Previewing the 2019 NFL Combine: Studs, starters and sleepers at Linebacker
The 2019 NFL Scouting Combine is now less than two weeks away and NFLDraftScout.com is taking a daily look at the top prospects at each position to help get you up to speed quickly.
Each day, a different position will be profiled and given a grade with three individual players featured:
· A First Round Prototype
· Second Day (Future) Starter
· Third Day Sleeper
Senior Analysts Rob Rang and Ric Serritella have nearly 40 years of combined experience professionally evaluating prospects for the NFL and after a year spent visiting campuses, watching tape, attending games, all-star practices and Combine training facilities, they have not surprisingly developed some favorites in this talented 2019 draft class.
Hundreds of their scouting reports are being printed for Lindy’s NFL Draft magazine right now (RESERVE YOUR COPY HERE) with a snapshot of each position and some of their favorite players to watch available complimentary of NFLDraftScout.com below.
Traditional Off-Ball Linebacker
The 2019 NFL draft is loaded with quality defenders but the position clearly weakest on that side of the ball this year is clearly among traditional off-ball linebackers.
That is not to say there isn’t future starters to be found. On the contrary, LSU’s reigning Butkus Award winner Devin White has the look of a top 20 pick and future Pro Bowler. And teams searching for speedy heat-seeking missiles to combat today’s pass-catching specialists out of the backfield? Devin Bush and Vosean Joseph from fellow blueblood programs, Michigan and Florida, fit the bill.
But don’t expect a repeat of last year when the Chicago Bears made then-Butkus Award winner Roquan Smith the first off-ball ‘backer to earn a top 10 pick since the Carolina Panthers nabbed future All-Pro Luke Kuechly ninth overall in 2012. Or for rookie Pro Bowlers to be available outside of the top half of the first round, where the Dallas Cowboys found Leighton Vander Esch and the Indianapolis Colts found Darius Leonard, who not only won the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of Year, he led the entire league in tackles with an eye-popping 163 stops, while chipping in seven sacks, 10 passes broken up four forced fumbles.
It is worth noting that Vander Esch, Leonard and San Francisco’s Fred Warner – the NFL’s three leading rookie tacklers in 2018 – exhausted their college eligibility and entered the draft as seniors.
The instincts and honed technique that comes with starting multiple seasons is not quite as apparent in this year’s class, with White, Bush and Joseph - along with fellow underclassmen Mack Wilson (Alabama) and Tre Lamar (Clemson) – the top linebackers on NFLDraftScout.com’s board.
A First Round Prototype: Devin White, LSU
The 2019 NFL draft might be best known for the talent playing along the defensive line but a strong argument could be made that the best defender in the country last season was White, LSU's consensus All-American and Butkus Award-winning linebacker. Despite missing half of the much-anticipated rivalry game against Alabama due to a highly questionable targeting call the week before, White led the SEC with 123 total tackles in 2018, nearly doubling his number of solo stops (62) from his 2017 campaign when he averaged a conference-best 10.2 tackles per game. White earned First Team All-SEC honors after both his junior and sophomore seasons after making the power conference's All-Freshman list in 2016, leaving as one of the accomplished athletes in LSU's storied history. With all due respect to Roquan Smith - the 2017 Butkus Award winner and eighth overall pick last spring to the Chicago Bears - White was arguably the top linebacker in college football each of the past two seasons. As I recently shared with the Los Angeles Chargers, on and off the field, White looks like a future franchise pillar and a rare inside linebacker worthy of top 20 consideration.
Second Day (Future) Starter: Tre Lamar, Clemson
Sensational freshman signal-caller Trevor Lawrence and a dominant defensive line earned much of the attention for Clemson's second national title over the past three seasons but don't discount the impact their quarterback on defense - Lamar- had on the Tigers' title run. Starting every game for the first time in his three seasons at Clemson, Lamar emerged as one of the top linebackers in the entire country, being named a finalist for the Dick Butkus Award and earning Second Team All-ACC honors with 79 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and three sacks, along with an interception he returned 43 yards. Listed at 6-4, 255 pounds by Clemson, Lamar is bigger than some of this year's top defensive linemen and a classic inside run-stuffing thumper well-suited to a traditional 3-4 scheme. Like the New England Patriots’ similarly-built Donta Hightower (6-3, 260), Lamar offers a rare combination of size and speed, offering all sorts of options for a creative defensive play-caller.
Third Day Sleeper: Sione Takitaki, BYU
Teams looking for a diamond in the rough will want to do their due diligence on Takitaki, a reformed “knucklehead” kicked off the team at BYU early in his career who matured into a team captain and all-star game standout as a senior. The 6-2, 230 pound Takitaki is a flashy athlete who earned rave reviews from scouts I spoke to at the East-West Shrine Game and a late call-up to the Senior Bowl, as a result. If teams are convinced that his immaturity is behind him, Takitaki is likely to earn a middle round selection, projecting as an immediate special teamer with the potential to ultimately compete for a starting role, most likely outside in a traditional 4-3 alignment.