Part 2 of the series, and we’re on to linebackers and the first thing that jumps out is that this linebacker class is seriously top heavy. If your team needs a linebacker and they need that guy to make an impact immediately, they better take one of these top 3 guys, an otherwise they’re taking a big risk in my mind.
Teams that will most prominently be looking for help at the linebacker postion are: Buccaneers, Bengals, Steelers, Chargers, Vikings and Rams.
On to the prospects…
1. Devin White, Junior, LSU, 6’, 237 lbs
Louisiana State University producing top linebackers who go early in the NFL draft and get results in the NFL. Devin White is the next one of those.
White is the modern day, sideline to sideline, tackling machine who can also cover. White is sudden and quick in the way he moves all over the field whether in coverage or when coming down hill towards a ball carrier. This is displayed in the fact that he racked up 28.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in 3 years at LSU.
White shows a good football IQ,which is shown by the fact that he doesn’t really waste any movement in the moments just after the snap; White doesn’t second guess what’s going on.
I’m a big fan of White, I think he’s got a really high ceiling both as a player and also in this draft. I think his ceiling is 5th overall to Tampa Bay and I think he’s absolutely off the board in the top 12 picks.
2. Devin Bush, Junior Michigan, 5’11, 234 lbs
Devin Bush is another one is these smaller, quicker linebackers with range. The reason I have him behind White is that he doesn’t seem quite as quick to read what’s going on, so he may be lagging just a tick behind those two in terms of the mental side of the game.
Athletically, Bush is more smooth than sudden in the sense that he seems to take a little bit longer to get in to full speed, however when he does he can really fly.
I think this is illustrated in his sack numbers for Michigan, where he registered 5.5 and 4.5 in the last two years respectively. A creative DC will harness this at the next level and turn it into a real strength of his game.
Height is again a little bit of a red flag for Bush as he’s a sub 6’ linebacker and it does mean he finds it hard to get off blocks at times; something he will need to work on at the NFL level.
3. Mack Wilson,Junior, Alabama, 6’1, 240 lbs
Wilson is pretty similar to the Devin’s in the sense that he’s a modern day linebacker who can cover sideline to sideline and drop into zone coverage too. Wilson differs from them others in that he his splash plays come in the form of interceptions, which he had 6 of in the past couple of years in college.
Again this shows a good football IQ and he obviously has good pedigree coming into the league from Alabama, who also have a long line of linebackers in the NFL.
The biggest red flag with Wilson is that he is pretty small for the position, which would have meant we was a day 3 pick a few years back but now just means he has to use this body better and maybe pack of a little bit of muscle.
Until late in the college season, Wilson was my highest ranked linebacker but his play definitely took a dip later in the year and this carried on through a distinctly average combine whereas Devin Bush has done nothing but rise up draft boards.
4. Joe Giles-Harris, RS Junior, Duke, 6’1, 234 lbs
This is almost where the fun ends with this linebacker class. The top 3 are simply in a tier of their own and if you’re a team who really needs a linebacker and you’re making it a priority in the draft (maybe you missed out on Anthony Barr, C.J. Mosley or Denzel Perryman or K.J. Wright in free agency), you really need to take either of the Devin’s or Mack Wilson; ‘cos from here, it ain’t that pretty and if anyone else is going to be majorly successful, they’re going to have been a sleeper.
Anyways, without sounding too down… I quite like Giles-Harris as a two down thumper at the MIKE linebacker position in the NFL. So if you’re the Raiders wanting to play a old-skool brand of football, or if you’re another team who doesn’t mind taking him off the field in sub-packages (which teams play more often than their base defense), then Joe Giles-Harris on day 2 or early on day 3, might be the way to go.
Lack of splash plays and an MCL injury suffered mid-season aren’t helping his case but I quite like Giles-Harris as a tone setter and there’s plenty of old style defensive coaches out there that’ll still appreciate what he brings to the table.
5. Kendall Joseph, Junior, Clemson, 5’11, 233 lbs
Again this is a bit of a projection but coming into the league from a big programme and accumulating 202 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and two interceptions in his two seasons as a starter means Kendall Joseph has been productive to say the least (even before that as a sophomore, he registered 11.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks). How much is down to playing behind the nation’s best defensive line though? Well that is yet to be answered…
Joseph shows nice football IQ displayed by being comfortable in space, the angles he takes to the football and lack of wasted movement.
One downside is that he does look like he needs to get stronger and maybe a touch bigger once he gets into the NFL, so maybe being a special teams ace and working his way up is the most likely outcome for Joseph.
Sleeper. Germaine Pratt, RS Senior, N.C. State, 6’2, 240 lbs
Pratt played 2 years at safety before switching to linebacker which could tick the versatility box for some and it should mean he has a decent understanding of coverages.
Pratt isn’t super athletic but that’s why he’s my sleeper. However he has been productive and he’s played all 4 years he’s been at N.C. State, so also ticks the production box too.
He weighed in at 240 lbs at the senior bowl so he might need to shed 10 or so lbs before the start of next season considering how the NFL is now geared towards being light and quick.