The NFL draft begins Thursday in Chicago, with all 32 teams looking for the next great pro talent to emerge from the SEC.

We’ve taken a position-by-position look at the SEC’s draft prospects in the days leading up to the event. We started with running backs, receiversdefensive tacklesdefensive endssafetiesquarterbackstight endscornerbacks and offensive tackles. We continue today with linebackers.

Most of the SEC’s top “linebacker” prospects are actually college defensive ends that project as hybrid players or outside linebackers in the NFL.

RELATED: Ranking the SEC’s top returning LBs in 2015

Outside of one player, though — more on that shortly — the ’15 SEC class is loaded with less-heralded players who still could get drafted or make a team as an undrafted free agent.

Let’s take a look at some of the news, projections and buzz at the position entering this year’s draft.

BIGGEST STAR: Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State

The label of “star” could be a misnomer in this case.

McKinney should be the first SEC linebacker off the board (we’re excluding defensive ends who may play outside linebacker in the NFL here).

At 6-foot-4 and 246 pounds, 11 scouts voted McKinney the best inside linebacker in the 2015 draft class. He’s powerful and plays well on first and second down running forward against the run and taking on guards. If your team needs a physical presence in the middle of the field who isn’t afraid to careen into ball-carriers and blockers, McKinney is your guy late in the first round or in the second round.

But he plays too tall, he’s a liability against the pass and he may have to come off the field on third down for the foreseeable future. Pro Football Focus even gave a “buyer beware” warning to teams considering him in the early rounds.

He’s got some above-average skills along with some weaknesses, so it’s tough to project him as an NFL “star,” but he’ll be a legitimate part of some team’s defensive plans as a rookie.

RISING: Kwon Alexander, LSU

A sometimes over-aggressive player, Alexander also is undersized at a shade shorter than 6-foot-1 and 227 pounds. He’s best suited as a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme where he can use his 4.55-second NFL Combine speed to chase down ball-carriers.

The bottom line with Alexander is that he’s a good football player who makes the most out of his assets. He led LSU with 90 tackles last season. He plays with violence and good instincts and may be able to add some muscle mass without losing his speed.

Alexander should come off the board before the end of the third round at worst, and may fall upward toward the middle of the second day.

FALLING: Martrell Spaight, Arkansas

Similar to Alexander, Spaight has size issues at 6-foot and 236 pounds, limiting him to weakside linebacker in a 4-3 system. He also takes false steps and occasionally runs himself out of position both in the run and the pass.

But Spaight’s issues are more pronounced than Alexander. He can get engulfed by offensive linemen if they engage with him. He doesn’t possess good sideline-to-sideline speed (he ran a 4.88 at the NFL Combine) and could be a liability in coverage.

Unlike Alexander, he won’t be as much of an impact player on special teams either. Spaight should get drafted, but don’t expect him to be the impact player in the NFL that he was at Arkansas.


  • Paul Dawson, TCU
  • Eric Kendricks, UCLA
  • Stephone Anthony, Clemson
  • Denzel Perryman, Miami
  • Shaq Thompson, Washington


  1. Will Benardrick McKinney be the first Mississippi State player selected (ahead of defensive end Preston Smith)?
  2. Who will get drafted higher, LSU’s Kwon Alexander or Alabama’s Xzavier Dickson?
  3. Will Martrell Spaight, Trey DePriest and Amarlo Herrera all get drafted on the third day?


  1. Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
  2. Reggie Ragland, Alabama
  3. Cassanova McKinzy, Auburn


  • Georgia’s Ramik Wilson is a turn-and-run linebacker who can track ball-carriers from sideline-to-sideline. His long arms also are a benefit, but he could get picked on in coverage in the NFL and he’s not always physical or tough enough. Still, he projects as a mid-round pick.
  • Alabama sometimes used Xzavier Dickson as a defensive end and sometimes as a pass rusher. He’s better at the latter, finishing with nine sacks in ’14, but isn’t fast or athletic enough to be a good situational pass rusher in the NFL. Against the run, scouts rate him as below average, as he isn’t aggressive pursuing plays from the backside and seems content to stay engaged with blockers. He should be a third-day pick.
  • Alabama’s Trey DePriest started for three years at linebacker for the Crimson Tide, which is impressive. He also ran the defense as the team’s middle linebacker. But he got exploited in coverage, didn’t test well at the Combine and also is coming off a knee injury. He’s good at the point of attack and can shed blockers in the running game. But it’s fair to say his draft stock has plummeted since this time last year as he really got exposed during the ’14 season, and he may not get drafted at all.
  • Georgia’s Amarlo Herrera is an undersized inside linebacker at 6-foot-1 and 244 pounds. He may or may not get drafted, but expect that he could spend 2015 on an NFL practice squad with the goal of making a roster as a special teams player and backup on defense.
  • Unheralded Mississippi State linebacker Matt Wells ran a hand-timed 4.44-second 40-yard dash at the Bulldogs’ pro day. If that’s a true measure of his speed — it’s tough to know whether to trust pro-day 40 times — Wells, sized more like a safety at 6-foot-1 and 222 pounds, will get an opportunity at an NFL career on special teams. He’ll have to do so as an undrafted free agent.