Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2017 NFL Draft Prospectus: Linebackers

Outside Linebackers

1st Round
TJ Watt, Wisconsin
Jarrad Davis, Florida

2nd Round
Haasan Reddick, Temple
Ryan Anderson, Alabama

3rd Round

4th Round
Alex Anzalone, Florida
Duke Riley, LSU

5th-7th Round
Anthony Walker, Northwestern
Steven Taylor, Houston
DeVonte Fields, Louisville
Tyus Bowser, Houston
Connor Harris, Lindenwood
Jordan Herdman, Simon Fraser
Vince Biegel, Wisconsin
Hardy Nickerson, Illinois
Brooks Ellis, Arkansas

Inside Linebackers

1st Round
Reuben Foster, Alabama
Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt

2nd Round 

3rd Round
Raekwon McMillian, Ohio State
Kendell Beckwith, LSU

4th Round

5th-7th Round
Elijah Lee, Kansas State
Ben Boulware, Clemson
Ben Gedeon, Michigan
Harvey Langi, BYU
Riley Bullough, Michigan State 
Keith Kelsey, Louisville

Outside Linebackers

TJ Watt, Wisconsin, 
6-4, 252
Watt is the youngest brother of NFL players JJ and Derek Watt. He came to Wisconsin as a TE, and redshirted in 2013. He then missed all of 2014 with a knee injury. He finally saw the field in 2015 as a LB.
In 2015, he finished with just eight tackles, 1.5 TFLs, three PBUs, four, and four QB hurries. 2016 was his only season as a full time starter, and he finished with 63 tackles, 15.5 TFLs, 11.5 sacks, four PBUs, 13 QB hurries, two forced fumbles, and a pick six.
He finished as a second team All-American and first team All-Big Ten pick in 2016.
The Good
Solid frame with room to add more muscle as a pro.
Uses solid arm extension to get under blocker pads, and can move a blocker down the lane of attack until he makes his jump.
Has excellent hands.
Knows how to disrupt a passing lane in a hurry.
Keeps his head up, and is always in hunter/killer mode for the ball.
Knows how to use his feet in traffic.
Has lateral pursuit speed.
Solid technique tackler, which is rare these days.
Smart player, looks like he has been on the field more than he has.
The Bad
Very limited sample size for him. Although his pedigree is solid he is still learning the job as he came to Wisconsin as a TE.
Lost a season to a knee injury, which cost him solid development.
Does not have amazing speed for what he does. Looks slow on tape sometimes.
More of a pure violence player, but not very athletic.
Does not have a ton of power at the point of attack. Will need to add that bulk as a pro.
Has to ride the wave with blockers, as he does not have enough pure power to get away once he is engaged and stuck there.
Final Overview
Watt certainly has two solid players for older brothers who may be in his ear all the time, which is a benefit. He'll certainly know what to expect on the next level. The issue I have with Watt is that there is simply too small a plate in which to see what he really is all about. He came out as a junior, and that was ill advised for him in my opinion. It certainly helps that this is an insanely weak class at LB, and he will certainly benefit from that as well.
He has some definite qualities at the position, but he is still very raw, and whichever team drafts him will have to work that out. He grades out as a first round pick here, but in a stronger class, he would be a second day pick.

Jarrad Davis, Florida
6-1, 238
Davis was a four year player at Florida, and is praised as being one of the high character players that NFL scouts love.
He played in every game as a freshman, including on special teams. He finished that season with 24 tackles, two TFLs, one PBU, and one forced fumble.
As a sophomore, he played in just nine games, as he missed three games with injury. He finished that season with 23 tackles, one TFL, and three QB hurries.
He was a full time starter in 2015, and recorded 98 tackles, 11 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, four PBUs, seven QB hurries, a forced fumble, and an INT.
He missed significant time again in 2016 with a lower leg injury, playing in just nine games. He finished the season with 60 tackles, six TFLs, two sacks, four PBUs, and five QB hurries.
He finished 2016 as a second team ALL-SEC pick despite the missed time.
The Good
Well built, with long arms.
Plays with excellent body control and ability.
Plays with excellent pursuit speed, and is a rangy player, with the ability to get all over the field.
Known as a real team leader on and off of the field.
Explodes out of the snap, and keeps his pads low and his head high.
Punishes blockers in contact.
Has a severe nasty streak on the field.
Has excellent approach technique to the tackle, and does not take on strange angles.
Turns on another gear on a flip of the switch.
One of the better run defenders available.
Disruptive in the gaps.
Can cover the TE in the passing game.
The Bad
Lost two significant parts of seasons due to injury. Tried to play through it last season, and got hurt again.
Can get lost in traffic, and will sometimes over pursue the target.
Can come at blockers occasionally high, and will trust his power too much at times.
Does not always read an offense as well as he can.
Hand work must improve at next level.
Gets tied up to often by blockers.
Final Overview
In some ways, I like him better than Watt, but not in all ways, and so he slides to my second spot among the OLBs in this class. He is a high character guy, which sells big, and it should. He will be a vocal team leader on and off of the field, and that is awesome.
Davis needs to do a better job in the film room to become a better identifier of information on the field of play, and he needs to learn how to play with more physical control. He reminds me of a young Brian Cox or Junior Seau, two massively talented LBs who tended to play a bit too wild early in their careers. They ironed it out, and so will Davis.

Haasan Reddick, Temple
6-1, 237
Reddick played a small DE for Temple, but was a RB and Safety in high school before becoming an Owl. He played for four years in the Temple program.
As a freshman, he finished with 14 tackles, four TFLs, one sack, and a PBU.
As a sophomore, he finished with 24 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, two sacks, and a PBU in 10 games played.
As a junior, he finished with 46 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, five sacks, one PBU, five QB hurries, and a forced fumble.
As a senior, he wrapped his career with 65 tackles, 22.5 TFLs, 10.5 sacks, three PBUs, three QB hurries, three forced fumbles, and an INT.
He finished as an AAC All-American honorable mention in 2015, and was named first team All-AAC as a senior.
He was involved in a brawl in a Philadelphia area nightclub in 2015, and was arrested, and never served a suspension for the incident.
The Good
Very explosive off of the snap, and has first rate speed for being a college DE.
Changes direction on a dime, and can get up and fly around the edge.
Big time play maker, especially in space and open field.
Can get sideline to sideline in a hurry.
Keeps his head up while in contact and is always searching out the football.
Knows how to work his feet.
Has experience in pass coverage as a former DB.
Gets into the gaps, and can get through on twists.
Does not take a wide angle to ge to the backfield.
The Bad
Was an undersized end, and may be a bit undersized at LB.
Lack of size allows large athletic linemen to take him out of the play.
Does not have the hand work down yet.
Lacks power, which is another size issue.
Does not shed blockers with ease. Wave rider.
Relies on speed and finesse, which will get mitigated on the next level.
Is not a wrap tackler which is a huge red flag for me.
Tackling technique overall is a sloppy mess.
Final Overview
Many people have gotten fired up about the athletic ability that Reddick possesses. That's nice and all, but at some point one has to get real. Athletic ability alone does not buy you a roster spot in the NFL. Reddick will be playing his fourth position since high school in the NFL. He was just coming into his own as a rush end in his senior season, and now he will be forced out to LB because of lack of size. He does have some pass cover skills, and he is solid against the run, but where do you use him on an NFL team? He lacks the bulk to be a rush edge backer in a 3-4 scheme, and you cannot really play him straight up in a 4-3 yet. I see him as a pass cover package player with some long term starting ability in the right scheme, but his starting days should be at least two years off at this point. His tackling skills are a mess, and then there is that nightclub fight arrest just two years ago. Is his focus in the right place? Why was he not suspended?

Ryan Anderson, Alabama
6-2, 253
Anderson was a rare five year player at Alabama, which included a redshirt season in 2012. He played as a reserve in 2013, and recorded five tackles, 1.5 sacks, and one QB hurry.
As a sophomore, he finished with 25 tackles, eight TFLs, three sacks, and nine QB hurries.
He played more as a junior, and recorded 37 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, six sacks, 10 QB hurries, and forced two fumbles.
He was a full time starter in 2015, and totaled 61 tackles, 19 TFLs, nine sacks, three PBUs, 10 QB hurries, four forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and an INT. He scored once as well.
The media picked him as first team All-SEC in 2016.
The Good
Solid upper body power with bowling ball shoulders.
Hard worker. Does everything that he is asked to do. A coaching dream.
Hand work is top shelf and pro ready.
Sets an edge up on blockers and moves around it swiftly.
Can work in a 3-4 as a pass rush LB. Gets into the backfield as a regular guest.
Herds RBs with ease.
Wrap tackler.
Rakes at the football constantly, and creates turnovers.
High character player.
The Bad
Not the best athlete on the field. Can look plodding on tape.
Speed is limited, and runners can get away from him. Has to make plays that are right in front of him to succeed.
Not much good in coverage.
Can be known to take looping arcs to the QB on blitz calls.
Allows blockers to get inside his frame.
With rush ability, and limited pass coverage value, could be limited to a two down backer.
Final Overview
Nobody can ever question Anderson's dedication to the team or his work ethic. He took the long road to becoming a star at Alabama, and almost left early on, but stuck it out and became a team first guy.
Anderson is limited somewhat athletically speaking, but he makes up for it with intensity and drive, and his motor never stops working. He is a tremendous run stuffer who can also make life miserable for pocket QBs at times. I see second round value here, as Anderson will likely work his way into a starting role in the next two seasons.

Alex Anzalone, Florida
6-3, 241
Anzalone was a two way player out of high school who settled in at LB for the Gators. He was a four year player in the program.
As a freshman, he finished with just two tackles as a reserve, and missed time with a shoulder injury.
As a sophomore, he played a full season as a reserve and finished with 14 tackles and one TFL.
He got the starting job as a junior, but played in only two games as he injured his shoulder again. He was limited to just six tackles that season.
As a senior, he came back to post 53 tackles, four TFLs, three sacks, two PBUs, and six QB hurries, but again missed six games with a broken arm.
The Good
Size and athleticism are a plus. Has been a two way player in high school.
Gets to the sideline quick and limits cutback opportunities.
Can play well in coverage against running backs running routes.
Has played every LB spot across the board.
Can be very disruptive in gap space.
The Bad
Three of four years of his career were derailed to shoulder and arm injuries.
Does not create turnovers, and is pretty much a "what you see is what you get" player.
Does not play with great footwork or balance in traffic. A little bit all over the place.
Can get taken out of the play easily when not engaging early.
Rides the wave with blockers and gets tied up.
Does not have great football vision. Gets faked out easily.
Always looks busier than he is.
Final Overview
Anzalone got a fourth round average grade by several scouting services rounded up. I do not see him as a solid prospect. His injury history is a mess, and he just doesn't do anything special on film for me. I think there is value in other areas of the LB position than what he offers, and with several DEs moving to LB for this draft, he could get lost in the shuffle. I would not be shocked to see him fall to the third day, or out of the draft at this point.

Duke Riley, LSU
6-0, 232
Riley was a four year player in the LSU program, but did not start until his senior season. As a freshman, he collected Seven tackles and a half sack.
As a sophomore, he continued to languish as a reserve, and finished with 20 tackles. As a junior, he finished with 24 tackles and a half sack.
He finally got a starting nod as a senior, when he finished with 93 tackles, nine TFLs, 1.5 sacks, one PBU, three QB hurries, and one INT.
The Good
Very patient. Waited almost four years for a starting nod.
Had one of his biggest games as a senior against his strongest opponent.
Takes the time to learn and progress.
Showed some serious flash as a senior.
Very active in the field.
High end technique tackler, does the job like it is supposed to be done.
Has solid speed for the position, and is solid in pursuit.
Covers well in zone scheme.
Has an eyeball for breaking down the offense.
The Bad
Never rose to the top until he was a senior. Never broke through prior.
Small for the role of edge LB, and will get over powered.
Not aggressive enough.
Not a great player in tight spaces.
Does not always take a direct path to his target.
Footwork needs some serious work.
Does not show much of a knack as a pass rusher.
Final Overview
Riley is an interesting day three prospect who never started or played all that much until he was a senior. That is much too small a sample size for me to get excited about, and unless you are a team with a throw away pick that has time for a project, this is not your guy. He may be limited as a two down backer, or even a career special teams guy for his career, and he will definitely have to get intimately involved with special teams in the NFL, because that is where his check gets written right now. I just do not see much to get overwhelmed by here enough to make the pick.

5th-7th Round
Anthony Walker, Northwestern: SAcouts felt that he played heavy in 2016, and they also are concerned about a lack of overall athleticism. These are not good things.

Steven Taylor, Houston: Has been productive, but very much undersized, and will have to make his mark on special teams to make the cut.

DeVonte Fields, Louisville: Focus is crap. Has been in trouble off of the field mutliple times, including for domestic violence. Got run out of TCU, and was never productive or healthy enough after the fact. A clear avoid tag should be applied.

Tyus Bowser, Houston: Not productive enough in college, and came to the game late. Has missed time for foolish fight with a teammate that resulted in a broken orbital socket. Focus just does not seem to be there.

Connor Harris, Lindenwood: 633 career tackles at Lindenwood. A D1 talent, who was under recruited. He should be a day three pick, and may surprise some people. A real dark horse.

Jordan Herdman, Simon Fraser: May not get drafted at all, and is undersized. Still, productivity was hard to ignore at D2 school. May get a shot on special teams.

Vince Biegel, Wisconsin: Solid team first guy with high character, but has a foot injury history, and limited play strengths.

Hardy Nickerson, Illinois: His father was a legend, but his film is all over the place. May not have the physical skill/discipline combo that is needed on the next level.

Brooks Ellis, Arkansas: Does not possess much in the athleticism/speed area of the game. Was productive enough, but he may just be one of those guys who was a solid college player, and not much else.

Inside Linebackers

Reuben Foster, Alabama
6-0, 229
Foster was a four year player at Alabama. He won the Butkus Award as a senior, and was a finalist for the Bednarik Award. He has had some neck stinger injuries during his career, which led to an incident at the combine. While he was awaiting medical attention for an assessment, he became impatient with NFL medical staff, and created a scene. He was asked to leave the combine as a result.
As a freshman, he finished with 12 tackles and one TFL.
As a sophomore, he finished with 23 tackles, two TFLs, and one sack.
As a junior, he finished with 73 tackles, eight TFLs, and one sack, while also adding nine PBUs and three QB hurries.
As a senior, he finished with 115 Tackles, 13 TLFs, five sacks, two PBUs, and eight QB hurries.
The Good
Had very solid production as a junior and as a senior.
Violent hitting style.
Has solid speed and explosiveness.
Excellent in pursuit.
Very rangy, and can get from sideline to sideline in a hurry.
Fearless in the gaps, and makes big plays.
Can cover in drop back, and can cover backs in the flat.
The Bad
Body tackler, with poor overall technique. He is working on becoming a better wrap up guy, but he should know how to do that by now.
All violence, no subtlety.
Does not play with solid instinct or grasp of what an offense is doing with consistency. His mentality is more "Hulk smash" than is necessary.
Plays with pure and raw physical intensity, and lacks a mental part to his game.
Plays out of control at times.
Rides the wave with blockers.
Drops his head too often, and has gotten injured because of it.
Plays at his best at current weight, but that is simply too small to make a difference on the next level, and his play suffers when he bulks back up.
Final Overview
Many scouts and services are impressed with this guy. The simple fact is that I am not. I see a wildly out of control player who will get exposed on the next level if he does not get his head together. His behavior at the combine, due to the fact that he was tired of waiting, was completely unacceptable.
He will likely get drafted fairly early in the process because of his raw athleticism, but I would not be the personnel guy buying into his act. He gets drafted high because this is a weak class, not because he is the next Lawrence Taylor.

Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
6-3, 234
Cunningham was a Division 5A State player of the year in Alabama in high school as a DE, but Alabama and Auburn let him get away, and Vanderbilt landed a star after he transitioned to LB in college.
Cunningham ended up being a three year star for the Commodore program, and left after his junior season to make some serious money as a pro.
He was named first team All-America as a junior in 2016.
As a freshman, he totaled 67 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, two PBUs, one QB hurry, and one forced fumble.
As a sophomore, he racked up 103 tackles, 16.5 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, three PBUs, and four forced fumbles.
As a junior, he finished with 125 tackles, 16.5 TFLs, three PBUs, one QB hurry, and two forced fumbles.
The Good
Major production in all three years at Vanderbilt.
Loves to get in on the action, and can fly all over the field.
Has taken on the mantle of leadership on the field.
Very intelligent football player who breaks things down quickly and attacks.
Hits gaps like a pro, and is very disruptive to runners in the backfield.
Blockers have a tough time honing in on him.
Creates turnovers like crazy. Always raking at the football.
gets side to side on the field with ease.
Seriously large tackling radius.
As tough as they come, and had very little help.
Can cover backs and ends.
Doesn't allow much when it comes to yards after the catch.
The Bad
Lacks lower body bulk, and carries all of his weight high.
Has been known to ride the wave when blockers get on him.
Needs to keep his pads level at all times.
High tackler who allows runners to slip away from him resulting in several missed tackles.
Not much at getting to the QB, and is more of a run stuffer.
Final Overview
Despite the missed tackles issue, Cunningham is , by far, my favorite LB in this draft class. He is a smart, focused, and driven tackling machine who makes plays all over the field, and is super disruptive. Had he played at a better football school, he would be getting much more consideration as a top ten pick based on his production. Cunningham is a terminator like machine who can get to the football and make things happen, and his head will stay focused as well. His issues that he does have can mostly be coached out, so there should be few concerns there. Wind him up and let him go, and you have one of the better players in this draft.

Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State
6-2, 240
McMillon was a three year player for the Buckeyes, and was a finalist for the Butkus award in 2015 as the nation's best linebacker. He won the same award at the high school level in 2013 as a senior.
As a freshman at Ohio State, McMillan totaled 54 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, a PBU, and one INT which was returned for a score.
As a sophomore, he collected an amazing 119 tackles, four TFLs, 1.5 sacks, four PBUs, and five QB hurries.
As a junior, which was his final season, he recorded 102 tackles, seven TFLs, two sacks, four PBUs, two QB hurries, and two forced fumbles. He was named second team All-American and first team All-Big Ten as a junior. He was named second team All-Big Ten as a sophomore.
The Good
Tackle machine with 221 tackles in a two year span.
On the attack the moment the ball is snapped.
Has enough speed to beat outside plays to the point of attack, and avoid getting hammered by the pull blockers.
Reads offenses very well, and understands his assignments.
Beats runners to the gaps.
Arm extension is solid on blockers. Sheds blocks well when his arms get fully out in front of him.
Solid zone pass defender, and understands what the QB is thinking.
The Bad
Can get redirected by large, physical blockers.
Has such an early jump on the snap that he can end up guessing wrong at times and get to the wrong spot.
When he does not get arm extension on blockers, he ends up riding the wave with the blocker to the target.
A little limited when it comes to athleticism and change of direction speed.
Will never be good in man coverage against backs or ends.
Severely limited as a pass rusher.
Final Overview
McMillan simply cannot be overlooked because of his rock solid production at Ohio State. He was a defensive leader for the Buckeyes who made a ton of tackles inside of a two year span. The problem that I have with him, and the problem that others have as well, is that he doesn't do much else with any real flash. He is not a guy who makes a ton of plays behind the line, and he has basically been negligible when it comes to collecting sacks. He is a decent zone pass defender as an ILB, but does nothing in man coverage worth speaking of. Tacklers are great, but they are a dime a dozen these days, and McMillan does not do anything special enough outside of that to warrant anything higher than day three consideration.

Kendell Beckwith, LSU
6-2, 243
Beckwith was a four year player with LSU after staying in state out of the high school ranks, and was named first team All-SEC as a senior in 2016.
As a freshman, he recorded 11 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble in reserve duty.
He started seven games as a sophomore, and totaled 77 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, two sacks, three PBUs, two QB hurries, and a pick six.
As a junior, he finished with 84 tackles, 10 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, a PBU, a QB hurry, and two forced fumbles.
He had a shortened year as a senior, when he finished with 91 tackles, six TFLs, a sack, four PBUs, and a QB hurry. He tore an ACL against Florida, and missed two games.
The Good
Progressed as a tackler all four years in college.
Has played in both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts.
Plays well within control as it pertains to his job.
Brings the fight to blockers rather than the other way around.
Makes good use of his hands.
Good pursuit and perimeter speed.
Knows how to read what the offense is doing.
Plays well in space and maintains good body control.
Decent in zone coverage.
The Bad
Coming off of a major ACL injury, which will drop him.
Not the most athletic player on the field before the injury.
Tackling technique is sloppy.
Not as rangy as one would like.
Pad level is often a mess, and he gets stood up by blockers as a result.
Not a man cover guy, and will not be able to run with backs and ends.
Final Overview
Beckwith is basically a very good college LB who brings very little in the way of something special to an NFL roster. He is a technique nightmare who throws himself at tacklers rather than wrapping up and using sound ability. I felt he was basically average before the ACL injury, but since that happened, his stock is dropping like a rock. I look for someone to grab him on day 3, because of his experience in that nasty LSU defense, but all in all, I would not expect a ton from him.

5th-7th Round
Elijah Lee, Kansas State: Plays too upright with his pad level, but speed and pass coverage ability could get him in as a nickle or dime LB.

Ben Boulware, Clemson: Lacks overall size/speed/athleticism combo for the position, but makes up for it with attitude and motor. Should get a shot somewhere.

Ben Gedeon, Michigan: Has some skills, but missed tackle numbers are high, and he is not the most athletic guy in the bunch. Special teams may be his ticket.

Harvey Langi, BYU: Former RB is raw to playing LB, and BYU never used him right as an edge guy. Should be stuck in the middle. Will need time to develop, and needs better instincts, but there is talent here.

Riley Bullough, Michigan State: Severely limited by size and athleticism issues. May have a tough time cracking a roster.

Keith Kelsey, Louisville: Decent run stopper who lacks intangibles for the position. Would be limited to a two down role, as he is useless in pass coverage. 

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