame to stack and shed. Long arms keep blockers off his body, allowing him to throw obstacles out of his path. Can be cut down on low blocks because of 6’5” height. Occasionally asked to blitz off the edge but rarely productive. Strong wrap-and-drive tackler. Size will be an asset covering bigger tight ends at the next level but also makes him a little awkward moving in space. Almost never out of position, but big plays are lacking. Looks like an NFL starter but you have to wonder if he’ll ever be a difference maker.

 

Based on my early observations, only two of the four inside linebackers are worthy of strong consideration at No. 30: Kendricks and Dawson. Both are first-round level talents capable of coming in and starting for the Packers right away. Perryman and McKinney make some sense if available in the second round, but both give off a “just a guy” vibe early on. If I had to rank the four at this juncture, knowing I have more video to watch and smarter people to talk to, I’d go with this:

1. Eric Kendricks, UCLA

2. Paul Dawson, TCU

3. Benardrick McKinney, Miss. State

4. Denzel Perryman, Miami (Fl.) 

 

Rankings subject to change. 

Be sure to order the official draft guide, which will feature my full positional rankings and more complete breakdowns, when it becomes available in April. 

 

Zach Kruse contributes to Cheesehead TV. He is also the Lead Writer for the NFC North at Bleacher Report. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at [email protected].

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Comments (27)

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slit's picture

February 17, 2015 at 10:18 pm

1. Dawson
2. Perryman
3. Kendricks
4. McKinney
5. Anthony

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DraftHobbyist's picture

February 18, 2015 at 12:05 pm

This seems pretty spot on, which is typical for you, Zach. I know you said you aren't done yet (same here), but I want to mention the name ILB Ramik Wilson GEORGIA. I couldn't find much tape on him, but from what I did fine, he has some amazing burst and that might show up at the Combine with the 10 and 20 yard splits.

Ramik Wilson has two good years of production, and I feel like he can do everything. His production did go down from his Jr to Sr year, but I think Georgia went through a schematic change (could be wrong on that) to explain that. Still, when you're talking about a guy who dipped in production and still ended up with 110 tackles that is pretty impressive.

As for size, at 6'2" 237 lbs he seems to be a pretty good size (assuming that is accurate). Anyways, definitely make a point to watch this guy closely, especially his burst.

EDIT: I found some more video on Ramik Wilson and it wasn't as good. He was getting pushed back, he didn't look as bursty, etc. I've definitely cooled on him a bit.

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FITZCORE1252's picture

February 18, 2015 at 02:47 pm

From your analysis, Perryman sounds a helluva lot like AJ. I think we would all agree that we do not need Hawk part 2.

"Combination of slow feet and delayed reaction time could be a big problem. Opponents will expose him in coverage at the next level."

Pass

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4thand1's picture

February 18, 2015 at 07:33 pm

Todays nfL requires speed. I'm pushin 60 and might be able to outrun Hawk.

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MITM's picture

February 18, 2015 at 04:03 pm

I always read this site, but have never posted. Now i feel like would be a good time. Not calling myself an expert of any sort, and Zach your analysis was impressive I can see you have a good LB eye, as do I. I played the position at the Division 1 level for 4 years of college, and then went on to coach the position at a powerhouse high school for another 4 years after. That being said, this is just my opinion and what I see.

Paul Dawson is hands down the top inside linebacker, imo, he is who the Packers NEED.

However, after Dawson this is what my list looks like.

2) Perryman
3) Kendricks
4) Stephone Anthony
5) Mckinney

Stephone Anthony i believe has a chance to be the best linebacker to come out of this draft, either him or the aforementioned Dawson. I do not like Benardrick Mckinney as a 3-4 ILB. His tackling relies too much on how big he is, he is a drag down tackler when he should be mauling people. I like him as a Sam in a 43. Between Kendricks and Perryman I just have a thing for Perryman, I think he is more athletic than you think (I see a healthy Jon Beason) and I'd take him before Kendricks. That being said, if Kendricks was the pick than we are getting a carbon copy of Nick Barnett, which wouldnt be the worst thing.

At 30, if he is there, Dawson has to be the pick, he is so similar to another ex TCU LB Daryl Washington. Suspensions aside, Washington was arguably a top 3 ILB/MLB in the NFL when hes on the field. Id be fine with any of the other 3 names i mentioned, I just do not want Mckinney.

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slit's picture

February 18, 2015 at 09:19 pm

You sir, are spot on. Dawon is the best ILB in this draft, and I don't think it's that close. Guy is gonna be a game changer for some team; hope it's us.

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The TKstinator's picture

February 19, 2015 at 06:57 am

MITM: "Man In The Middle"?

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pooch's picture

February 18, 2015 at 04:12 pm

No doubt take Dawson and if not Kendricks is available.If not take Melvin Gordon in 1st.Other 2 ilb probably there at 60

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pooch's picture

February 18, 2015 at 04:26 pm

Maybe Lacy could block on 4 and goal for Melvin and he could score with his quick acceleration

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pooch's picture

February 18, 2015 at 04:30 pm

2 back offense run Gordon in motion with 1 blocking tight end.OMG D has to respect lacy,gordon,cobb and nelson.Little inovation

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4thand1's picture

February 18, 2015 at 06:42 pm

I like your thinking.

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pooch's picture

February 18, 2015 at 04:57 pm

Innovation

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MarkinMadison's picture

February 18, 2015 at 07:09 pm

Bold prediction: the Packers will not pick Melvin Gordon.

With all due respect to MITM (and God knows he deserves more respect on this than I do) I haven't seen a single report on the guy (Perryman) where liability in the passing game wasn't discussed. Granted, some reports are better than others, and even an idiot like me can repeat lines, so there may be some of that here, but the point is, there are a lot of folks seeing the same problem. In the pass-friendly NFL, if you do not have 3-down ability, you are a liability, IMHO.

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lmills's picture

February 18, 2015 at 08:44 pm

People talk about 3-down LB's like they're everywhere. They're not. Most of the current ILB's in the NFL aren't "3-down" LB's. So to say that you shouldn't draft a player because of it is foolish. They're a very rare breed. I think Perryman played a lot of zone in college so i think it was deceiving warching his film when he didn't stick with a receiver...he wasn't supposed to. Perryman is so much more athletic than Hawk that it's a slight on Perryman to compare them. I'd be happy with Perryman. But, I do think that Dawson and Kendricks are a better fit. We already have a thumper with Barrington. Now we need the speed inside. One guy that isn't rated very high but is intriguing to me is Ramik Wilson. Fast and athletic and is around the ball a lot. Also played in the SEC so he faced good competition. We'll see!

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4thand1's picture

February 18, 2015 at 11:08 pm

I'm all for guys that play against top notch competition.

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MarkinMadison's picture

February 19, 2015 at 11:25 am

"So to say that you shouldn't draft a player because of it is foolish."

I think what we are talking about here is your first round draft choice. So you line up Barrington and Perryman, and neither can cover well enough. Now what? You find a three down player with your first-rounder, or you pick a different position. No point in spending a 1st on a 2-downer, when you can get a 2-downer in the 2nd or later rounds.

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lmills's picture

February 20, 2015 at 04:19 pm

That I would agree with. Kendricks in the first is fine, but if we take Perryman I would hope it's somewhere in the 2nd.

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THEMichaelRose's picture

February 19, 2015 at 08:52 am

It's sort of awkward to recall that at one time AJ Hawk would've been at the top of this list and his scouting report would have been glistening.

We're going to fall into the fallacy that we do every year. We identify a position as the most obvious need for the team, then slot in a guy that plays that position in the first round (maybe the second). But, Ted won't see value there, and he'll go another direction.

If Ted somehow agreed that the need at ILB is far more paramount than any other need (for this year, or next, or the year after), I would hope he would trade up and get THE guy he needs, if he wasn't comfortable with the value of someone like Perryman at #30.

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HankScorpio's picture

February 19, 2015 at 09:29 am

For a couple of years now, I have been on the need for upgraded LB talent. LB is really the centerpiece of the system Capers wants to run. But Capers finally got serious about creative use of what he had to mask the lack of talent in the second half of last season. I would rather not force Capers into those creative solutions again in 2015 but I prefer that approach to forcing a pick that doesn't make sense at that particular spot in the draft. Those kinds of picks usually end up not working anyways.

There is no doubt in my mind ILB and NT are the only glaring roster holes. I would love for the Packers draft board to align with those two needs when their first two picks come up. More likely, it will not. And they will be forced to make do again. If the defensive results from the second half of 2014 can be duplicated, it will not be a problem.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 19, 2015 at 04:33 pm

Generally agree. Roster holes right now depends on who gets re-signed. Getting any playmaker in the front 7 would be big. If it happens to be a DE or an OLB, so be it. It is perhaps not as good as getting a stud ILB or NT, but if TT doesn't think the talent is there, then, like you said, we can make do with the results we got in the 2nd half.

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HankScorpio's picture

February 19, 2015 at 04:42 pm

"Roster holes right now depends on who gets re-signed. "

Agreed. I am presuming Cobb, Bulaga and one of House or Williams get re-signed. If that presumption proves incorrect, it does change things.

I don't think any of the other Packer FAs alter the equation at their position that much.

I probably should have been more clear about all those presumptions.

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MarkinMadison's picture

February 19, 2015 at 11:26 am

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the Packers were running a 4-3 when Hawk got drafted.

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MITM's picture

February 19, 2015 at 04:37 pm

Yes, MITM = man in the middle, good call.

Ramik Wilson 2 years ago looked like a first rounder, last season he almost didn't even start. I read an article right before the season that coaches could not understand what was wrong with Wilson, it was almost as if he had lost all interest in football. Something strange went on with him last season and if you do enough research you will probably find the article I am talking about. Also Wilson was not even the best ILB on his team last season, that was Amarlo Herrera.

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Nashville Packer's picture

February 19, 2015 at 08:52 pm

Amarlo Herrera is a good mid round option. One thing Packers fans should remember is the team has seemingly targeted its top need in recent drafts, Needed pass rush, picked Nick Perry. Needed fit at 3-4 DE, picked Datone Jones. Needed upgrade at safety, picked Ha Ha. Even McCarthy said today that ILB is like safety from last season. I'll be surprised if the team goes another direction, but that is predicated on bringing back Cobb/Bulaga/House or Williams.

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Amanofthenorth's picture

February 20, 2015 at 07:24 am

That syndrome sounds like he spent the offseason in Colorado.

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Nashville Packer's picture

February 19, 2015 at 08:44 pm

Someone do a Google search for "Paul Dawson" and "character concerns" for enlightenment on why the Packers won't touch him. Not a chance. Dark horse candidate is Stephone Anthony.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 20, 2015 at 01:13 pm

Kendricks and Dawson got measured. Their arms are a little short (31" for Kendricks and 31.5 for Dawson). No one was shorter than expected, though. Perryman came in a 5'11" exactly, as expected.

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