The 2022 NFL Combine is fast approaching, with workouts kicking off on Thursday, March 3. To prepare Atlanta Falcons fans and fellow draft enthusiasts for the “underwear olympics”, I’ll be breaking down the top players to watch at every position heading into the event. In case you missed any of my previous entries, you can find them all listed below:
Today I take a closer look at linebacker, where the Falcons will almost certainly have a need for at least one new starter. Whether the player that ends up leaving is Deion Jones or Foye Oluokun, Atlanta will be depending on Mykal Walker, a veteran, or a rookie to play significant snaps in 2022. Luckily, this class features a talented and deep group. Quality players can be found all throughout the draft, and I’d be shocked if Atlanta didn’t add at least one player to the LB corps in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Read on for some of the top linebackers to watch in Indianapolis.
Troy Andersen, Montana State
Perhaps the most unique prospect in the entire 2022 class, Montana State’s Troy Andersen is a do-it-all player who offers offensive and defensive flexibility. After starting off his college career at QB, Andersen played running back before making a switch to linebacker. Andersen is a great athlete with excellent size at 6’4, 235, and his versatility could make him an intriguing swiss army knife for a creative OC and/or DC. Obviously, he’s raw at LB but does offer physicality, athleticism, and relentless effort. Andersen is a long-term project but should be a special teams standout early on, and his possible offensive utility is an intriguing wild card.
Darrian Beavers, Cincinnati
Cincinnati’s Darrian Beavers looks more like an edge rusher than an off-ball linebacker on the field, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Beavers is an impressive athlete for his size with good coverage instincts stemming from his background as a secondary player. He’s firmly in the Day 2 range at present, but could find himself going a lot higher with good Combine testing. Here’s how I described Beavers in my Senior Bowl preview:
A former safety in high school, Cincinnati’s Darrian Beavers transitioned to linebacker early in his college career and has been one of the best players on the Bearcats defense ever since. At 6’4, 255, Beavers has the build of a more traditional NFL LB and brings excellent strength, physicality, and block-shedding ability to the position. He’s also played a versatile role, including snaps as a 3-4 OLB. Beavers is solid in zone coverage but lacks the high-end athleticism to succeed in man at the next level.
Damone Clark, LSU
LSU’s Damone Clark is a fun player to watch, and that continued at the Senior Bowl. He’s got infectious energy and is always around the football. Clark is currently slotted to go in Day 2 range, but I’m interested to see how well he tests in Indianapolis. Here’s how I described his game in my Senior Bowl preview:
One of the most productive tacklers in all of college football, LSU’s Damone Clark is always around the football. After struggling to hold on to his starting job in 2020, Clark had a resurgent 2021 season that saw him post an eye-popping 135 total tackles, 15.0 TFL, and 5.5 sacks in just 12 games. He’s a terrific athlete with good size at 6’3, 245—though, based on my viewing, I’d probably peg him closer to 6’2, 235. Clark is still a little slow to process due to his limited starting experience, but he’s got all the tools to be an impact player at the NFL level and his coverage skills are very encouraging.
Nakobe Dean, Georgia
If Nakobe Dean was two inches taller and ten pounds heavier, he’d likely be a top-10 pick. As it stands now, Dean looks small for an NFL linebacker at just 6’0, 225. But there’s no denying his talent and ability, and he’s one of the best pure football players in the class. Despite lacking height and mass, Dean is one of the most physical hitters in the class and uses exceptional instincts to shut down plays before they happen. He’s a very good athlete, can play in both zone and man coverage, and is lethal as a blitzer. I’d expect him to test very well, but how he measures in will likely determine if he winds up in the top-15 or back half of the first round.
JoJo Domann, Nebraska
Nebraska’s JoJo Domann continued to impress scouts in Mobile with his coverage ability and athleticism, and that’s likely to translate into an impressive performance at the Combine. You’ll have to get over his lack of size and strength as a run defender, but there’s no doubt about his ability to impact the passing game. Here’s how I described Domann in my Senior Bowl preview:
Perhaps the best coverage linebacker in the draft, Nebraska’s JoJo Domann is an electric playmaker with plenty of high-end traits. At 6’1, 230, Domann has solid size and pairs it with quality long speed and very good lateral mobility. Domann is a good tackler who is best as a run-and-chase defender. He’s not going to do well if asked to shed blocks or take on opponents with a head of steam. Domann is exactly the type of prospect who should excel in one-on-one drills, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he turns a lot of heads in Mobile.
Christian Harris, Alabama
If the Falcons do elect to move on from Deion Jones and/or Foyesade Oluokun this offseason, the most likely path to replacing their production is with a Day 2 pick at linebacker. Alabama’s Christian Harris would be a strong candidate for that role, assuming his Combine testing doesn’t lift him too high for the Falcons to take in the 2nd. Here’s how I described Harris in a previous mock draft:
Harris has quality size and athletic traits at 6’2, 232, along with a nasty attitude and a versatile skillset. He was deployed all over the Alabama defense, including as an active participant in blitz packages. Harris is physical as a run stopper, with the quickness to chase down runs to the sideline and the physicality to make strong, reliable tackles. He’s also been a good player in coverage, and is particularly comfortable dropping in zone. Harris plays with aggression and a non-stop motor, but that can also get him in trouble at times. He also struggles with stacking-and-shedding blocks, making him a better fit as a weakside linebacker where he can use his athleticism to run and hit.
Devin Lloyd, Utah
If Atlanta is looking to add an impact starter at linebacker while also bolstering the pass rush, Utah’s Devin Lloyd is an intriguing hybrid player who could address both spots. I think he’s better as an off-ball player, but he’s got plenty of production as an edge rusher and can be an excellent situational pass rusher. Here’s how I described Lloyd in my Senior Bowl preview:
The top linebacker prospect in the draft—in my opinion and according to TDN—Utah’s Devin Lloyd is a player I’ll be watching closely as a potential pick for the Falcons. Lloyd actually split reps at both MIKE and as a stand-up edge rusher, and was a very good player at both spots. He’s a ferocious competitor with good size at 6’3, 235. As a run defender, pass rusher, and coverage player—particularly in man—Lloyd has the looks of a high-end, instant-impact starter at the NFL level. If Atlanta were to trade down, Lloyd could be an intriguing fit as a prospect who contributes in multiple roles for the Falcons.
Chad Muma, Wyoming
A standout at the Senior Bowl and a player who is rising up draft boards, Wyoming’s Chad Muma certainly has the look of an NFL linebacker. He’s big and athletic, with the instincts and physicality to make an instant impact. Here’s how I described Muma in my latest mock draft:
An athletic player with excellent size (6’2, 240), Muma doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses. He’s got the physicality to thrive as a tackler and has strong instincts to shut down the run game. Muma also has good coverage ability, as he’s comfortable dropping in zone and in playing man against RBs and TEs. Most notably, Muma is an on-field leader with excellent football IQ—this is a player who can be the heartbeat of a defense in time.
Brandon Smith, Penn State
Penn State’s Brandon Smith is likely to be one of the most polarizing linebackers in the class. On the one hand, he’s got an absurdly high ceiling, with a 6’3, 240 frame and a rumored 4.38s 40-yard dash time. On the other, he’s failed to grow in a meaningful way year-over-year, particularly as a run defender. Smith is an impactful coverage player with excellent range, but his limitations as a tackler and against the run complicate his NFL projection. With time and coaching, Smith could wind up being one of the best LBs in the class. It all depends on where he’s drafted, and I’d expect his stock to rise back into the Day 2 range after an exceptional Combine workout.
Channing Tindall, Georgia
While two Georgia linebackers are generating all the hype, Channing Tindall seems to have been left behind in the Day 3 shuffle. On some level, I get it: Tindall lacks the eye-popping size and athleticism of Quay Walker, and the incredible splash plays and down-to-down consistency of Nakobe Dean. But Tindall is a good player in his own right, and could wind up being a very good value. I see no reason why he can’t become a solid NFL starter or high-end reserve, and a good Combine workout could help lift him back into the Day 2 conversation.
Quay Walker, Georgia
I was disappointed when Georgia’s Quay Walker pulled out of the Senior Bowl due to injury, as I was really hoping to see him in Mobile. As it stands, I’m currently a bit lower on Walker than the consensus. Obviously, the ceiling is quite high, but I thought he was a tad slow to trigger on plays and he doesn’t have a ton of starting experience. Still, he’s likely to be one of the most impressive testers at the Combine. Here’s how I described Walker in my Senior Bowl preview:
One of two Georgia linebackers attending the Senior Bowl, Quay Walker has a lot to gain from a strong performance next week. Walker was a bit of a late bloomer, but put together an excellent 2021 season that culminated in a great effort in the CFP Championship. Walker reminds me a bit of De’Vondre Campbell: exceptionally long and big at 6’3, 240, with very good athleticism to match. He’s still learning the finer points of the position and will need to process faster and attack gaps more aggressively as a run defender.
I hope you enjoyed this NFL Combine prospect preview! Stay tuned for our next position group tomorrow.