INDIANAPOLIS – The linebacker group is a fascinating one to watch every year in the draft because of the wide variety of shapes and sizes the players come in to play in today's NFL. Whether you're looking for big, hulking run defenders, sleek subpackage pass rushers, or hyper-athletic coverage players, this class has it all, including one of the most intriguing physical talents in the entire draft. Use this preview as a cheat sheet for today's action (4 PM on NFL Network) to understand which drills are most important throughout the workout at Lucas Oil Stadium. For a full explanation of each category, jump down to the bottom of the piece.
Top of the heap: Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
Is he a linebacker? A safety? An edge rusher? You be the judge, because the Tigers asked Simmons to do all of the above and then some during his time on campus. A rangy athlete with an impressive body and highly-versatile skillset, Simmons is built for today's league, but there is a lot of debate about what role he best plays moving forward into the NFL.
Workout warrior: Patrick Queen, LSU
There are a handful of players that could have fit into this category, but Queen has to take the cake. Only a one-year starter in Baton Rouge, the junior is as explosive as they come at the position and made some extremely impressive plays in coverage this season. He will test like a freak show in Indianapolis.
Off the radar: Davion Taylor, Colorado
Most NFL fans aren't aware of Taylor yet, mainly because the Buffs were out of the national spotlight this year, but he is going to blow the doors off this event. The senior, who didn't play games at the high school level due to religious reasons, was a high-level track athlete at Colorado and, like Queen, is the kind of athletic coverage piece that fits in today's league.
Stopwatch shocker: Malik Harrison, Ohio State
A 250-pound thumper on the inside, some analysts view Harrison as an early-downs player only transitioning to the NFL, but I think the senior shows subtle athleticism in short areas and certainly has enough range to be a three-down player in the NFL. I expect him to show off that athleticism and help himself here in Indianapolis and prove why he's, arguably, the top senior linebacker in this class.
Will kill the drills: Troy Dye, Oregon
The senior led the Ducks in tackles all four years on campus, and for good reason. Built like a safety, Dye has great range, fluid hips, and a violent temperament on the field that allowed him to constantly be around the offense. A twitchy athlete who excels at moving in reverse, I expect him to look sharp in position drills from start to finish (and he should excel in athletic testing as well).
Trust the tape: Shaq Quarterman, Miami
A four-year starter for the Hurricanes, Quarterman has been getting buzz since his true freshman season in Coral Gables. A short, stout linebacker with impressive play recognition skills, he's not going to flash with his 40-time or ability to move in reverse, but he'll find a home in the NFL thanks to his play speed and toughness inside.
Most productive college player: Logan Wilson, Wyoming
No linebacker at this event has more career tackles (409) than Wilson, a 4-year starter for the Cowboys who has a solid size/speed profile and showed excellent ball skills in coverage as well. The senior racked up a whopping 10 interceptions (to go with 14 pass breakups) throughout his career, again leading the linebacker group here in Indianapolis. Some analysts view Wilson as one of the top five linebackers in the class.
One-year wonder: Francis Bernard, Utah
Coming into 2019, Bernard was a backup for the Utes after transferring from rival BYU (where he did start early in his career), and while many of his teammates received a lot of preseason hype, he was on the outside looking in for the various 'watch' lists around college football. After the season, his first as a starter in Salt Lake City, Bernard was regarded as one of the top linebackers in the nation and has three-down ability for the NFL.
Best pro comparison: Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
Pro comparisons for college players can be tricky, because very rarely is it a perfect apples to apples comparison between players. Sometimes, however, you just hear one and it sticks. The visual is just too good. That was my response when my co-host on the Journey to the Draft podcast, Ben Fennell, compared Murray to former Pro Bowl linebacker Keith Bullock. Like Bullock, Murray is a physically-imposing freight train in the middle of the field who arrives at the football with bad intentions. He's a fun player to study.
Best story: Evan Weaver, Cal
A senior All-American from one of the best defenses in the country last year, Weaver isn't flying under any radar at this point, but with some digging you'll find some very interesting nuggets about the productive middle linebacker. Don't miss the time he walked into his new coach's office and declared he was the 'best player' on the team as a sophomore defensive end and urged to be moved to linebacker? How about the time he took on a car in traffic ... and won? Weaver has some bravado to him, that he backed up in his final two seasons on campus. A three-year starter for the Bears, Weaver is one of the most interesting characters in this entire NFL Draft.
Small-school standout: Akeem Davis-Gaither, Appalachian State
An athletic, sideline-to-sideline player, Davis-Gaither has all of the traits you look for in today's coverage linebacker with a motor that never stops running. He's on the smaller side at sub-220 pounds, but he's the son of a coach who should test well in Indianapolis and check another box for himself after a solid week at the Senior Bowl.
Philly connection: Dante Olson, Montana
Olson was a hyper-productive player for Montana, where he won the Buck Buchanan Award as the Defensive Player of the Year at the FCS level, racking up 179 tackles (a school record) as a senior. A tough, instinctive player who made a living on special teams early in his career, he figures to make a similar type of impact early in the NFL. His coach? Bobby Hauck, the brother of Eagles' safeties coach (and former Eagles defensive back) Tim Hauck.
Most to prove: Markus Bailey, Purdue
Based purely off film, Bailey would easily be in the early Day 2 discussion in this draft class as an instinctive playmaker for the Boilermakers, but a pair of ACL injuries throughout his career (including one this season as a senior) could hamper his stock. The medical check will be big for the buzz-worthy backer.
Position drill to watch
Like most positions in football, teams want to find linebackers who can impact the passing game. If you're not going to rush the quarterback, that means you have to be viable in coverage. Can you efficiently flip your hips in space, turn and run, then find the football? Some of the new coverage drills we'll see this year will put that to the test.
1. You want to see the defenders flip their hips without losing much speed, if any. Want an easy way to look for this? Watch their head. If their head pops up, that typically is a sign of some lateral stiffness when they're asked to execute that kind of athletic maneuver.
2. After the linebacker flips his hips, you want to see a strong burst to the catch point. Can they change gears, or are they a one-speed kind of player? To play against the athletic running backs and tight ends in today's game, you want speed and range on the field at all costs.
3. Lastly, can they finish at the catch point. You don't need a true ballhawk underneath, but any production on the ball is good production in the passing game. Making a play on the ball against air with no other defenders on the field shouldn't be too tall a task, even under the spotlight. Coaches and scouts will want to see how they react to this pressure.
|Height||6' 1 1/4"|
|Hand Size||958 (9 5/8")|
|Arm Length||3228 (32 1/4")|
|Wingspan||7678 (76 7/8")|
|Unofficial 40-Time (Stopwatch)||4.64 seconds|
|Official 40-Time (Laser)||4.68 seconds|
|10-Yard Split||1.60 seconds|
|3-Cone Drill||7.07 seconds|
|Short Shuttle||4.28 seconds|
The rest of the pack
Joe Bachie (Michigan State), Daniel Bituli (Tennessee), Shaun Bradley (Temple), Jordyn Brooks (Texas Tech), Cam Brown (Penn State), Michael Divinity (LSU), Cale Garrett (Missouri), Willie Gay (Mississippi State), De'Jon Harris (Arkansas), Khaleke Hudson (Michigan), Clay Johnston (Baylor), Jordan Mack (Virginia), Kamal Martin (Minnesota), Jacob Phillips (LSU), Michael Pinckney (Miami), Chapelle Russell (Temple), Justin Strnad (Wake Forest), Mykal Walker (Fresno State), David Woodward (Utah State)
Breakdown of the categories
Top of the heap: This is the player who, based on media projections, is at the top of the class and will likely hear his name called first at his position in April.
Workout warrior: This is the player who I expect to see perform best in the athletic testing portion of the workout.
Off the radar: This is the player who will come out of nowhere to post great numbers in the athletic testing portion of the workout.
Stopwatch shocker: This is the player who I expect to perform better in the athletic tests than most in the media predict.
Will kill the drills: This is the player who will look the best in the position-specific drills following the athletic portion of the workout.
Trust the tape: This is the player who I don't expect to test off the charts and is a better football player than he is an athlete. With that in mind, don't drop him down the board with a subpar workout!
Most productive college player: This is the player who produced at the highest level, either in his final year in college or over the course of his entire career.
One-year wonder: This is the player who performed at a high level in college, but only for a limited time on campus.
Best pro comparison: Comparing draft prospects to NFL players is tough, but here's a player with the easiest picture to paint when looking at his NFL future through my eyes.
Best story: All of these players have great stories to tell, but who has taken the most unbelievable journey to get to this point in his career? Here's the one that has caught my eyes (and ears) the most.
Small-school standout: This is the player who comes from a lower level of competition (outside of the Power 5 conferences) but still has a potentially bright future in the NFL.
Philly connection: This is the player with a special tie to the City of Brotherly Love or the Eagles who you should keep a close eye on.
Most to prove: This is the player who has the most to prove away from the field, whether it's during the interview process, medical examinations, or even the weigh-ins.
Mr. Average: We get to read all about the measurements for all these players over the next few weeks, but wouldn't it be nice to have some context? What is considered a "good" time in the 40-yard dash? What about arm length? The broad jump? Here's what the average player drafted at each position has looked like over the last decade (by my records).
The rest of the pack: A list of everyone else who will take part in the events in Indianapolis (in alphabetical order).
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominatedEagles Game Planshow which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts,Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as theJourney to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices, and opponents.