Like many positions on defense, the linebacker position is going through a transition phase at the next level. Big bulky players who come downhill and stuff the running back are no longer valued high in the draft. Now, the NFL values linebackers who can move in space and be options against the passing game and the running game. Linebackers who create turnovers and fly around the field are also highly valued because defenses are more concerned with creating takeaways then actually stopping anybody.
The 2018 linebacker class was a weak one outside of the top two players. Devin White and Devin Bush both ended up in my top 10 on my final Big Board. Outside of that though I only had five linebackers with a third-round grade or higher. I was hoping for a rebound year for the 2020 class but it’s not looking good at the moment. There are players with potential here, however, I’m hoping we get some late risers in the process to add to the depth of this class.
As always any comments or questions hit me up on Twitter @DanteCollinelli.
Dylan Moses, Junior, Alabama
Thank god for Dylan Moses. He’s the only linebacker in this class that is not only well rounded but also technically sound. There are very few things that Moses does poorly on the football field and so many things that he does right. For starters, it is easy to tell how developed he is mentally when processing the run game. He reads his keys quickly and then goes to make the stop. Moses doesn’t bite in on play-action a lot and is rarely caught shooting the wrong gap against the run. He’s a proficient tackler always coming to balance and driving through the legs of the ball carrier. One of the most exciting things about Moses is his speed from sideline to sideline. He has the range to be an impact player on every inch of the football field which I mentioned as being a big deal in the intro of this article and he won’t get beat around the corner too often. Moses was taken off the field for a lot of dime packages at Alabama but the coverage reps I did see showed an athletic player who can at least keep up with tight ends and running backs. With Mack Wilson now in the NFL Moses should pick up those dime reps he missed out on last year giving us more of a chance to see what he looks like in coverage. At the very least you’re getting a smart and athletically superior linebacker in the middle of your defense for years to come.
Isaiah Simmons, Junior, Clemson
This is where things start to get tricky for me with this linebacker class. Simmons is listed by Clemson as a linebacker but doesn’t really play much linebacker. I saw Simmons line up as a slot corner, outside corner, deep safety, edge rusher, and linebacker. The majority of his reps come from the slot; he’s quite versatile. I liked Simmons’ tape a lot because he’s clearly a fantastic athlete out in space. My issue, however, is if I can truly call him a linebacker. Since it’s so early in the draft process I am gonna let it slide for now and call him a linebacker. Simmons strengths align perfectly with what the NFL is going for right now. His ability to cover tight ends and running backs is unmatched in this class. Not only does he have the size (6’4 and 225), but he also has the speed which pops on tape. What’s even more impressive is that he’s able to stay with all of these tight ends and backs in 1v1 man coverage. That is rare for a linebacker. I even saw him stay with slot receivers at times. While Simmons is a great man coverage player he still has a way to go with his technique, especially with his feet at the line of scrimmage. In zone coverage, Simmons has the length and burst to make a quarterback’s life hell. The issue is that he doesn’t seem too comfortable dropping back into coverage and keeping his eyes forward. If you can clean that part of his game up then you are looking at an elite coverage chess piece on the defensive side of the football.
Markus Bailey, 5th Year, Purdue
I watched Markus Bailey’s tape on Thursday which is typically the second to last day that I watch tape for these articles. I was desperate to find a linebacker who was well rounded enough for today’s NFL and Bailey provided me with some solid film. The trait Bailey hangs his hat on is his zone coverage. You can tell by watching him that he’s got a lot of experience in that area. He’s got fluid hips when dropping into coverage and always drops to the right spot without having to turn around and look. He made some plays on the ball as an underneath defender making him a real solid coverage option at the next level. Against the run, Bailey is a pretty sound tackler, as long as he gets squared up. He has the speed to get sideline to sideline fairly quickly, but I wouldn’t call him a blazer. He doesn’t get much run as a traditional “Mike” linebacker so reps of him reading run keys and attacking are a little hard to find. My biggest complaint with Bailey right now is that he has a problem with length. His arms are stubby and limit him as a tackler and as a zone coverage option. I saw a couple of reps where he got stiff-armed into the ground and where he couldn’t reach passes that were thrown near him. Bailey is just all-around a solid option at the LB spot with a knack for zone coverage, despite physical limits.
David Woodward, Junior, Utah State
I got to say that when I started this “prospect preview” series back in June I did not expect to have two players from Utah State crack my top-5 but here we are. I am not gonna sit here and say that I’m in love with Woodward but he’s got some traits that are worth investing in right now. Woodward stood out right off the bat with his effort to be around the ball on every play. What’s nice about that though is Woodward actually has the range to make plays all across the field. He moves well in space, seems like he has good top speed, and flashed some nice acceleration. I thought he did a nice job of pursuing runners to the boundary by taking good angles and slipping around contact. When he got there he came in under control and made sound tackles. The hiccup for me with Woodward right now is that Utah State has him listed at 230 pounds but he looks lighter than that to me. His lack of power really shows up on tape because when linemen get their hands on him he can go for a ride. As a coverage option, I think Woodward has the needed athletic profile to be an effective pass defender but the technique isn’t there. He looked lost in zone coverage to me and his footwork in man coverage needs a lot of refinement. Woodward flies around the field and has a lot of tools giving him a higher ceiling than a lot of the guys I watched this week.
Paddy Fisher, Junior, Northwestern
Paddy Fisher seems to be the subject of a lot of disagreement on draft Twitter right now. I’m not gonna lie to you; I wasn’t very impressed with his film right away. Once I watched the rest of this linebacker class I realized that Fisher is actually further along than a lot of the other guys. Fisher does a lot of things well but doesn’t do anything particularly great. He did a good job scraping down the line to make plays against the run. He reads his run keys fairly well and is a sound tackler who comes to balance every time. The question marks with Fisher start to come up when you get into his athletic profile and his ability in coverage. After watching his film (twice) I was still on the fence about whether or not he had the needed range to play middle linebacker at the next level. There are some reps of him getting beat to the corner, but he also moves well for a bigger linebacker (listed at 241). In coverage, I didn’t think he looked smooth in his backpedal and I saw him get burned more than once in man coverage. With that said, he’s clearly a smart player who understands zone concepts fairly well. Summing it up, I’ve got a lot of questions when it comes to Fisher which prevents me from putting him higher on this list.
Number 6: Shaquille Quarterman, Senior, Miami
Number 7: Tuf Borland, Junior, Ohio State
Number 8: Joe Bachie, Senior, Michigan State
Number 9: Micheal Pickney, Senior, Miami
Number 10: Troy Dye, Senior, Oregon
Number 11: Kenneth Murray, Junior, Oklahoma
Number 12: Khaleke Hudson, Senior, Michigan
Number 13: Sean Bradley, Senior, Temple
Number 14: Antonio Jones-Davis, RS-Senior, NIU
Players I need to see more of to rank them:
Number 1: Chapelle Russel, Graduate, Temple
Number 2: Bryce Huff, Junior, Memphis
Number 3: Rashad Smith, Senior, FAU
Number 4: Dante Olson, RS-Senior, Montana
Number 5: Mohammed Barry, Senior, Nebraska