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2018 NFL Draft rankings: With NaVorro Bowman gone, what’s next at linebacker?

With Bowman out of the picture, we highlight a few draft-eligible linebackers looking towards the 2018 NFL Draft.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at San Francisco 49ers
NaVorro Bowman
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Long gone are the days of hopeful anticipation and giddy excitement the San Francisco 49ers offseason teased the Faithful, arousing expectations strengthening the collective rose-colored glasses’ view of optimism towards the team’s success. The fandom‘s sense and sensibilities were bewitched with assuredness by the marriage of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, but the honeymoon soon ended with the cold hard slap of reality the regular season abruptly brought forth.

What was once a mantra of “Quest For Six” still echoing the chambers of our memories containing brighter days of years’ past, the mission has drastically diminished into a basic and urgent new goal of “Quest For One-Game”. While the regular season has been a heartbreaking black parade of disappointment, the stunner came last Friday with the release of fan favorite - NaVorro Bowman.

Fooch and Niners Nation have done an excellent job keeping us informed of the ongoings of Bowman and the current state of the San Francisco 49ers, but what does the Bowman departure mean for the linebacker position heading into 2018.

Looking at our current roster projection for next season, the starting linebackers are Reuben Foster at MIKE, Malcolm Smith (coming back from a torn pectoral muscle) at WILL, and Eli Harold at SAM. The backups consist of Elijah Lee, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Dekoda Watson, and Pita Taumoepenu. Both LB’s Brock Coyle and Mark Nzeocha are currently playing out their one-year contracts this season and their re-signing is up in the air.

Other than potential free agent signings, the 49ers can easily entice players with truckloads of money, the brains of Kyle Shanahan, and the savviness and sense of “brotherhood” of John Lynch; nonetheless, the draft is the desired method to continue to build upon the teams’ future success. Therefore, we take a look at some top draft-eligible linebackers in the college football realm.

Malik Jefferson | 46 | Texas
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 240 lbs. | 40 time: 4.66 40

NCAA Football: Texas at Kansas State
Malik Jefferson
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Malik Jefferson is an athletically gifted explosive athlete. The junior boasts fluidity in his hips and excellent speed and explosion to fly from sideline-to-sideline eating ground quickly impacting the game in both coverage and in run support. The former high school baseball and track athlete is a dynamic player with flashes of highlight reel excitement, but consistency is needed to match his exceptional athleticism in order to truly become an impactful playmaker at the next level.

Jerome Baker | 17 | Ohio State
Height: 6’1” | Weight: 225 lbs. | 40 time: 4.62 40

Tulsa v Ohio State
Jerome Baker
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Jerome Baker is slightly undersized, but is another exceptional athlete with explosion easily capable of making plays all over the field in both the run and passing game. The junior fills holes in a hiccup and can chase down ball carries with impressive closing speed and range. His speed, suddenness, and agility makes it difficult to block him inside, but he’s not afraid to engage displaying good hand usage to separate and explode. He shows good awareness and instincts with solid ball-hawk skills.

Roquan Smith | 3 | Georgia
Height: 6’1” | Weight: 225 lbs. | 40 time: 4.64 40

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Georgia
Roquan Smith
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Roquan Smith is quickly becoming one of the top linebacker prospects heading towards the 2018 NFL Draft. The junior is also a bit undersized, but is another prospect easily making plays all over the field bringing physicality to the game hitting with explosion. Smith boasts tremendous instincts and awareness that marries with his impressive athleticism making him a dynamic disruptive playmaker. He shows no wasted movement and erupts in chase mode with terrific closing speed finishing off with violence. Look for his rise to continue.

Tremaine Edmunds | 49 | Virginia Tech
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 236 lbs. | 40 time: High 4.5s

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at East Carolina
Tremaine Edmunds
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Tremaine Edmunds is a scheme diverse prospect bringing the versatility to play all linebacker positions including a force off the edge. Edmunds takes advantage of his length and freakish athleticism to cover ground with tremendous range allowing him to impact the game from sideline-to-sideline. He plays downhill with a motor always running hot and will hit with aggressive authority. Edmunds possesses the bloodlines with his father, Ferrell Edmunds Jr., an All-Pro selection and former two-time Pro Bowler as a tight end, as well as his older brother Terrell, currently a safety for the Hokies.

Cameron Smith | 35 | USC
Height: 6’2” | Weight: 250 lbs. | 40 time: 4.76

Notre Dame v USC
Cameron Smith
Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Cameron Smith is a consistent and productive playmaker with tremendous natural instincts and awareness to go along with great speed and athleticism. The junior is always around the ball boasting a high football IQ and excellent anticipation weaving through defenders running downhill hitting with explosion. The former high school baseball and wrestling athlete shows the functional strength to engage and separate, and the balance, athleticism, and feel for the game to be impactful in coverage. Moreover, he’s a dynamic threat as a blitzer.

Here are a few other draft-eligible linebackers to keep an eye on:

Rashaan Evans | 32 | Alabama
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 234 lbs. | 40 time: 4.73

Shaun Dion Hamilton | 20 | Alabama
Height: 6’0” | Weight: 235 lbs. | 40 time: 4.76

Lorenzo Carter | 7 | Georgia
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 242 lbs. | 40 time: 4.73

Azeem Victor | 36 | Washington
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 222 lbs. | 40 time: 4.74

Keishawn Bierria | 7 | Washington
Height: 6’1” | Weight: 223 lbs. | 40 time: 4.73

Josey Jewell | 43 | Iowa
Height: 6’2” | Weight: 236 lbs. | 40 time: 4.78

Micah Kiser | 53 | Virginia
Height: 6’2” | Weight: 240 lbs. | 40 time: 4.76

Mike McCray | 9 | Michigan
Height: 6’4” | Weight: 240 lbs. | 40 time: 4.78

Fred Warner | 4 | BYU
Height: 6’4” | Weight: 230 lbs. | 40 time: 4.68

Chris Worley | 35 | Ohio State
Height: 6’2” | Weight: 230 lbs. | 40 time: 4.67

Player measurables courtesy of team pages. 40 times projected.