Top Five 2020 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. Isaiah Simmons- Clemson
Bio: A Kansas all state player on offense and defense, Isaiah Simmons played in 14 games at safety for Clemson as a redshirt freshman. The following year, he moved to linebacker and led the Tigers in tackles in their national championship season with 89 tackles, nine tackles for loss, one interception returned for a touchdown, seven pass breakups, and three forced fumbles. As a junior, he earned the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker and the ACC Defensive Player of the Year with 102 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, eight sacks, three interceptions, and nine pass breakups.
Strengths: Rare versatility; lining up at all linebacker spots, nickel corner, and safety. Gives defensive coordinator freedom when game planning. Elite leaping ability as a former Kansas state champion long jumper. Exceptional sideline range thanks to second gear. Dangerous chaser when runs lead to the edge. Fluid base allows him to slide around blocks. Wraps up and halts runs as an open field tackler. Top tier finisher with length and explosiveness for wide tackle range. Capable of exotic blitzes and disguised coverage formations. Long speed to cover up the seam and on wheel routes. Hard to throw over in zone formations. Easily covers ground and closes in to break up passes. Aggressive when going for the ball. Could neutralize RPO or scrambling quarterbacks.
Weaknesses: Instincts at the line need work. Slow anticipation as an inside linebacker. Hasn't learned angles or timing when going downhill. Frame needs to fill out and get a powerful punch to disengage from blocks. Has had issues getting free from blocking tight ends. Loses track of contain duties occasionally. Lacks quick first step to transition from man coverage. Showed confusion with coverage responsibilities at times. Slow short space footwork when changing direction.
Pro Comparison: ???
Projected Round: 1
Possible Landing Spot: Jacksonville Jaguars
2. Patrick Queen- LSU
Bio: A four star recruit from the Baton Rouge area, Patrick Queen spent his first year and a half at LSU as a reserve. After starter Devin White was disqualified for a questionable targeting call, he started the final half of the 2018 season. As a junior, he registered 85 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, three sacks, an interception and two pass breakups while helping the Tigers to a National Championship.
Strengths: Played great against elite competition. Quick to diagnose and react to the play. Races ahead of blockers to be them to their target. Maintains balance and control no matter where he is on the field. Projects leadership mentality needed for an inside linebacker. Strong pop to dislodge from block and make the play. Keeps pads level and base wide when moving laterally. Tracks the ball carrier from gap to gap. Maintains balance through contact and coils up as a tackler. Athletic enough to cover tight ends and running backs. Deceptive lateral quickness to shutdown passing lanes.
Weaknesses: One year as the fulltime starter. Benefited from LSU's strong defensive line. Timing when moving downfield needs improvement to collapse the gap. Will sit and wait for pulling guards to come to him. Inexperienced at recognizing gap shots for tackles for loss. Occasional leverage dip leads to cutback opportunities. Varying block shedding on the second level. Could improve recognition of routes from zone coverage.
Pro Comparison: Devin White
Projected Round: 1
Possible Landing Spot: Las Vegas Raiders
3. Kenneth Murray- Oklahoma
Bio: A four star recruit out of high school, Kenneth Murray was immediately named a starter as a true freshman becoming a Freshman All-American and the Co-Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year with 78 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and one sack. The following year, he finished third in FBS with 155 tackles. As a junior, he became more of a playmaker with 17 tackles for loss, four pass breakups, and four sacks while earning third team AP All-American and first team All-Big 12 honors.
Strengths: Top level speed to make plays across the field. Extremely decisive and willing to take risks. Moves like a safety in the open field. Bursts through the gaps and creates negative plays for the opposition. Averaged nearly 15 tackles for loss in his final two seasons. Can make any tackle when kept free. Navigates and rolls downhill to close in on running backs. Tremendous range from sideline to sideline. Instant burst from standing position. Spare speed to stay even to the line. Capable of blitzing, rushing, or spying on passing downs.
Weaknesses: Needs to mix his urgency with patience. Kansas State continually got him out of position on misdirection plays. Instincts and awareness are questionable for an inside linebacker. Knowledge of angles comes secondary to desire to making the play. Hand placement and overall strength must improve. Can be neutralized by strong, square blocks. Play needs better balance and control as an open field tackler. Will run himself out of the play.
Pro Comparison: Darron Lee
Projected Round: 1-2
Possible Landing Spot: Green Bay Packers
4. Zack Baun- Wisconsin
Bio: The Wisconsin state Offensive Player of the Year as a dual threat quarterback, Zack Baun transitioned to linebacker once he arrived on Wisconsin's campus. By 2018, he was the fulltime starter and registered 63 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and one interception. As a senior, he earned second team AP All-American and first team All-Big Ten honors with 76 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two pass breakups, and an interception.
Strengths: Restless and explosive. Played with a mean streak in both Ohio State games. Good lateral quickness to cut off running lanes on the backside. Pass rush monster with good second gear. Fast hands to hit and work around blocks. Athleticism and speed to cover running backs and matches up will against tight ends. Smooth drop back and flexibility give him increased zone radius. Good tackle area with speed to chase down ball carriers. Fluid and powerful enough to maintain balance through contact. Good bend and arm extension to set the edge. Agile and unexpected as an open field tackler. Deadly burst off the edge to get slow tackles out of position. Quick reaction to stop plays dead in the backfield.
Weaknesses: Lacks size to be a fulltime edge rusher. Long armed tackles have gave him problems. Energy as a tackler in the open field is lacking. Predictable rush plan with set up of feet. Impatient attitude occasionally leads to delays coming off he snap. Rush momentum pushes him around the pocket. Lacks fluidity in his counter moves. Needs to be coached up to be technically sound. Wins more with athleticism rather than skills. Will panic when asked to cover in man schemes. Missed all of 2017 with a foot injury.
Pro Comparison: Kamalai Correa
Projected Round: 2
Possible Landing Spot: Chicago Bears
5. Jordyn Brooks- Texas Tech
Bio: As a true freshman, Jordyn Brooks led Texas Tech with 86 tackles. As a senior, he earned second team AP All-American and first team All-Big 12 honors by again leading the Red Raiders with 108 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, and three sacks. He is one of the few players in the country with all-conference accolades in all four years of school.
Strengths: Good NFL size with well defined frame. High number of solo tackles in all four years as a starter. Quick to read and react and find the ball. Looks past and works through moving blockers to get to his man. Became more aggressive as a senior, which led to more tackles for loss. Skilled at going low against climbing linemen. Great awareness and instincts to track running backs and decipher the ideal running lane. Quick twitch for smooth lateral slides and change of direction. Speed to pursue and end plays on the edge.
Weaknesses: Looked very mediocre against Oklahoma. Was out of energy by the second quarter thanks to Lincoln Riley's fast paced offense. Loses his gap assignment at times when working around blockers. Needs to attack blockers with more force to collapse run holes. Gets himself neutralized occasionally despite making the right read. Hands need to be quicker to be used to his advantage. Gets confused when asked to drop back. Not flexible when asked to cover.
Pro Comparison: Mychal Kendricks
Projected Round: 2
Possible Landing Spot: Seattle Seahawks
Other Notable Prospects
Evan Weaver- California
- Great awareness, average speed
Logan Wilson- Wyoming
- Classic frame, more technician than enforcer
Markus Bailey- Purdue
- Great technique, average tackle radius and closing speed
Malik Harrison- Ohio State
- Freakish athleticism, raw overall
Jacob Phillips- LSU
- Strong first step, not overly mobile to play all three downs
Shaquille Quarterman- Miami
- No nonsense mentality, questionable instincts
David Woodward- Utah State
- Patient and instinctive, poor play speed
TJ Brunson- South Carolina
- High effort player, physically limited
Francis Bernard- Utah
- Former running back, below average range
Joe Bachie- Michigan State
- Extremely productive, banned by the Big Ten for PED use
Dante Olsen- Montana
- Tackling machine, weak level of competition
Michael Divinity Jr.- LSU
- Versatile playmaker, multiple failed drug tests
De'Jon Harris- Arkansas
- Donut all player, shorter than ideal
Mykal Walker Fresno State
- Makes plays in the backfield, lacks physicality
Julian Okwara- Notre Dame
- Ideal edge rusher, relies on athleticism rather than technique
Josh Uche- Michigan
- Compact rusher, one trick pony
Troy Dye- Oregon
- Great speed, built more like a safety
Cam Brown- Penn State
- Good in coverage, thin build
Akeem Davis-Gaither- Appalachian State
- Quick in space, tweener frame
Carter Coughlin- Minnesota
- Very agile, short arms
Tanner Muse- Clemson
- Lined up all over the defense, stiff laterally
Davion Taylor- Colorado
- Confident in open field, lacks ball skills
Khaleke Hudson- Michigan
- High motor, small for the position
Michael Pinckney- Miami
- Well built lower half, misleading speed
Anfernee Jennings- Alabama
- Thick frame, lazy technique at times
Casey Toohill- Stanford
- Very intelligent, overly hesitant
Willie Gay Jr.- Mississippi State
- Good tools, off field issues
Kamal Martin- Minnesota
- Prototype frame, needs to get stronger
Daniel Bituli- Tennessee
- Led team in tackles three times, very slow
Trevon Hill- Miami
- Can play DE or OLB, dismissed by Virginia Tech
Justin Strnad- Wake Forest
- Productive, injury concerns
Bryce Huff- Memphis
- Quick first step, undersized edge rusher