We’re just a couple of days away from the on-field workouts at the 2018 NFL Combine, which means our prospect preview series is approaching the final stretch. Today’s group is LB: a position that features a few stars at the top and a lot of intriguing players in the mid-to-late rounds. If you missed any of the previous entries in the series, you can find them here: OL, RB & FB, WR, TE, DT, EDGE.
Let’s take a closer look at the most interesting LBs that could be of interest to the Falcons in this year’s class.
JEROME BAKER, Ohio State
The 6’1, 222 Jerome Baker is a linebacker in the mold that Dan Quinn likes: athletic, rangy, and skilled in coverage. He reminds me a bit of Deion Jones, but he lacks the physicality that Jones has in his game. Baker is a very good athlete and should test well, but he’ll need to improve his play strength to be able to succeed in the NFL. His value is currently in the late Day 2 range, but he’s got the potential to develop into an above-average starter.
OREN BURKS, Vanderbilt
A late Day 3 prospect, Oren Burks is an intriguing developmental choice for the Falcons. At 6’3, 230, he’s got good size, with the versatility and experience to play all three LB positions. Burks has experience at safety, too, and is athletic enough to match-up in coverage against RBs and TEs. His versatility means that he never spent much time at any one position, and as such his awareness and instincts need a lot of work. Burks has tantalizing potential as a high-level special teams player and his versatility could make him an ideal depth LB.
CHRIS COVINGTON, Indiana
Another late round player that could be a developmental depth and special teams option for Atlanta, Chris Covington also possesses the traits that the Falcons covet from their LBs. He’s got solid size (6’2, 230), has great closing speed, is athletic enough to help in coverage, and he plays with physicality. Like Oren Burks, Covington is also inexperienced and needs time to adjust and develop as a full-time LB. With the Falcons top 3 LBs relatively settled, Covington could get that chance as the 5th LB on the roster.
SHAQUEM GRIFFIN, UCF
One of my favorite players in this class and someone that I’ve already done a full evaluation on, Shaquem Griffin might offer the perfect match of draft value and ability for the Falcons. He’s a fantastic athlete with a fiery personality and a physical style of play. Griffin can do it all, and if you can get over the fact that he has only one hand, he has the makings of a very good LB. His floor is a high-level special teams player and a quality depth LB, but I think he’ll force his way into a starting role early in his career. I’d begin considering Griffin in the late 3rd, but he could still be around early on Day 3.
MALIK JEFFERSON, Texas
A tantalizing LB prospect, Jefferson offers a mix of ideal size (6’3, 240) and high-level athletic ability. He’s explosive off the snap and can cover a ton of ground in a hurry. Jefferson is also a quality player in coverage that is capable of matching up with RBs and TEs one-on-one. His weaknesses are that he’s very undisciplined and his instincts are poor. Jefferson needs a year or two of seasoning before he can assume a starting role in the NFL. That has lowered his draft stock into the late Day 2-early Day 3 range, but for a team that can afford to wait (like the Falcons), he could be a great value.
JOSEY JEWELL, Iowa
Jewell is an interesting evaluation. He’s on the small side for the position at 6’1, 235, but he makes up for it with a physical and technically sound tackling style. Jewell is one of the more polished LBs I’ve watched in this class, with advanced instincts and lightning-fast play recognition. I’m not sure about his overall athletic ability, but if he tests decently and he’s behind a talented DL, I think Jewell has starting potential as a MLB in the NFL. His stock is currently floating around the late Day 2-early Day 3 range.
DORIAN O’DANIEL, Clemson
If the Falcons special teams issues really bothered you last year, Dorian O’Daniel might be the LB prospect for you. He was a special teams demon at Clemson, racking up 48(!) special teams tackles in his career. O’Daniel is a decent LB in his own right, with solid athleticism and the ability to contribute at multiple spots. His lack of ideal size (6’1, 215) and limited experience as a starter has pushed his value into the late rounds, but he could be a good pick as a cornerstone on special teams and as a solid depth LB.
TEGRAY SCALES, Indiana
Scales is another undersized LB (6’0, 230) that makes his mark with his advanced football IQ and phenomenal instincts. His ability to instantly diagnose plays and flow to the ball allowed him to post huge numbers during his career. Scales is physical for his size, but he’ll never be an elite player in terms of taking on blocks. His athletic testing will be big for his overall stock, but as an early Day 3 pick, Scales looks like a high-level depth player with the potential for more.
ROQUAN SMITH, Georgia
Look, let’s get this out of the way: there’s virtually no chance Roquan Smith falls to the Falcons. But just in case, let me wax poetic about him. Smith looks like a Deion Jones clone—and he’s far more advanced in his technique and instincts that Jones was coming out. He’s an elite athlete with excellent coverage ability and a physical tackling style. LB isn’t a huge pressing need for Atlanta, but if Smith happened to be available in the late teens, I’d consider trading up to get him. Jones and Smith would create arguably the best and most versatile LB tandem in the league.
FRED WARNER, BYU
The latest in the line of “hybrid” or “money” LBs in the Deone Bucannon mold, Fred Warner also has experience playing both LB and safety during his career. At 6’3, 227, he’s got the frame to play either spot, too. He’s a good athlete and a fluid mover with plenty of experience in coverage. Warner also has fairly well developed instincts for such a versatile player, which should make his NFL transition easier. He’ll need to improve his technique as a tackler and add more bulk to his frame at the NFL level, but Warner is an intriguing prospect in the early Day 3 range.
KENNY YOUNG, UCLA
An athletic project at LB with an undersized frame (6’1, 226), Kenny Young could be a intriguing pick for a team like Atlanta in the later rounds. He should test very well at the Combine and had a good week at the Senior Bowl, but Young has poor instincts and lacks physicality in his game. With development time, I think Young could be molded into a very good special teams player with upside as a LB that can help out in coverage on passing downs.
What do you think about the Falcons adding a LB in the 2018 NFL Draft? In what round would you target the position? Any LBs in this class that you’re particularly interested in?