Apr 102022
 
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Nakobe Dean, Georgia Bulldogs (September 11, 2021)

Nakobe Dean – © USA TODAY Sports

LINEBACKERS

90+ All Pro Projection

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

1: Nakobe Dean – Georgia – 5’11/229

Grade: 82

Summary: Junior entry from Horn Lake, Mississippi. Two-year starter (2020 and 2021) that was also a key contributor to the 2019 defense that was loaded with NFL talent, earning the team’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year Award. Capped his career off earning 1st Team All SEC and 1st Team All American honors. Dean, a third-year graduate with a mechanical engineering degree, has the make-up and production of a key difference maker in the middle of the defense. He was the leader of the pack at Georgia, a defense (a linebacker unit in particular) packed with pro talent on a National Champion squad. His speed and range, against both the run and pass, will be an immediate weapon at the next level. He brings instant energy and pop to the defense. The size is a credible concern and remember, the talent around him was unlike anything we have seen in recent years in college football. He fits into a space-friendly role, ideally on the weak side, where he can roam and allow his legs to make a difference. The size can be schemed around, and his speed/power combination will make an immediate difference.

*I do like Dean. I often have to remind some that of the 1,500+ guys that start the process, having someone finish in the top 25 overall means I like them a lot. That said, taking Dean high in the draft would worry me. If NYG trades down into the teens or 20s, then I would endorse taking him. But top 10? I just don’t see it being a great decision considering the position he plays and there will be guys graded higher. Dean has the speed and maneuverability that is fun to watch. But that size is REALLY below the line I want, especially with the scheme Martindale will be bringing to the table. Dean has a shot at being Jonathan Vilma and to be real, I thought Vilma was much more physical against blockers and a stouter inside defender.

2: Devin Lloyd – Utah – 6’3/237

Grade: 82

Summary: Fifth year senior from Chula Vista, CA. Three-year starter that earned All-Pac 12 honors all three seasons, first team in both 2020 and 2021. A consensus 2021 All American, Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year, and AP Defensive Player of the Year. Lloyd is a highly decorated linebacker that produced his way into big time recognition. A former three-star recruit, Lloyd’s intangibles and love for the game outproduced expectations across the board. The military kid brings great discipline to the table that has defensive leader written all over him. Physically, Lloyd plays with instant speed and burst that always convert to power. He pursues sideline to sideline, makes plays behind the line of scrimmage on a routine basis, and is a true three down threat. He can do it all and will surely be a green dot quarterback of a defense that can change the personality and speed of a front seven right away.

*I went back and forth with Lloyd finishing slightly above Dean, slightly below Dean, and right there with Dean. They end up with the same grade and I think it is a coin flip when it comes to who gets taken first. It will be based on scheme. Lloyd has enormous size advantages. He is 3 inches taller, about 10 pounds heavier about 1 inch longer, and about 4 inches wider. Those things do matter when their play-grades are similar. Lloyd looks like the ideal fit in Martindale’s scheme. When you talk about guys that can line up anywhere, keep a defense guessing, and make a difference in a variety of ways, Lloyd is the prototype. In 2018, I had Darius Leonard as a top 8 overall player on my board in the entire draft. He went in the 2nd round to IND and is now a two-time All Pro. Lloyd has some Leonard-type vibes in his game but what kept him a little lower is important. Lloyd lacks instincts and gap integrity against the inside run. It popped up often and I can’t ignore it. He blitzed more than any linebacker in the draft by a wide margin and it inflated the numbers a bit. Still a very fine player and can be a difference maker but like Dean, I can’t justify top 10 here. Maybe if they trade down, maybe.

3: Quay Walker – Georgia – 6’4/241

Grade: 82

Summary: Senior entry from Cordele, GA. Spent one season as a full-time starter but played a lot throughout both 2019 and 2020 in Georgia’s rotation-heavy defense. Walker has an elite set of tools to work with. He is tall and long with tremendous speed and power. He has experience in multiple roles along the front seven and could benefit from a creative defensive coach putting him into different spots based on situations. He shows a lot of hesitation post-snap when it comes to making reads and flowing to the action at the right time. He is also uncomfortable in coverage despite the wide wingspan and athletic lower half. The strengths and weaknesses in his game are very blunt and easy to see. If he is put into the right role and kept out of other specific ones, he can be a star.

*Between Walker, Dean, and Lloyd, this is the one with the highest ceiling. Walker stood out to me the day I watched this Georgia defense more than anyone on it. The glimpses he shows are truly elite. The tools, the alpha-male mentality and presence, and physical nature. Walker is the guy that Georgia coaches said scares opponents the most. Not just the talent and ability, but how hard he can hit guys. He inflicts pain both in traffic and in space. Walker just doesn’t completely know what he is doing yet in terms of making reads. It is incredibly important to playing linebacker to show that kind of feel. He goes back and forth there. I think there is a sneaky pass rusher here too for what it is worth. He has rush moves and bend that did not get enough looks in that defense. I have a feeling Martindale is going to love this kid as a potential 2nd rounder.

4: Leo Chenal – Wisconsin – 6’3/250

Grade: 80

Summary: Junior entry from Grantsburg, WI. Two-year starter that broke out in a big way in 2021, earning second-team All American honors in addition to first team All-Big 10. Winner of the 2021 Butkus-Fitzgerald Award, given to the conference’s top linebacker. Chenal is a unique prospect. He brings plus size to the table but also shows impressive straight line burst and closing speed. He uses both traits to maximum effectiveness against the inside run and as a blitzer. He is such a densely built, powerful defender that can dominate blockers and ball carriers alike. The question will be how usable he can be on passing downs in a league where teams are throwing at record rates. He struggles with lateral movement in coverage and does not have the feel in space that he does in traffic. To combat that, however, is how well he can blitz up the middle and get into the backfield. He will not be an ideal fit for every scheme, but a system that can hide the few weaknesses in his game will get themselves a big-time difference maker.

When it comes to the off-ball linebacker spots, Chenal is just one of 7 players over the past 5 years to measure in at 250+ at the combine. Out of those 7 players, Chenal was the only one to run a 4.55 AND jump 40+ on the vertical AND run a sub 7.00 3-cone. In fact, those workout metrics at 250+ pounds for the linebacker position had never once been combined, ever. I want to paint the picture how rare of an athlete this kid is at his size. Chenal is a chew-glass defender too. The tape he has against Iowa’s OC Tyler Linderbaum alone brought Linderbaum down a couple tiers on my grading sheet. If Chenal can learn to play more fluid in coverage and as a lateral mover, he has star written all over him. If NYG goes linebacker day two, I will even say it is likely Chenal is their guy.

5: Christian Harris – Alabama – 6’0/226

Grade: 78

Summary: Junior entry from Baton Rouge, LA. Three-year starter that finished top five on the team in tackles all three seasons. Harris is a speed demon that will immediately be one of the fastest players at the position in the league. He can move with almost anyone the opposing offense gives the ball to and that can be a major weapon for a defense. Harris is no slouch against blockers, but he is at his best away from traffic. He doesn’t feel the action soon enough and it often puts him in a bad position. In addition, Harris gets beat up in coverage repeatedly no matter the role. He has a lot of work to do but that speed and physical nature is enticing. If a coach can enhance his instincts and reaction time, Harris has the upside of a high-end weak side linebacker in a four-man front.

*Harris has been a tough guy to watch. I am so used to watching a certain kind of linebacker from Alabama. A fast thumper that excels downhill. Harris is not. They did try him in that role, but he failed. Harris does not play assignment-savvy football. He is not the guy you want in the middle of the defense putting others in position, feeling his way through traffic, and playing with gap integrity. They moved him to the weak side, and he played the best football of his career. Get Harris in space, let him chase, and he will make things happen. Teams need to be careful with what they expect from him but if he is your complement to a reliable, steady inside thumper, he will do damage.

6: Troy Andersen – Montana State – 6’3/243

Grade: 78

Summary: Fifth year senior from Dillon, MT. Began his career as a running back and linebacker, earning Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year honors in 2017. Made the move to quarterback in 2018 and earned first-team All-Big Sky honors before moving to linebacker in 2019 where he also earned a first team placement. Andersen shifted to inside linebacker in 2021 and took his game to an even higher level. The FCS ADA National Player of Year, Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, and first-team All American left the program as one of its most decorated players ever. Andersen’s frame and long speed in combination with a natural feel for the game will be an enticing skill set for the league. He will not be ready right away, as he needs to strengthen his lower half and improve his presence against blockers, but the special teams presence will be there and his margin for potential growth his huge.

*This is a rare situation where I see a team using a day two pick on a linebacker with the idea of only allowing him to play special teams as a rookie. Andersen is one of the most unique players in the entire class. Say it with me. He was a first team All-Conference quarterback just a few years ago. Now he is one of the top triangle-numbers at the position. His play style reminds me a ton of Buffalo linebacker Matt Milano, except Andersen is light years ahead when it comes to tools. He won’t get away with what he did in college when it comes to reaction time, but the ability to cover, close, and finish is going to be a weapon in a year or two.

7: Chad Muma – Wyoming – 6’3/239

Grade: 77

Senior entry from Lone Tree, CO. Two-year starter that earned first team All-Mountain West honors in 2021. Muma, a former safety, transitioned to linebacker in 2019 after standing out on special teams a true freshman in 2018. Slowly but surely, he added mass and learned the mental side enough to lead the conference in tackles and tackles for loss as a senior. In fact, he finished just one tackle shy of leading all of FCS in tackles. Muma is a guy that is found all over the field. His acceleration and top end speed reach the sidelines, drops into deep coverage with ease, and pursues from behind all at high levels. He is fast and plays fast. Muma is also an excellent tackler on the move and in the open field. His overall power presence leaves a little too much on the table right now. He doesn’t play a strong, stout, or powerful game and while it may not have been exposed in the soft Mountain West schedule, it will be an issue in the pros. He is going to be a demon on special teams and should impact the defense on passing downs early on, but he will not be an every down player for at least a year. The ceiling is high though if he can continue the current trajectory he is on.

*Similar to Andersen, I would like to see Muma stay away from defense in year one while he gets bigger and stronger. He could possibly be a dime linebacker considering how well he moves and the experience he has at safety, however. Muma has a good natural feel for the game, and he is fun to watch on the move. There is something about his short area movement that worries me just a little. He gets high-hipped and without a stout style against blockers, that could make life difficult in the NFL. However, in a pass-happy league, Muma brings things to the table that most of these other guys do not.

8: Channing Tindall – Georgia – 6’2/230

Grade: 77

Senior entry from Columbia, SC. One-year starter that earned second team All-SEC in 2021. Tindall had a hard time getting on the field on a consistent basis his first three seasons with the Bulldogs. His patience paid off, however, as he showed enough as a senior to warrant a slot in the 2022 NFL Draft. Tindall’s standout trait is speed that is converted into violence. He plays fast, angry, and borderline undisciplined with the hope that any issues that come from the latter are made up by the former. Tindall does not always know what he’s doing, but there is something about a player that can reach this rate of movement with such tenacity and sure tackling. His size could be an issue against blockers here and there but if he is protected within the scheme he plays, he can be a playmaker and personality changer for a defense.

*Prior to the start of the 2021 season, I talked to a SEC position coach, and he said to get on this kid before everyone else. The Georgia linebackers were the best in the country by a wide margin and I was told this kid was the fastest and most physical one. He was right. Tindall plays at a different speed, and he is someone you don’t want to get hit by. If he gets with the right coach and a team can be patient with him, there is some star-potential here. Remember, he is not nearly as experienced as most of these guys and progressing at linebacker is all about seeing live snaps. Tindall is yet another high-ceiling linebacker that can truly change a group. I would love to see him fall to NYG in round 4.

9: Brian Asamoah – Oklahoma – 6’0/226

Grade: 76

Fourth year junior entry from Columbus, OH. Two-year starter that earned second team All-Big 12 honors in 2021. Asamoah is a fun player to watch that will bring instant speed and energy to a defense. His hustle, grit, and determination stand out on tape week to week. He is a defender that can pursue sideline to sideline and show range in coverage. He struggles to stay disciplined against the inside run when it comes to gap control and fighting off blockers. The tools and violence are there but he needs to prove he will do things the right way rather than simply rely on speed. He should be a demon on special teams and a solid backup early on while he cleans up the technique and mental side of the game. His best fit would be within a 4-3 scheme on the weak side.

*I’m not sure Asamoah will fit into the new Giants defensive scheme, but he is still a fine player that brings the heat. Asamoah’s size may be an initial downgrade to some, but he has long arms for his frame. If he gets better at using them, and he has shown glimpses of doing so, he could fit better to an inside role. Asamoah will be a weapon on special teams, no question.

10: Jesse Luketa – Penn State – 6’3/257

Grade: 74

Summary: Senior entry from Ottawa, ON. Two-year starter that earned honorable mention All-Big 10 honors in 2021. Luketa, a two-time team captain brings a unique skill set to the table. He is shorter than traditional edge rushers and has seen over a season’s worth of snaps lined up as an off-ball linebacker. His natural and powerful bend combined with plus-arm length, however, creates a tough assignment for blockers. He is tough to square up and the techniques he shows when it comes to his hands and footwork can manufacture disruption. He has solid football sense moving downhill in traffic and plus-quickness within a phone booth. The versatility can help his cause in the right scheme, but most of his time should be spent coming off the edge where he can be a disruptive three-down asset.

*I moved Luketa back and forth between EDGE and LB a couple times. For what it’s worth, he can be in either group. His size screams the former, his play style screams the latter. I liked him a bit more initially than where I have him right now. As I looked deeper into his game and watched the All-22, I think he is going to be a rotational guy at best. That is not a bad thing by the way, it simply is where I would peg him in the draft. I think NYG will love the versatility and toughness, but I question if he can do anything at a high enough level to be on the field every down. I don’t see it right now, but I want to reiterate I think he can be a guy that sees 10+ snaps a game to exploit matchups and I do see a solid special teamer here. I also have some concern about the body type as he is scary thin below the waist. An odd ball prospect here that I have a hard time finding a comparison to.

11: Brandon Smith – Penn State – 6’3/250

Grade: 74

Summary: Junior entry from Louisa, VA. Two-year starter that earned third team All-Big 10 honors in 2021. Smith is going to impress with prototype measurements and speed for the position. He looks the part and plays an explosive style of football. He has true sideline to sideline range and brings top end burst and agility. The upside with this kind of athlete is high. The issues on tape are hard to ignore, however. He is a poor form tackler than will miss too often. He does not read the inside run well and there is very little gap integrity to his play. He is a freelancer that opposing teams can expose regularly. In time, Smith has the ability to develop into a quality player if he dives in headfirst to enhancing his techniques, decision making, and discipline. If not, he is destined for backup duty.

*Before the year, a guy I work with had Smith as one of the top 45 players in the class. He simply did not step up the way someone like Christian Harris did in 2021. He has excellent triangle numbers. He has rare length (34.5 inch arms), he has 4.5 speed that shows up on tape, and he can make plays behind the line of scrimmage (17 TFL in the last 21 games). That alone can get a guy a mid-round pick. I have a feeling we will see Smith in the league for a long time, way beyond his rookie deal. Coaches will see the tools and occasional plays on tape and think they can mold him. For me, the missed tackles and freelancing are too often for the tools to look that attractive. He could be a draft weekend surprise, one scout told me “day 2 for us”. I couldn’t believe it, but tools are tools.

12: Darian Beavers – Cincinnati – 6’4/237

Grade: 74

Summary: Fifth year senior from Cincinnati, OH. Spent 2017 and 2018 at Connecticut before transferring to Cincinnati. Four-year starter between the two programs. Second team All-AAC in 2020, first team in 2021. Was also a Butkus Award Finalist in his final season. Beavers brings a unique tool set to the table and it was used all over the front seven in college. He primarily lined up off the ball, but he saw over 250 snaps along the edge on-line over his three years at Cincinnati. The heaviness in his hands and overall ability to play both stout and fast should get the attention of versatile defensive schemes. He does not play very sudden and there are too many inconsistencies with his tackling and aggression in space. There won’t be a fit for him in every scheme but at the same time, he can bring versatility to a multiple-front defense that others cannot.

*I have in my notes from the 2021 season that Beavers “…looks like an old school Steeler or Patriot…” Some make the mistake that Baltimore (Martindale/Ryan) went after the same personnel. I don’t agree. Martindale wants a bit more speed and twitch in his linebackers and even though Beavers tested OK with times, he doesn’t always play fast. I will say this though: He is an alpha. Beavers is a mean, powerful dude and he did line up all over the front seven. That said, he was not a very successful outside rusher.

13: JoJo Domann – Nebraska – 6’1/228

Grade: 72

Sixth year senior entry from Colorado Springs, CO. Four-year starter that began his career as a safety before moving to linebacker full time prior to the 2019 season. Ended his career earning second team All-Big 10 and second team All-American honors. Domann is going to be a space linebacker, one that can come on the field in sub packages and offer slightly better pass defense than a traditional Sam or Mike. His burst to the ball and no-fear, no-hesitation will play fast. He is a physical playmaker that will force fumbles and often find himself at the right place at the right time. Domann may not have the tools to fit as an every down player, but his value on special teams and on passing downs will create solid value and versatility.

*The experience Domann has at safety is going to help him in the league. His speed in space whether it is pursuit or coverage shows up. He can cover backs and I think he could hang with the motion tight ends too. I would not want to bring him in as an every down guy, but he will make the impact you want on special teams at the very least. If I had separate grades for special teamers, Domann would probably be near the top of the list. That is worth drafting mid-day three for sure. He has the kind of skill set that some teams value, possibly even at the beginning of day three.

14: Kyron Johnson – Kansas – 6’0/230

Grade: 72

Fifth year senior from Arlington, TX. Three-year starter that earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors in 2020. Johnson bounced back and forth between off ball linebacker and a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker spot. He was a Swiss Army knife type that brought the kind of skill set to the table that was used in multiple roles. The standout trait here is undoubtedly speed and burst merged with great length. His ability to accelerate off the ball and blocks can be a weapon from anywhere on the field. He measures too small to be an every down edge player, but his impact there can still be felt on sure-passing downs. He will need time to develop the skill set as an off-ball linebacker, notably in coverage and defending the inside run. This kind of speed and relentless pursuit does not come around often though, and his upside is sky-high.

*Johnson was the biggest combine snub in the class, and I don’t think it was close. I can come up with 50+ guys, maybe more, that Johnson should have been there in place of. I think the lack of size and knowing he was pretty much exclusively an edge defender turned the deciding minds off. I like the idea of trying to transition him to an off-ball spot while still using him as a pass rusher on 3rd down. He has some high-quality tape against credible NFL prospects. He has the athletic ability (4.40 forty and 6.98 3-cone) to move well in coverage. He showed well there at his Pro Day (not the same, I know). This is one of my guys for day 3, just have a good feeling about him.

15: D’Marco Jackson – Appalachian State – 6’1/233

Grade: 71

Summary: Fifth year senior from Spartanburg, SC. Three-year starter that earned All-Sun Belt honors in both 2020 and 2021, first team in 2021. Also won the conference Defensive Player of the Year Award in his final season. Jackson was quietly one of the better interior run defenders from the linebacker position in the nation over the past two years. He has a great first step and plays an aggressive, low-to-ground style tat blockers have a hard time squaring up. Jackson does not play a good cover-game and he gets a little tight in lateral pursuit. He could be an ideal fit for a 3-4 front where he can zero in on defense between the tackles. He may never be a starter, but Jackson will be a reliable backup capable of stepping and keeping things together if the starter goes down.

*Jackson is the kind of day three prospect that, if put into the right defense, comes in and shines brighter that several guys taken ahead of him. He won’t be a guy that creates a ton on his own, but he does know how to dominate his niche. He can play the interior running game very well. Reliable player in that regard, limited elsewhere.

BEST OF THE REST

16: Terrel Bernard – Baylor – 6’1/224: 71
17: Chance Campbell – Mississippi – 6’2/232: 71
18: Tariq Carpenter – Georgia Tech – 6’2/230: 71
19: Damone Clark – LSU – 6’2/239: 70
20: Malcolm Rodriguez – Oklahoma State – 5’11/232: 70
21: Aaron Hansford – Texas A& M – 6’2/239: 70
22: Nate Landman – Colorado – 6’2/238: 70
23: Mike Rose – Iowa State – 6’4/245: 70
24: Zakoby McClain – Auburn – 5’11/228: 69
25: Ellis Brooks – Penn State – 6’1/226: 69
26: Jake Hansen – Illinois – 6’1/238: 69
27: Jeremiah Moon – Florida – 6’5/249: 69
28: Jack Sanborn – Wisconsin – 6’2/234: 69
29: Darien Butler – Arizona State – 5’10/221: 68
30: Micah McFadden – Indiana – 6’1/240: 68
31: Nephi Sewell – Utah – 5’11/226: 68

NYG APPROACH

The linebackers in this new defensive scheme will have a unique feel to them. I want to say they’re going to be “really important” but I would say that about all the positions depending on what angle we are discussing. So, I’ll keep that under my tongue. The linebackers DO need to be versatile. I don’t seem them sticking with a classic thumper or a guy that lacks a standout trait. Those types work well in certain schemes, but I think this new regime will want guys that can do multiple things. They all need to defend the run well with plus power and speed. Beyond that, the need a specialty such as blitz/pass rush or coverage. This is a LB class that I love for that kind of approach, notably on day 2. There isn’t a much depth in that round 4-5 area that I usually see, but there will be plenty of bodies available round 6/7 if NYG does not find value earlier. But when trying to break down guys that fit what NYG wants to do on defense, I can see one of the four picks in rounds 2-4 being spent here. I don’t think Blake Martinez will be in the picture beyond 2022 and Tae Crowder is a rotational or backup at best. NYG may need two guys at this time next year and it would be in their best interest to get one in this draft. Learn the scheme, acclimate to the speed of the NFL, be ready to rock in 2023. Chanel, Walker, and Andersen are all guys I think would be both outstanding picks that can contribute here and there as rookies but will take over as the top dog in 2023. There will be handfuls of names late day three but again, look for the ones that have versatility and specialize either in coverage or the pass rush.

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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.

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