NFL draft season is the time to make lists. Top 10, 25, 100, 500, whatever. This article is no different.
Today we are going to look at my Top 20 pre-combine rookie linebacker prospects. So, just to lay out how I grade prospects. I have 10 categories that I grade on, each on a 1-10 (10 is the highest) scale, then average those 10 grades out to get a final score.
We are going to do this countdown style, 20-1.
20. Kemoko Turay, OLB, Rutgers: He’s a pass rush specialist who is very good at bending and dipping , but he’s not so hot against the run.
19. Azeem Victor, ILB, Washington: He’s a power player and can lay a lick on you, but struggles to get off blocks sometimes.
18. Tre’ Williams, ILB, Auburn: He’s a two-down thumper who struggles in pass coverage.
17. Leighton Vander Esch, ILB, Boise State: I thought he was below average athletically and got pushed around a lot.
16. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OLB, Oklahoma: He’s extremely raw, starting football in 2016, he’s a speed rusher, but needs much better situational awareness.
15. Tegray Scales, ILB, Indiana: He’s a little under sized, but he’s a better blitzer than you think.
14. Skai Moore, ILB, South Carolina: He’s an excellent coverage linebacker with 14 career interceptions. His 40 time will be important as he looks a little slow on tape.
13. Malik Jefferson, ILB, Texas: To tell the truth, Jefferson has regressed in his time at Texas. I caught wind of him during his freshman season an the was supposed to be he next big thing. He is good athlete but Texas asked him to blitz and that’s not his forte. His landing spot will determine much of his IDP value.
12. Shaun Dion Hamilton, ILB, Alabama: He needs to play downhill and see the ball. His vision is limited.
11. Micah Kiser, ILB, Virginia: He’s a very good run defender, but just an average pass defender. His first step is always towards the line of scrimmage, which contributes to both of those traits. If I had to make a comparison, I’d say he reminds me of Jeremiah Trotter.
10. Fred Warner, ILB, BYU: The star of the Senior Bowl. He played on the outside for the Cougars but the coaches at the Senior Bowl put him in the middle and he excelled. He is always moving in the direction of the football.
9. Josey Jewell, ILB, Iowa: The best way to describe Jewell is this: He always knows where he needs to be, his body doesn’t always let him get there. His diagnosis will keep him in the league, but his lack of athleticism will keep him from becoming the elite IDP asset his brain says he is.
8. Tremaine Edmunds, ILB, Virginia Tech: Yes, I know the national pundits have him as the second linebacker coming off the board in the draft. That is based upon potential as he is only 19-years-old and has a mountain of upside. I grade on what he is now. I personally think he lacks a killer instinct which is what all the great linebackers have. On top of that he mostly stays at the second level, not venturing into the trash along the line of scrimmage. Because of that, he stays clean and floats sideline to sideline minimizing any breakaway opportunities from the running backs.
7. Jake Cichy, ILB, Wisconsin: As a rule, I don’t like grading on film from previous seasons, as It doesn’t show the player and his skillset that he possesses today. However Cichy missed all of the 2017 season, leaving me no other option. Much like Jewell, Cichy can see the play before it develops, but can’t always get there. He’s a very good run defender and a better blitzer than you would think.
6. Nick DeLuca, ILB, North Dakota State: He was my No. 2 linebacker at the tail end of last season when I thought he was coming out, but a suffered a shoulder injury and was granted an extra year of eligibility. That shoulder injury appeared to affect his tackling in 2017, so he got a bit of a downgrade in my rankings.
5. Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama: He has high football IQ, but he waits a beat at the snap before he starts moving. He does move smooth as he goes from side to side.
4. Darius Leonard, OLB, South Carolina State: I’ll be honest, I did not expect Leonard to end up this high, but grades are grades. He has a bit of a skinny frame, but really good length. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah compared him to Jacksonville stalwart Telvin Smith.
3. Lorenzo Carter, OLB, Georgia: If I had to make a comparison, I’d go a better version of Leonard Floyd here. Carter played the same position at the same school as Floyd. As a player who specializes in rushing the passer, he is a very good tackler.
2. Shaquem Griffin, OLB, UCF: By now you’ve heard Griffin’s story. He’s got a relentless motor and a very good dip and bend move. He is a bit of a dog chasing cars at times, but I love his passion. Admittedly, he won’t get drafted this high, but he’ll make a team and is worthy of late-round consideration in your IDP draft.
1. Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia: Smith is by far and away the best linebacker in this class. Looking back at last year, I have Smith with a higher grade than LB1 Reuben Foster by .05, so it’s virtually a tie. Smith is fast, a hitter, and smart. He can struggle to disengage at times, but he usually has multiple dudes pulling at him while he’s trying to bring someone down.