Category: Inside Linebacker

LB Christian Sam, Arizona St.

6’2” – 244 lbs. – 4.75

Profile:

  • Played safety in high school. Rotated into the defense as a reserve in his first season with the Sun Devils, then put together a highly productive sophomore campaign over thirteen starts the following year. Sustained a season-ending foot injury in his first game of 2016, then came back and put together his best season in 2017, finishing with 127-9.5-3.0.

Positives:

  • Was highly productive over his two seasons in the starting lineup. Has adequate (if not quite desirable) size for a linebacker in either defensive front. There’s some natural power to his game. Likes to play downhill and thump between the tackles in the run game, but isn’t exclusively a “phone booth” type of player; can get outside the hashes a little bit as well. Made a lot of tackles in the backfield this past season. Has some pop as a hitter to help set the tone defensively. Pretty reliable tackler who has just average length but gets the most of it; has big hands, a strong grip, and does a good job of making stops in his area. Stayed on the field on passing downs at the college level. Does a good job of keeping the play in front of him in zone coverage. Looks smooth when shuffling. Can jam receivers at the line of scrimmage to disrupt route timing.

Negatives:

  • Not a particularly fast, quick, or explosive athlete. Can be fooled by window dressing and get caught out of position; instincts leave something to be desired. Overruns too many spots as a run defender; could play with more patience and discipline. Lets blockers into his pads and doesn’t disengage or drop his anchor effectively enough. Probably a two-down player at best. Quarterbacks were able to freeze him or pull him up with play fakes. Looks a little lumbering in his drops and size/athletic limitations may prevent him from matching up with anyone in man coverage at the next level. Season-ending foot injury will require further medical evaluation. Doesn’t appear to have the athleticism for special teams.

 Summary:

  • Seems like a little bit less than the sum of his parts; has a pretty thick build, adequate athleticism, and plenty of production as a tackler in a major conference, but no elements of his game really stand out. Doesn’t take on blocks or read keys as well as a two-down thumper should, and might be limited in coverage as well. More of a late-round possibility for those reasons.
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LB Ja’Whuan Bentley, Purdue

6’2” – 246 lbs. – 4.75

Profile:

  • Started all twelve games as a true freshman, but saw his subsequent season end five games into the season after sustaining a knee injury during practice. Started eight of nine games played as a junior, and then made twelve starts this past season in his most productive campaign. First three-time captain in Purdue’s history.

Positives:

  • Tough, physical player with excellent leadership skills and a nonstop motor; plays with a sense of urgency and likes to thump between the tackles. Comes with essentially three years of productive starting experience in a major conference. Has a throwback build, with a very thick frame and a lot of power. Able to read keys and flow in the play direction. Likes to take on blockers and can crush fullbacks in the hole. Plays downhill and made a lot of his tackles in the backfield. Pretty disciplined with his run fits. Stays square and can deliver pop on contact to set the tone defensively. Stayed on the field on passing downs at the college level. Flashed the ability to place his hands and carry backs and tight ends as a junior, a season in which he looked more athletic.

Negatives:

  • Marginal athleticism may constrain his upside as a pro; looked like he was playing at over 260 pounds this past season, then dropped to 246 for his pro day but still put up very mediocre testing numbers. Not really a true sideline-to-sideline player in the run game. Has a better feel for playing the run than he does in coverage. Doesn’t cover a lot of ground with his drops and is probably a spy/robber type of player who can’t be left in man coverage against opposing backs, receivers, or tight ends; consequently, will probably be a two-down player at best. Temperamentally suited to special teams but doesn’t have the type of athleticism that core special-teamers usually bring. Medical issues raise questions which will require further examination.

 Summary:

  • Something of an anachronism now that the NFL has shifted away from big, powerful run stuffers and toward athletic coverage specialists with range. Seems like a pretty straightforward evaluation in that he comes with plus size, has extensive starting experience in a major conference, and does what he does well, but who also has clear athletic limitations which will likely prevent him from being an every-down starter. Probably more of a late-round option who projects as a backup inside linebacker in a 3-4.

 

LB Jack Cichy, Wisconsin

6’2” – 238 lbs. – 4.65e

Profile:

  • Barely played over four games as a true freshman, then redshirted the following year. Started four of thirteen games in 2015 but posted some impressive statistics, then started seven games as a redshirt junior before sustaining a season-ending pectoral injury. Didn’t play this past season after injuring his knee.

Positives:

  • Plays the middle linebacker position with intensity and aggression. Pretty explosive athlete who gets up to speed quickly. Does a good job of anticipating the snap count and playing downhill. Loves to come up and support the run. Despite just adequate size, can get under an opposing lineman’s pads and walk them back with his bull rush. Does a good job of using his hands to slip blockers. Able to skinny through gaps in the line. Capable of chasing ballcarriers out to the sidelines and making tackles near the boundaries. Explodes into contact, with long arms and wrap tackling technique; good closing burst. Can blitz the A-gap and close on opposing quarterbacks. Has the movement skills to drop into zone coverage, with pretty good footwork and range. Good temperament for special teams.

Negatives:

  • Requires a good deal of projection based on a limited sample size of work which came before he sustained two major injuries. Recorded only eleven collegiate starts, in large part because of injuries which will raise serious medical flags; teams will need to evaluate him having not seen him play since midway through his junior year. Wasn’t able to get in a workout at the Combine. Size and bulk are adequate but not ideal. Can lose track of opponents when working in zone coverage; looks more comfortable when flying in to disrupt rushing attempts between the tackles.

Summary:

  • The latest interesting linebacker prospect produced by the Wisconsin program. Has some very interesting tape; seems to have a preternatural feel for when the ball is going to be snapped, and does an excellent job of charging up to the line of scrimmage just in time. Has the athleticism to drop into zone coverage or play sideline-to-sideline in the run game, and does a good job of using his length and movement skills to chase down ballcarriers. Would have probably been on track for a second-day selection before his pectoral and knee injuries, but it would be surprising if he slipped further than the mid-rounds. Has starting traits.

LB Azeem Victor, Washington

6’1” – 240 lbs. – 4.72

Profile:

  • Redshirted, then appeared in a special-teams capacity the following season before starting eleven of thirteen games as a sophomore. Broke his leg ten games into his junior year, then started only five of nine games played as a senior after being arrested for a DUI.

Positives:

  • Plays the game with a tough on-field demeanor. Has pretty good instincts and often ends up around the ball. Likes to play downhill and is not afraid to step into the hole and get physical with blockers. Understands leverage. Flashes the ability to use his hands to play off of blocks, although is inconsistent in this regard. Reasonably rangy in pursuit. Good hitter who can help set the tone defensively. Gets the most out of his length and has a solid tackling radius. Pretty smooth athlete who is able to get depth when dropping into zone coverage. Can plant and drive to deliver hits on receivers running shallow drags across the middle of the field. Was asked to shade over bunches in the passing game. Exhibits the ability to anticipate snap counts and close with speed when blitzing the A-gap Has experience playing both inside and outside.

Negatives:

  • Physical and athletic gifts are just adequate. Struggles to consistently get off of blocks and locate the ball when engaged. More athletic than instinctive in coverage; has more raw athleticism than controlled footwork when making his drops. May not be able to match up in man coverage. Not as anticipatory in the passing game as he is against the run; can be pulled away from the play by misdirection. Limited value as a pass-rusher off the edge. Arrest and subsequent suspension will raise character flags which will need to be investigated during the pre-draft process. Broken leg sustained as a junior is a medical concern. Play and production dropped off as a senior.

Summary:

  • A better football player than athlete; plays the game with aggressiveness and physicality, can cover a respectable amount of ground as a run defender and in zone coverage, and is a pretty reliable tackler who can help set the tone defensively. Would have been a mid-round talent because of those traits and because of his versatility, but draft stock is a question mark because of the leg injury which ended his junior campaign and his subsequent arrest, which led to a reduction in playing time as a senior.

LB Roquan Smith, Georgia

6’1” – 236 lbs. – 4.51

Profile:

  • Rotated into the defense as a reserve during his true freshman season, then started ten of thirteen games as a sophomore in a productive campaign before enjoying an outstanding junior campaign (137-14.0-6.5) and declaring early for the draft. Played in the middle for the Bulldogs but could project to the weakside as well.

Positives:

  • Team captain who comes with two years of high-end SEC production. Fast and instinctive player who is always around the ball; patient when making his reads and doesn’t take himself out of many snaps. Capable of playing sideline to sideline. Angles in pursuit are very efficient. Does a good job of avoiding blocks and weaving through traffic to get to the ball. Makes a lot of stops in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage. Generates a lot of pop on contact and demonstrates hit-and-wrap technique. A true three-down player. Has experience making drops into zone coverage and is fast enough to carry opposing running backs out of the backfield on passing routes. Sniffs out crossing routes over the middle of the field and can plant and drive on a spot to stick opponents. Can shade over bunches, diagnose screens, and get to the sidelines to make tackles. Excellent closing burst as a pass-rusher; deadly when he finds a lane as a quarterback spy.

Negatives:

  • Size is on the low end, which may necessitate a transition to the weakside or limit the range of schemes that he’s considered a fit for. Doesn’t have much of an anchor when it comes to taking on blocks in the run game and might need to be protected by blockers up front so he can roam to the ball; length is just average, so he relies on his athleticism to make plays. Probably too small to match up against opposing tight ends in man coverage. Reportedly has some medical flags which may impact his draft stock.

Summary:

  • One of the best players in this year’s draft class; doesn’t have the size of some of the other top linebacker prospects, but offers an outstanding combination of instincts, range, and explosiveness which should make him a defensive cornerstone on a team which protects him with big bodies on the defensive line and allows him to run to the ball. Should be a top-ten pick if he checks out medically.

LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech*

6’4″ – 253 lbs. – 4.54

Started two of thirteen games played as a true freshman, then spent the past two seasons as a full-time starter, enjoying two highly productive campaigns before declaring for the draft. Has outstanding size for a pro linebacker, with a combination of height, bulk, and length which should allow him to play either inside or outside in either defensive front at the pro level. In college, took the majority of his snaps as a strongside linebacker, but also played extensively in the middle. Able to help set the tone defensively. Plays off of blocks as well as you’d expect a linebacker of his size to. Does a good job of working his way through trash by getting extension and using his length to lock out opposing blockers and the strength in his hands to shed at the appropriate time. Very rangy for a player of his size, with impressive speed and explosiveness; can pursue opposing runners to the sidelines. Reliable, physical tackler with a wide radius, good form, and the power to stop forward progress. Demonstrated the ability to blow up plays in the backfield when playing off the edge. Instincts need further refinement; struggles to locate and will take himself out of some plays by biting on misdirection. Struggles to defend the read option. Not overly aggressive, but teams will want him to play with more discipline in his run fits. Remained on the field on passing downs in college, typically as a robber in short zones. That may not be his ideal role at the next level; has the explosiveness to plant and drive on a spot when he’s able to keep the play in front of him, but overall feel and awareness aren’t there yet. Has a tendency to lose track of opposing receivers. Balance and technique looks a little bit awkward at this point. Looks better when he’s able to shade over and blow up screens on the outside, and even when he’s using his length and speed to carry opposing running backs out of the backfield and into the flats or down the field on wheel routes. Length and explosiveness make him an intriguing candidate to rush from the edge as well, although snaps in that capacity were limited relative to his coverage work at the college level. Has a rare combination of physical and athletic tools which should allow him to appeal to teams running various defensive schemes, although raw instincts make him something of a project.

LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama

6’2″ – 232 lbs. – 4.65e

Played in thirteen games as a freshman, leading the team in special-teams tackles and serving as a rotational pass-rusher on the outside. Reprised those roles as a sophomore, then transitioned to the inside and became more of a full-time player as a junior, a role he reprised as a senior. Tall, long-limbed defender who carries his weight well but is a little bit thinner than your typical Alabama linebacker. Typically lines up at middle linebacker, but also takes snaps on the outside or even as an edge rusher out of both two and three-point stances. Has a desirable temperament which is well-suited to the position. Very energetic, physical linebacker who serves as the emotional leader of the defense. A plus athlete who can make plays from sideline to sideline and who is patient and disciplined when reading his keys. Very effective at working his way through traffic to flow to the ball. Quick, active hands allow him to prevent opposing linemen from getting into his pads, and flashes the explosiveness to jolt opposing blockers off-balance on contact. Has the suddenness to avoid being engaged by opponents on his way to the ball, flashing the ability to sink his hips. Stacks and sheds better than size would indicate. Pretty reliable hit-and-wrap tackler who doesn’t shy away from contact, although bigger backs are capable of churning out yards after contact before he’s able to bring them down. Sometimes struggles to bring down opponents when he engages them up high. Can contribute in coverage or as a rusher on passing downs. Drops into zones and is also responsible for man coverage on opposing running backs as they release out of the backfield; has enough athletic ability to contribute in the same capacities at the next level. Looks comfortable carrying opposing tight ends across the middle of the field when pattern-matching. Good feel for screens developing. Also a surprisingly effective pass rusher because of his active hands and quickness. Has the fluidity to bend around the edge, and was also asked to blitz from the inside. Some teams may want him to add additional bulk, especially those running odd defensive fronts, but otherwise has the temperament, diagnostic ability, and athleticism to develop into an every-down starter at the next level. Those traits, combined with his two years of starting experience in college football’s most professional program, should allow him to come off the board within the first forty picks or so.

LB Micah Kiser, Virginia

6’0″ – 238 lbs. – 4.66

Played in twelve games as a freshman, mostly on special teams, then stepped into the starting lineup the following season, where he remained for the rest of his collegiate career. Highly productive linebacker who led his conference in tackles for three straight seasons; also an accomplished scholar who won the Campbell Award (“academic Heisman”) this past season. Has a thick, maxed-out frame with solid height and length; looks the part of a pro linebacker. Physical Mike who likes to step into gaps and help set the tone between the tackles. Has an aggressive on-field temperament and adequate instincts. Flashes the power in his hands to stack and shed. Combination of length and power makes him a good hit-and-wrap tackler who can wrap up opponents and stop forward progress. Forced eight fumbles over his three seasons in the starting lineup. Has good athleticism over a short area, but can often be seen jogging when ballcarriers make their way toward the sidelines; consequently, probably has more value as a between-the-tackles thumper than in a run-and-hit scheme. Has a tendency to overrun the hole and take himself out of the play. Takes most of his snaps in the middle, but will also slide outside and shade over opposing receivers on passing downs. Probably more comfortable in man than zone coverage. Has enough speed and fluidity to turn and run with opponents, carrying them down the seams. Able to stick with opposing running backs on routes into the flats. Good plant and drive. Doesn’t look quite as natural when backpedaling into zones. Has some minor technical issues such as turning away from opponents rather than into them. Exhibits some wasted motion in his movements. Also rushes both from off the edge and up the middle; length and closing burst make him a threat to bring down passers who flee the pocket. A little bit of a throwback who offers a thick frame and the power to take on blockers and set the tone defensively, and whose instincts and passing-down skills are adequate, he projects as a potential starter, whether as a middle or strongside linebacker behind a four-man line, or on the inside of a 3-4 defense. Draft stock will be influenced by the extent to which teams think he’ll be able to contribute on passing downs, either as a rusher or in coverage.

LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise St.

6’4″ – 256 lbs. – 4.65

Redshirted in his first season, then rotated into the defense over twelve games the following year. Was limited to six games due to injuries as a redshirt sophomore, then enjoyed a highly productive junior campaign before declaring for the draft. Most commonly played as an inside linebacker in odd fronts; could theoretically project inside in either front or to the strongside at the next level. A smooth athlete if not a particularly fast or explosive one. Has pretty good instincts to flow toward the play side, but has some trouble navigating through trash in order to get to the ball. That’s not to suggest that he shies away from taking on blockers in the run game; however, lack of length can allow opponents to get into his pads and take him out of the play. Needs to do a better job of using his arms to stack and shed. Was a reliable hit-and-wrap tackler with some ability to help set the tone in college; length didn’t appear to impair his tackling ability, and racked up a ton of tackles this past year. Remained on the field when the team went to its sub package.  Overall footwork and balance looks good when making drops into zone coverage. Has enough quickness to get depth and pattern-match against opponents coming into his zone, but can be manipulated by opposing quarterbacks. Didn’t take as many snaps in man coverage, and may not have the raw athleticism to shade over an opposing slot receiver. Could theoretically match up against opposing tight ends, and was responsible for carrying opposing running backs out of the backfield and into the flat. Also rushed the passer on occasion, either on presented blitz looks or delayed rushes. Looks pretty good in a straight line, with good aggression and intensity, but is more of an effort rusher than a polished pass-rusher at this point, relying on his bull rush when he’s not schemed open. Injury history will make him of interest to team doctors during the Combine. An off-the-line linebacker who has impressive height and who was highly productive as an every-down player this past season, but who seems like less than the sum of his parts, struggling to play off of blocks and lacking the speed and quickness to run around them. Something of a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none prospect.

LB Josey Jewell, Iowa

6’1″ – 234 lbs. – 4.82

Started four of eleven games as a redshirt freshman, rotating heavily into the defense, then took over a starting role the following season, which he retained for the remainder of his collegiate career. A three-year captain who was regularly named an academic all-conference selection and even managed to win a team leader award in his redshirt season. Every-down player who lines up in the middle in the team’s base defense and stays on the field in the sub package. Despite just adequate height, bulk, and length for the position, is a hard-nosed linebacker who is willing to step into gaps and take on blockers to clog lanes in the run game. Good discipline with his run fits. However, ability to take on blocks is just average. Has a decent anchor but lack of length can allow opposing blockers to get into his pads and prevent him from making plays on the ball. Gives good effort and takes sound angles in pursuit; combination of solid athleticism and impressive feel allow him to find his way to the ball on a consistent basis. Willing to get physical with opposing ballcarriers but despite his eye-popping tackle statistics, lack of length causes him to miss some attempts. Forced four career fumbles. Has extensive coverage responsibilities, including some snaps in which he’s working in man. Exhibits sound footwork and gets good depth when working in zones. Has enough speed and agility to carry opponents down- or across the field when pattern-matching. Able to use his hands to disrupt some routes at the stem. Very good instincts. Does a good job of reading the quarterback’s eyes and driving on a spot. Able to bait quarterbacks into throws when playing underneath in bracket coverage. Plus ball skills; batted down twenty-six passes and intercepted six throws over the past three seasons. Had some production as a pass-rusher due to his motor, active hands, and above-average closing speed, but isn’t a major threat to generate pressure off the edge. A known quantity with over three years of starting experience in a major conference, and who offers the physicality, instincts, and leadership skills that teams look for in their linebackers. Won’t blow anyone away with his physical attributes, but managed to find his way to the ball on a consistent basis and projects as an asset in zone coverage as well as an adequate run defender.