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2022 NFL Draft: Falcons top targets at LB

The 2022 NFL Draft is nearly here, and we’re wrapping up our coverage with our final positional rankings. Today’s focus is LB, where the Falcons added Rashaan Evans but could still use quality depth and long-term potential.

Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Utah Utes 48-45 during the 108th Rose Bowl game in Pasadena on Saturday, January 1, 2022. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

The 2022 NFL Draft is almost here, and it’s finally time to wrap up all of our draft coverage with my final positional rankings. I’m proud to say I watched more than 100 players this offseason, far more than ever before. On the site, our team has compiled more than 20 full scouting reports on some of the top prospects in the class—with more to come over the next week! While you may not always agree with our rankings or analysis, we hope you’ve at least enjoyed the discussion and additional viewpoints.

For the positional rankings, these will be based on my personal rankings, not necessarily the rankings of our other writers. I watch players through the lens of the Atlanta Falcons: I prioritize and rank based on the perceived fit in Atlanta’s offense and defense. So keep that in mind, as these rankings may not line up with a generic big board.

I’d also like to note that while I watched a lot of players, I didn’t watch anywhere close to the nearly 300 who will be drafted. As a result, I’m only going to rank the players that I’ve seen at least 2-3 games of. There are tons of other prospects who I’ve seen limited tape of and discussed with other scouts, but I don’t feel comfortable ranking them without at least a few full games watched.

I hope you enjoy these rankings, and if you miss any position groups, you can find them all below:

DEFENSE: EDGE | DT | LB

1: Devin Lloyd, Utah

RAS: 9.59 | Projection: 1st Round | Scouting Report

The top linebacker prospect in the draft, 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.

2: Nakobe Dean, Georgia

RAS: N/A | Projection: 1st Round | Scouting Report

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 5’11, 230. 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 a physical hitter 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.

3: Chad Muma, Wyoming

RAS: 9.77 | Projection: 2nd Round | Scouting Report

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. An athletic player with excellent size (6’3, 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.

4: Quay Walker, Georgia

RAS: 9.63 | Projection: 2nd Round | Scouting Report

After pulling out of the Senior Bowl due to injury, Georgia’s Quay Walker put on a show at the NFL Combine with some seriously impressive athletic testing. 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 nearly 6’4, 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.

5: Christian Harris, Alabama

RAS: 9.07 | Projection: 2nd Round | Scouting Report

Alabama’s Christian Harris is an uber-athletic but undersized linebacker who very much fits the mold that many modern NFL defenses are looking for. Harris possesses elite range, long speed, and explosiveness that give him considerable upside in several areas of his game. Overall, Harris is a smart player with good instincts, exceptional athleticism, and versatile coverage ability, but he needs to go to a system that will protect him in the run game–at least until he can improve his technique as a tackler.

6: *Damone Clark, LSU

RAS: 9.87 | Projection: *4th-5th Round

*This ranking is based on Clark’s tape and testing, not on his injury. The injury will undoubtedly drop his stock due to him likely missing the entirety of the 2022 season. I still like Clark a lot as a prospect, and think the Falcons should consider him as a long-term pick on Day 3.

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 6’2, 240. 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.

7: Leo Chenal, Wisconsin

RAS: 9.99 | Projection: 3rd Round

A major riser after the NFL Combine, Wisconsin’s Leo Chenal (6’2, 250) put on a show in Indianapolis and finished with an incredible 9.99 RAS. On tape, the linear athleticism and physicality are apparent—but Chenal’s elite agility scores were a surprise. Chenal very much has the build of an “old school” linebacker, with a big frame and an enforcer mentality in the box. He’s also a terrific blitzer, with impressive TFL and sack production. His coverage is very hit-or-miss, but it’s clearly not an athletic limitation. Chenal is likely to be an early-down specialist at the beginning of his NFL career, but the ceiling of a high-end starter is there.

8: Troy Andersen, Montana State

RAS: 10.0 | Projection: 3rd Round

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, one-of-a-kind 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.

9: Channing Tindall, Georgia

RAS: 9.68 | Projection: 3rd-4th Round

While two Georgia linebackers are generating all the hype, Channing Tindall (6’2, 230) seems to have been left behind. On some level, I get it: Tindall lacks the eye-popping size/athleticism combo 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.

10: Darrian Beavers, Cincinnati

RAS: 9.60 | Projection: 3rd-4th Round

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, 240, 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 long speed to be an asset in man coverage against NFL TEs.

11: Brian Asamoah, Oklahoma

RAS: 8.90 | Projection: 3rd-4th Round

Oklahoma’s Brian Asamoah is an athletic, versatile linebacker prospect who brings sideline-to-sideline range, short-area quickness, and high-level coverage ability to the position. While Asamoah is undersized at 6’0, 226, he doesn’t lack length and has little trouble playing man coverage or making tackles. Asamoah is physical and has made significant strides in his two years as a starter. Coverage and competitive toughness are his biggest strengths, but his smaller stature could limit his impact as a run defender in the NFL.

12: JoJo Domann, Nebraska

RAS: 7.60 | Projection: 4th Round

One of the best coverage linebackers in the draft, Nebraska’s JoJo Domann is an electric playmaker with plenty of high-end traits. At 6’1, 228, Domann is undersized but possesses 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. 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.

13: Micah McFadden, Indiana

RAS: 9.47 | Projection: 4th Round

Indiana’s Micah McFadden has long been one of my targets due to his tremendous production as a blitzer. McFadden was an elite disruptor, with 6.5 sacks and 15.5 TFL along with 77 total tackles (49 solo) in 2021. He’s also got solid ball production in zone coverage, with 4 career INTs. McFadden is a good tackler and plays with excellent effort. He also showcases strong instincts and quick read-and-react ability as a run defender. However, despite McFadden’s testing, he looks a little stiff in terms of his lateral mobility on tape. McFadden also has trouble shedding blocks due to below-average arm length, and needs to be covered up by a quality defensive front. Even with these limitations to his game, McFadden should be no worse than a special teams demon and quality rotational linebacker.

14: Brandon Smith, Penn State

RAS: 9.97 | Projection: 4th Round

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, 250 frame and elite athleticism (9.97 RAS). 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 develop into one of the best LBs in the class.

15: D’Marco Jackson, Appalachian State

RAS: 8.26 | Projection: 4th-5th Round

A standout from Appalachian State who had a good week at the Senior Bowl, D’Marco Jackson is a physical and instinctual linebacker with solid size (6’1, 233). Jackson is a very good tackler who uses his length and strength to consistently make plays as a run defender. He’s also a capable blitzer, with impressive linear athleticism and explosiveness. He’s solid as a zone coverage option, but lacks the lateral mobility for man coverage assignments. Jackson is a high-effort, high football IQ player who should be able to carve out a role early in his NFL career.