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Friday, May 2, 2008
Linebackers lead the way heading into 2008

By Mel Kiper Jr.
ESPN.com

With the 2008 NFL draft now behind us, it's never too soon to look at the top seniors in the class of 2008. My Top 25 Big Board won't be complete until August, but the top 10 is set, highlighted by three linebackers in the top five.

1. James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio State (6-2½, 242)
If he had declared for the 2008 NFL draft, Laurinaitis most likely would have been a top-10 pick. In addition to being extremely athletic, he has a great nose for the ball and plays with a great deal of intensity. In 2007, he had 121 tackles (8½ for loss), five interceptions and two sacks. What separates Laurinaitis from USC's Rey Maualuga is his week-to-week consistency.

James Laurinaitis
Ohio State's defense will be anchored in 2008 by linebacker James Laurinaitis.

2. Rey Maualuga, LB, USC (6-2½, 250)
A true impact player at MLB, Maualuga has the size and strength to take on blocks and fill holes. He also has the speed to chase down plays sideline to sideline. He's effective on the blitz and hits like a ton of bricks. The only criticism I have is that he's not always the dominant force his talent level indicates he should be.

3. Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss (6-4, 325)
He has the strength to move defenders off the line of scrimmage and, after dropping some weight in 2007, his pass blocking greatly improved.

4. Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU (6-4, 290)
He had 8½ sacks as a sophomore. As a junior, Jackson was outstanding against the run but had only 3½ sacks. He is versatile enough to play in either the 4-3 or 3-4 base defense. He also could move in and play defensive tackle in pass situations.

5. Brian Cushing, LB, USC (6-3½, 245)
He had a great sophomore season, leading the Trojans with 13½ tackles for loss, but a knee injury kept him from having the type of junior year expected. Cushing has the ability to get after the quarterback and drop into coverage. He'd be the ideal OLB in a 3-4 scheme.

6. Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State (6-0, 200)
A standout since his freshman year, Jenkins is just as comfortable making a tackle as he is breaking up passes. The only issue is, with pads on, he has just average recovery ability when he's beaten on pass plays.

7. Duke Robinson, G, Oklahoma (6-4¼, 330)
He needs to keep his weight at a reasonable level and improve his technique. Physically, Robinson looks the part of an NFL lineman and has a ton of natural talent.

8. Travis Beckum, TE, Wisconsin (6-3¼, 224)
He is as good a pass-catching tight end as you'll see. Beckum has great hands and a great feel for the game, and he causes huge matchup advantages in the passing game.

9. William Moore, S, Missouri (6-1, 215)
A free safety who took the Big 12 by storm in 2007. He has great ball skills and is also a big-time hitter. Moore's eight interceptions tied for the most in the nation last year; he is also a major presence both in run support and on special teams.

10. Curtis Painter, QB, Purdue (6-3½, 225)
He's an impressive pure thrower, but what I liked about Painter's junior season was his improved game management. In 2006, Painter threw 22 touchdowns, but he also had 19 interceptions. Last season, he threw 29 touchdowns but had only 11 picks.