Fran Duffy's Combine Preview: Linebacker

Considered one of the shallower positions in the 2019 NFL Draft talent pool, this linebacker class may not have the depth of other groups, but there’s still a lot of talent. It starts at the top, where I see a couple of potential Top 25 selections. There are some very interesting under-the-radar prospects after that who have starting potential in the NFL. Here are my scouting reports on some of the top players who will be at next week’s NFL Scouting Combine.

Top Pick

This is the player who I feel is at the top of the class coming into the event.

Devin White, LSU

Similar in a lot of ways to 2018 first-round pick Roquan Smith, Devin White is built for today’s NFL. A fireball of explosive power at the second level of the LSU defense, White played from sideline to sideline with ease, flying around the field with – sometimes to a fault – reckless abandon. A high-motor player with outstanding physical tools, White should test very well and should be the first linebacker off the board in April's draft. He should be one of the league’s best at the position in relatively short order if he can develop into a more reliable tackler.

Workout Warrior

This is the player who I expect to see perform best in the athletic testing portion of the workout.

Vosean Joseph, Florida

I watched Joseph for the first time this week and I have to say, he’s one of the most gifted athletes in this draft at the linebacker position. The junior has silly speed closing from behind, changes direction at top gear with no issue, and is one of the most explosive players in a short area that I’ve studied over the last few years. Joseph is only listed at 226 pounds on the Gators' website, so his size could be an issue for him in the NFL. Despite his severe lack of size, I think Joseph has both the eye discipline and the competitiveness to make it as a starter in the NFL much like Telvin Smith out of Florida State a few years ago. I’m excited to see him in person.

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!

T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin

Entering the year, Edwards was one of my favorite senior linebackers in the country, and he finished his career much like the first three campaigns had gone. A four-year starter in a pro-style 3-4 scheme, Edwards is tough, instinctive, has great ball skills, and was a tackling machine for the Badgers. He wasn’t at the Senior Bowl. He wasn’t even at the Shrine Game. But I’m going to stick to my guns on this kid making it as a future starter at linebacker. I think he’s just athletic enough to be that level of player in the league, and I think he’ll test that way.

Stopwatch Shocker

This is the player who I expect to see test better than most in the media believe they will perform based off of current projections.

Devin Bush, Michigan

The rap on Devin Bush is that he's a productive, tough, instinctive middle linebacker with questionable athleticism and movement skills. I don’t think that’s entirely true after watching his tape. It’s true that the junior and two-year starter has good instincts and plays angry, but he’s also an explosive athlete who impressed me with his straight-line movement skills. Now, we will see what the shuttle times look like, which will help paint a picture of his lateral agility and change-of-direction skills. Even in those areas, I don’t think he’s a liability in space. To me, Bush looks like an NFL three-down middle linebacker.

Will Kill The Drills

This is the player who may or may not be a great athlete, but he will look the best in the position-specific drills after the athletic portion of the workout.

Mack Wilson, Alabama

The players who stand out most in position drills at the linebacker spot are the ones who are both fluid and violent. Mack Wilson is both. Not only will he test well in the athletic portion of the workout, but I expect Wilson to be very impressive in bag and coverage drills next Sunday. On the field, the question with Wilson will be his play-recognition skills, as he has been prone to false-stepping in the past. However, he’s got the movement skills to make up for it, like many of today’s stars at the position, and he’s also a fantastic coverage player.

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.

Dakota Allen, Texas Tech

If I’m not mistaken, this will be the first time that we’ve had a player who starred in the Netflix docuseries Last Chance U make it to the Combine, and that player is Dakota Allen. The senior appeared in Season 2 of the show during his time at East Mississippi Community College, a result of being kicked out of Texas Tech in 2015 after a burglary charge. Allen was one of the most likable players the show has ever featured, in my opinion. He did everything he needed to get back in the good graces of the university, and returned to Texas Tech after his year away as a team captain and led the Red Raiders in tackles in 2017 and was second on the team this past season. Allen is a bit undersized, but he’s got a great motor and I think he reads the run very well. He has NFL talent and, in my opinion, is a draftable prospect based on film study. Still, has he fully put his past behind him? He’ll look to answer the hard questions at night in team interviews.

Most Productive College Player

This is the player who produced at the highest level, either in his final year in college or throughout his entire career.

Terrill Hanks, New Mexico State

Only Azeez Al-Shaair (397) from Florida Atlantic has more career tackles than Terrill Hanks (391). No one has more tackles for loss (44) or ball disruptions (interceptions and pass breakups combined, 22) than the New Mexico State star. A four-year starter, Hanks is a converted high school safety who stepped on campus right away and made an impact. An athletic kid who loves to hit, Hanks has outstanding length for the position and uses that to his advantage while navigating through traffic and dealing with contact. He needs to be a more consistent tackler and be a bit more decisive with his reads, but he absolutely has starting potential. His stock was helped by a strong week at the Senior Bowl, and I think that momentum will carry through to his trip to Indianapolis.

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 their NFL future through my eyes.

Germaine Pratt, N.C. State

A former safety for the Wolfpack, Pratt made the move to linebacker and, despite backing up a trio of seniors two seasons ago, actually was fourth on the team in tackles as a junior. For that reason, entering his senior year, he was billed as a prospect on the rise. A physical, downhill player, Pratt is an aggressive, fast-flow linebacker with the toughness and instincts needed to be a starter in the NFL. To me, there are a lot of similarities between Pratt and 2018 mid-round pick Oren Burks, who was drafted by the Green Bay Packers out of Vanderbilt. Despite being a former safety, Burks, like Pratt, was known more for his abilities in the box as opposed to playing out in space.

Best Story

Let’s face it, all of these players have great stories to tell, but which guy has taken the most unbelievable journey to get to this point in their career? Here’s the one that has caught my eyes (and ears) the most.

Sione Takitaki, BYU

I studied Takitaki before heading down to the East-West Shrine Game, and on film, he was one of my favorite prospects at that event. That carried itself out at the week of practice as well, where he consistently was around the football in team drills. The youngest of seven children, Takitaki was forced to deal with the passing of his father when he was just in eighth grade. That adversity led him down the wrong path. He was a star athlete in high school and earned a scholarship to BYU, but he got himself into trouble once he arrived at BYU. As detailed in this piece from Rick Egan, Takitaki was suspended three times in his first couple of seasons on campus despite having success right away as an edge player on that defense.

He may have been getting into trouble, but he also met the love of his life, as his future wife was also a student-athlete for the Cougars. After his third suspension, Takitaki knew he had to get his life in order. He got married, got his academics back on the right path, worked his way back onto the team, and was actually the BYU MVP (ahead of fellow linebacker Fred Warner, a second-round pick in 2018 who I loved on film) in his first year back. Takitaki was voted as a team captain in 2018, and again was a productive player on the BYU defense.

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 very bright future in the NFL.

Jahlani Tavai, Hawaii

A productive four-year starter for the Rainbow Warriors, Jahlani Tavai comes from a football family as he’s one of a handful of brothers who is playing or has played Division I football. Tavai has been a consistent producer during his time on campus. Tavai adjusted to a new scheme this year and lined up in several spots, including off the edge, stacked as a middle linebacker, and out in space over the slot. An athletic kid with an extremely high motor and a mean streak to match, Tavai is truly one of the sleepers of the draft at this point. He is a player who will likely be viewed as a "late riser" throughout the process. I have to credit NFL Draft analyst Dane Brugler of The Athletic, who has been pounding the table for this kid since the summer.

Philly Connection

This is the player with a special tie to the City of Brotherly Love or to the Eagles who you should keep a close eye on in Indianapolis.

Bobby Okereke, Stanford

A three-year starter for former Eagles assistant coach David Shaw and the Cardinal, Okereke has excellent length. His arms are longer than any linebacker drafted in the last decade. He is also a really instinctive player with outstanding eyes against the run, and is a tough, downhill 'backer. He’s not a great athlete, but he has a very good idea of how to play the position and comes from a pro-style scheme. I would view Okereke as a player with a high floor entering the league. What’s his connection to Philadelphia outside of Shaw? He already has a Philadelphia athlete in his family tree! His cousin, Amobi Okugo, played for the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer from 2010-14.

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 for any given position? What about arm length? The broad jump? Here’s what the average player drafted has looked like over the last decade (by my records).

Linebackers
Height 6-1 1/4"
Weight 239 pounds
Hand Size 9 5/8 inches
Arm Length 32 3/8 inches
Wingspan 77 1/2 inches
Unofficial 40 Time 4.66 seconds
Official 40 Time 4.70 seconds
10-Yard Split 1.61 seconds
3-Cone Drill 7.08 seconds
Short Shuttle 4.29 seconds
Broad Jump 118 inches
Vertical Jump 34.5 inches

Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show 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 the Journey 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.

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