Linebacker a Draft Meal Ticket


(Anthony Barr photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings)

(Khalil Mack photo courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

Here’s a draft tip for NFL teams looking for a player to have an instant impact as a rookie.

Select a linebacker.

Over the last three years, rookie linebackers have started 454 games, tops of any position by a wide margin. Rookie wide receivers are next with 366 starts, followed by cornerbacks at 321 and guards at 309.

First-round picks Khalil Mack of Oakland and C.J. Mosley of Baltimore both became walk-in starters last season, Mack as an outside backer and Mosley on the inside, and stayed there all season. Minnesota outside linebacker Anthony Barr would have joined them as a 16-game starter, but his season ended in the 12th game with a knee injury. All three were first-round choices, and Mosley finished seventh in the NFL with 133 tackles.

Nineteen of the 32 teams started a rookie linebacker at some point during the 2014 season, totaling 150 starts. Third-round pick Preston Brown started 15 games for the Bills, fourth-rounder Anthony Hitchens started 11 games for the Cowboys and fifth-rounder Avery Williamson 12 games for the Titans.

So you can find quality linebackers throughout the draft – and beyond. Undrafted rookie free agent Christian Jones started five games for the Bears last fall.

The Buffalo Bills selected Kiko Alonso in the second round of the 2013 draft, and he went on to start all 16 games and finish third in the NFL with 159 tackles. The Carolina Panthers selected Luke Kuechly in the first round of the 2012 draft, and he also went on to start all 16 games as a rookie and lead the NFL with 164 tackles. Both Alonso and Kuechly play middle linebacker, and Kuechly was named the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.

So recent history should enhance the 2015 draft stock of linebackers Eric Kendricks of UCLA, Shaq Thompson of Washington and Benardrick McKinney of Mississippi State. If you draft a linebacker, there’s a very good chance he’ll play for you and a good chance he'll start for you.

The other position of interest this week should be guard. There have been six 16-game rookie starters there in the last two seasons.

Chance Warmack, Kyle Long and Larry Warford were all season-long starters in 2013. Warmack was a first-round pick of the Titans, Long a first-rounder of the Bears and Warford a second-rounder of the Lions. Zack Martin, Joel Bitonio and Zach Fulton were all 16-game starters in 2014. Martin was a first-round pick of the Cowboys, Bitonio a second-rounder of the Browns and Fulton a sixth-rounder of the Chiefs. Martin was selected to the Pro Bowl.

Linebacker and guard are actually logical picks for an early impact. Defensive ends and cornerbacks command the big money on defense, and tackles control the checkbook on the offensive line. You need cheaper labor to fill some other spots in the lineup to stay afloat with a salary cap. So younger, cheaper works on draft day at linebacker and guard.

So keep an eye on those two positions in the 2015 draft. NFL teams looking out for starters certainly will be.