Top Five 2019 NFL Draft Prospects- Linebacker
These guys will be drafted to become the future leaders of NFL defenses as they will blitz the quarterback, cover tight ends, and stuff running backs in the backfield. Today I rank the top five linebacker prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft.
1. Devin White- LSU
Bio: A star on both sides of the ball in high school, Devin White stayed in his home stare and attended LSU. As a sophomore, he led the SEC in tackles with 133 and led the Tigers in tackles for loss with 14. In 2018, led the Tigers with 123 stops, 12 of for losses, three sacks, six passes defended, and three forced fumbles while being named first team All-SEC and All-American as well as winning the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker.
Strengths: Short legs with a longer torso gives him an improved center of gravity. Jacked muscle mass throughout his frame. Play is unorthodox, but it gets the job done. Genius student of the game who is always willing to learn new things. Production has grown each year. Quick trigger with acceleration to close in on the ball carrier. Bursts through the hole looking to stop the play for a loss. Gets low fast for quick change of direction. Agility to jump from gaps to track down outside bouncing running backs. Loose upper body to spin around moving blockers. Gym rat with impressive strength throughout. Good pursuit speed to close the gap and make more tackles. Aggressively and purposefully goes for the forced fumble. Active hands to knock down passes.
Weaknesses: Average instincts. Can be fooled by play action and misdirection. Got forced out of position twice on the same run play against Alabama. Slow to diagnose the play. Too much wasted motion in initial movement. Gets caught in grasp of climbing linemen and doesn't always work to get free. Not a natural knee bender in the open field. Running backs always finish under his shoulders. Overall technique needs a lot of refinement. Late to utilize his hands on the edge. Misses tackles when footwork and balance get lazy. Strides to the sideline lack leverage and patience. Not challenged in coverage overall.
Pro Comparison: Eric Kendricks
Projected Round: 1
Possible Landing Spot: Carolina Panthers
2. Devin Bush- Michigan
Bio: As a true freshman, Devin Bush was regulated to backup and special teams duty. He took a big step forward in 2017 with 102 tackles, 9.5 for loss, five sacks, and an interception, earning first team All-Big Ten honors while also being named a finalist for the Butkus Award. Bush followed up that season by being named the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year as a junior with 80 tickles, 5 for loss, five sacks, and six passes defended.
Strengths: Thick lower half with filled out frame. Trusts his eyes. Doesn't often get trapped by wasted steps. Good patience and able to anticipate run blocking schemes. Very good balance and body control through contact. Unloads on climbing blockers with sharp and precise hand strikes. Strong legs drive through upright blockers. Knows how to find his way around traffic and get to the football. Easily flows from sideline to sideline. Has speed to follow running backs in the flat and stop them before they reach the first down. Good skills in coverage. Hides his intentions as a blitzer. Slippery through holes and around the edge. His father, Devin Sr, played defensive back in the NFL and coached him at Michigan.
Weaknesses: Below size standards for a middle linebacker. Reaction time is average in the early stages of the rep. Slow to diagnose and process misdirection runs. Bigger lineman can swallow him up at the second level. Needs to take more downfield shots to appease concerns about his size. Too many problems with blocks and doesn't slip through enough. Will need better leverage in pursuit and on the edge. Runs himself out of the play by coming in too hot. Gets out of position when he starts guessing rather than reacting. Lack of length makes him miss tackle opportunities in space.
Pro Comparison: Myles Jack
Projected Round: 1
Possible Landing Spot: Oakland Raiders
3. Mack Wilson- Alabama
Bio: As a true freshman, Mack Wilson played in every game on special teams and as an H-back on offense. The following season, he led the Crimson Tide with four interceptions to go along with 40 tackles, 2.5 for loss, and two passes defended while helping Alabama to a national championship. As a junior, he was named second team All-SEC by league coaches after compiling 71 tackles, five for loss, two interceptions, and five pass breakups.
Strengths: Typical Alabama linebacker with the edge to show for it. Good hands to punch and work through blocks. Frees hips to burst into blockers or slip past them. Can anticipate run lanes and bounces to the outside. Good pursuit acceleration and smooth change of direction. Looks past blockers and into the backfield. Triggers downhill into shaky zone gaps. Can man cover against running backs and tight ends. Fluid in zone coverage with ball skills like a receiver. Six interceptions in two seasons. Capable of making spectacular catches. Has some feel as a blitz man. Good talent on special teams.
Weaknesses: Too mechanical in his technique at times. Not many instinctive shots up the gaps. Needs to show he can make intuitive plays. Just seven tackles for loss in three seasons. Still learning on when to attack blocks and slip by them. Will side step blocks at the second level and incidentally makes run lanes bigger. Needs to reach climbing blockers earlier to close the gaps. Had issues getting free from blocks and gaining leverage against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
Pro Comparison: CJ Mosley
Projected Round: 1-2
Possible Landing Spot: Los Angeles Chargers
4. Tre Lamar- Clemson
Bio: As Georgia's Defensive Player of the Year, Trey Lamar chose Clemson over Alabama. After playing special teams and as a reserve as a freshman, He came into his own as a sophomore with 52 tackles, five for loss, and four sacks. The following year, he helped the Tigers win their second National Championship in three years with 85 tackles, 5.5 for loss, three sacks, and an interception.
Strengths: Monster frame with thick chest and limbs. Good knee bend and eye coordination pre snap. Gets in position on fronts when need. Plays with power in upper body as a downhill gap rusher. Has the size and strength to easily gain leverage in the gaps. Ability to hit with a lot of thunder as a tackler. Power and size to keep running backs from gaining extra yards against him. Occupies blocks and stuffs run lanes on inside carries. Special teams value with 22 tackles on punts and kicks.
Weaknesses: Heavy feet and stiff hips. Poor foot quickness and slow lateral movements. Runs beyond his assignment. Below average burst limits east to west coverage. Momentum doesn't equally functional change of direction. One shot to tackle thanks to poor recovery skills. Needs better hands to eliminate blocks in the pros. Plays have to be downhill towards him. Less than average cover skill and a liability in man coverage. Benefited playing behind Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence. Injured himself at the NFL Combine.
Pro Comparison: Stephone Anthony
Projected Round: 2
Possible Landing Spot: Los Angeles Rams
5. Brian Burns- Florida State
Bio: In his first year at Florida State, Brian Burns led all freshman with 9.5 sacks as a hybrid end/rush linebacker. He started all 13 games at defensive end in 2017, posting 48 tackles, 13.5 for loss, 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and two blocked punts. Despite Florida State's struggles in 2018, Burns still was named first team All-ACC after leading the team with 15.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.
Strengths: Basketball athleticism with smooth hips and quick feet. Upfield acceleration forces tackles out of slides and into sprints. Adjusts rush speed with sudden pops around or inside the pocket. Long strides push him open at the top of the edge. Phenomenal lower body flexibility with great knee bend. Ability to shadow scrambling quarterbacks once they escape the pocket. Times his counters well back inside. Smooth spin moves in either direction. Quick lateral movements help him find the hole. Arm moves and upper body control to get around edge blocks. Fluidity to be capable of dropping in coverage. Good pursuit speed and length for higher tackling radius.
Weaknesses: Thin frame with spaghetti arms. Body might not be able to handle much more muscle mass. Lacks functional play strength. Not overly aggressive at the point of attack. Gives away position when setting the edge. Lets his length go to waste by allowing blockers to get into his shoulders. Can't get unglued once he gets latched on. Struggles to play through double teams on inside moves. Will have problems converting speed to power around the arc. Hands have to be stronger and more forceful.
Pro Comparison: Leonard Floyd
Projected Round: 2
Possible Landing Spot: Cleveland Browns
Other Notable Prospects
Te'Von Conley- Notre Dame
- Powerful frame, lacks sideline range
David Long- Virginia
- Great blitz man, undersized
TJ Edwards- Wisconsin
- Great in coverage, one speed
Bobby Okereke- Stanford
- Long frame, average instincts
Jachai Polite- Florida
- Explosive, to small to play defensive end
Vosean Joseph- Florida
- Good instincts, lacks functional mass
D'andre Walker- Georgia
- Plays big, defense funneled plays to him
Germaine Pratt- NC State
- Strong, more agile than fast
Chase Hansen- Utah
- Former safety, average stopping power
Justin Hollins- Oregon
- Long with wide tackle radius, lacks force
Drue Tranquill- Notre Dame
- Coach's dream, below average height