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Buyer-beware when drafting these 3 linebacker prospects

In preparation for the 2016 NFL draft, PFF’s team of analysts has spent the past few months putting together our overall draft board and positional prospect rankings.

In doing so, PFF has identified players at each position who qualify as “buyer-beware” prospects, based on where these players are showing up on most evaluators’ draft boards. Here are three such prospects among this year’s linebacker class.

1. Darron Lee, Ohio State

Click here for full scouting report.

To be clear, our analysts like Lee as a potential Day 2 pick—they just don’t love him as a first-round selection, which is where he is showing up on many other draft boards. Lee made some terrific highlight-reel plays for Ohio State, but his play-by-play production was inconsistent. He ranked just 27th in this year’s linebacker class in overall grade, and actually earned a slightly negative grade in pass coverage, ranking 74th. That’s surprising given Lee’s reputation, but is backed up by two more concerning numbers: Lee allowed the 12th-highest yards per coverage snap average in the class, and had seven missed tackles on receivers after the catch, giving him the fourth-worst tackling efficiency on passing plays. This difficulty in getting ball-carriers to the ground shows up in run defense as well, as his run-stop percentage was the fourth-worst in this linebacker class. Again, there is a lot to like about Lee’s game, and he was asked to do a lot in Ohio State’s defense. But the gap between Lee and UCLA’s Myles Jack—another off-ball linebacker celebrated for his athletic ability—is significant on the PFF draft board.

2. Deion Jones, LSU

Jones is an intriguing prospect because of his athletic ability, but his performance in our PFF college grades indicate he is a big risk as an NFL prospect for teams considering him in the middle rounds. Out of 145 qualifying linebackers in this year’s class, Jones ranked No. 130 in PFF’s overall grades. He earned a positive grade as a pass-rusher, but was a major liability both in run defense and in pass coverage. Jones missed 12 tackles against the run in 2015, which gave him the fourth-worst tackling efficiency at his position. Jones may look the part of an NFL linebacker, but the college production simply wasn’t there.

3. Antonio Morrison, Florida

Morrison didn’t grade out much better than Jones did in 2015, ranking No. 127 of 145 qualifying linebackers. His only positive grade came as a rusher, and his 117.0 passer rating allowed was 27th-highest among LBs in this class. Morrison comes with the reputation of being able to deliver the big hit, but that didn’t translate into an ability to get opposing ball-carriers on the ground with consistency. He missed 12 tackles against opposing running games in 2015, giving him the fifth-worst tackling efficiency versus the run among this year’s inside linebacker class.

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