NFL Draft: What To Look For In ILB Prospects

Today, I will attempt to explain to you what to look for when scouting the inside linebacker position.

Remember that analyzing actual game film is the best tool at your disposal to use when scouting a particular player. To me, it makes up about 90% of the scouting report. The other 10% includes a player’s background check and their pre-draft workouts. All three of these combined make up the final scouting report.

Here are the positions that have been covered so far: Quarterback, Running back, Wide receiver, Tight end, Offensive line, Defensive end, and Defensive tackle.

This article will mainly focus on analyzing linebackers that fit in the 4-3 defensive scheme, because that is the scheme that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli chooses to use.

Scheme Fit

Determining a linebackers scheme fit might just be the most important thing that needs to be done when analyzing an individual player.

In the NFL, there are really just two defensive schemes that are used, the 3-4 defense and the 4-3 defense.

Unfortunately, there are different variations of these two different defensive schemes, so it makes it that much more difficult to identify which defense a linebacker is best suited to play in.

A Rod Marinelli run defense is a variation of the 4-3 defense, but he likes his linebackers to play Cover 2.

This variation of the 4-3 defense usually uses smaller more athletic linebackers that use their speed to make plays all over the field. These linebackers are capable of making plays in both the running and passing game.

The difference between a 4-3 linebacker and a 3-4 linebacker isn’t a very noticeable. A lot of linebackers can play in either defensive scheme. Really, the only real difference is that 3-4 linebackers have to be able to be a little bit more physical because they are asked to take on offensive lineman more often.

Identifying the scheme fit that is one of the most important things to do when analyzing linebacker position.


A linebackers instincts might just be the most important trait to look for when studying game film. This is something that cannot be coached. It is either something they are born with or not.

Some players just have a knack of knowing what’s going to happen on any given play and are able to put themselves in position to make a tackle.

The term “football IQ” is thrown around a lot when discussing a player’s instincts, but I personally don’t like that term. It suggests that a player can study to improve their instincts, but I think that is a misinterpretation.

A player can study game film and learn a teams tendencies and what plays they like to run in certain situations, but that doesn’t improve their instincts. That just improves their knowledge of the game.

When studying game film I like to look for a LB who is continually in position to make a play by diagnosing and reacting, almost like they know what play is being run before the offense does.

Athletic Ability

Athletic ability is much more important for 4-3 Cover 2 linebackers that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli likes to use in his defensive scheme.

Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In ILB Prospects
Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

4-3 Cover 2 LBs are asked to rely more on their speed and athleticism to make plays in both the running and passing game. They are more dual threat linebackers that generally play all three downs.

I like to analyze a LBs change of direction capabilities, because it is rare that a player is running in a straight line to make a tackle. I look to see if a linebacker is able to chop his feet and change directions in the blink of an eye when needed.

Lack of flexibility and hip stiffness can limit a players athletic ability.

Athleticism is a broad term and there are a lot of things to look for when trying to analyze this trait for a player. That is why I just try to look for a linebacker that is smooth and his movements and can make plays all over the field.


A linebackers strength may be more important to those players that are better suited to play in the 3-4 defensive scheme, where they are asked to take on offensive lineman more often, but it is still an important trait for 4-3 linebackers as well.

It doesn’t really matter what defensive scheme a LB is playing in. They still have to be able to fight through traffic and use their strength to stack and shed offensive lineman to get to the ball carrier in the running game.

Strength is also important when making a tackle. Running backs and linebackers are about the same size in the NFL today, so the stronger player is usually the one that wins the battle in most cases.

When analyzing game film I look for a linebacker who consistently is able to use his strength when taking on offensive lineman and win these battles more times than not.


Leadership is an underrated trait for a linebacker. Generally, the LB is the one making all of the defensive calls and the one that provides that extra motivation when the team is feeling down.Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In ILB Prospects 1

I really only look for leadership in quarterbacks, centers, and linebackers because of their responsibilities to the team.

I like to think of linebackers as being the general on the field  and their responsibility is to get the other 10 players to rally behind him when they go into battle.

It’s not a very easy trait to analyze. You really have to pay close attention to how the LB handles himself on the field and even the sidelines.

Character background checks and pre-draft workouts/interviews are a good tool to use to find out more about a player’s leadership capabilities.

Pass Coverage

Analyzing a linebackers pass coverage ability is sometimes difficult to do, because you don’t really know what his responsibility is on any given play or where he’s supposed to drop into coverage.Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In ILB Prospects 2

What I try to look for is more about their movement skills and how they are able to position themselves in pass coverage.

Does it look like they have an understanding of where they need to be in pass coverage? Do they seem aware of the routes that are being run by the receivers? Are they capable of running with a receiver throughout the route?

These are all things I try to look for when analyzing a linebackers pass coverage capabilities.

I also like to see if they were able to come away with an interception when the ball is thrown in their direction. It’s just an added bonus when you can find a linebacker that is capable of easily catching a football.


Tackling is an inside linebacker’s main job, right? The easiest thing to do would be to look at the linebackers statistics to see how many tackles he is making per game, but statistics can be misleading.

Where are those tackles taking place? Are they 10 yards down the field or at the line of scrimmage?

When watching game film I like to keep a chart and keep track of where those tackles are taking place. I like to use X’s for when a linebacker makes a tackle and O’s for a missed tackle.

I use a diagram of what type of defense the linebacker is playing in (3-4 or 4-3) when charting where all of these tackles are taking place. This gives you a much better understanding of where the LB is making plays.

I like to analyze whether or not a LB is in position to make a play and how well he is reading and reacting to what is going on.

Using a chart is a handy tool that helps in this analysis.


To me, the linebacker position is one of the more entertaining positions to scout and analyze. They are always always around the ball and in the thick of things from when the ball is snapped, up until the whistle is blown.

The scheme fit is probably one of the most important things to identify when analyzing game film, but all of these traits that were mentioned are things I like to look for when scouting the linebacker position.

The player that has really caught my eye and has somewhat flown under the radar during this entire draft process is Nick Vigil out of Utah State.

He looks as if he has all the traits that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli looks for in a linebacker and might be available in the fourth round when the Cowboys are on the clock.

What do you think?

Brian Martin

Written by Brian Martin

Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys on the Clock: Roy Williams, #8 Overall

Cowboys on the Clock: Roy Williams, #8 Overall

Cowboys Headlines - Charlotte Jones Takes Us Inside The Star 1

Charlotte Jones Takes Us Inside The Star