The NFL Combine is here, which means that we’re about to witness the top NFL Draft prospects in the 2019 class compete in the on-field workouts that we playfully refer to as the “Underwear Olympics”. It’s pretty good fun if you’re a fan of the NFL draft—although we can certainly the debate the usefulness of some of these metrics in evaluating prospects—and hopefully it will help complete the picture on some of the more polarizing players.
I’ve been breaking down each position group by giving you the top 10 players that might be of interest to the Falcons. If you’ve missed any of the previous entries, you can find them below:
Today’s report covers the LB class, which is definitely among the weakest of the 2019 NFL Draft. There’s talent at the top in Devin White, Mack Wilson, and Devin Bush Jr., but the talent falls off very quickly after them. Luckily, the Falcons aren’t necessarily in the market for an impact starter. However, with both Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell hitting free agency in 2020, Atlanta would be wise to continue adding depth at the position.
Below are ten of the top LB prospects who I think are the most interesting for the Falcons. Enjoy!
Ben Burr-Kirven, Washington
Listed Size: 6’0, 219
2018 Production: 176 tackles, 94 solo, 5.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 INT, 6 PD, 4 FF
If the Falcons are looking to add LB depth on Day 3, Washington’s Ben Burr-Kiven could be an interesting option. At 6’0, 219, he’s clearly not a fit for all defenses. His lack of ideal size likely makes him a rotational third-down LB at the NFL level, but you wouldn’t think that by just watching his tape. Burr-Kiven is incredibly physical and competitive—he hits hard and doesn’t shy away from contact.
He’s an explosive straight-line mover with good instincts in coverage, but his overall athleticism is merely average. I love his attitude and his fiery on-field demeanor—his effort level is off the charts on every play. I think there’s room for Burr-Kiven on an NFL roster, particularly as a key special teamer. A creative defensive scheme like Atlanta’s could probably find a way to take full advantage of his talents.
Devin Bush Jr., Michigan
Listed Size: 5’11, 222
2018 Production: 66 tackles, 41 solo, 8.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 4 PD
We can’t fully rule out the Falcons going after a LB early in the draft, with Quinn clearly viewing the position as a priority. If Atlanta is looking to add an impact starter with their second round pick, Michigan’s Devin Bush Jr. is a perfect fit for the Falcons’ scheme. I mocked Bush to Atlanta in my first mock draft, and here’s how I described his talents:
At 5’11, 225, Devin Bush is a prototypical fit for the Falcons scheme and would be an enormous upgrade over Duke Riley in the LB rotation. Bush is the same type of player as Deion Jones—he’s smart, smooth in space and coverage, and physical as a tackler. Just like Jones, Bush will struggle if asked to take on blocks. In the Falcons scheme, however, Bush could thrive as a third down LB and potential starter next to Jones.
Te’Von Coney, Notre Dame
Listed Size: 6’0, 240
2018 Production: 123 tackles, 63 solo, 9.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PD
I’m adding Notre Dame’s Te’Von Coney here because I’ve seen a lot of fans asking about him. While Coney is a physical hitter and excellent run defender, I don’t think he’s a fit in the Falcons’ defense. His significantly limited athleticism, inability to play in coverage, and lack of ideal frame for a transition to SAM eliminate most of his possibilities in Atlanta. The Falcons demand that their LBs at least be serviceable in coverage or have the athleticism to be developed further in that area. Coney lacks either of those traits.
Coney has good instincts and can really excel on early downs. I think his best fit is as a 3-4 ILB that isn’t asked to play in coverage. He simply doesn’t offer anything on third downs, and I don’t think he’s athletic enough to pique the Falcons interest.
T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin
Listed Size: 6’0, 247
2018 Production: 112 tackles, 73 solo, 11.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 3 INT, 2 PD
Wisconsin’s T.J. Edwards is a classic example of an NFL LB that will likely never be looked at as a starter, but will probably play well whenever he’s called into service. Edwards lacks high-end traits—he isn’t particularly big, explosive, or fast. I’m not sure his ceiling is anything more than a serviceable starter. But despite those limitations, Edwards has been extremely productive through his college career.
Edwards is instinctive as both a run defender and coverage man, with surprisingly good ball skills to boot. What he lacks in athleticism he makes up for with technique and competitiveness, and he plays with a physical edge. He’s a reliable tackler and can be trusted on all three downs. Edwards will never have the splash plays of someone like Deion Jones, but as a 4th or 5th LB that can do it all, I love his value on Day 3.
Joe Giles-Harris, Duke
Listed Size: 6’2, 240
2018 Production: 81 tackles, 34 solo, 7.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 2 PD
My favorite LB prospect for the Falcons in the 2019 class, Duke’s Joe Giles-Harris has everything Atlanta looks for at the position. He’s got excellent size, athleticism, and coverage ability. Unfortunately, analysts seem to be catching on, and his stock has begun to drift into the Day 2 range. I’ve mocked Giles-Harris to the Falcons in several of my mock drafts, and here’s how I described the versatile LB:
Giles-Harris has great size at 6’2, 240 and looks the part of a 3-down LB in the NFL with technically refined tackling and exceptional coverage ability. While Giles-Harris isn’t an elite athlete in the realm of Deion Jones, he’s still plenty quick enough to fly around the field and make stops. His weaknesses are similar to Jones’: Giles-Harris is never going to be an elite LB at stacking-and-shedding blocks. Still, the Falcons scheme should minimize the need for that, and Giles-Harris could eventually form a very good duo with Deion Jones, particularly on third down.
Terrill Hanks, New Mexico State
Listed Size: 6’2, 235
2018 Production: 101 tackles, 33 solo, 9.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PD, 1 FF
New Mexico State’s Terrill Hanks reminds me a lot of Foye Oluokun. He’s a safety-to-LB convert with great athletic traits and coverage ability, but he’s severely lacking in instincts. That makes sense: Hanks’ first season at LB was 2018. Despite the new position, Hanks put a lot of good things on tape that have gotten him noticed by the draft community.
He’s got a good frame at 6’2, 235, and his smooth movement skills in space make him a prototypical fit in the Falcons’ defense. Hanks is also excellent in coverage, with plenty of experience from his days at safety. I love his relentless motor and competitive fire, and I think there’s a lot of potential in his future. However, Hanks is simply very unreliable as a run defender at this point in his career. He needs time to develop in his new position, but he strikes me as exactly the type of player Dan Quinn looks for late on Day 3.
Kendall Joseph, Clemson
Listed Size: 6’0, 225
2018 Production: 79 tackles, 38 solo, 5.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 PD
Another good late-Day 3 option for the Falcons if they’re looking to bolster their depth, Clemson’s Kendall Joseph is another LB that is “too small” for most NFL defenses. Joseph was still very productive at Clemson throughout his career, and his instincts for the position are excellent. I had the Falcons taking Joseph in the final round of my fourth mock draft, and here’s how I described his skillset:
Clemson LB Kendall Joseph could be an ideal fourth or fifth LB for the Falcons. At 6’0, 225, he’s simply too small to be a fit for many NFL schemes—which might mean that he’s still around this late in drafts. Joseph has great athleticism and very good coverage skills to go along with consistent tackling ability. Where he struggles is if he’s asked to come downhill and take on blocks, which is never going to be his strength. As a rotational LB and special teams player, Joseph would be an excellent late-Day 3 selection that could provide valuable depth in Atlanta.
Vosean Joseph, Florida
Listed Size: 6’0, 227
2018 Production: 93 tackles, 40 solo, 9.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 5 PD
Florida’s Vosean Joseph has been generating a tremendous amount of hype in this poor LB class, and it’s easy to see why. His athletic traits jump off the tape—he has explosive closing speed, smooth movement skills in space, and the ability to make plays in coverage and as a blitzer. Coupled with those traits, however, are a number of significant concerns. Joseph has poor instincts in run defense and in coverage, isn’t overly physical, and is smaller than you’d like for an NFL LB.
Put it all together and you have a very frustrating prospect. Joseph will go from flashes of brilliance—as his 2018 stat line can attest—to maddening inconsistency in the blink of an eye. The traits to become a high-level NFL starter are there, which means that his stock is a lot higher than it should be. Joseph is currently the #5 LB according to The Draft Network, sitting at 101 overall. As a developmental prospect, I’m intrigued—but a lack of quality LBs will drive his price into Day 2, and that’s simply too rich for me.
Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame
Listed Size: 6’2, 233
2018 Production: 86 tackles, 63 solo, 9.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 4 PD
The second of two Notre Dame LBs that will likely be drafted in 2019, Drue Tranquill might end up being more appealing to the Falcons than Te’Von Coney. While neither player features the high-end athletic ability that Quinn wants in his LBs, Tranquill offers a lot more in coverage due to more advanced technique and far better instincts. At 6’2, 233, Tranquill also has a better overall frame than Coney.
Like many of these Day 3 depth LBs, Tranquill finds ways to succeed in spite of his athletic limitations. He’s a high-effort player, and his toughness and physicality stand out. Notre Dame used him often as a blitzer, and he found success there too. Tranquill unfortunately has suffered back-to-back ACL tears, and his medicals will be crucial to his stock at the Combine. If still he’s available mid-Day 3, Tranquill would be a reliable reserve LB that can play on any down and stand out on special teams.
Devin White, LSU
Listed Size: 6’0, 240
2018 Production: 123 tackles, 62 solo, 12.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 6 PD, 3 FF
While I think it’s extremely unlikely that the Falcons go after a LB in the first round, I can’t entirely rule it out. Devin White from LSU is a phenomenal talent that may have an even higher ceiling that current Falcons’ star Deion Jones. Together, White and Jones would arguably form the best LB duo in the NFL. He’s a terrific athlete that’s capable of making plays all over the field and on any down-and-distance.
Although Deion Jones certainly proved himself physically after he was drafted, there are no such concerns with White. He’s a physical hitter and would immediately become the best block-shedding LB on the team. White’s sideline-to-sideline ability is elite, and there are few weaknesses to his game. I’d say White is pretty unlikely to end up in Atlanta, but if the Falcons top choices are gone and the team can’t move back, I don’t think Quinn and Dimitroff would hesitate to add another star in the middle of their defense.
Who are some of your favorite LBs in the 2019 class? Any particular players you’d like the Falcons to go after? When do you think the team should address the position in the 2019 NFL Draft?