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NFL Combine preview: Linebackers to watch for the Falcons

Our coverage of the upcoming 2023 NFL Combine continues with a look at some of the top linebackers to watch in Indianapolis. The on-field workouts for the Combine begin March 2.

With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror, the offseason is in full swing for all 32 teams as we rocket towards free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft. The next event on the Draft Season calendar is the NFL Combine: a week-long convention in Indianapolis that gives NFL teams an opportunity to evaluate a huge group of prospects up close and personal. While fans are most familiar with the on-field workouts—sometimes dubbed the “underwear olympics”—the medical checks and player interviews are just as important for teams.

Just like for the Senior Bowl, we’ll be breaking down the top players to watch for the Atlanta Falcons at every position group. We’ll start on the defensive side of the ball and work our way through the offense as we approach the start of the Combine on-field workouts on March 2. Speaking of, here’s the schedule for those workouts if you’re interested.

NFL Combine 2023 On-field Workouts Schedule

FRIDAY, March 3 at 3 PM ET: CB, S
SATURDAY, March 4 at 1 PM ET: QB, WR, TE
SUNDAY, March 5 at 1 PM ET: RB, OT, IOL

Workouts will be televised live on NFL Network and can also be watched on NFL+, if you have that subscription.


Next up is a position group in transition, but still in need of a talent infusion: linebacker.


The off-ball linebacker group in the 2023 NFL Draft is definitely one of the thinner positions, with just two prospects in the top-50 and seven in the top-100 according to The Draft Network’s consensus rankings. That doesn’t mean there isn’t talent to be found in this group, but we could see these prospects thin out faster on Day 3 than we’re usually accustomed to.

Jack Campbell, Iowa

Winner of the 2022 Butkus Award as college football’s best linebacker, Iowa’s Jack Campbell looks the part of a big-bodied old school thumper at 6’5, 243. He’s not just a run-stuffer either, as Campbell has terrific instincts in zone coverage and better movement skills than you might expect. Campbell wins with an elite understanding of the position in all facets, and he’s one of the most pro-ready prospects in the class. The big question is: how athletic is he? A better than expected performance at the Combine could see Campbell taken as the first linebacker off the board—the tape is that good.

Daiyan Henley, Washington State

There were a number of impressive linebackers at the Senior Bowl, and Daiyan Henley was consistently one of my favorites. I loved the leadership he showed during the practices, as he took control of the huddle and managed the defense from the moment he stepped on the field. Here’s how I described his game in my Senior Bowl preview:

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.

DeMarvion Overshown, Texas

DeMarvion Overshown didn’t pop quite as much as I hoped in Mobile, but still had a solid week overall. He’s one of the more intriguing prospects to watch at the Combine, as his testing could be very impressive. Here’s my snippet on him from the Senior Bowl preview:

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

Ivan Pace Jr. turned heads when he measured in at just 5’10, 230 at the Senior Bowl. Then he turned heads again when he dominated the week of practices and the game. I love watching this guy play football and want to get him on the Falcons, though he’s a player who requires some creativity in his usage. Here’s a blurb on Pace from my last mock draft:

Pace is clearly an elite athlete at the position, and plays with a fiery “all-out” demeanor that leads to him always finding himself around the ball. His best trait might be his burst, as Pace’s ability to close on opponents, shoot gaps as a blitzer, and fly to the ball in coverage appears special. He’s also a physical hitter and a reliable finisher despite his size. The concerns with Pace are some over-aggressive tendencies, struggles to shed blocks due to a lack of length, and limitations in man coverage against tight ends.

Drew Sanders, Arkansas

The biggest overall riser in the linebacker group, Arkansas’ Drew Sanders has some huge fans in the draft community. NFL Network’s Lance Zierlein even had him going to the Falcons at pick 8 in his first mock draft. Let’s start with the good first: Sanders absolutely looks the part at 6’5, 232. He’s long and incredibly athletic, and put together a really impressive 2022 season after transitioning to a hybrid off-ball LB/EDGE role for Arkansas (9.5 sacks, 13.5 TFL, 5 PD, 1 INT). Now for the rest: Sanders has one season of off-ball LB play to his name, and barely played at all in his first two years (at Alabama). He’s a very intriguing but raw ball of clay. I do expect him to test off-the-charts, but I don’t really think he’ll be in play as a top-10 pick.

Noah Sewell, Oregon

Oregon’s Noah Sewell is player I wanted to love, but came away from watching with a lot of concerns. Sewell has a big-bodied inside linebacker build at 6’3, 250 and has some really impressive flashes, particularly as a pass rusher. As a blitzer and occasional edge rusher, Sewell has excellent linear athleticism and very good pop in his hands. He’s a really strong player and is one of the few linebackers in this class that can take on blocks in the middle. The biggest issue with Sewell is his lateral mobility: he’s quick to trigger, but really struggles with changing direction. As a result, he’s often a poor finisher who gets juked when the time comes to actually get the sack or tackle. It’s really frustrating, because Sewell is a very disruptive player on tape. I think there’s still a role for Sewell in an NFL defense, but the Combine testing will help determine his potential athletic limitations.

Trenton Simpson, Clemson

One of the more unique and fun players in this linebacker group, Clemson’s Trenton Simpson entered the season as the top linebacker on most boards. For the most part, he’s still there—though you don’t see him in the first round nearly as often anymore. Simpson has a good frame for the position at 6’3, 230 and is clearly an elite athlete. This dude moves so well, both with linear explosiveness and lateral mobility. He’s a rangy, sideline-to-sideline player in both run support and coverage and brings a lot of versatility. I love Simpson in coverage and as a blitzer, but he’s more of a run-and-chase player against the run. If you’re the betting type, Simpson is likely to be one of the top testers in this group at the Combine.

Henry To’o To’o, Alabama

I actually came away from Henry To’o To’o’s film a bit underwhelmed after being pretty high on him during the college season. First things first: I think To’o To’o is one of the smartest and most instinctual linebackers in the class. He’s almost always in the right place and fulfilling his assignment, whether that’s in run support or coverage. But there are significant size and strength concerns here at 6’2, 228, and To’o To’o just...didn’t flash nearly enough for my liking. I still think he’s an NFL starting weakside linebacker, but he’s probably more of a late-Day 2 pick than a potential late-first rounder.

Dee Winters, TCU

I really enjoyed watching TCU’s Dee Winters at the Senior Bowl before his week was cut short due to injury. He was one of the most consistently impressive linebackers there, and will continue to be a Day 3 target for the Falcons in my mock drafts. His testing could boost his stock significantly, given his size concerns. Here’s my blurb on Winters from our Senior Bowl preview:

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.

Other players to watch:

Owen Pappoe, Auburn
Dorian Williams, Tulane
Charlie Thomas, Georgia Tech
Ventrell Miller, Florida

I hope you enjoyed this entry in The Falcoholic’s NFL Combine preview series. Stay tuned tomorrow for our next position preview: cornerback.