Inside Linebackers

2003 Draft Prospects

Pudge's Notes: This potentially could have been a great inside linebacker class. Although it lacks the great Ray Lewis-type guy, it does have a lot of solid players at the top. Had Southern Miss's Rod Davis come out it would have been outstanding. I think Davis would probably have been the best out of all of them.



Terry Pierce

6'1" 251 Kansas State (4.64) Junior

Pros: A good enforcer in the middle with range and speed. Pierce could play outside linebacker in the pros. Big guy that can deliver hits and is functional in coverage.
Cons: Will take some bad angles and needs improvement in coverage.
NFL Forecast: He can play more than one position, but he would be at his best in the middle where his speed and strength would be best used. Can be very powerful and should cause a few backs to have nightmares with some of the hits he delivers. Immediately I expect him to have a big impact on the league.
Value: Worth a Top 20 selection.

Gerald Hayes

6'1" 238 Pittsburgh (4.75) Senior

Pros: Hayes is a solid all-around middle linebacker prospect. He's an enforcer on defense and is solid vs. the run. He has good strength and power and plays well at the point of attack. His speed is good and he's functional in coverage. Has excellent range and could play all three linebacker spots on the next level.
Cons: Has more burst than speed and still has a ways to improve in coverage.
NFL Forecast: Hayes is a classic 4-3 middle linebacker prospect, but would also fit well as the run-stuffing inside guy in the 3-4. He's probably better all-around than some of the other top prospects. He's a throwback to the tough interior guys that were enforcers in the middle, unlike the more athletic speed players that dot the NFL today.
Value: Worth a late first rounder as he should go somewhere around pick #25.

E.J. Henderson

6'1" 245 Maryland (4.83) Senior

Pros: Hard-nosed run stuffer in the middle. At his best when he's attacking the line of scrimmage. Best run stuffer in the class.
Cons: Doesn't have great speed or range. Needs to improve in coverage.
NFL Forecast: I think Henderson would make a perfect fit in the 3-4 as an inside guy, since he's better in confined areas than he is in space. Can play the traditional middle spot, but I don't think he's going to excel as much there. Will get his kicks as a run stuffer and does a good job when he attacks the line of scrimmage rather than reacting to the play. But Henderson is rock-solid and should be a very good NFL starter, just may not be among the best.
Value: Worth a late first round pick, but for a team that is going to use the 3-4, he is worth a Top 20 pick.


Clifton Smith

6'2" 253 Syracuse (4.65) Senior

Pros: He is good at the point of attack, and knows how to avoid and shed blockers. He's a good tackler, will chase down runners, and is even good enough in coverage to play every down.
Cons: Doesn't excel anywhere.
NFL Forecast: Smith suffered as a senior since the entire Syracuse defense struggled. He still played well, but was not good enough to raise the rest of his teammates level of play. But he is a solid all-around guy, who may be the best all-around. He is not a dominant college player, just consistent. So that likely will mean he will be the same in the NFL. He is good across the board, but not particularly great anywhere.
Value: A solid second round prospect that should be a good pro.


Matt Wilhelm

6'4" 245 Ohio State (4.79) Senior

Pros: Good nose and instincts at the MIKe position. Has good speed and great attacking linebacker. Plays well in traffic and decent at point of attack.
Cons: Struggles in coverage and only average in zone. Stiff and does not play sideline to sideline.
NFL Forecast: Wilhelm is a throwback type middle man. You don't see many of his kind populating the NFL anymore, but that doesn't mean he is not going to be good there. He's the type of run-stopping enforcer that the NFL loved prior to this decade when the more athletic types have been coveted. Should be an excellent guy that brings toughness to any defense.
Value: Worth a third round pick. Still needs work in coverage, but an excellent 2-down MLB.


Tony Gilbert

6' 251 Georgia (4.86) Senior

Pros: Has solid speed and instincts in the middle. Looks good in pursuit and in traffic.
Cons: Not a physically dominated run stuffer.
NFL Forecast: Like Kendrell Bell, Gilbert should make a good inside guy in the 3-4. He is somewhat of a tweener at linebacker, since he doesn't have the strength and power you want in a middle guy, but doesn't have good enough speed for the outside. Not as athletic as his counterparts at Georgia, but a solid player. Gilbert should make a good pro, but needs to find the right system. Otherwise he may never get off the bench.
NFL Comparison: Kendrell Bell, Steelers.
Value: With the right scheme, he could be worth a third round pick. That scheme is probably a 3-4, but otherwise is just a fourth rounder.


Mario Haggan

6'3" 252 Mississippi State (4.88) Senior

Pros: Big interior run stuffer that is good when attacking the line of scrimmage. Great strength.
Cons: Lacks speed and mobility. Stiff and struggles in space.
NFL Forecast: Haggan would make a good run stuffer type like a Levon Kirkland in a 3-4 scheme. But he struggles when asked to play in space since he lacks speed and looks stiff in the middle. In the right scheme, where he can attack the line of scrimmage and not worry about playing too much in pursuit, he should be solid. But because of this, he is limited in where he can be successful.
NFL Comparison: Levon Kirkland.
Value: If playing in a scheme that likes big physical run stuffers that can control a gap, he should be well worth a fifth round pick.


Lawrence Flugence

6'1" 239 Texas Tech (4.6) Senior

Pros: Good speed and solid in pursuit.
Cons: Lacks strength at the point of attack.
NFL Forecast: I think Flugence might have to make the transition to the weakside because he lacks size and strength and is more a speed guy. Has the ability to play in the middle on the next level, but just looks physically overwhelmed at times. Has good enough speed to stick on the outside. If he does play the middle, he will need help from his guys up front to shield him from blockers.
Value: Productive college guy that could be worth a fifth rounder for a team looking for a weakside guy.


Solomon Bates

6'1" 243 Arizona State (4.89) Senior

Pros: Decent at point of attack. Has good strength and effective when attacking the line of scrimmage.
Cons: Not a gifted run stopper and lacks speed.
NFL Forecast: Bates looks like he could be a good inside guy in the 3-4 or 4-3. But mostly he projects as a reserve guy in the NFL. I don't see a lot of upside in him. Best chance of sticking will be his performance on special teams. Lacks the range and speed to play in space. His best case scenario would be playing on a team with two beefy tackles ahead of him, then he might be a decent starter.
Value: A good value in the seventh round if a team is looking for a good backup at MLB.

Tom Ward

6'1" 236 Toledo () Senior

Pros: Has decent speed and strength. A playmaker with a nose for the football.
Cons: Struggles at point of attack.
NFL Forecast: Toledo is not a huge dropoff in competition, but Ward does not have the ability to say he faced the top programs there. He is an average guy as he does not excel anywhere, just is overly solid. Needs to be shielded from blockers, but should fit the role as a backup that excels on special teams. The type of guy who makes an impression with his attitude rather than his ability.
Value: A decent prospect that could be a solid reserve and special teams guy. Worth seventh round consideration.

Vinny Ciurciu

6' 239 Boston College (4.68) Senior

Pros: Decent in middle, hard-nosed. Could make the eventual switch to fullback.
Cons: Lacks great speed, strength, and abiilty in coverage
NFL Forecast: Ciurciu is a tough blue-collar guy in the middle, but doesn't have a lot of talent otherwise. He can play the run and deliver hits, but lacks the talent otherwise to stick on defense. Should be excellent on special teams, and there is talk of switching him to fullback, a position he played earlier in his career. I think he would be good in that role since he should make a good blocker. Questionable if he'd be anything other than a pure lead blocker at fullback though.
Value: A special teams type that his ability to possibly play both offense and defense is enough to give him a seventh round grade.


Chris Brown

6' 238 Hawaii (4.82) Senior

Pros: Aggressive and can deliver the hit. Good strength
Cons: Lacks speed and range.
NFL Forecast: Brown has the makings of an excellent special teams guy. But for the most part he projects as a backup middle man in the NFL. He could function well in a scheme that is more attacking than reacting. He lacks the speed to be much of a factor in pursuit. Good attitude and his strength allows him to play bigger than he is, but is only a backup prospect.
Value: Could sneak late into the seventh round, but for the most part is solely a special teams guy.

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