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2016 NFL Scouting Combine preview: Linebackers

Why is the NFL Combine important for linebackers? Who are some prospects to keep an eye on?

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Continuing the combine preview series, we now move onto linebackers. You can view the previews for defensive line and edge rushers here.

Why is the combine important for linebackers? Well, it's pretty simple. With such an emphasis being placed on the passing game, the faster pacing of offensive, and more spread oriented concepts, it is important to not have unathletic players anywhere in your front seven.

The combine isn't as important for linebackers as it is for defensive linemen or edge rushers, but it can still be a good indicator of ability to project to defenses against.

Darron Lee

When the entirety of your appeal as a football player revolves around what people perceive as upper-tier athleticism, you better perform well at the NFL Combine.

Lee has a lot of warts on the field, but that is to expect for somebody who has as little experience at linebacker as he does. This is why almost the entire reason that evaluators are high on him is the athleticism he displays on the field. People are buying into his upside instead of what he is now, and this is why a good showing at the combine is important for him.

Deion Jones

Similar to Lee in the aspect that most of his hype stem from his athleticism, Jones is another prospect who has to prove that there is some steak with the sizzle.

On the field, Jones is an average run defender at best. He will draw comparisons to Telvin Smith simply because of size and athleticism but they aren't similar players. Telvin excels vs the run and struggles in coverage while Jones is the complete opposite. If Jones is going to win in the NFL it is going to be in coverage. He needs to show at the combine that he has the traits and athletic testing to match up with this.

Reggie Ragland

If there is any linebacker prospect who has the most to gain at the Combine, it is Ragland. And that is only because expectations are so low.

Ragland isn't expected to test well, but if he tests as bad as Paul Dawson did last year then there will be some serious talk about him slipping even further in the draft.

Ragland does not need to put up workout warrior numbers, but he does need to try to avoid the abysmal numbers that so many are predicting right now. Ragland's game doesn't center around athleticism like Lee's or Jones so him testing just okay would be satisfactory.

Eric Striker

The main question with Striker is where should he play? He is too small to rush off the edge, not adept enough in coverage to play defensive back, and might be a mixture of too slow and too weak to play linebacker.

Right now Striker is a low reward pick because there isn't any clear direction you can go in with him. But if he tests well at the combine? Then you will have something to work with. The risk of drafting a guy with no true position could be balanced out by the reward of drafting a plus athlete.

But if Striker tests poorly? There could be serious questions about him falling late into Day 3 and perhaps out of the draft altogether.

Leonard Floyd

Floyd will be considered an edge rusher by some but he played mostly an off the ball linebacker role for Georgia last year and that is really where he fits best in the NFL as well because he is simply too small to play an edge role on an every-down basis.

For a player of Floyd's size to warrant the hype that currently surrounds him, he will need to test well. There really isn't any way around it. You can't back up the logic on wanting to use a premier pick on a front 7 player who is built like a wide receiver if they are a poor athlete