This is a five-part series in which I will take a quick glance at who to watch for this offseason as the draft process begins. There is still a lot left to be determined, but this will give you an early glance at who some of the top candidates are at each position. In this third installment, we will take a look at the linebacker position.
#1 Devin White – Lousiana State – JR Devin is the top prize in this year’s linebacking class. The 2018 All-American linebacker won the Dick Butkus Award, given to the nations top linebacker. He is one of the most polished and fundamentally sound players in this year’s draft. At 6’1” / 240 lbs, he has good speed (4.54) and his ball pursuit is top notch. White is not a finesse player as he goes full throttle and uses his perfect tackling technique to wrap up and drive ball carriers to the ground. White is one the most complete defenders in the country and has two straight seasons of one hundred twenty plus tackles, twelve or more for a loss and three or more sacks proves it. He is also very effective in pass coverage. He can be a bit over aggressive at times and over pursue, but he’s everything you want in a middle linebacker. 1st Round Grade – Top 10 Pick
#2 Devin Bush – Michigan – JR The second Devin on my list is not as big as White, but his stocky frame 5’11” / 233 lbs while not a major issue, will be a concern. It’s his leadership and play that will earn him high grades by scouts. The All-American, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year was the captain on one of the nations best defenses. While his Junior season was hampered by injuries, his sophomore year that shows you how dominant he can be. He had ninety-five tackles, ten for a loss, five and a half sacks and added one interception, with seven pass deflections. He has a solid all-around game that NFL teams covet. With his instincts and ability to read offenses, he will have no trouble wearing the dot at the next level. 1st Round Grade – Top 20 Pick
#3 Josh Allen – Kentucky – SR Look for the senior linebacker from Kentucky to fly up draft boards between now and April’s draft. The more teams dig into his game film and talk with him the more they will drool over him. Allen is one of the more versatile players in this draft. He can play with his hand in the dirt or play standing up, and he can drop back in coverage with no issues. He has shown the ability to learn and improve his game. That will take him a long way at the next level. Allen has all the tools but needs to continue to develop into being a star. That shouldn’t be hard for a player who is willing to do whatever it takes to get better. He’ll provide an excellent pass rush, and his non-stop style allows him to make plays all over the field. I’m not sure he will be considered a true linebacker but more of the Edge position. Again, he has the versatility to play in any scheme. 1st Round Grade – Top 30 Pick
#4 Khalil Hodge – Buffalo – JR It was just four years ago that another Khalil (Mack) from Buffalo entered the draft and took the league by storm. Just like his predecessor, Hodge will make some NFL team extremely happy. He is a tackling machine, with four hundred and nineteen in three seasons at Buffalo. Hodge finished 2nd and 5th in the nation in tackles the last two seasons. Although he doesn’t have quite the pass rush skills as Mack, he will make plays all over the field. There are some questions about his speed, as he’s been guesstimated to be around the 4.70 mark, but his game speed is much faster. He has some of the best instincts and read-and-react skills in the class. Hodge is a super-athletic player who sheds off blocks relatively easily. He has a variety of moves that make him hard to double team. He is a blue chip player and will instantly improve the team that drafts him in April. 2nd Round Grade – Top 40 Pick
#5 TJ Edwards – Wisconsin – SR The Badgers will be losing one of the smartest linebackers in college football to the draft. While his intelligence is off the charts, he is limited in his athleticism. He is a perfect two-down thumper, but he may come off the field on third downs if teams feel he can’t hold his own. His mobility and agility will be what makes or breaks him at the next level. His intelligence allowed him to cover up those flaws to this point. He will need to shine during the next couple of months during the All-Star games and practices and shine at the combine. There is a place in the pros for such a player, and he can fill it well. 3rd Round Grade – Top 100 Pick