Posted: Monday February 27, 2012 5:44PM ; Updated: Monday February 27, 2012 5:44PM
Tony Pauline
Tony Pauline>INSIDE THE NFL

Speedy, athletic linebackers largely impress on combine stage

Story Highlights

Cal's Mychal Kendricks, BC's Luke Kuechly answered doubters in dynamic fashion

Boise's Shea McClellin, OU's Ronnell Lewis worked out with DLs but looked like LBs

Vontaze Burfict again struggled, continuing his free fall from top 10 to last-day pick

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Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly ran both of his 40s in the mid 4.5-second range and impressed in coverage.
Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly ran both of his 40s in the mid 4.5-second range and impressed in coverage.
AP

The linebackers who took the field Monday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium were incredibly athletic and impressed NFL decision-makers with their speed. Many came across as three-down defenders, which will please NFL coaches even more. Not everyone impressed equally, however. Here's a look at the risers and sliders.

Risers

Mychal Kendricks, California: Melvin Ingram's workout with the defensive linemen was one for the ages, and Kendricks' showing with the linebackers wasn't far behind. The Pac-12 defensive player of the year led the linebackers in almost every testing category: His 40 time of 4.45 seconds was the fastest, his vertical jump of 39.5 inches the highest and broad jump of 10-feet, 7-inches the longest. Kendricks carried his momentum through the drill session, looking quick and explosive in every task. Kendricks' sub-6-foot height means he won't be a player for everyone, but a creative defensive coordinator will turn him into a productive pro.

Luke Kuechly, Boston College: Questions about Kuechly's speed and athleticism preceded the combine. He answered his critics in dynamic fashion, running both of his 40s in the mid 4.5-second range. His vertical jump of 38-inches and broad jump of 10-feet, 3-inches graded among the better marks from today's linebackers. He was smooth opening his hips in coverage drills and was able to get great depth on pass drops. Kuechly did not display a smooth change of direction and some will question his pursuit skills, but on the whole it was a great performance by the Boston College junior.

Najee Goode, West Virginia: Goode also surpassed expectations. He clocked below 4.7 seconds in the 40, looked fluid during drills, easily changed direction and lost no momentum when required to immediately alter his angle of attack. He was quick-footed in reverse and covered a lot of area. Considered a free-agent prospect entering the season, Goode has moved into the middle rounds of the draft.

Shea McClellin, Boise State: McClellin worked out with the defensive linemen, but looked every part linebacker at the combine. His 40 times registered as fast as 4.65 seconds and McClellin practiced at that speed during drills. He displayed terrific balance and rhythm during defensive line drills; when used in coverage at linebacker, he looked quick-footed and capable of going sideline-to-sideline. The former college defensive end had a lot to gain from his workout and some teams feel he did enough to move into the top half of Round 2.

Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma: Lewis also took part in the defensive line workout, but stood out during linebacker drills. He tested well, running below 4.7 seconds in the 40 and completing 36 reps on the bench. He worked hard in the drill session, easily moving about the field and displaying the ability to immediately change direction. He also showed tremendous hand punch in bag drills.

Demario Davis, Arkansas State: Davis looked like the complete package, testing well and appearing very athletic during position drills. He timed 4.58 in the 40, touched 38.5 inches in the vertical jump, 10-feet, four-inches in the broad jump and completed 32 reps on the bench. Later in the workout Davis showed good speed and quickness moving in every direction as well as solid ball skills in coverage drills. He's a bit of an unknown outside the scouting world, but don't be surprised if Davis pops into the late part of Round 3.

Bruce Irvin, West Virginia: Irvin disappointed scouts as a senior, but got his draft momentum going in the right direction today. The athletic linebacker was fast in the 40, timing below 4.5 seconds in both runs. He looked quick in all the drills and displayed solid movement skills with the ability to cover a great deal of area on the field.

James-Michael Johnson, Nevada: Johnson turned in a complete workout today and was effective on all fronts. He started with 40 times in the mid 4.6-second range. His marks of 37 inches in the vertical jump and 10-feet, 4-inches in the broad jump were also impressive. During drills Johnson looked every bit as athletic as his testing numbers indicate and moved swiftly across the field. He appears to be a complete linebacker who can defend the run or pass in the NFL.

Zach Brown, North Carolina: Brown was quick in the 40, timing as fast as 4.45 seconds on a number of watches after tipping the scales at 244 pounds. He flashed ability during drills, but seemed stiff and off balance at times. Despite that, the size/speed ratio and his game film make Brown a Top 25 choice.

Ryan Baker, LSU: It's tough to claim a linebacker who struggled to run 4.85 seconds in the 40 improved his draft grade, but that's what Baker did. Forty aside, he looked athletic and efficient in drills and was often applauded by coaches on the field.

Sliders

Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State: The downward spiral continues for Burfict. He did not break 5 seconds in the 40, posted some of the worst vertical and broad jumps from the linebacker group and did not participate in position drills. Entering the season Burfict was considered a top 10 talent, but he's since fallen into the last day of the draft.

Brandon Lindsay, Pittsburgh: Lindsay is another player who's watching his draft grade plummet. His 40 time of 4.90 seconds was slow even for the defensive line group with which he worked. Lindsay looked somewhat effective in drills, but he may be a player without an NFL position.

 
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