Layout of the Preview:
1) Brief Positional Overview
2) Top 15 Prospects. Includes Grade, NFL Comparison, Summary, Extra Thoughts
*Comparisons are more about physical profile and play style, NOT projection
3) Grades only: 16-29
90+: All Pro
85+ Pro Bowl
81-84: 1st Round / Year 1 Contributor / Starter
79-80: 2nd Round / Year 1 Contributor / Year 2 Starter
77-78: 3rd Round / Contribute by end of Year 1 / Year 2 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 / Developmental
65-67: Preferred UDFA
4) Positional Approach – Draft Weekend
With the surprise release of Blake Martinez prior to the regular season in 2022 coupled with a season-ending knee injury to Darian Beavers, the Giants were playing from behind at linebacker all year. A new defensive scheme that had an advanced degree in causing confusion from the perspective of the opposing offense was able to somewhat patch the hole over these leaks. Jaylon Smith returned to lead the group in snaps, but it was late-season signing Jarrad Davis who was re-signed this offseason. Day-3 rookie Micah McFadden saw a lot of action and while he offered similar inside run defense to Tae Crowder, who was released in-season, it was not enough to earn an automatic starting nod in 2023. He will compete for the spot next to the team’s biggest signing of the offseason, Bobby Okereke. Having the every-down force and leader at that spot and letting the likes of Davis, McFadden, and Beavers compete for the other spot will make this position much stronger than what it was in 2022.
TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS
1) Trenton Simpson – Clemson – 6’2/235
NFL Comparison: Jerome Baker / MIA
Junior entry. Three-year starter from Charlotte, NC. Third-team All-ACC in 2022. Simpson, the son of a US Army Ranger, played a unique role for the Clemson defense, widely considered one of the best in the country over his tenure. The “overhang linebacker” saw plenty of snaps in the box, as an edge rusher, and defending the slot. He was made for a role like that, as he is one of the fastest (if not the fastest) front seven defenders in the nation. His explosion and build up speed can get him all over the field in a hurry. Look around the ball at the whistle and there is a strong probability Simpson is there. This is a physical player will bring the pop, too. His contact makes a different kind of sound and his victims come up spending some extra time adjusting their chin straps afterward. Simpson played in so many different roles but may not have fully developed into a prototype linebacker. If there is a defensive scheme that can match Simpson’s usage in college, one that favors pursuit and space, he will thrive. Teams must be careful with how much they rely on him between the tackles early on but no matter what, his long-term prognosis is a good one because of the intangibles. He will develop well into whatever role is put in front of him.
After watching a lot of the Martindale scheme over the recent years split between BAL and NYG, it is easy to think Simpson would be an ideal fit. He is fast and physical. He is smart. He will be a tough and dependable player that is mature beyond his years. And most importantly, Simpson is versatile. He can align all over the field and fill multiple roles. Does he have enough natural feel for the game? That is the question. For a guy with the experience and natural intelligence he has, it is hard to figure out why he can’t seem to avoid making mental mistakes. If the coaches think they can mold his mind, Simpson’s talent is no-doubt first round worthy and would be a fun addition next to Okereke. In some ways, he makes a lot of sense at #25.
2) Jack Campbell – Iowa – 6’5/249
NFL Comparison: Leighton Vander Esch / DAL
Senior entry. Two-year starter from Cedar Falls, IA. Two-time first team All-Big Ten and 2022 first team All-American. The two-time team captain fits the mold of the current green dot, Mike linebacker in the NFL. He is a big, country-thick kid with easy tackle-to-tackle range as an inside run stuffer. He brings heavy contact to blockers with accurate hands and a long reach to prevent them from locking in. He has multiple tools in the box to shed and pursue. The footwork may be the most impressive trait. He steps on a lot of ants every play, stays square to the target, and pounces like a lion once the read is made. It allows him to play with proper patience, balance, and control. Campbell’s size and ability to move those feet can keep him on the field against the pass. He has a radius that can disrupt passing lanes with the feel to lengthen his range. The more Campbell plays, the more he helps a defense win. This is a simple and safe player that may get exposed from time to time athletically but other than that, set it and forget it.
*Fun fact. Of the 300+ off ball linebackers I have tracked from the combine dating back to 2010, Campbell is just one of just seven that measure in 6’4.5 or taller. Campbell does not play as fast as Vander Esch, who I compared the skill set to, but he can. He is a quality athlete, and the quick feet show up in coverage, it was the first standout trait I saw in his game. He can be more than a box defender at the next level, I think he simply needs to be unleashed. There are quite a few guys that have come from the Iowa program and took their game to a completely different level. I am not coming down on the school, but I do think there I truth to the concept their style holds guys back a bit. Campbell can easily be considered the top linebacker in the class based on what the defense is calling for. If NYG had to choose Campbell or Simpson, it would be a very tough call.
3) Drew Sanders – Arkansas – 6’4/231
NFL Comparison: Quay Walker / GB
Junior entry. One-year starter from Denton, TX. Spent two seasons at Alabama prior to transferring to Arkansas for 2022. First Team All-SEC and All-American in addition to finishing as a finalist for the Dick Butkus Award. On paper, Sanders hard to look away from. Catch the right portions of the tape and once again, he is hard to look away from. Physically everything is there. He is fast and explosive, quick and agile, powerful and strong. The versatility he brings will give a defense options in any situation. Sanders can credibly play any off-ball linebacker spot, but his best tape is found as a blitzer and/or pass rusher. That was the original plan for him at Alabama but he felt his skill set was better in the role Arkansas had for him. Sanders’ has the tools and mentality, but there is still a lot of rawness in his game. He gets caught out of position at times and has many ugly losses against blockers on tape. There are also way too many missed tackles, and he seems to have an issue diagnosing and playing with instincts. His upside is enough to be considered in round one, but there is risk that comes from a lack of experience.
*Sanders did everything he could in the one season of real playing time he had under his belt heading into the pros. The production was real, there is nothing fake about it. The tools are there and he, by all accounts I have, is a smart kid with zero issues off the field. The one dent in his armor, and the reason why I stack him below the two names above despite having the same grade, is the unknown. Sanders played 1,182 snaps in college, 710 of them off the line. Campbell? 2,027 and 1,965. Simpson? 1,474 and 1,087. That, combined with my general rawness feel I got out of watching him play football get him the very-slight push down. Now the only case Sanders can make a case for finishing above these two, and this will be a very realistic option based on which team we are talking about, it the prowess he shows as a pass rusher. Sanders really can make things happen when he gets after the quarterback. After many hours of watching these three, I have no idea who ends up going first but it will fully depend on the scheme.
4) Ivan Pace Jr – Cincinnati – 5’11/231
NFL Comparison: Nick Bolton / KC
Senior entry. Four-year starter from Cincinnati, OH. Spent three seasons at Miami (OH) before transferring to Cincinnati. Earned first team all-conference honors in the MAC and AAC and was the Defensive Player of the Year in both as well. 2022 first team All-American. It would be foolish to overlook Pace based on his height and lack of radius. While he will have a few measurements that fall well below the standard for linebackers, it has not slowed him down one bit and one could make the argument it is a valuable weapon in his arsenal. Pace is a ball of power. There is an edge to his contact whether he is making tackles or attacking blockers. The short legs play with tremendous stability, quickness, and speed. The instant he diagnoses the play, Pace flips a switch and is moving at his top rate of speed before the others notice the light is on. The natural advantage his pad level gives him against blockers and elite speed to power transfer make him menace to deal with in pursuit. This is a weapon that will make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Whether or not he can improve enough to be a factor in coverage will dictate where he goes because that is the one dent in his armor, and it is a significant one.
*Pace is the linebacker I am taking a chance on this year. I’m not sure how many have him graded as a top 100 player, I don’t pay attention to much in the media. But I have him as a credible second rounder. Look beyond the lack of height and reach for just one minute. Find a player that has accomplished what he did. Defensive Player of the Year in two conferences. 24 sacks from an off-ball linebacker and 41.5 TFL. And the best part? His best football was, by far, after he leveled up in competition. When you see such an anomaly with size, there better be domination elsewhere. Pace Jr has that. As I say in the summary above, he needs to be better in coverage. If he can improve there just a but, he will be a very good player in the NFL.
5) Henry To’oTo’o – Alabama – 6’1/227
Senior entry. Four-year starter, two at Tennessee and two at Alabama. Two-time All-SEC including first team honors in 2022. The former five-start recruit made noise right away in the nation’s toughest conference, finishing second among SEC freshmen in tackles in 2019. He then led Tennessee in tackles in 2020 and added ten tackles for loss. The transfer to Alabama surprised some, but as expected he hit the ground running and led the team in tackles as a junior before finishing second in 2022. Simply put, To’oTo’o is a vacuum to ball carriers. The strength he has between the ears will be an asset to both him and those around him on the defense. He is a true signal caller that gives the group a coach on the field. He will play faster than he times because of it, as seen in the several pursuit-tackles he made against some of the most explosive running backs in FCS. To’oTo’o is an early starter in his career and one that can check all the boxes, including coverage roles. He will be in the league for a long time.
*If you want flashy, go somewhere else. If you want a solid contributor that shows up every week, stay here. This kid made me think of Antonio Pierce so many times over the last two years. Smart, gets guys in the right position, does not come off the field, rarely makes mistakes. While he is not a game-changer, he is the type that coaches know will help win games. You are not going to hear pundits celebrate when he gets drafted, but he is the kind of player that the fanbase truly appreciates years down the road. Is he athletic enough? He chased down Texas A&M Devon Achane, arguably the fastest running back in the draft.
6) Dorian Williams – Tulane – 6’1/228
NFL Comparison: Foyesade Oluokun / JAC
Senior entry. Three-year starter from Indian Land, SC. Three-time All-AAC, first team in 2022. Williams has two main attributes that deserve a second look. One, production. Over the last three seasons (including the Covid year), he has 302 tackles, 28 TFL, 10.5 sacks, and 13 PB. This kid makes plays all over the field against both the run and pass, and he does it with speed, his second top tier attribute. He ran a 4.49 forty and plays even faster on tape. Throw in the broad and long frame that will hold more weight once in a pro strength program, Williams has an upside very few linebackers do. He needs to make his contact more powerful when he does not have a running start and his footwork needs to be cleaner against the inside run. The things that need improvement will take time, but they are coachable. The talent and ability he currently has, is not. Williams is an ideal candidate to play sub-package football for a year and then be put into a starting lineup and assume he will make plays from there on out.
*Williams has the same ceiling as all the guys above him in this group. One can argue, because of the size and speed, his is higher. I do not think he can contribute at a high level right away but there can be usage here depending on matchups. He can run with anyone, he shows a good sense for the action, and his engine runs hot all the time. Very curious to see where he is in two years.
7) Daiyan Henley – Washington State – 6’0/225
NFL Comparison: Darron Lee / RET
Sixth year senior. Three-year starter. Began his career as a wide receiver at Nevada from 2017-2021. Transferred to Washington State for the 2022 season. Earned all-conference honors in both the Mountain West and Pac-12 respectively, including first team honors in 2022. Henley spent three years at wide receiver before transitioning to linebacker. That kind of athletic ability show up on tape. He plays in fast forward mode and plays his best football in space. He pursues sideline to sideline with constant energy and effort. For a player that is still relatively new to the defensive side, Henley is a good tackler and shows range in coverage. His inside-run defending is a shortcoming. He does not have a stoutness to his lower half and will get washed out of lanes. He also does not show the feel necessary to gain initial angle advantages, showing numerous false steps and wrong gap selection. He will be a work in progress that will contribute on special teams initially, at a high level, with the ceiling of being a very solid sub package defender. He could find a home in nickel/dime looks but will need to show he can handle run defense responsibilities that require him staying in the box and maneuvering to the action.
*Because of the traits and impressive stretches of play in 2022, I have a feeling Henley will be taken higher than where I have him. I like the story here and his experience at receiver could help him truly mold a role as a pass defender that many teams want at the second level. I look at the issues in his game and struggle with the projection of how much better he can get with them. Either way he is a risk, but one with a high ceiling because of the package he has physically.
8) Isaiah Moore – North Carolina State – 6’2/233
NFL Comparison: Deion Jones / FA
Sixth year senior. Five-year starter from Chester, VA. Honorable Mention All-ACC in 2022. Moore is a three-time team captain that used his extra season of eligibility given due to the Covid-19 season after tearing his ACL week 7 of 2021. He sat out the spring, rehabbing from surgery, and went on to start every game last fall. He saved his best for last. Moore finished with 15 tackles for loss, putting him top five career in program history (43.5). This is an inside linebacker that appears to be an ideal fit for a 3-4 scheme. He constantly gets the initial read correct and has good enough burst and speed to close in on the action. The violence on contact and sure-tackling ability will make him a stout and versatile run defender. His quick feet and instincts will get him to his points in coverage, although he may be best suited for a two-down role. Moore, now more than a year removed from surgery, has future starter and team leader written all over him. A coach’s favorite-type.
*I feel if Moore had a clean bill of health under his name, he would be a definite day two pick. But, he doesn’t. And there is some tape on him that makes him look slow. Was he not fully recovered from the ACL early in the year? Perhaps. Only the medical team will be able to answer that. But from my perspective, especially late in the year, he is fast enough, and he proved that at his Pro Day with a forty in the 4.6 range. Moore is quietly one of the more productive linebackers in the class, he has team captain-type intangibles, and is now a year-plus removed from the rehab process. Sign me up, especially in this situation. Moore will be a target of mine day three.
9) Owen Pappoe – Auburn – 6’0/225
NFL Comparison: Jatavis Brown / RET
Senior entry. Three-year starter from Lawrenceville, GA. Pappoe was a former top-shelf recruit that had a game built around speed and violence. He started for three years but essentially was a big part of their defense from the second he stepped on campus. The two-time team captain brings a certain level of energy and physicality to the defense. He turns speed into power when he meets the ball carrier on the move. The range is credible sideline-to-sideline caliber and has cleaned up the missed tackle rate that was an issue earlier in his career. What he has not yet developed, despite over 2,000 career snaps, is the ability to quickly diagnose running lanes and plays. He gets lost in traffic easily and the hesitation he shows pre-snap gives him angle-disadvantages against blockers. The lack of size and poor footwork will make it hard for him to get off blocks. Pappoe should stick as a special teamer and quality weak side backup, but will likely need a role where he is in space and away from the crowd as often as possible. 4th-5th round.
*Pappoe is just the second off-ball linebacker to run a sub-4.4 at the combine since 2010. There is speed, and then there is this kind of speed. Pappoe is going to have a camp of supporters and I expect him to go a bit earlier than where I have him. At linebacker, speed only works is the instincts are there. While he will make some things happen from the weak side in pursuit and he does add a level of physicality to the defense, I get nervous about his ability to hold up. The guy I compared him to, Jatavis Brown, eventually could not hold up after a very strong start to his career with the Chargers. This size, this speed, this play style, this frame smells like a short-term investment.
10) Nick Herbig – Wisconsin – 6’2/240
NFL Comparison: Sione Takitaki / CLE
Junior entry. Three-year starter from Kauai, HI. Earned All-American and first team All-Big Ten honors in 2022. Brother of NFL offensive lineman Nate Herbig, most recently of the Jets. Herbig came in as an undersized, not-so-athletic true freshman during the height of the pandemic over 4,000 miles away from his family in Hawaii. He left as a team captain with 36 career tackles for loss and 21 sacks. The intangibles, production, and reliable role playing will be a draw to pro coaches. The question will remain just how physically capable he is to play an edge role at the next level. He is too small to play there every down and there are valid concerns with his movement traits as an off-ball linebacker. If he gets put into the wrong system, it will end up as a square peg-round hole type situation. He needs a hybrid front to get him into a role that puts him on the edge on sure passing downs and in a well-protected spot off-ball in other spots. The maturity and intelligence will give him a fighting chance.
*This is going to be a schematic thing for Herbig. He will not fit into a lot of them. I do not see an every down 3-4 outside linebacker like some do. The length is poor, the get-off is average. New Orleans made a mistake with Zack Baun and while I remove program-bias from my final evaluations, this was a comparable situation. Herbig will not get away in the NFL with some of the things he did in college. He will need an off-ball role with an occasional drop down to the line. Can he hack it there? It will be a question mark and the development will take extra time. He can be a solid player in a couple years, but I do not see a high ceiling.
11) Ventrell Miller – Florida – 6’0/232
NFL Comparison: Kevin Pierre-Louis / HOU
Sixth year senior entry. Four-year starter that played in only two games in 2021 because of a torn bicep tendon that required surgery. Began his career on the wrong foot, missing all of 2017 because of a suspension due to involvement in a credit card fraud scheme. In addition, he was arrested for drug possession (marijuana) that same year and during high school. Even though that episode in his life was a long time ago, it will be part of the screening process. On the field Miller has been a mainstay of the Gators defense. He is a rangy, fast, physical player that will put his body on the line. His size metrics fall slightly below average, but that does not show up on tape much. His bendy movement style and ability to locate and pursue through creases will give him a fighting chance in the league. He projects to a backup role with the physical ability of being a two-down starter.
*Miller played most of 2022 on a bad foot and it required surgery after the season. He plans to workout for teams soon. If he checks out medically and runs well, we could see him bump up a few spots. I like Miller’s tape a lot, but he is inconsistent. The character issues do carry weight as well. Every year we see a day three linebacker make an immediate impact in the league. It would not surprise me at all to see Miller be that guy.
12) Shaka Heyward – Duke – 6’3/235
NFL Comparison: Kenny Young / FA
Fifth year senior. Four-year starter from Dacula, GA. Two-time All-ACC. Heyward is a versatile front seven defender that produced across the entire stat sheet over and over. He has a good feel for both coverage and moving downhill. The mental capacity he shows in combination with the rare blend of tools will be an attractive combination to teams that like to give multiple looks. He has the closing speed and tenacity to play with a true finisher’s mentality and impact. He will add energy to the front seven of a defense. He does not always know where to go post-snap and will often play catch up. The windows in the NFL will be much smaller and shorter-lived. Heyward could use a year or two to add more power to his frame as well, but he still brings sub-package options to the table, both in coverage and as a pass rusher. Add in the likely special teams value he will bring to the table and he should see multiple teams lining up for his services.
*In a crowded group of early-to-mid day three linebackers, Heyward has a few standout traits. Standout traits combined with his versatile production could easily to lead him to the top of this tier. I went back and watched Heyward after my deep dive wondering if I missed something. This dude checks a lot of boxes and can line up in multiple spots. I kept him here because of the clunkiness to his movement that partially stems from slow eyes.
13) DeMarvion Overshown – Texas – 6’3/229
NFL Comparison: Oren Burks / GB
Fifth year senior. Three-year starter from Arp, TX. Three-time All-Big 12, first team in 2022. Overshown has played all over the Texas defense, and he has the versatile production to show from his entire career to prove he can help a defense in a variety of ways. The question is not about the multiplicity in his game, but the effectiveness snap to snap. Overshown is long and fast. He can fly to the ball and is found everywhere. He pressured the quarterback over 50 times in his career, he had three interceptions, ten pass breakups, and finished top two in both tackles and tackles for loss each of the last three seasons respectively. Simply put, Overshown made things happen. The highlight reel can be a fun watch. What happens between those plays can cause concern, however. Overshown does not play a stout style. His power only turns on when he has a full head of steam. Teams that want to use their weak side defender in a roaming role, kept in space, and moved around will see him as a starting caliber player. He will not be a fit for everyone, though.
*Another one I may be lower on than norm. Overshown has tools and you know what you are getting week to week. But does he hurt the defense as much as he helps? I want my guys a little stouter than fast even in today’s NFL. Overshown’s lack of presence simply concerns me, but I do think he can make impact plays as a package defender. That would be tremendous day three value.
14) Noah Sewell – Oregon – 6’2/246
NFL Comparison: Anthony Hitchens / FA
Junior entry. Three-year starter from Malaeimi, American Samoa. Three-time All-Pac 12, first team in 2021. Sewell is the brother of Penei, the current starting right tackle for Detroit. The 2020 Pac 12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year was a highly touted player coming into college and especially after his first season with the Ducks. Since then, the skill set never took a step forward. He is an excellent bruiser between the tackles with good feel for angles and creases. Sewell packs a punch when he gets in contact with the ball carrier and/or blocker. His lack of sudden change of direction and burst shows up weekly, though. There is too much tightness in his hips and a lack of reactionary agility to be counted on in space. His best fit would be inside within a 3-4 scheme that would come off the field in sub packages. The upside will not be high, but Sewell should stick around the league beyond his rookie contract because of dependability high floor.
*Sewell has been highly touted for a long time. At times, that can inflate a prospect once the draft season actually comes around to the public. Take out the last name, take out the high school five-star rating. Break his tape down and I see a guy that will end up needing to be in a 3-4 front and likely comes off the field after run options are no longer on the table. He can hit like a truck, and I trust his run defense inside, but he does not have the looseness in his hips to constantly react in a sudden matter. I think that will get exposed if he is left in space often. Not a bad guy to have on the bench though, he can play in certain situations and schemes.
15) Jeremy Banks – Tennessee – 6’1/232
NFL Comparison: Zaire Franklin / IND
Fifth year senior. Two-year starter from Cordova, TN. Arrived at Tennessee playing running back. Following his redshirt season, the conversation began and a couple weeks into the 2019 season, he was full-time at linebacker. He picked off two passes in his third game. Unfortunately, Banks was dismissed from the program soon after due to an arrest for failure to appear in court. Around that time, a video from a separate incident surfaced of Banks being harassed, but also him firing back yelling out threats to a woman. Banks returned to the team in 2020 and has been out of trouble since. The explosive and bendy weak side linebacker that can also play some MIKE is violent. He packs a punch and plays the game angry. He does not always know where he’s going and has a hard time diagnosing early, but there is some make up speed there. He ran down some of the fastest backs the SEC had to offer. He likely fits in as a special teamer and backup early on. You will see this kid’s name called though. He is a highlight-reel hitter.
*I know this goes without saying, but there will need to be a few extra conversations about Banks the past character issues. Has he outgrown them? Or is he a ticking time bomb? On the field, Banks immediately makes the defense and special teams more violent. We will often hear coaches talk about the desire for a guy that plays like he has a few screws loose. A guy that wants to be the one that knocks your teeth out. Banks is that guy. I also see some alignment versatility with him.
16: Dee Winters – TCU – 5’11/227: 71
17: Isaiah Land – Florida A&M – 6’4/236: 71
18: Marte Mapu – Sacramento State – 6’3/220: 70
19: SirVocea Dennis – Pittsburgh – 6’1/226: 70
20: Cam Jones – Indiana – 6’1/226: 70
21: Aubrey Mitchell – Jackson State – 6’0/229: 69
22: Anfernee Orji – Vanderbilt – 6’1/230: 69
23: Micah Baskerville – LSU – 6’0/224: 69
24: Mohamoud Diabate – Utah – 6’3/225: 69
25: Mikel Jones – Syracuse – 6’0/229: 68
26: DeAndre Square – Kentucky – 6’0/226: 68
27: Bumper Pool – Arkansas – 6’2/235: 68
28: DeShaun White – Oklahoma – 6’0/224: 68
29: Carlton Martial – Troy – 5’7/210: 68
The signing of Bobby Okereke and likely return of Darian Beavers from the torn ACL gives a little less urgency to this position. I view Micah McFadden and the re-signed veteran Jarrad Davis as quality options for depth and they will factor on special teams. Both are run defenders only, however. What happens to this group if one of the starters goes down? They will be a major liability against the pass. Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin will not help. They recently brought in Deion Jones for a visit, a former #52 overall pick who had a really good start to his career. He has not been a factor since 2020, but one thing he can do well is cover. If the Giants add a piece to the group via the draft, it will likely be someone who is more active in space. I do not see this happening until day three. Then you simply need to ask, who are you getting day three who helps this team who they do not already have? It really needs to be coverage-based. Shaka Heyward from Duke makes sense, as does Marte Mapu (a former safety) who flashed at the Senior Bowl multiple times. Because they have so many picks (for now), I think one of these will be used on a linebacker, but again, most likely somewhere from the fifth round-on.