Draft Breakdown: Top 15 LBs

By Thomas Ringgaard |
Draft Breakdown: Top 15 LBs

It's finally here. The list of top players on my favorite position to break down. In a year of missing multiple high end caliber players, i had to dig deep to find players that really impressed me. I did, however, come away with some future difference makers. Last year was formidable in terms of day 1 starting LB talent, while this year actually is not that bad in terms of prospect development.

Remember - this is not a list based on when i think they will be drafted, rather where they should. Make sure to check out the linked articles to see a thorough breakdown of that player.  Let's dive into it!

1. Devin Bush, Michigan

Image result for devin bush

Strengths:

  • Top athlete. Consistently takes textbook angles. Fast enough to cover any RB or TE. Sideline to sideline speed.
  • Lethal as a pass rusher. Doesn't only rely on speed but displays quick hands and natural bend
  • Navigates well through traffic, doesn't get caught by pick plays or OLs in pursuit. Always stays inside and holds up his responsibility as the ILB. 
  • Hard hitter with solid discipline to break down and make safe tackles when needed.

Weaknesses:

  • A bit short but not once have i seen that be an issue. Problems with cut defeat occasionally.

Conclusion and draft:

To me, the best LB in the draft with a large delta. Top 10 talent.

2. Devin White, LSU

Image result for devin white

Strengths:

  • Good motor, goes all out on every play.
  • Awesome shoot through the LOS with speed.
  • Shows flashes of big time potential on plays where he combines speed, technique, and play recognition 
  • Has above average ability to cover zone and man.

Weaknesses:

  • Has trouble shedding blocks. Doesn't use hands consistently. Happens against OLs and TEs. Doesn't attack half man. 
  • Takes poor angles, doesn't have the inside leverage on the runner, hence often over-pursuing. 
  • Doesn't break down before point of contact in open field, missing tackles. 
  • Gets caught at alignment because he doesn't read pullers and run plays fast enough, often gets washed.
  • Lacks pass rush moves. Usually loses balance when bull rushing, doesn't combine physicality with hands technique against RBs.

Conclusion and draft:

Former RB converted to LB. Disappoints me big time on tape. Has nice plays where everything comes together, but lacks fundamental technique. Has to show teams he is a fast learner, otherwise I wouldn't touch him before round 3. First round talent if head is right.

3. Blake Cashman, Minnesota

Image result for blake cashman

Strengths:

  • Hits with power. Safe tackler. Breaks down consistently in open field and on blitzes. 
  • Sideline-sideline speed. Showed good speed at the combine but plays even faster.
  • Natural block shedder. Quick hands and hips. Beats cut blocks picture perfect. 
  • Shows fluid movement in pass protection. One of the best zone coverage LBs in the draft. 
  • Shoots gaps fast.
  • Awesome dip move in pass rush and maintains good balance while coming with speed.

Weaknesses:

  • Against Northwestern had some troubles with play recognition.
  • Lower level competition. 

Conclusion and draft:

Played against lower level competition but displays everything you want from a LB. Can play inside and outside. Versatile skill-set. Early-to-mid round 2 pick. 

4. TJ Edwards, Wisconsin

Image result for tj edwards

Strengths:

  • Uses hands actively to shed blocks. Displays good push-pull technique. Hits blockers with power, doesn't get washed but fills gaps nicely. 
  • Consistent play recognition. Identifies pullers well. Allows him to compensate for modest speed. 
  • Surprisingly good zone coverage. Shifts between looking at QB and WRs well, identifying pass patterns. Finds and covers crossers and seams well in zone.
  • Decent speed in blitz, can push the line backwards. 
  • Extremely consistent production in his careers in all phases of the defense (run, coverage, blitz). 

Weaknesses:

  • Compensates for lack of elite speed by taking good angles on crossing routes, but is limited against speedy slot WRs (obviously, who isn't). 
  • Lacks explosiveness in change of direction. 
  • Doesn't have the speed to compensate for false steps. 

Conclusion and draft:

Mr. Reliable at Wisconsin. Physical, productive, and instinctive LB who excels in playing between the tackles. In college had success playing sideline-to-sideline with good play recognition, but questionable if it translates to the NFL. Round 3 draft prospects who is going to push for a starting spot day 1. 

5. Te'Von Coney, Notre Dame

Image result for tevon coney

Strengths:

  • Above average tracking. Navigates well through traffic on inside and outside runs. 
  • Consistently takes really good angles, allowing him to make big hits without having to break down before making contact. 
  • Physical against OLs. Doesn't get pushed around even on inside runs. Has a few awesome plays where he shed one block after another on outside runs. 
  • A freaking tackle machine between the tackles. Dominant tackler. Rarely misses on a hit. 
  • Shows modest success in zone coverage over the middle. 
  • Has shown good pursuit on scrambling QBs, disciplined. 

Weaknesses:

  • Lacks speed and acceleration to play sideline-to-sideline. Will be exposed in man-to-man coverage in the NFL. 
  • Lacks moves in pass rush. Lacks speed to reliably generate pressure when blitzing from depth.

Conclusion and draft:

Coney is the best tackler in the draft. He has some concerns with his 4.72 40 time, but has huge potential because of his game speed. Round 3 pick who will push for day 1 starter job in the middle of a 4-3 defense.

6. Khalil Hodge, Buffalo

Image result for khalil hodge

Strengths:

  • Very fluid movement and naturally flow with the LOS. Athletically built and moves with small explosive steps. 
  • Active with his hands at all times. Displays ability to squeeze a gap with physicality and swipe the hands of a blocker with speed. 
  • Active in pass protection, drops smoothly, and looks for work. 
  • Hard hitter. 

Weaknesses:

  • Misses too many tackles. Has to take better angles and not bet too much on big hits. Goes for open field tackles and between the tackles
  • Lacks speed but plays faster than his abysmal 40 time would indicate.
  • Lacks moves in blitz.

Conclusion and draft:

Passes the eye test with physical game play and natural movement that put him a position to make a solid tackle for minimum gain on several occasions, but needs to make the damn tackle. Round 3 potential and could contribute day 1 with a good preseason. 

7. Terez Hall, Missouri

Image result for terez hall

Strengths:

  • Strongest and most physical LB in the draft. Utilizes smooth hip explosion to generate power both on rerouting a WR, taking on a tackle, or making a big hit. Put pulling guards on their ass multiple times.
  • Is a big hitter and you can tell he enjoys it, but has to stay disciplined and break down before initiating contact sometimes. 
  • Has good speed. Follows man-to-man coverage well. Active in zone coverage.

Weaknesses:

  • Lacks pass rush moves
  • Occasionally shows ability to use his hands or dip underneath a block, but usually take on blockers with power, which sometimes results in losing too much balance and missing on the tackle after.
  • Bites heavily on misdirection PA or zone reads, which obviously will need work at the next level.

Conclusion and draft:

One of my favorite prospects. Top 5 physical players IN THE DRAFT. Scouts have got to love the intensity and physicality he brings. Above average athlete. Will compete for a day 1 job but definitely contribute on special teams. Round 3 or early 4 talent.

8. Germaine Pratt, NC State

Image result for germaine pratt

Strengths:

  • Good speed and acceleration. Moves naturally.
  • Very good tackler. Rarely miss. Stays on the inside leverage well. 
  • Above average coverage skills in zone and man.

Weaknesses:

  • Lacks moves in pass rush. 
  • Gets washed too often because he doesn't take on blockers with force. Doesn't consistently make a move to get around them. 
  • Lacks impact power and doesn't use hands to compensate. 
  • Gets lost in the middle on inside runs, gets out of balance too often. 

Conclusion and draft:

Should be a fine special teams player. Meanwhile i don't see him competing for a starting spot day 1. 4th round talent.

9. Vosean Joseph, Florida

Image result for vosean joseph

Strengths:

  • Athletic. Smooth movement. Has sideline-to-sideline speed. Natural change of direction. Good bend. 
  • Good blitz speed from depth and around the edge. Can create pressure and has shown success with inside moves.
  • Solid in man-to-man coverage. Reads screens fine.
  • Has some good pursuits from OLB

Weaknesses:

  • Plays small. Doesn't come off blocks consistently. Doesn't attack full man, gets out of balance and gets pushed around. 
  • Gets too aggressive often, throws his body around without maintaining balance and misses many tackles as a result. 
  • Inactive in zone coverage, doesn't get contact on crossing WRs. 
  • Poor angles from MIKE and WILL position, shoots too far over pullers and gives away the inside too often

Conclusion and draft:

Will have to use athleticism to compete for outside LB jobs where he can use his speed and limit his inability to shed blocks. 4th round talent. 

10. Ben Burr-Kirven, Washington

Image result for ben burr-kirven

Strengths:

  • When he shoots his gap, he is very reliable, usually makes the tackle and consistently keeps inside leverage. 
  • Above average open field tackling. Good positioning before the point of contact. Knows when to shuffle and when to straight line run. 
  • Decent man-to-man coverage.

Weaknesses:

  • Too often hesitant against the run. Often gets caught at alignment by blockers as a result. 
  • Passive in zone coverage. Doesn't look out for WRs or routes coming into his zone. 
  • Passive in blitz. Lacks moves and doesn't push back the line. 

Conclusion and draft:

Doesn't do a lot of things wrong, however, doesn't wow me with anything. Needs work but could contribute for special teams immediately. Round 4 talent. 

11. Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame

Image result for drue tranquill

Strengths:

  • Natural movement, good speed, and change of direction
  • Decent block shed, attacks half man and fills a gap nicely. Often doesn't get washed. 
  • Above average coverage skills both man and zone.

Weaknesses:

  • Doesn't consistently take good angles and gives up the inside. 
  • Not a safe tackler. Hits high too often. 

Conclusion and draft:

As with Ben Burr-Kirven, I was left thinking "meh". Doesn't do much special, doesn't do much wrong. Depth player and special teams potential. Late 4th to early 5th round. 

12. Gary Johnson, Tennessee 

Image result for gary johnson tennessee

Strengths:

  • Fast. Triggers well on QB scrambles.
  • Shoots a gap nicely and can cover ground on outside runs and screens well. 
  • Uses his impressive speed with good hustle. 
  • Decent coverage skills.

Weaknesses:

  • Get washed by blockers waaaaaaaay too often. Doesn't use hands or hips to beat blockers with speed. Doesn't have the size or power to push blockers back. 
  • Over-pursues too often, doesn't contain inside leverage, and bites too often on misdirection. 

Conclusion and draft:

Someone will fall in love with his speed and the occasional big plays created with speed when he is not blocked. I don't. Can't be a reliable inside backer when you get washed this much. Special teams contributer, potentially contender for outside LB spot in the long run. 5th round potential. 

13. Mack Wilson, Alabama

Image result for mack wilson

Strengths:

  • Has some big hits occasionally.

Weaknesses:

  • Horrible block shed. Doesn't recognize OL movement e.g. pullers or block patterns. Gets caught at alignment. Doesn't use power or hands to beat blocks. 
  • Poor tackler. Lowers his helmet and doesn't look when tackling. Throws his body into the carrier. Misses too many tackles. Over pursues. 
  • Below average navigation on run plays. Gets caught in traffic. Poor tracking. Doesn't maintain inside leverage. 
  • Inactive in pass protection. Stands still as if he is playing man on the RB almost always, but even when the RB release to the outside, he still stands at alignment and watches football. 
  • Despite a dominant defensive line with Williams, Buggs, Christian, and Anfernee where he didn't have to do too much with OLs in his face, he didn't manage to look good. 

Conclusion and draft:

Why is this incompetent LB ranked 13? Because, for some reason, a lot of really good draft analysts that I respect have him high. This is purely based on that factor I have no information on. I wouldn't draft Wilson. At all. 

14. Terrill Hanks, New Mexico State

Image result for terrill hanks

Strengths:

  • Decent zone coverage. Active in identifying route concepts and getting on crossers. 
  • Has some success on outside blitz.

Weaknesses:

  • Below average tackler 
  • Slow play recognition
  • Lacks moves in pass rush. When initial move doesn't work he doesn't counter the blocker.
  • Inconsistent block shed. 

Conclusion and draft:

Looks slow on tape, looked slow at the Combine. Lacks essential technique. Special teams contributor and depth player. 6th round. 

15. Otaro Alaka, Texas A&M

Image result for otaro alaka

Strengths:

  • Shoots gaps nicely. 
  • Gets by blockers well with speed. Shows some ability to use hands against blocks in the open field on outside runs. 
  • Has good speed. 

Weaknesses:

  • Lacks pass rush moves. Poor technique.
  • Inactive in zone coverage. Doesn't look for routes. Bites on play action too hard and doesn't recover.
  • Too aggressive against the run sometimes, resulting in false steps, then realize blocking concept and gets caught.
  • Goes for big hits too often, resulting in some ugly missed tackles. 

Conclusion and draft:

Will need a ton of work to become relevant for a starting job but has some sound technique against blockers and athletic ability to become an interesting prospect. 6th round talent.


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