Mike Neal and Nick Perry are set to become free agents for the Green Bay Packers in 2016, opening up holes to fill via free agency or the draft. Ideally, Clay Matthews would return to his original position at outside linebacker, where he would help form an imposing tandem rushing quarterbacks opposite of Julius Peppers. There are several enticing college prospects who could take over his role inside this year.
Many outside linebackers set to be drafted could fit as 3-4 inside linebackers (Myles Jack, Jaylon Smith), but for simplicity, this list is comprised of players who played inside linebacker in their final year at college. The position is filled with playmakers who excel at defending the run or getting after the quarterback.
While Scooby Wright is a menace capable of creating havoc in the backfield, Tyler Matakevich and Reggie Ragland are athletes capable of handling running backs at the next level. All three are included on this list and could potentially be Packers come April.
1. Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Wired with exceptional instincts and motor, Ragland spearheaded Alabama's National Championship win on the defensive side of the ball. It's easy to envision the 6'2", 252-pound senior racking up consistent 100-tackle seasons for whatever team drafts him.
He needs work with fluidity and lateral quickness defending against the pass, but he'll enter the NFL as a plus defender against the run. CBSSports believes Ragland can play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 system at the pro level and is adept at fighting off blockers.
2. Kentrell Brothers, Missouri
Want to know who led the NCAA in total tackles last season? It was Missouri's Kentrell Brothers, who recorded a robust 152 in 2015. While Ragland has the higher floor, Brothers has a higher ceiling due to his range, athleticism and versatility that he brings to a defense.
CBSSports said that he played weak-side linebacker at Missouri, but switched to inside linebacker-at times-when in a nickel set. Brothers is the one exception on this list as a 4-3 outside linebacker. He's also impactful on special teams, tallying three blocked punts last season. Teams targeting a linebacker in the second or third round could easily be in the fold for Brothers' services.
3. Tyler Matakevich, Temple
I had the honor of interviewing the NCAA's career leading tackler in a one-on-one interview back in August as a credentialed Temple student. While he's a determined individual off the field, Matakevich contributes regularly from the linebacker position.
He recorded five interceptions last year, a career-high, and is consistently near the ball carrier when a play is made. Matakevich struggles covering slot receivers and isn't the quickest linebacker, but if he improves his play in the passing game, he could be a complete linebacker.
4. Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
Don't worry about Alexander handling tight ends at the next level. The junior packs agility in a 6-foot, 224-pound body and is capable of pursuing ballcarriers on toss plays and stretch runs. Recording 103 tackles last season, Alexander also can handle the run and isn't afraid to play in the box.
He might need to bulk up to handle the guys in the trenches, but it will be interesting to see what he gets timed in the 40-yard dash during the Combine. Alexander is currently not anywhere near a second or third-round grade, but a strong February can change that.
5. Scooby Wright III, Arizona
An injury history is keeping Wright down on the list, but not many other linebackers in the country have the potential or ability that the former Wildcat has. A monster sophomore campaign had Wright in the national spotlight, but a knee injury cost Wright most of his junior season at Arizona. After the Wildcats' New Mexico Bowl victory, Wright emotionally announced his declaration into the 2016 draft class.
Whether he's a true inside linebacker or a 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL, Wright will be a steal for whoever drafts him. Recording 15 sacks in 2014, Wright isn't a speed edge rusher. He brings intensity needed to thrive and dominate both tackles and guards. A first-round talent, Wright's draft journey will be interesting to monitor.