2018 Linebacker Draft Prospects
I absolutely love the linebacker class this year, I think there is potential to be at least 3 legitimate LB1s and possibly another 5-6 LB2s- there is a lot of good prospects and it comes at a time when the NFL could really use an infusion of young stud linebackers.
I have said it before and I promise to not beat it over your head over and over, but I believe having a good core of linebackers can really buoy your IDP lineup and give your whole team a strong floor for the week. Having several consistent linebackers that rake up 8+ tackles a week will really help your IDP team.
The Studs- LB1s
Roquan Smith, Georgia
Roquan was an force to be reckoned with at Georgia, winning the Butkus Award in 2017 as the nation’s top linebacker and posting 137 tackles as well as 6.5 sacks. The numbers don’t tell the whole story, Roquan really pops off the tape and his presence is felt from sideline to sideline even playing in the SEC which is flush with NFL talent. Athletic enough to cover, instinctive enough to play every down and lead the defense, and aggressive enough to lay down a big hit when needed - Roquan is a total package linebacker and should be a top 10 NFL draft pick. Consequently, he should be the top defensive rookie taken in IDP rookie drafts.
Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
As much as I love Roquan, Tremaine is barely a click behind- possibly the 1b to Roquan’s 1a at this position. Tremaine projects an outside linebacker but has the ability to play on the inside as well. He will turn 20 just a few days after the draft and is somewhat raw in instincts but makes up for that with insane athleticism. Tremaine posted similar numbers in 2017 to Roquan, 109 tackles and 5.5 sacks while chipping in three forced fumbles as well. He has a huge frame and long arms which help him tackle well and break out or spin away from blockers. Tremaine should be drafted in the first 15 picks and will be an effective starter from day 1.
Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
One of my personal favorite in the draft, Leighton tallied 141 tackles in his junior season and first full season as a starter. The fact that he only had one year as a starter highlights some of his weaknesses and areas that need to improve- his instincts and ability to make plays after being engaged by a blocker are areas that will come with time. Leighton has great size, showed talent with covering especially for someone of his size, and crushed the combine. Leighton is a great tackler, I didn’t see hardly any broken tackles when he would wrap up a player. Leighton will also be a round 1 pick, and should be an impact player early on his career.
NOTE: All three of the above linebackers went 1-2-3 on a recent DLF defensive only mock draft, to check that out go to dynastyleaguefootball.com and search IDP articles- article write up by @IDPwithBEE
Rashaan Evans, Alabama
Rashaan is another in the continuing line of Crimson Tide linebackers, posting 74 tackles, 13 for a loss, and 6 sacks in his 2017 season. Evans is built like a linebacker, a phenomenal athlete with ability to diagnose plays as they develop. He showed ability to sidestep blockers and remain disciplined as well and can cover the entire field. Rashaan excelled as a late blitzer and needs to improve instincts- that will come with time, he didn’t get on the field much before 2017 because of the talent at Alabama. Evans should be drafted in the first round and will contribute right away but his ceiling will come after more time playing in the NFL.
Malik Jefferson, Texas
Malik looked the part of a possible Day 1 pick but slipped a little in 2016- he rebounded nicely in 2017 posting 110 tackles and then putting on an impressive display at the combine. Malik has shown ability when put in a position to play and not lead the defense, he will excel more as a 4-3 OLB or possibly inside if not in the MIKE LB spot. His instincts and ability to attack a play as it develops were areas he would struggle in, Malik made up for it by speed and recovery time and covers the whole field well. Malik should be a day 2 pick and will be on the field in the NFL early with ability to contribute.
Darius Leonard, SC State
Darius put up phenomenal production for four years at the FCS level- he gained weight to strengthen his frame after not garnering a scholarship at Clemson and still maintained his playing speed. Darius was a patient tackler with phenomenal closing speed and range, and covered well when dropping back in coverage. The knocks with FBS players are always level of competition, Darius is also smaller in arms and chest and may need to play ‘meaner’ when on the NFL gridiron. His production and play making ability is without question and will carve out a starting role with an NFL team, may take a year or two to begin reaching full potential.
Tegray Scales, Indiana
A smaller LB at 6 foot even but 230 pounds, Tegray was a phenomenal linebacker at Indiana. Ignore the tape of him getting torched by Saquon! Scales put up 102 stops in 2017 as well as 13 sacks, and had 23.5 tackles for a loss as a junior in 2016. The man simply tackles and produces. He didn’t have a great showing at the combine, running a slower 40 time of 4.77. What he brings to the game is instincts- he is always around the ball, vocal leader, looks for the play and doesn’t wait for a runner to come to him. The knock is he doesn’t possess the elite pursuit speed and acceleration when changing directions- he didn’t participate in any agility drills at the combine. Likely a day 3 pick, Tegray should still produce at the NFL level after some time developing and learning the game.
Jerome Baker, Ohio State
Jerome projects well as an outside linebacker with the speed and range to cover the field and not be relied on to stop the run. Jerome led the Buckeyes with 72 tackles in his junior season, including an impressive 16 tackles in the Big Ten Championship Game versus Wisconsin. Jerome has phenomenal speed and range, changes direction quickly, and covered very well when asked to cover backs and TEs. He wasn’t overly impressive in many games and plays small at times. Jerome still projects as a day 2 pick and has ability to possibly be a three down LB given the right situation and team.
Josey Jewell, Iowa
Josey was a highly productive LB- garnering All-American honors and notching 134 tackles including 13.5 for loss and 11 pass break-ups in his senior season. Josey had a subpar combine showing and has a few ‘red flags’ in the areas of athletic ability and agility- highlighted by the combine. But it is hard to deny the production and the way he attacks the game- he diagnoses plays instantly and is a true student of the game. He plays downhill and adjusts well to misdirection and tackles with great discipline. Josey is projected as a late day 2, possibly day 3 pick and will likely carve out a role as a solid starter in the NFL with upside to be an LB1 due to his above average instincts.
Shaquem Griffin, Central Florida
Everyone’s favorite story- Shaquem is so much fun to watch and the fact that he is missing his left hand should not even be a factor, he is a FOOTBALL player. Griffin posted one of the fastest 40 times in history for a LB and possesses great character as well as a passion for the game. Shaquem is fast and processes the game at a similar speed, punishes when he hits, covers well, and can get after the QB. The knock on him is he doesn’t disengage blocks well, is smaller in size, and needs to work on finishing tackles. He will likely be a day 3 pick and will contribute as an LB3 type and could produce more if given the chance- a guy you don’t want to count out!
WILD CARD: Frank Ginda, San Jose State
Bobby Boucher would be proud of Frank Ginda, Frank is a ‘tackling machine’. That’s the easiest way to describe what he did in the Mountain West. Frank led the NCAA with 176 tackles, the 2nd most since 2006. He has a high football IQ, a tremendous motor, ability to fight through tackles, he’s also a workout freak that loves to play football. He wasn’t invited to the combine but he has measured as one of the slower LBs in the class- that will be his biggest knock, ability to cover and it may keep him off the field in third down passing situations. Frank should be a day 3 pick and if given the opportunity and coaching, will produce at least LB2 tackle numbers. He’s a fun guy to watch, always around the ball.