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2024 NFL Scouting Combine Cheat Sheet: Linebacker

A name all Eagles fans will recognize: Jeremiah Trotter Jr.
A name all Eagles fans will recognize: Jeremiah Trotter Jr.

The linebacker group is a fascinating one to watch every year in the NFL Draft because of the wide variety of shapes and sizes the position comes into 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 what you're looking for.

Workout Warriors

These are the players who analysts expect to see perform best in the athletic testing portion of the workout:

Payton Wilson (N.C. State) – Listed at a confirmed 6-foot-4, 234 pounds at the Senior Bowl, Wilson was listed in Bruce Feldman's annual Freaks List as one of the top athletes in the country going back to 2022. This came a couple of years after he racked up more than 100 tackles as a redshirt sophomore back in 2020. Wilson suffered an injury setback in between, but that has not slowed him down at all, as he is one of the rangiest playmakers in this draft class. Wilson has a natural ease of movement, eats up ground on command, moves as well in reverse as he does moving forward, and is one of the most well-rounded athletes in the front seven in this draft class.

Jaylan Ford (Texas) – Ford has a bit of a thicker frame than Wilson, coming in at a listed 6-foot-3, 242 pounds, but he's an impressive athlete on film as well. The former All-American, who went to high school with Pro Bowl linebacker Nick Bolton, can do anything you need out on the field from a physical standpoint, and his former teammates have taken note of his athleticism in the past. Former UT linebacker (and current Dallas Cowboy) DeMarvion Overshown told me last year in Indy that Ford would "blow the tests out of the water" when he showed up this year.

Trevin Wallace (Kentucky) – Wallace was the highest-ranked linebacker on Feldman's Freaks List from this class, finishing at No. 11 last summer after reportedly hitting 22 MPH on their GPS tracking two seasons ago with a 38.5-inch vertical leap (which would be in the 80th-plus percentile of linebackers drafted in the last decade). That explosiveness shows up on tape as well, as he has the speed and range to track plays down outside the numbers while finding the football in a number of ways throughout his career.

The 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, you have to be viable in coverage. Can you efficiently flip your hips in space, turn and run, and find the football? Some of the coverage drills we'll see will put that to the test. Some things to notice while watching these drills:

  • 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.
  • 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? 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.

Here are the players who have a chance to shine in these drills:

Edefuan Ulofoshio (Washington) – A sixth-year senior who bounced back from a 2022 injury to be one of the leaders of the Washington defense this season, Ulofoshio is a rangy cover guy capable of making plays in space. He put that skill set on display in Mobile, showing up repeatedly in practice by jumping routes underneath and faring uniquely well in what is typically an unfair battle between running backs and linebackers 1-on-1. An All-American last fall, Ulofoshio took a pick back to the house for the Huskies this past season and has been a really productive player on a per-snap basis throughout his career while also having an accomplished special teams background.

Jontrey Hunter (Georgia State) – Another Senior Bowl linebacker, Hunter is a converted safety who made the move to linebacker in the 2022 season, so he's still a bit raw for the position. That said, he brings a cover skill set and has production to back it up, with 11 ball disruptions (pass breakups and interceptions combined) over the course of 26 games as a starter. He should look like a natural in these position drills.

Kalen DeLoach (Florida State) – One of the more slender linebackers in Indianapolis at a wiry 201 pounds (his official listed weight from the Shrine Bowl last month), DeLoach racked up not just pass coverage production, but pass rush numbers as well, posting seven sacks this year as a senior to go along with a pick, a pair of pass breakups, and a defensive touchdown as well. A former four-star recruit with a compact frame, DeLoach has 38 starts under his belt and should look comfortable playing in space on the Lucas Oil turf.

Best Stories

All of these players have great stories to tell, but who has taken the most unique journey to get to this point?

Jeremiah Trotter Jr. (Clemson) – I had to lead this category off with the most recognizable name from the bunch. The son of the Axe Man had a great three-year stay at Clemson, stuffing the stat sheet in every which way. The true junior posted 13 sacks, four picks, two touchdowns, a pair of forced fumbles, and 29.5 TFLs in just 26 starts. He was EVERYWHERE for the Tigers. Last spring, former Clemson star pass rusher KJ Henry told me Trotter came out of the womb ready to play linebacker and was responsible for getting the entire defense lined up. Former teammate Baylon Spector told me the previous year, in the spring of 2022, that it was really easy to see some of the elder Trotter in the younger Trotter's game.

Junior Colson (Michigan) – Regarded by some analysts as the top linebacker in the country this year, Colson started 36 of a possible 43 games during his three-year career with the Wolverines. He's excellent in the run game, has excellent size (listed at 6-foot-3, 247 pounds), and has more than enough range and quickness to be a three-down presence. Originally born in Haiti, Colson came to America as a 9-year-old, picked up football, and never looked back.

Steele Chambers (Ohio State) – Not only does Chambers have one of the best names in the draft class, but his backstory is pretty fun as well. A four-star recruit who was viewed as an "athlete" coming out of high school as both a running back and linebacker, Chambers actually started his career on offense with the Buckeyes, carrying the ball 19 times for 135 yards (more than 7.0 yards per carry) and a score as a true freshman in 2019. He stayed on the offensive side for one more season before fully transitioning to defense as a true junior in 2021, where he became a two-year starter at linebacker.

Zach Cunningham at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2017
Zach Cunningham at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2017

Fly Eagles Fly

How did the current Philadelphia Eagles perform out in Indianapolis? We'll take a look at one number or performance from the current depth chart that stood the test of time.

Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt) – Zach Cunningham proved to be a solid run defender when available for the Eagles this past fall, and a big reason for that was his length. Back in 2017, he checked in at the Combine with 34 3/8" arms, the fourth-longest arms of any linebacker drafted in the last decade. Cunningham's length has served him well both at the point of attack in the run game as well as when rushing the passer over the course of his career.

Significant Stats

These are the players of note with a special statistic or measurement that sets them apart from their peers.

Nathaniel Watson (Mississippi State) – If you want to talk about checking boxes, Watson does that. Size? He's 6-foot-2, 244 pounds with a nearly 81-inch wingspan. Athleticism? He's a slippery athlete with sideline-to-sideline range who consistently made plays on the other side of the line. Experience? He's got 39 starts logged in the SEC – check. Tackling? He's got a missed tackle rate of 7.0 percent over the course of his career, the second-best (behind Colson) in this group. Lastly, production? Yeah, check this one too with 377 tackles over the course of his career, and look at these numbers from the past two seasons: 25 TFLs, 16 sacks, 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, and a partridge in a pear tree. Watson backed that up by winning the Practice Player of the Week Award among the linebackers for the American Squad at the Senior Bowl last month.

Cedric Gray (North Carolina) – Like Watson, Gray is a guy who stuffs the stat sheet. He's more of a throwback player at 6-foot-2, 232 pounds with a stout, downhill presence, but he showed enough range to post 377 stops in the ACC the last few seasons. He also has a knack for getting the ball back – his 18 ball disruptions (interceptions and PBUs) is one of the highest marks in the class, and he had five forced fumbles to boot. There's some T.J. Edwards to his profile.

Darius Muasau (UCLA) – A four-year college starter, first at Hawaii and then at UCLA, Muasau has played more defensive snaps than any linebacker drafted in the last decade, and the production has followed him despite that high amount of reps. An outstanding blitzer who stacked up sack production, Muasau was a disruptive force downhill for the Bruins and has been a forceful presence on special teams as well throughout his career. It's easy to see the role he can carve out for himself in the league.

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" 40-yard dash time? What about arm length? The broad jump? Here's what the average player drafted at each position has looked like over the last decade (based on my own personal research).

Height: 6013 (6'1 3/8")

Weight: 235 pounds

Hand Size: 958 (9 5/8")

Arm Length: 3218 (32 1/8")

Wingspan: 7728 (77 1/4")

Unofficial 40-Time (Stopwatch): 4.60 seconds

Official 40-Time (Laser): 4.64 seconds

10-Yard Split: 1.59 seconds

3-Cone Drill: 7.07 seconds

Short Shuttle: 4.28 seconds

Broad Jump: 121"

Vertical Jump: 35"

The Rest of the Pack

Everyone else who will take part in the events in Indianapolis (in alphabetical order):

Michael Barrett (Michigan), JD Bertrand (Notre Dame), Tatum Bethune (Florida State), Aaron Casey (Indiana), Edgerrin Cooper (Texas A&M), Khalid Duke (Kansas State), Tommy Eichenberg (Ohio State), Easton Gibbs (Wyoming), Ty'Ron Hopper (Missouri), Curtis Jacobs (Penn State), Tyrice Knight (UTEP), Marist Liufau (Notre Dame), Jordan Magee (Temple), Gabriel Murphy (UCLA), Maema Njongmeta (Wisconsin), Zion Tupuola-Fetui (Washington)

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