Category: Outside Linebacker

DB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson*

6’4” – 230 lbs.

Redshirted in 2016, spending time on the school’s track team as well (long jump). Rotated into the defense as a safety over 258 snaps the next season and ended up with 45-3.0-1.0 and six breakups. Started fourteen games at safety the following year and posted 97-9.5-1.5, with seven breakups and a pick-six. Listed at linebacker this past year and totaled 102-16.0-8.0 with seven breakups and three interceptions before declaring for the draft. Tall, lanky player who is a little bit thinner than you’d like in a linebacker, but who has ideal size for a safety. Despite being listed as a linebacker, is more of a swiss-army knife for the Tigers who can clearly handle a lot of varied responsibilities. Often lines up opposite slot receivers and will shade over bunches in zone looks, even taking some snaps as more of a cornerback; more like a nickel defender than a box linebacker, although he does play in that capacity at times as well. Looks smooth in coverage, with relaxed technique and good change-of-direction skills. Plays with a conservative temperament, keeping the play in front of him and limiting yards after the catch. Plant-and-drive skills are good; smoother than he is explosive, but times his approach well. Overall route recognition skills are adequate; doesn’t get caught out of position often. Looks comfortable carrying opposing targets down the field into deeper zones. Would like to see him clean up some elements of his technique a little bit; for example, will turn all the way around instead of into a receiver at the stem, and could be more consistent about using his hands to feel routes. Looks very smooth bending an arc to the passer when rushing in blitz packages. When defending against the run, demonstrates good patience to read keys and flow toward the ball, with solid angles in pursuit; many of his tackles for loss came by closing from more of a nickel look. Able to extend his arms and lock out opposing blockers, but tends to rely on his athleticism instead of physicality. Looks pretty physical when attacking opposing tackles from more of an outside linebacker look, although his anchor strength appears just adequate and wasn’t asked to set the edge very much. Length gives him an impressive tackling radius, although he can occasionally lapse into hitting opponents instead of using his technique to wrap. One of the smoothest, most productive, and most versatile prospects in this year’s draft class, he will enable a pro coordinator to get creative with their defense; being well-suited to the modern game, looks likely to come off the board within the top ten picks or so.

LB Vosean Joseph, Florida*

6’2” – 230 lbs. – N/A
Started one of twelve games as a freshman (13-1.0-0.0), then stepped into the starting lineup the following year, going 55-4.0-0.0. Put together a junior year of 93-9.0-4.0, then declared for the draft. Smaller weakside linebacker who looks more like a safety than anything; moreover, hasn’t added any weight over the past three years, having been listed at 226 as a freshman as well. Combination of aggressiveness and solid athleticism allowed him to make some big plays in opposing backfields. Has quick hands and uses them to navigate around blockers and get to the ball. Has pretty good speed in pursuit and is able to chase down backs and make some tackles from the backside when lining up on the edge. Offers solid closing burst to finish off opponents when in position. Also a pretty physical player for his size. Willing to mix it up a little bit with blockers, exhibiting good extension and toughness. Closes well as a blitzer and was able to pick up four sacks this past season; did some work rushing off the edge, and also produced as a delayed rusher/quarterback spy. More capable of making splash plays than of providing reliable every-down defense at this point. Discipline in run fits is iffy at best, and angles to the ball are too aggressive; tends to rely too much on his ability to use quickness to slip blocks. Takes himself out of too many plays by choosing a gap prematurely and getting sealed out of the hole by an opposing blocker. Tends to come charging in at full speed and miss some tackles by not breaking down; lack of ideal length is also a factor. Was part of his team’s sub packages. Tended to work as either a spy or as a rusher on passing downs, but looks light on his feet and it shouldn’t be a problem for him to work in zone or potentially carry running backs out of the backfield. Able to drop into short zones and keep crossing receivers in front of him. Looks strong when popping receivers and disrupting their routes. Limited ball production: over his collegiate career, recorded just one interception, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. Sort of a feast-or-famine prospect who has the energy, aggressiveness, quickness, and burst to make big plays, but who may disappoint teams looking for consistent, disciplined linebacker play; is thus likely to draw some divergent evaluations.

LB Tre Lamar, Clemson*

6’3” – 253 lbs. – N/A
Appeared in fifteen games as a freshman (17-3.0-1.0), then started eight of ten the following year (50-5.0-4.0). Spent this past season as a full-time starter, recording 79-5.5-3.0 before declaring for the draft. Conventionally-built middle linebacker with good bulk and length for the inside; played behind a four-man defensive line in college but it’s easy to imagine him lining up as an inside linebacker in an odd defensive front as well. Smart, physical run defender who looks comfortable working his way through trash between the tackles. Reads keys and plays with discipline; knows his assignment and doesn’t get caught out of position much. Absorbs contact well, has heavy hands to shed, and does a good job of keeping his shoulders square and flowing toward the ball, although he could be more consistent about extending his arms to keep blockers out of his pads. Hit-and-wrap tackler with a wide radius and good burst to close. Not purely a thumper: also has impressive athletic ability for his size, offering sideline-to-sideline range and a strong motor in pursuit. Has a conservative, “safe” approach which limits the amount of plays he blows up in the backfield relative to more aggressive, high-risk/high-reward prospects. Stayed on the field on coverage downs and although he’s not the lightest on his feet or the most fluid, nevertheless does a good job of keeping targets in front of him when playing zone. Effective plant-and-drive to close and limit yards after the catch. Wasn’t really asked to work in man coverage much but looks like he can cover backs and tight ends releasing into the flats. Occasionally shades over a receiver or tight end in the slot and appears to have pretty sound balance and fundamentals in limited backpedaling. Picked up seven sacks over the past two seasons as an A-gap blitzer; gets up to speed pretty quickly and did a good job of anticipating the snap count during the games reviewed. Despite deciding to forego his senior season, is a polished linebacker who comes with pro-ready size and strength, who does a good job of diagnosing plays and flowing toward the ball, and who can contribute in the passing game, either in zone coverage or as a blitzer, traits which should allow him to work his way into a defensive rotation sooner rather than later. Doesn’t make as many splash plays as some of the other top prospects but takes care of business pretty consistently, offering peace-of-mind. Could slip out of the second day after timing barely faster than five seconds in the forty-yard dash at his pro day.

LB Terrill Hanks, New Mexico St.

6’2” – 242 lbs. – 4.98
Began his career as a 217 pound defensive back, starting eleven games and posting 81-6.5-1.0 with three interceptions. Bulked up to 230 the next season and became a linebacker, recording 103-12.5-2.0 with two interceptions, 110-15.0-7.0 with two interceptions, and 101-9.0-1.0 with a pick six over the past three years. Also has six career forced fumbles. Weakside linebacker who has impressive height and a lithe, strong build; looks more like a strong safety than a linebacker. Often lines up shaded over an opposing slot receiver. Plays with good body control; able to get low and stay light on his feet. Technique in his drops looks good; can cover lots of ground with his shuffle. Gets physical with opposing receivers at the route stem to disrupt timing. Has the athletic ability to turn and run, but typically drops into shallow zones and reads the quarterback’s eyes; responsibilities in coverage seemed a little bit limited. Feel for coverage isn’t quite what you’d expect for a player who spent his first season as a defensive back; plus movement skills don’t always translate into quick-twitch reaction times and gives up separation on breaks. Has a tendency to lose opposing receivers once they get behind him. Good closing speed to blitz when he’s given a clear lane to the quarterback. Run-and-hit player who can pursue ballcarriers to the sidelines and down the field. More of a horizontal, flowing linebacker with good range but who has some inefficiencies in his game. Impressive closing burst and long arms to bring down the ballcarrier in space. Has some short-area quickness to sidestep and avoid blockers, but struggles when he needs to take on blocks and can be knocked off of his spot too easily. Has a little bit of wasted motion to his game, with instincts that lead to too many false steps mitigating some of his athletic gifts. Something of a toolsy prospect with four years of impressive production and plenty of potential to contribute to a modern defense, but whose ability to read keys and anticipate route developments leaves a little bit to be desired, and who may struggle to hold up against pro blockers in the run game. Consequently, may need to begin his career as more of a sub-package and special-teams contributor. Could be relegated to a late-round pick after running very poorly at the Combine.

LB Ryan Connelly, Wisconsin

6’2” – 242 lbs. – 4.66
Rotated into the defense as a freshman, then became a regular contributor on the inside the following season, posting 59-7.0-0.0 and following that up with campaigns of 88-11.0-3.0 and 89-10.0-3.0. Tall linebacker who has played at weights ranging from the high 220s to the high 230s; looks a little bit underdeveloped but with the frame to add additional weight. Aggressive player who likes to play downhill against the run; reads keys well and made a lot of stops in opposing backfields over the past three seasons. Athletic and gets up to speed quickly, with a good closing burst on the ballcarrier; flows well to defend stretch plays and tosses. Has the speed and motor to play sideline-to-sideline. More tenacious than physical; plays with a lot of energy but isn’t as much of an enforcer. Not afraid to step into a gap on inside rushing attempts but can get swallowed up by opposing linebackers and needs to improve his overall extension and technique when stacking/shedding between the tackles; looks much better when he’s covered up by blockers and allowed to flow to the ball. Coverage duties were a little bit limited; would shade over opposing receivers at times, but generally made short zone drops or served as a quarterback spy. Effective ability to plant and drive on an attempt in front of him, but seemed to coast on his athletic ability a little bit relative to his technique; balance and footwork look a little bit lackadaisical. Also sent after the quarterback fairly often and picked up six sacks over the last two years, but doesn’t have much of an approach and relies on being schemed into open lanes. Not quite a finished product at this point, especially for a player who’s been starting for three seasons; needs to continue developing his body, use his arms and hands to deal with blockers more effectively, and clean up his technique in coverage. However, offers an interesting combination of size, energy, and athleticism which could potentially help him earn a starting role a little bit down the line; in the meantime, looks temperamentally and athletically suited to a special-teams role. Would be best in a swarming, run-and-hit defense which covers him up with blockers and allows him to take advantage of his athletic ability.

LB Otara Alaka, Texas A&M

6’3” – 239 lbs. – 4.82
Started five games as a freshman, then sustained a season-ending injury three games into the subsequent season and ended up taking a medical redshirt. Started the next three seasons, posting 74-9.0-2.0, 78-12.0-5.5, and 79-14.5-4.0 in those campaigns. Tall, long-limbed, and well-built linebacker who takes snaps both inside and outside and often from the edge as a stand-up rusher. Very aggressive, twitchy player who gets up to speed in a hurry and likes to play downhill, as evidenced by having recorded over thirty tackles for loss over the past three years. Has impressive top-end speed to flow sideline to sideline and sling down opposing ballcarriers in pursuit. Closes well from the backside; long arms give him a good tackling radius. Able to get low and knife between blockers to penetrate. Not afraid to take on blockers and plays with the power and leverage to get physical with opponents, although he can get swallowed up by failing to extend his arms and letting them into his body. More energetic than likely to deliver bone-crushing hits. Can find himself out of position when dealing with misdirection and play fakes; gets sucked in because of his aggressiveness and takes himself out of position on some snaps. Generally stayed on the field on passing downs and looks like a promising blitzer for an aggressive defensive front; explosiveness and ability to convert speed to power can overwhelm running backs retained in pass protection, and can finish off quarterbacks who try to flee the pocket. Rushed from both the edge and the inside. Picked up over ten sacks over the past three years. Feel in zone coverage is a little bit lacking, and will lose some targets after letting them get behind him; looks more comfortable carrying opposing ballcarriers into the flats or spying quarterbacks than he does making drops. However, technique looks good in terms of his hips and balance. Didn’t have a ton of production on the ball in the passing game. A productive three-year starter with a great body and plenty of athleticism and functional strength, has the look of a potential starter who would fit well in a swarming defense that protects him with blockers and lets him flow to the ball. Could potentially play outside in either scheme, or inside in an odd front. Currently looks better when playing the run than he does in coverage, but the sky is the limit as far as his potential usage and with a little bit more patience and a better feel for zone coverage, looks like he could become a starter.

LB Mack Wilson, Alabama*

6’1” – 240 lbs. – N/A
Five-star recruit who played sparingly in fifteen games as a freshman (8-0.0-0.0) before rotating in more heavily over twelve as a sophomore (40-2.5-0.0) but didn’t step into the starting lineup until this past season, being stuck behind the likes of Reuben Foster, Rashaan Evans, and Shaun Dion Hamilton. Posted 65-4.5-1.0 and decided to declare for the draft. Well-built for a modern linebacker, with long arms and a muscular frame; should be able to play on the inside in either an even or odd front, with Alabama’s defense often using three down linemen. Athletic player who likes to play downhill and who gets up to full speed in a hurry. Rangy linebacker who is able to pursue toward the sidelines. Not afraid to get physical with opposing linemen, holding up pretty well on contact and being pretty active with his hands; however, does tend to get stuck on blocks at this point. Generally does a decent job of reading keys, with further development possible as he gets more starting experience. Length gives him a solid tackling radius, and has the closing burst to chase down ballcarriers even in backside pursuit. However, production in opposing backfields was somewhat limited. Primarily considered a high-end prospect for his coverage ability. Gets adequate depth and is able to use his burst to plant and drive on a spot when working in zone coverage or when functioning as a quarterback spy and closing in on a passer who’s fled the pocket. Stays focused on the quarterback’s eyes, has pretty sound shuffle and backpedal technique, and was able to record six interceptions over the past two years. Able to flip his hips smoothly. Also athletically-suited to a blitzing role but didn’t produce much in that capacity at Alabama; looked fast and did a good job of identifying lanes to the passer during the games reviewed, so it’s a little bit surprising that he ended up with just one career sack. A prospect who has plenty of explosiveness as well as the athleticism/ball skills to potentially develop into an every-down linebacker at the next level, but who might have benefited from a return to school in order to polish his instincts and technique when playing the run and taking on blocks. Those concerns may relegate him to being more of a second-day pick, whereas he may have had first-round potential with additional progress.

LB Jahlani Tavai, Hawai’i

6’2” – 250 lbs. – N/A
Redshirted, then started eleven games at outside linebacker the following year, posting 56-5.0-3.0. Slid inside as a redshirt sophomore and had a highly productive campaign of 129-19.5-7.0. Enjoyed another strong campaign as a junior (124-11.0-5.5), then sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in late October of his senior year; finished with a line of 82-5.5-2.0. Has a thick build, but just average height and length, with arms which measured under 32” in Indianapolis. Played inside and outside for the Warriors, in addition to taking some snaps on the edge from stand-up rusher looks, many of which were bailed out into spot drops. Has an excellent motor in pursuit, playing the game with the type of tenacity teams look for in linebackers. When combined with solid speed, that allows him to play sideline-to-sideline and also to make tackles in space. At his best when he’s allowed to pin his ears back and play downhill against the run. Attacks blockers, gets what extension he can, and is able to scrape down the line and flow toward the ball. Closes well, with some burst into contact; however, can be more of a hitter at times. A little bit of a feast-or-famine player because of his aggressiveness; blows up plays in the backfield but can also be caught out of position and consequently, many of his tackles come well down the field. Doesn’t have the widest tackling radius because of his lack of length. Stayed on the field on passing downs in college. Has some tools to work with as an edge rusher; pretty good explosiveness and bend, especially for more of an off-ball linebacker. Good slap, with the ability to dip his shoulder without noticeably slowing down into the bend. Was also asked to make a lot of spot drops out of edge looks; has quick feet and can get himself into position fast. However, doesn’t have the soundest fundamentals when backpedaling, and overall athleticism is more impressive than his actual feel in zone. An interesting prospect with the size, athleticism, passion, and versatility teams look for in a linebacker, but whose game has inefficiencies because of his aggressiveness, and who doesn’t have ideal length. Sort of a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type who may be best as an edge rusher in an odd defensive front at the pro level. Draft stock will be to some extent determined by his medical checks; probably a third-day pick either way.

LB Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame

6’2” – 234 lbs. – 4.57
Started three of eleven games played as a freshman before sustaining a torn ACL, then suffered another season-ending ACL injury three games into the following year. Became a starter the following year and totaled 79 tackles and an interception as a safety. Converted to linebacker in 2017 and picked up 85-10.5-1.5, following that up with 75-9.0-3.5 this past year. Two-time team captain. Size and length are decent for a weakside linebacker; more like a big safety, which is unsurprising given his background. Pretty good athlete who does a nice job of reading keys and flowing toward the ball; has the raw speed to roam sideline-to-sideline and make tackles near the boundaries. Closes fast and can deliver some big hits to help set the tone defensively, although his radius is constrained by his lack of length. Has good functional strength which allows him to hold up better than anticipated against blockers, although his lack of length can cause him to get stuck on opponents for too long; is active with his hands when engaged. Was an every-down player at the college level, and his work in coverage may be the most impressive element of his game. Was often working in short zones or serving as a quarterback spy, playing with a low center of gravity and keeping the play in front of him so he could plant and drive on a spot; however, would also shade over opposing receivers or tight ends and carry them downfield. Does a good job of placing his hands and using them to provide tight coverage through the route stem. Flips his hips easily and has no problem running with them into the seam. Capable of carrying running backs out of the backfield. Does a good job of diagnosing route combinations and sniffing out screens. Improved his stock with a strong Combine in which he ran well, leapt 37.5”, and put up thirty-one reps on the bench. One of the draft’s most comfortable linebackers when it comes to working in coverage, his play at the college level suggests that at a minimum he should be able to eventually work his way onto the field in sub packages and as a special-teams contributor. Assuming he checks out medically after suffering two torn ACLs in college, his combination of athleticism, leadership, and instincts should draw the attention of plenty of teams on draft day.

LB Devin Bush Jr., Michigan*

5’11” – 234 lbs. – 4.43
Son of former pro safety Devin Bush, who was a member of Michigan’s coaching staff during Bush Jr.’s time with the Wolverines. Appeared in seven games as a freshman, then stepped into the starting lineup in 2017 and posted 95-10.0-5.5, following that up with a 66-8.5-4.5 year that earned him a spot on the Consensus All-American team. A little teapot: short and stout. Played in the middle with the Wolverines but could just as easily be asked to line up on the weakside given his combination of physical and athletic attributes. Has impressive wheels, getting up to speed quickly and covering a lot of ground. Speed and excellent motor allow him to cover plenty of ground, either in coverage or when defending the run; a true sideline-to-sideline player. Likes to play downhill and thump between the tackles in the run game; good tone-setter because of his energy and physicality. Aggression can sometimes be used against him, causing him to overpursue and run himself past gaps; would like to see more gap discipline. Needs to square up opponents because of the way his lack of length constrains his tackling radius. Absorbs contact well when working through trash but relies on the initial pop he can generate because of those length limitations; struggles to disengage when blockers are able to successfully line him up. Capable of making short or deep zone drops, or carrying running backs out of the backfield and into the flat or down the field; size limitations might prevent him from matching up on most tight ends. Loose hips allow him to turn and run with opponents. Effective plant-and-drive skills to intimidate receivers and enforce his will over the middle of the field. Frequently used as a blitzer; because of his leverage and speed, can create a surprising amount of push with his bull-rush against interior linemen, something which has allowed him to record ten sacks over the past two years. Does a good job of finding open lanes and has the fluidity to bend back to the quarterback when coming from the edge. Heat-seeking missile who may lack prototypical height and length and who can play a little bit out of control at times but who flies around the field and can do a little bit of everything, whether it’s helping to set the tone in the run game, dropping into man or zone coverage, or rushing the passer. Those traits make him a potential every-down linebacker and should earn him a spot within the first two rounds of the draft.