In the second installment of this series, I will look at the best linebackers currently available in the FCS. These are the ones I think have the best chance of making it to the next level.
Darius Leonard, South Carolina State
Darius Leonard may not set the stat sheets alight with sacks or interceptions, but he really is a good all-around linebacker. He averages 4 sacks a season and in his college career has 6 interceptions, 3 of which were returned for a touchdown. Last year, Leonard led the Bulldogs with 124 tackles and had 14.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks on his way to being named the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year.
NFL Scouts are noticing Leonard as well. Buddy Pough (SC State head coach) was quoted as saying “We’ve probably had more interest in Darius from the NFL than any player we’ve had here lately.” So what is it that gives Leonard the ‘X Factor’? Simply put, he is versatile. He has been used on special teams and has even lined up at wide receiver for the Bulldogs, mirroring what Jabrill Peppers was doing last season at Michigan.
Averaging over 12 tackles per game this season, Leonard does not show any signs of slowing down and is highly likely to end up as an NFL draft pick in April.
Nathan Stone, Duquesne
Nathan Stone is the true definition of a steady player. So far in his collegiate career, he has started all 35 games and managed 232 career tackles and 25.5 tackles for a loss including 12.5 sacks. In 2014, he made the watch list for the Jerry Rice Award (Most outstanding freshman), losing out to Chase Edmonds of Fordham.
Similar to Darius Leonard, Stone has also been used on offense back in high school and in his career has rushed for 6 touchdowns on 12 carries and has 13 catches for 312 yards and 2 touchdowns. But this isn’t why he makes my list. He makes this list simply because he is incredibly talented.
A good NFL comparison for Stone would be Jatavis Brown. Slightly undersized but really good in pass coverage, somebody who is able to utilize their talent to put in strong performances.
Darin Greenfield, South Dakota
Darin Greenfield is technically a defensive lineman but his first position is linebacker. So far this season he has managed 5 sacks and 29 tackles including 12 tackles for a loss in just 6 games. At 6’3” and 235lbs, Greenfield is an absolute powerhouse.
He measures up similarly to Luke Kuechly and by watching him; you can see similarities in the way he plays. Greenfield can step up and lead a defense when required and has been a key piece to South Dakota’s success this season.
He will hold value in the NFL due to his ability to play both as a DE and at linebacker. For this reason, I would be expecting to see him playing on Sundays fairly soon.
Nick DeLuca, North Dakota State
This is a strange one, as DeLuca is currently in his 5th season in college due to missing the majority of last season due to a shoulder injury. He came back to make 15 tackles plus a 40-yard interception return touchdown in an overtime victory against Eastern Washington. In 2016, he was also the only FCS player to be nominated for the Butkus Award (presented to the top linebacker in college football).
My main issue with DeLuca is his injury history. He had the shoulder injury which meant he missed a lot of time last year, he also underwent knee surgery back in September after picking up an injury in practice but is now back playing. For the purposes of this article, I am going to overlook his injuries and judge him purely on his talent. He is a tackling machine and during his time in college has made a total of 283 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and 6 interceptions including a 40-yard interception touchdown return.
Due to his injuries, he is likely to go undrafted, but the team that takes a gamble on him in free agency will not be disappointed. He is incredibly talented and will be more than capable of producing at the next level.
Kyle Archie, Norfolk State
Kyle Archie is another of these linebackers that would be classed as ‘undersized’ at 6’ and 220lbs. But he currently sits 12th in the FCS in total tackles averaging 10.8 per game. This season he has already forced 3 fumbles, returning one for a touchdown, demonstrating his superb technique and strength in a tackle.
He is not a great pass rusher but against the run, he can read the run exceptionally well and move up to make the tackle for minimum yardage. I think a good comparison for him would be the recently retired James Laurinaitis, never put together a large amount of sacks but was still a really talented linebacker who can have big games by putting together a lot of tackles.
Archie is another player I would expect to go undrafted but should still find his way onto an NFL team in free agency.
Kenyatta Dunbar (Gardner-Webb)
Bryson Armstrong (Kennesaw State)
Quinton Hampton (Wagner)
Keep an eye out for the final edition in this series when I will be going through the best defensive backs coming out of the FCS. As always, drop me a follow on Twitter @DFF_JamesH. Feedback, questions, and comments are always appreciated!