Edmunds was outstanding

Will Edmunds Or Smith Be First Off The Board?

The position of the NFL linebacker has changed dramatically over recent years. In the past teams craved physical players who were able to take on offensive lineman and stop the run.

In the modern-day NFL teams require their players to be able to stop the run and be able to cover running backs and tight ends down the field. The best are able to go from sideline-to-sideline with ease and play every down.

Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner are the best examples of elite playmakers, but Deion Jones and Kwon Alexander are among the next generation, who will be aiming to take the position to a new level.

The players available in this year’s Draft are exciting to say the least, with at least four players that be selected in the first round.

Tremaine Edmunds and Roquan Smith are the leading contenders to be the first off the board, although Leighton Vander Esch and Rashaan Evans are also high-quality players. We’ll now break down the race to be the first linebacker picked in the 2018 Draft.

Tremaine Edmunds

Edmunds was outstanding

Edmunds is one of the youngest prospects entering the Draft at the age of just 19. However, he still has three years of production behind him at Virginia Tech. Edmunds fits the new mould of linebacker to a tee, displaying the speed and athleticism needed to flourish at the highest level. The 19-year-old came on gradually during his time in college. He was limited to only six matches in his freshman year, but began to display his potential with a brilliant sophomore season. The linebacker notched 94 tackles, including 16.5 behind the line of scrimmage. Edmunds also had 4.5 sacks and one interception on the term, proving his versatility.

Last season was even more impressive, taking his tackle total beyond the 100-mark along with 5.5 sacks. At the age of 19 he’s just scratching the surface of his ability – therefore NFL teams will be desperate to acquire his services. The Indianapolis Colts at number six could be a landing place with the club in desperate need of a tone-setter. The San Francisco 49ers could also been in the market given their issues with last year’s first-round pick Reuben Foster following his arrest. They could move for Edmunds as his replacement with the ninth-overall selection. The 19-year-old is backed at 4/5 to be the first linebacker selected at odds of -125 with 888Sport.

Roquan Smith

Smith's athleticism is intriguing

Smith was the heartbeat of the Georgia Bulldogs defense that reached the BCS Championship game last season, only to be defeated by the Alabama Crimson Tide in overtime. He took his game to a new level for the Bulldogs last term. However, like Edmunds he had a steady rise after being a part-time player in his rookie term. In his sophomore campaign his time on the field increased and he displayed his potential with an outstanding level of production, collecting 95 tackles and five for a loss. Last season Smith was simply excellent and arguably the best linebacker at the college level.

In 15 matches he collated 137 tackles, 14 for a loss and 5.5 sacks. This included his performance in the BCS Championship game where he put forward a brilliant outing, notching 13 tackles, 2.5 for a loss along with one sack. The Colts could be a landing spot for him along with the 49ers as Smith is a more refined product than Edmunds. He played in a tougher standard of competition in the SEC compared to the ACC. Therefore Smith will be more prepared for life in the NFL and the expectations of a linebacker. That could give him the edge to be selected before Edmunds, with the latest odds backing him at +125   with 888Sport.

Rashaan Evans

Evans was the triumphant Alabama side that defeated Smith and the Bulldogs in the BCS Championship game. The 21-year-old comes from the Nick Saban production line, which has produced a number of quality linebackers in the NFL. Evans follows in the footsteps of Dont’a Hightower and CJ Mosley, who have performed extremely well at the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens in their careers. Evans is built is a similar mode and could have the same impact.

The 21-year-old gradually improved during his college career, but needed two years to bed into Saban’s system, being a part-time player in his first two seasons with the Crimson Tide. However, he became the main man in the defensive unit in the 2016 campaign. Evans notched 52 tackles, four for a loss and four sacks in his junior term.

He took his standards to the next level last season, producing 74 tackles, 13.5 for a loss and six sacks. Playing in Saban’s system as the communicator will stand Evans in good stead and may allow him to start immediately. He is unlikely to challenge Edmunds and Smith to be the first linebacker selected due to his lack of speed compared to the dup. Expect him to be the range of the 20s, with the New England Patriots a possible destination.

Leighton Vander Esch

Vander Esch would not have not been on the radar of NFL teams looking for a linebacker in the first round before last season. He had low levels of production in his first two campaigns at Boise State, but then exploded into life in his junior term. Vander Esch was all over the field, racking up 141 tackles, 8.5 for a loss, four sacks and two interceptions. He fits the ball for an all-purpose linebacker, although does not possess the explosive speed of Edmunds and Smith to be considered for selection at the top of the Draft.

Vander Esch should be in the mix with Evans in the latter half of the process. The standard of competition will stand in the favour of Evans, playing in the SEC rather than the MidWestern Conference. He only has one year of solid production behind him compared to his rivals. However, the year of excellence will be enough to convince at least one side in the top 32 to part with a pick to secure his services.

Tips Summary

Tremaine Edmunds To Be First Linebacker Selected 2018 Draft
Thursday 26th April 2018 20:00 ET (Friday 27th April 01:00 BST)
Odds: -125

Roquan Smith To Be First Linebacker Selected 2018 Draft
Thursday 26th April 2018 20:00 ET (Friday 27th April 01:00 BST)
Odds: +125

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