Apr 122018
 
Share Button
Darius Leonard, South Carolina State Bulldogs (December 5, 2017)

Darius Leonard – © USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants 2018 NFL Draft Preview: Linebackers

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

1 – Darius Leonard – South Carolina State – 6’2/234

Grade: 86

Strong Points:

-Physically gifted athlete, top notch speed and burst with an ideal frame
-Reads and reacts in a blink, easy change of direction to pounce on the action
-A sure tackler in space

Weak Points:

-Needs more core strength to handle NFL blockers
-Coming from a lower level of college football
-Doesn’t have a lot of pop behind his hits

Summary:

Two time MEAC Defensive Player of the Year. Four straight years of leading South Carolina State in tackles. I am taking a chance on this kid, as I don’t think anyone has him graded as a 1st round player and I have him in my top 10, maybe top 5 overall. Leonard’s game is impactful all over the place, pop in any game tape and you will see what I mean. This kid can fly all over the place. Leonard is the best cover LB I have seen in a long time. There is a natural sense of decision making and reaction to him. Combined with top tier speed and quickness, he will be a playmaker. Leonard may need a year of a real professional NFL weight training program to get his core strength up to caliber, but when he does he is going to be very dangerous.

NFL Comparison: Telvin Smith / JAC

2 – Roquan Smith – Georgia – 6’1/236

Grade: 84

Strong Points:

¬-Excellent pursuit angles to the outside
-Has the long speed to factor sideline to sideline
-Maintains full power and tackling ability on the move

Weak Points:

-Struggles mightily against straight ahead run blockers
-Staying power isn’t enough for inside run defense
-Has some lower body stiffness when it comes to change of direction in short areas

Summary:

Junior entry. The leader of the SEC in tackles with 137. Smith is a favorite among almost everyone I talk to. A reliable, smart, instinctive, sure tackling, rangy LB that fits in with what the top LBs in the league are doing right now. Smith really got my attention late in the year. He was downright dominant down the stretch in their biggest games. Smith lacks some size and agility that I look for, but his best traits are the most vital. He is almost always in the right place at the right time. If you can put him in a role next to a thumper so that he can roam and make plays on the move, he will be a star. There are limitations though, he may struggle to be THE inside run defender if he isn’t protected.

NFL Comparison Jonathan Vilma / RET

3 – Rashaan Evans – Alabama – 6’2/232

Grade: 83

Strong Points:

-Versatile and capable of handling multiple roles
-Explodes out of his breaks with full power and ability to change direction
-Smart and instinctive

Weak Points:

-Doesn’t maintain his power presence against run blockers
-Over pursues, doesn’t track the cutback lane assignments
-Struggles to make correct reads in coverage

Summary:

2 year starter, most were assuming Evans would be the next first round linebacker from Alabama. He struggled to find a true role, as the coaching staff was bouncing him back and forth, inside/outside. While he was inconsistent, Evans brings the skill set and overall approach that translates to the NFL very well. I think his best role is an inside spot as a thumper that can make the occasional athletic play. Evans is really good at missing the meat of a block with his burst and change of direction. He has the strength and power to make an impact inside and in some situations can rush the edge on passing downs. He is a safe pick that is put in the right scheme can mold in to a star defender.

NFL Comparison: Demario Davis / NO

4 – Tremaine Edmunds – Virginia Tech – 6’4/253

Grade: 80

Strong Points

-Rare blend of size and speed at just 20 years old
-Makes an impact in all phases, perfect for the middle level of the defense
-A weapon on third down as a pass rusher and cover man

Weak Points:

-Instincts are a few steps behind
-Fooled easy on counters and misdirection, poor vision
-Power backs will run through his arm tackles, lacks core strength

Summary:

Junior entry. Will be just 20 years old draft weekend. Has been extremely productive over the past two years across the entire stat sheet. Edmunds is a favorite of scouts and evaluators that are looking for potential upside. His tools are unmatched and he has proven to be more than just an athlete. Edmunds can continue to grow in to his massive frame and end up being an excellent edge rusher, or stay put where he is and be an answer for pass catching tight ends. He is that versatile. However I struggle to see the star in him because he seems to struggle with the game mentally. He doesn’t make fluid and easy decisions and that athleticism can sometime be a detriment. I like him, but I don’t think he is elite.

NFL Comparison: De’Vondre Campbell / ATL

5 – Genard Avery – Memphis – 6’0/248

Grade: 79

Strong Points:

-A violent, borderline reckless truck when it comes to taking on blocks
-Excellent straight line speed that can stop and go on a dime
-Versatility, a three down threat that can wear almost every hat in any scheme

Weak Points:

-Short-limbed that can get locked up by longer, better linemen
-Initial reads are a step behind, gets caught in traffic
-Over pursues, will miss tackles in space

Summary:

Three year starter. 33 TFL and 13.5 sacks over the past two years. Avery has been bounced around the defense not because they couldn’t find a niche for him, but because he does everything at a high level. Avery might be the most powerful LB in this class and he moves exceptionally well. His best role would be an inside thumper that will make the occasional play outside and as a pass rusher, but not one that needs to come off the field on 3rd down. Avery is higher on my board than anything I see out there. I think he is one of the top sleepers in the draft.

NFL Comparison: Jon Bostic / PIT

6 – Leighton Vander Esch – Boise State – 6’4/256

Grade: 78

Strong Points:

-Attractive frame with plus long speed and flexibility
-Aware and quick reacting, understands the game and applies it
-Rangy tackler, will reach ball carriers in traffic that others simply do not

Weak Points

-Plays too high, making him an easy target for blockers
-Hesitant with tight ankles, doesn’t play fast between the tackles
-Needs more core strength, can be knocked off his intended path too easily

NFL Comparison: Jake Ryan / GB

7 – Malik Jefferson – Texas – 6’2/236

Grade: 78

Strong Points:

-Explosive downhill defender that brings the heat on contact
-3 down player that is a fluid and easy mover in coverage
-Violent tackler that blends proper technique and pop, doesn’t miss often

Weak Points:

-Lack of quality movement post-snap, doesn’t move in the right direction
-Too reliant on speed and quickness, not enough on instincts
-Poor angles in lateral pursuit

Summary:

Junior entry. Three year starter that has been all over the stat sheet since coming to Texas. Jefferson has the ability to fly all over the field and make plays against the run and pass. He is a physical downhill defender that has enough size to factor in the power game and enough athleticism to factor in the speed game. He fails to make consistent, simple reads post snap and I think that could limit him in the NFL, however if he is paired with the right surrounding players he can be the mobile playmaker.

NFL Comparison: Zach Brown / WAS

8 – Matthew Thomas – Florida State – 6’3/236

Grade: 76

Strong Points:

-Long, wiry frame that will hold more weight
-Speed and explosion are both near top notch
-Assignment savvy, plays within his role and shows discipline

Weak Points:

-Needs to be more physical at the point of attack
-Doesn’t factor against the inside run enough
-Needs to be a bigger factor in coverage

Summary:

Fifth year senior. Teams will need to look in to his medicals, as he’s been banged up a few different times throughout his career and there have been whispers about some internal sicknesses in the past. I don’t know enough about that to factor it in to the grade, however. Thomas screams upside. His speed and quick twitch matched with a frame that can be molded in to a sturdier piece of work can give off a notion of high upside that can be used in a variety of ways. Thomas plays smart and disciplined. He quietly led the Seminoles in tackles over the past 2 years while adding 21 TFL, most among LBs. There is a really high ceiling here.

NFL Comparison: Jamie Collins / CLE

9 – Devante Downs – California – 6’2/252

Grade: 76

Strong Points

-Has plus power and speed as a downhill defender
-Diagnoses post-snap and swallows a gap in a blink
-Smart and savvy, right place/right time defender

Weak Points:

-Torn ACL halfway through 2017 season, still recovering
-Plays high, needs to trust his footwork and leg drive more
-Long speed can be questioned

Summary:

Three year starter that I started to really zero in on during the 2017 season. He had a credible shot at earning Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors had he stayed healthy. The concern here is that he tore the other ACL in high school, so you can make the argument this prospect is damaged goods that isn’t worth drafting. I don’t feel that way, as I think Downs is the kind of kid I would take a chance on. He looked like a 1st round talent and he is a first class person as well. In a pretty weak LB class overall, Downs can be a big time player if he can stay on the field.

NFL Comparison: Avery Williamson / NYJ

10 – Josey Jewell – Iowa – 6’1/234

Grade: 75

Strong Points:

-Productive, consistent, reliable, always plays within himself
-Makes quick decisions and won’t waste any time acting on it
-Low to the ground and will find his way to the ball one way or another

Weak Points:

-Lack of speed shows up in lateral pursuit
-Struggles to hang with speed and quickness in coverage
-Doesn’t play the power game well against blockers

Summary:

Fifth year senior. Three time team captain. Has been first or second in the Big 10 in tackles for three straight seasons. Jewell is the classic Big 10 linebacker that will impress with production and instincts, but disappoint with overall athleticism and range. I usually like guys like Jewell, but I think there is too much bad tape on him to put him any higher than the mid round region. While I wouldn’t be surprised to see him starting somewhere year one and racking up the tackles, I just don’t see the fit for most schemes. I have a lot of notes on him just being outclassed athletically. Every team can use a guy like this on special teams and the depth chart, but that’s about it for me.

NFL Comparison: Antonio Morrison / IND

11 – Oren Burks – Vanderbilt – 6’3/233

Grade: 74

Strong Points:

-Top tier athlete for the position
-Excels in coverage, easy moving, quick reactions, quality reads
-Plays hard and aggressive against the run

Weak Points:

-Still relatively new to the position, and he plays like it against the run
-Over pursues on outside runs, fails to break down and stay under control
-Doesn’t make a power impact on contact, too many missed tackles

Summary:

Fifth year senior. Began his career as a safety and actually led Vanderbilt in interceptions in 2015. Since then, he has put on almost 20 pounds and could be the best cover LB in the class. Burks still moves like a safety, as he excels in man coverage and shows the kind of range that can factor all over the field. He still lacks the power game inside and as a tackler, but as with most LBs like this, if he finds the right scheme he can be a major weapon. I’m just not sure it will be an every down impact. High ceiling.

NFL Comparison: Tahir Whitehead / OAK

12 – Fred Warner – BYU – 6’3/236

Grade: 74

Strong Points:

-Quick twitched and fast to accelerate straight lines, makes an impact athletically
-A hard nosed bruiser, wants to punch guys in the mouth
-Scrapes over the top of the blockers and finds his lanes

Weak Points:

-Lacks consistent techniques when it comes to tackling and taking on blocks
-Gets lost in traffic as a downhill defender
-Doesn’t carry over his athleticism to coverage

Summary:

3+ year starter. Team leader in tackles and 2nd in TFL each of the past two seasons. Warner is a jack of all trades run stuffer. He hits hard, plays with an aggressive style, and will make tackles all over the field. He enjoys the role of an on-field bully. Warner is a plus athlete that can fit in to multiple roles, but he hasn’t been very good in coverage. That was the case at the Senior Bowl as well. A plus special teamer with a possibility to be more down the road.

NFL Comparison: Jonathan Casillas / FA

13 – Jerome Baker – Ohio State – 6’1/229

Grade: 71

Strong Points:

-Top notch speed and explosion
-Sure tackler on the move, reliable in space
-Shows good instincts and blocker awareness outside the tackles

Weak Points:

-Doesn’t always look like the athlete he is in coverage
-Won’t take on blocks between the tackles well
-Leaves gaping cutback lanes

Summary:

Junior entry. Has received a decent amount of attention because of his plus-athletic ability and big performances on the national stage. But the more I watch of Baker, the less I like. He isn’t a very physical guy and you would think he would be better in coverage. For a team needing some speed on the weak side to pursue, he will have value. But other than that, there are a lot of red flags.

NFL Comparison: Darron Lee / NYJ

14 – Nyles Morgan – Notre Dame – 6’1/230

Grade: 70

Strong Points:

-Active feet when diagnosing plays, always ready to pounce
-Brings the punch as a downhill defender
-Makes himself small to blockers

Weak Points:

-Too many missed tackles in space, needs to wrap up
-Doesn’t adjust well, too much momentum for him to break
-Non factor in coverage

Summary:

Two year starter. Played among some really good talent at the LB position and it both helped and hurt his production. Morgan is a smart player that is at his best between the tackles as a thumper. He needs to clean up his game as a wrap up tackler, however. His impact against the pass won’t be enough to make up for poor tackling. There are some things to work with here, and he will be a very good special teamer.

NFL Comparison: Anthony Hitchens / KC

15 – Micah Kiser – Virginia – 6’0/238

Grade: 69

Strong Points:

-Smart and quick decision maker, like another coach on the field
-Strong and stout against blockers, will knock them back
-Aggressive and sure tackler

Weak Points:

-Lacks range and athletic versatility
-The quick twitch and burst in coverage aren’t there
-Heavy feet, needs a few extra steps to change his path

Summary:

3 year starter. Led the ACC in tackles in 2017 and 2016, 3rd in 2015. Really smart, hard nosed, old school run stuffer than needs a certain role and scheme. If he finds it, he will make an impact against the run. Kiser is smart enough to factor in coverage, but there are holes in his movement that can be exploited.

NFL Comparison: Vince Williams / PIT

16 – Dorian O’Daniel – Clemson – 6’0/223 – GRADE: 69
17 – JaWhuan Bentley – Purdue – 6’2/246 – GRADE: 69
18 – Mike McCray – Michigan – 6’1/243 – GRADE: 69
19 – Travin Howard – TCU – 6’1/220 – GRADE: 68
20 – Skai Moore – South Carolina – 6’2/226 – GRADE: 68
21 – Jack Cichy – Wisconsin – 6’2/238 – GRADE: 67
22 – Garrett Dooley – Wisconsin – 6’2/248 – GRADE: 67
23 – Shaquiem Griffin – Central Florida – 6’0/227 – GRADE: 67
24 – Kenny Young – UCLA – 6’1/236 – GRADE: 66
25 – Tegray Scales – Indiana – 6’0/230 – GRADE: 66

NYG APPROACH

When it comes to the new NYG defensive scheme, it appears they are set with their two starters inside. Goodson is the thumper and Ogletree is the rangy playmaker. Behind them, however, there isn’t much to speak of. As we saw last year, there can be talent brought in off the street that can, if they fit the scheme and role, keep the middle of the defense “good enough.” Depth is an issue, but I’m not sure that issue is strong enough to overlook the other holes in this roster. This isn’t a spot I would look to until the end of the draft unless you see a plus-plus value available. Someone like Leonard in round 2/3 or Avery in round 5 is something that could happen. But it would be hard to pass on OL value at that point for an inside LB.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

David Syvertsen

David Syvertsen, aka Sy'56, has worked for Ourlads Scouting LLC since 2013, starting off as a college depth chart manager and now a lead scout for one the most-sold NFL draft guides year-in, year-out. He has been scouting for over 10 years and will compile anywhere from 400-600 scouting reports per season, with that number increasing year by year. He watches and studies game films 20-25 hours per week throughout the entire year with his main focus being NFL Draft prospects.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.