*In the weeks leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft (April 26-27), BR.com will offer a look into the top prospects by position. Last week, we had two linebackers to watch. Here's a snapshot of the best of the rest in alphabetical order. *
Xavier Adibi, LB, Virginia Tech (6-2, 232)- Adibi played at middle linebacker for the Hokies throughout a productive tenure that closed with a career-high 115 tackles, three sacks and 12 tackles for a loss in 2007. Still, the All-ACC performer is projected by many to convert to outside linebacker or even safety due to his size and range in coverage. As a senior, he even deflected five passes and picked off two others, returning one interception for a touchdown.
In his own words:(Adibi on his talents at linebacker) "I think I do everything well. I fly around to the ball, I'm very physical, I stick my nose in the inside to stop the run. I can cover any back out of the backfield, cover tight ends down the field. I'm very physical and I'll chase the ball sideline to sideline."
Dan Connor, LB, Penn State (6-3, 231)- Starting 36 of 45 games at Penn State, Connor re-wrote a fresh school record, totaling 419 tackles and topping the previous mark of 372 set by Paul Posluszny, who was a 2006 first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills. Last year, Connor was an All-American, Chuck Bednarik Award recipient (for the nation's top defensive player) and a unanimous All-Big Ten selection. If that wasn't enough, Connor wowed scouts at the Senior Bowl, earning MVP honors for the North squad with nine tackles and an interception.
In his own words:(Connor on comparisons to Posluszny) "We both played for Penn State – I guess that's as similar as it gets. We have a lot in common in our game and our competitive nature. We're both quiet guys and hard workers. We have a lot in common."
Shawn Crable, LB, Michigan (6-5, 241)- Crable was a disruptive force for the Wolverines last year, placing second in the nation with a school-record 28.5 tackles for losses of 85 yards as a senior. The Massillon, Ohio native has the tall and rangy frame that has many NFL officials picturing him along the defensive line with added bulk and strength.
In his own words:(Crable on being a tri-captain at Michigan) "The biggest difference is that you couldn't ask things of other people that you weren't planning on doing every day. You had to show people by example. If you're asking them to run to the ball, you've got to run to the ball every time you're on film. I think that was the biggest change from being captain.''
Erin Henderson, LB, Maryland (6-2, 244)- The local product is next in a line of recent Terrapins linebackers to be selected in the draft, joining Shawne Merriman, D'Qwell Jackson, Leon Joe and his own brother, E.J. Henderson. He battled through knee problems last year to start 12 games, earning first-team All-ACC honors after leading the conference with 133 tackles (11.1 per game). Not a sack-master, Henderson relies on good instincts, quickness and desire to rack up the tackles.
In his own words:(Henderson on who he looks up to in the NFL besides his brother) "Well, Ray Lewis because he is very consistent every week. He doesn't go way up and way down, he just is consistently good and he comes to play every Sunday. That's the kind of ballplayer I think I am able to be - I don't want to be a guy who is up one week then down the next, I want to be consistent."
Curtis Lofton, LB, Oklahoma (6-0, 246)- Even though Lofton was only a full-time starter for one season, he was certainly prolific when he got a chance. Some have called Lofton too undersized, but it is hard to argue with a career-high 157 tackles with an average of 11.21 tackles per game, ranked seventh nationally and second in the Big 12 behind Colorado's Jordon Dizon (12.46 per game). He added 10.5 stops for losses, and even registered at least 10 tackles in eight games.
In his own words:(Lofton on his aspirations as a rookie) "My goals for my rookie season are I definitely want to come in and make an immediate impact, play as much as I can, play special teams; I want to make the rookie team and go from there."