Today, we continue our NFL Scouting Combine previews by looking to the position that most Packers fans are curious about: the inside linebackers.
While this year's crop is a deep class, it is somewhat lacking in top-end talent, with most of the top prospects projected to go in the late first or second round. One player appears to be climbing many analysts' rankings, however, and it might not be who you think.
Here's a look at a handful of players who should intrigue the Packers and Packers fans at the Combine this week.
Eric Kendricks, UCLA
Projected measurements (from NFLDraftScout): 6'0", 230 pounds, 4.68 40
While Benardrick McKinney is expected to test well this week and Denzel Perryman will be looked at closely for his height, I'll be looking closely at Kendricks, who played in UCLA's 3-4 defense. He's one of the faster inside linebackers in this class, and what will be intriguing to me is if he can put on 5-10 pounds and maintain his speed.
Kendricks should impress in positional drills, as he has a natural flow to the football and good instincts. In fact, a pair of NFL writers, Josh Norris of Rotoworld and Sigmund Bloom of Footballguys.com, went so far as to call him a top-10 talent. If Kendricks lights up the Combine like he apparently does on tape, he could start rising up draft boards and be gone before the 30th pick.
Stephone Anthony, Clemson
Projected measurements: 6'2", 245 pounds, 4.76 40
Anthony is part of the second tier of inside linebackers in this year's draft. He started a few games as a freshman, half the season as a sophomore, and then every game his final two years, racking up 24 tackles for loss over his junior and senior years. He also recorded three interceptions and six forced fumbles in his career.
He could also be a boost to the unit thanks to his coverage ability, which was lauded by scouts at this year's Senior Bowl. Though he's not necessarily a burner in his straight-line speed, his 10- and 20-yard splits in the 40-yard dash will probably be the better numbers to focus on to measure his acceleration.
Mike Hull, Penn State
Projected measurements: 6'0", 231 pounds, 4.63 40
Hull is almost identical in size to Kendricks, and was described as a "fluid mover" during his one Senior Bowl practice before he had to back out of the game with an injury. Presumably his decision to shut himself down that week was to help him prepare for the Combine, and we'll be watching him closely to see if he works out on Sunday.
This guy was a tackling machine in his senior year, though, racking up 132 total tackles, including 8 games in double-digits. If he can prove that he can play fast, that might be enough to alleviate his size concerns and make him an intriguing late-round pick.
Taiwan Jones, Michigan State
Projected measurements: 6'3", 258 pounds, 4.76 40
Size is not an issue for Michigan State's Jones, who is the biggest inside linebacker in this year's draft class. He projects as a run-stuffer, though, as the big question about him is whether he can diagnose plays in the passing game and be effective in coverage. His strengths, without question, are his hitting ability and overall strength.
Jones also is still learning the inside linebacker position, as he moved to the middle for his senior year after playing on the weak side for his first three years. That suggests that some development will be needed, but he could make an intriguing third-day pick for a team willing to play him on special teams early and develop him into a complete linebacker over time.