Brandon Smith – LB (Penn State)
Anthony Barr has been a cornerstone for this defense since he was drafted in 2014, but he is on a dangerous downward tilt. Injuries have become far too common with Barr as he ages, especially the lingering knee injury that seems to pop up every few weeks. Barr is not under contract next season, which gives Minnesota a chance to get younger and cheaper at the second level.
Penn State’s Brandon Smith is such a steal at this spot in the draft and I would be shocked if he ultimately made it beyond the 50th overall pick next spring. He has all of the intangibles you could ask for in an outside linebacker and his coverage skills would be a huge boost to this defense.
Rather than rotating linebackers on third down to get coverage guys in the mix, life would be much easier with Brandon Smith and Eric Kendricks holding down the fort on all three downs.
Smith has drawn comparisons to Cardinals linebacker Isaiah Simmons thanks to his speed and versatility. For a team that could be losing Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr in the next few years, adding a player like Brandon Smith would be a massive kickstart to fixing the defense.
He is an active tackler in all facets of the game and has all of the upside in the world. Linebacker is not the most pressing need, especially with Eric Kendricks being as impactful as he is, but Brandon Smith is going to cause problems in the NFL.