Quantcast

NFL draft preview: USC has top linebacker

Published: Monday, April 21 2008 2:18 a.m. MDT

Former BYU linebacker Bryan Kehl (41) is expected to be a mid-round pick in next weekend's draft.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

There are several numbers that say former USC linebacker Keith Rivers will be the first player selected at his position in the NFL draft, and that he'll enjoy a productive pro career.

He has ideal pro linebacker size at 6-foot-2, 241 pounds. He recorded 240 tackles at USC, and proved to have a nose for the ball, recovering six fumbles. At his pro day workout earlier this month, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds, and NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Rivers "almost hit the ceiling" when he displayed a 42-inch vertical leap.

Perhaps the most notable number that says Rivers is can't-miss is 55.

That's the jersey number Rivers wore when he played for the Trojans, joining other former USC greats Junior Seau and Willie McGinest as players who donned the prestigious jersey number at the school. It takes a special player and a prized recruit to put on the No. 55 at USC, and Rivers didn't make the Trojans regret their decision to give him the honor.

"Club 55 — it's crazy, it's a crazy tradition," Rivers told nfl.com. "It means a lot. It's amazing to wear the same number as Junior Seau, Willie McGinest, Chris Claiborne. It's an honor."

USC sent letters to Seau, McGinest and Claiborne when Rivers was issued No. 55 after he signed with the Trojans. It's likely that the next 55 will feel honored to follow in the footsteps of Rivers.

Rivers is expected to be picked in the first half of the draft's first round. There's a chance he could become just the second linebacker in the last five years to be drafted in the top 10. An ironic possibility for Rivers is being selected by the Patriots at No. 7, and he would then take the place of Seau, who has yet to be re-signed by New England, in the team's starting lineup.

Rivers is the class of a fairly weak group of inside and outside linebackers. There only appears to be two other linebackers that may be selected in the first round. They are Tennessee's Jerod Mayo and Penn State's Dan Connor.

Mayo is the top inside linebacker in this class. He led the SEC with 140 tackles last season, and has visited several NFL teams this spring.

Connor, like Rivers, also is coming into the NFL having been a part of a storied tradition. Since the days of when Hall of Famer Jack Ham suited up for Penn State, the school has been known as Linebacker U. Connor certainly lived up to the standard set by Ham, Shane Conlan and LaVar Arrington, as he recorded a school-record 419 tackles during his career.


LOCAL WATCH: Bryan Kehl

The BYU linebacker is likely to be the first player with local ties selected in the NFL draft. His quickness and range, as well as his ability to play on special teams, will likely make him a mid-round pick.

TOP FIVE:

Player School Ht/Wt

1. Keith Rivers USC 6-2/241

2. Jerod Mayo Tennessee 6-1/242

3. Dan Connor Penn State 6-3/231

4. Curtis Lofton Oklahoma 6-0/246

5. Xavier Adibi Virginia Tech 6-2/232

SLEEPER WATCH: Thomas Williams, USC

Williams didn't have a decorated collegiate career — he started in just 10 games for the Trojans. But he was versatile, playing all three linebacker positions. He was USC's special teams player of the year in 2007, and he could immediately excel in that role for a pro team.


E-mail: aaragon@desnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS