Pass-rush specialists finding their niche

The outside linebacker position in the NFL has expanded a certain degree over the last few years. The position used to be primarily split down the middle with smaller, more athletic prospects projecting as weakside linebackers and bigger, more physical prospects projecting as strongside linebackers.

Now, with more teams integrating the 3-4 defensive alignment, there is a premium being placed on rush linebackers. Once considered NFL misfits, undersized college defensive ends with pass-rushing skills are suddenly in vogue.

Of the four OLB prospects who project as first- or second-round selections, two (Maryland's Shawne Merriman and Virginia's Darryl Blackstock) fit the mold of NFL rush linebackers. Merriman, who played strictly DE in college, was a late bloomer who did not become a full-time starter until last season.

After busting out with 17 tackles for loss and 8½ sacks, the workout warrior will be able to cash in. Texas' Derrick Johnson will be the first linebacker to come off the board, but Merriman won't be far behind him – likely by the 15th overall pick.