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How do the top linebacker prospects of the 2016 NFL Draft fit with the Jaguars?

Here's a preview of three of the top linebacker prospects of 2016: Jaylon Smith, Myles Jack, and Scooby Wright.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I know I'm getting ahead of myself talking about the top three linebacker prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft for the Jacksonville Jaguars. You don't have to remind me.

This time of the year in the sports world is officially known as the "dead zone." The Jaguars are essentially on their final resting period before the start of the 2015 season. There really isn't a whole lot going on or bases that haven't been covered.

So, here we are. Linebackers that won't be drafted for another 10 months.

This is meant to serve as somewhat of a watch list of players for what I perceive will be the Jaguars greatest need after this season and going into next.

It isn't incredibly hard to predict what a team's needs will likely be at the end of a season. Going 2013 season, the Jaguars needed everything. Going into 2014, they needed a quarterback. Going into 2015, they needed a premier pass rusher. These were all holes that could be seen from even the most casual observer.

And what is that hole on this current roster? Linebacker.

The Jaguars linebacker situation is one of the few I am not optimistic about in terms of significant improvement since Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley have taken over. Telvin Smith was a huge addition and should play an even larger role next season and the seasons ahead than he did last year. He has the skillset to thrive in today's NFL and has pro bowl level talent. But outside of him, the linebacking corps is relatively weak.

Dan Skuta is a nice addition to OTTO considering what was trotted out there last year, but expectations should be put on hold for a bit. He is a quality player, but it is unclear just how large of an impact he can make.

And then we have Paul Posluszny. Regardless of what you think of his (widely debated) ability on the field, he does not appear to be a long-term fixture at inside linebacker.

Behind the starting trio of Telvin Smith, Dan Skuta, and Paul Posluszny, there isn't much to be excited about. Laroy Reynolds is one of the team's most important special teams players but has shown he simply can't handle a starting role. Then there are unproven second-year commodities such as a Jeremiah George and Khairi Fortt who may or may not even see playing time this year.

The way the linebacker position is currently set up on the Jaguars roster, the door should be wide open for a Year 1 contributor via the draft, as it was in 2013 for Joeckel and as it would have been for Fowler had he not been injured.

So who are the linebackers that could potentially be targeted when that day comes? I narrowed it down to three for right now: Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith, UCLA's Myles Jack, and Arizona's Scooby Wright.

Jaylon Smith

Smith (6'2", 235 lbs) is a junior, but it has been widely expected since his recruitment that he would be an early declaration for the NFL Draft. He has started 13 games in both his freshman and junior seasons, leading to himself being propelled onto the top of award watch lists and NFL Draft watchlists everywhere.

The first thing that stands out about Smith is his athleticism for his size. He is 15 pounds larger than the Jaguars most athletic linebacker, Telvin Smith, yet he moves just as fluidly and quickly, if not more so.


Here you can see him get to his landmark in zone coverage quickly after showing a blitz. He stays disciplined, covering his area and keeping his eyes and body parallel with the quarterback. Once the quarterback breaks for the first down marker, Smith shows the speed to come downhill and stop him short. Keep in mind this is Devin Gardner, a very athletic quarterback.

Where I think Jaylon Smith would make his biggest impact on the Jaguars defense though, is in pass coverage.

I quite honestly don't remember the last time Jacksonville could match up with tight ends and wide receivers in the middle of the field and not get torched. It is a natural disadvantage for the defense, but the odds seem extra lopsided for Jacksonville.

A big reason for that on this current roster is Paul Posluszny's inability to play on third down. Poz is a limited athlete who can't function as a zone defender in the MOF at this point, and in this defense that is crippling.

Smith, on the other hand, does everything you could ever want from a linebacker as a pass defender. He is quick enough to get into his zone drops and break on passes, cover tight ends down the field and running backs out of the backfield, and his instincts and football IQ are off the charts.

Here he is against 2015 second-round pick Devin Funchess:


Smith played this play as perfectly as you possibly could. He recognized the route combination right off the snap and got the proper depth and leverage to anticipate the outside WR coming across the middle. He then was able to stay in the WR's hip pocket and close on the ball to finish the play. You really can't draw it up any better. He has the speed, instincts, IQ, size, to match up with anyone in coverage.

Overall, Smith is a talent worth investing in early in the draft. He has a whole year of college football left to go before that time comes, but he already looks like the complete package at linebacker.

Myles Jack

Myles Jack burst onto the college football scene as a freshman in 2013, not for his 11 starts at linebacker, but for his noteworthy period where he split time both at linebacker and at running back for UCLA. In 2014, he was still used as a two-way player, but not to the same extent. He started all 13 games at outside linebacker and was second on the team in tackles.

Jack is a different player from Smith but still brings translatable skills to the table. Smith is a true inside linebacker prospect while Jack has played a Swiss Army Knife outside linebacker role in the last two years. The difference between inside linebacker and outside linebacker doesn't seem huge but in the case of Smith and Jack's responsibilities in their defense, there are notable contrasts.

Smith flipped around from inside linebacker to an edge-setting run defender in Notre Dame's defense, while Jack was used more to combat spread attacks.

I touched on earlier how Smith is an effective defender in pass coverage. With this said, Jack is a whole different animal. You can tell just how much UCLA trusts Jack to defend the pass by their implementation of him against Kansas State in last year's bowl game.

Kansas State used a screen heavy game plan and UCLA's best counterattack was Jack, for obvious reasons.


I mean, look at this. Jack is not a true throwback linebacker, one like Smith who fits the expected criteria, but with the passing offenses of today's NFL, you can't tell me a player who can cover like this is not a valuable asset. Jack gives you the athleticism to be a chase linebacker while also giving you the flexibility to move him around like an extra defensive back.


Right now, Jack can not impact the run game as well as Smith can. Smith is better at taking on blocks, fighting through trash, and making an impact as a two-way defender. Jack will be shifting from outside linebacker to inside linebacker in the 2015 season, so he still has time to catch up to Smith in that regard. But where Jack will win is as a versatile and well-rounded athlete who you can use to counter the pass happy offenses of the NFL.

Scooby Wright

Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright is significantly different from both Smith and Jack, but he had a monster season in 2014 statistically regardless. 163 tackles, 29 tackles-for-loss, 14 sacks, and 6 forced fumbles. If you want a true throwback middle linebacker, Wright would be your preference over Smith and Jack.

The thing that most clearly separates Wright from Smith and Jack is his level of athleticism. It is unfair to compare most players to the athleticism of Smith and Jack since they are, frankly, freakish level athletes. But still, Wright is not a player who will ever win purely with his speed.

Where he wins is by taking on blocks and shifting through traffic. Short yardage plays like this do a good a good job of showcasing Wright's skills.


Wright also offers a lot of value as a blitzer, as evident by his sack total. Outside of short yardage run plays, this is where his impact is most felt.


Wright is able to contribute heavily in blitz situations because he plays with a nonstop motor, and has advanced shedding technique for a college football player.

But outside of these two areas, I struggle to see Wright as a fit for Jacksonville. Especially when compared to Smith and Jack. Right now, Jacksonville lacks athleticism and coverage ability at inside linebacker, and Wright wouldn't be a significant upgrade. He is younger and healthier option than Posluszny, but skill set wise they aren't too different.

So that narrows it down to Smith and Jack. Both would be big upgrades over what the Jaguars currently have at linebacker in terms of athleticism and coverage, but I give the advantage to Smith at this point. Smith can play the run better than Jack can right now, and I am not sure it is significantly close. He could fit in as a Day 1 starter, while Jack may be a year or two in the NFL away from contributing heavily against the run.

When it comes down to scheme fit and needed skills at the position, Smith is everything you could want in an inside linebacker.

And now, we wait.

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