The offseason is here for the Atlanta Falcons, and that means it’s time to go full-throttle into free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft. With my colleagues taking the lead on the free agency front, I’m going to be focusing my efforts over the next few weeks on the draft. Atlanta secured the 8th overall pick for 2023, the second year in a row that the team will hold that selection.
The next event on the Draft Season calendar is the Reese’s Senior Bowl—a showcase of the top draft-eligible seniors (or players who graduated early) that takes place in Mobile right around the first week of February. To get everyone ready for the week to come, I’ll be breaking down the top players to watch for the Falcons and the league at large.
Next up in the positional previews is linebacker, where the Falcons have some significant question marks heading into 2023.
Linebacker is well represented at the 2023 Senior Bowl, with one of the top prospects in the class in Henry To’o To’o and a number of the most intriguing Day 2/early-Day 3 players in attendance. Here are some of my favorite names to watch.
Daiyan Henley, Washington State
One of the biggest risers this year, Daiyan Henley spent his first five (!) seasons at Nevada. A former wide receiver and defensive back, Henley had only played two years at linebacker before transferring to Washington State for the 2022 season. The increase in competition didn’t slow him down at all, and Henley responded with his most productive year: 106 total tackles, 12.0 TFL, and 4.0 sacks. The athleticism immediately pops off the tape when watching Henley, as do his instincts in coverage from his former positions. He’s also a powerful and eager tackler, which helped make the LB transition much easier. Henley is a bit on the small side at 6’2, 232, and will likely need to continue developing as a linebacker, but the upside is there for a versatile long-term starter. His week at the Senior Bowl could be significant for his overall draft stock.
DeMarvion Overshown, Texas
One of the more interesting prospects heading to Mobile, Texas’ DeMarvion Overshown’s 6’2, 224 frame immediately reminded me of Kyle Hamilton. Overshown is also a former safety who transitioned to linebacker in 2020. An outstanding athlete, Overshown checks all the boxes in terms of explosiveness, lateral mobility, and long speed. As you might expect from his DB background, Overshown is a very effective coverage linebacker that has the size to match up with tight ends. His issues come against the run, as Overshown is still developing his instincts and his frame his too light to effectively stack and shed blockers. Overshown will require a specialized role but has undeniable upside—and could even become a three-down player if he can add a little weight.
Ivan Pace Jr., Cincinnati
One of the most productive linebackers in college football during the 2022 season, Ivan Pace Jr. put on a show with 136 total tackles, 20.5 TFL, and 9.0 sacks (along with 4 PD). Those numbers are even more impressive considering Pace Jr. transferred from Miami (OH) to Cincinnati this season, and responded to the jump in competition with his best season yet. At 6’0, 240, Pace Jr. is a heavier linebacker but lacks ideal height and length. Athletically, Pace Jr. checks the boxes thanks to his high-end burst and lateral movement skills. He’s a powerful, punishing hitter and terrific finisher, both as a tackler and blitzer. The lack of length is the biggest concern with Pace Jr., as he struggles to shed blocks and doesn’t have the size to match up with tight ends in man coverage. I’m really interested to see how he performs at the Senior Bowl.
Henry To’o To’o, Alabama
The top linebacker prospect at the Senior Bowl and a potential late first-round pick, Alabama’s Henry To’o To’o is a prototypical weakside linebacker at the NFL level. He’s an elite athlete with sideline-to-sideline range and plus ability in coverage. To’o To’o’s best trait is arguably his instincts, as he’s quick to decipher and sniff out plays in both the run and pass game. His only limitations come from his size—listed at 6’2, 228, To’o To’o is definitely on the lighter side. He does play with plenty of power and is a strong, reliable tackler, but he’s not capable of fighting through traffic and shedding blocks from offensive linemen. Deployed properly, To’o To’o could be an impact player.
Dee Winters, TCU
Another small linebacker (6’1, 230) and defensive back convert, TCU’s Dee Winters was a team captain and primary leader for TCU during their CFP Championship run in the 2022 season. He piled up 14.5 TFL and 7.5 sacks, showcasing his ability as a lethal blitzer against the run and pass. Winters is a very good athlete with excellent lateral mobility, short-area quickness, and long speed. His DB background shows in his coverage, where he’s effective in both zone and man coverage assignments. As a run defender, Winters is more of a run-and-chase player and will be most successful as a WILL—and this is bolstered by his penetration ability as a blitzer. Winters needs to continue to develop his instincts and decision-making as a run defender, but I think he’ll wind up going on Day 2 due to his leadership traits and coverage ability.
Other players to watch:
Isaiah Land, Florida A&M
Dorian Williams, Tulane
SirVocea Dennis, Pitt
I hope you enjoyed this entry in our Senior Bowl 2023 preview series. I’ll be in Mobile to cover the Senior Bowl for The Falcoholic from Tuesday, January 31 through Thursday, February 2. Stay tuned tomorrow for our next position previews: cornerback and safety.