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Ground Rules on this NFL Combine preview scouting:
-- Looking at the initial performance data from their college years in our system.
-- Watching 10-15+ minutes of tape
-- Giving an initial knee-jerk reaction to what I am seeing/feeling.
-- Will rank them as if I am drafting them for the dynasty rookie draft, and I will also break them into tiers
-- We don’t have the full host of measurables, so my reactions could change when I see the physical times and attributes. Sometimes your scouting eyes deceive you on how fast a player is moving, etc. We will be doing all the full-fledged scouting of these players after the Combine data is in.
-- This ‘draft’ and analysis will drop in a player at a time at various times throughout the day. Check the clock on the title to see when the latest post was made.
-- Height/weight is latest estimates we have from their listed info or all-star games, etc. Not official.
-- Going prospect by prospect in alphabetical order.
The NFL Combine Inside Linebackers…
Current consensus top 5 ILB prospects in the mainstream…
1) Tremaine Edmunds, Va Tech
2) Roquan Smith, Georgia
3) Rashaan Evans, Alabama
4) Akeem Victor, Washington
5) Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
*Five Tiers: A, B, C, D, F…like school grades. Players listed in ‘my favorite’ order.
Tremaine Edmunds, Va Tech (6’5”/250)
Smart, very tough, NFL-fast, instinctual player. Could be an NFL ILB but seems a little more suited as a 4-3 OLB or 3-4 OLB because he has size and quickness to rush off the EDGE but can also drop into coverage as well as play the run. ‘B’ of a linebacker talent with ‘A’ size/tools. A-
Genard Avery, Memphis (6’1”/255)
Classic ILB look/body. Everything he does looks like an NFL ILB…reminds me a bit of Elandon Roberts. 80 tackles and 22.0 tackles for loss with 8.5 sacks in 2017. Picked off two passes in 2016, returned both for a TD. He’s smart, talented player and a good/great tackler. A- (possible A).
Christian Sam, Arizona State (6’2”/237)
Instinctually quick ILB. Very aggressive and fundamentally sound tackler. He’s what you look for in an ILB prospect…size, quickness, superior tackler. Missed 2016 with a foot injury. Had 10.1 tackles per game in 2017. He’s a legit NFL ILB prospect…in the argument for best ILB prospect. A—
Josey Jewell, Iowa (6’2”/236)
Classic middle linebacker look. Moves around well enough to be considered for the NFL…want to see how his Combine numbers turnout because he could be better than I’ll grade here. Smart ILB and adept at reading plays and moving through traffic evading blocks and getting to ballcarriers. 120+ tackles per season the past three seasons. He’s legit, and could be an ‘A’. B++
Uchenna Nwosu, USC (6’3”/240)
From our earlier OLB preview: I’m not sure he’s the ideal 4-3 DE…but he’s a really good football player you find a spot for. He played stand-up EDGE rusher mostly for USC and created all kinds of havoc getting to the QB and batting down passes. He was too quick, slithery for blockers to stop him but when they did square up on him he was halted. He’s not a big, physical DE that can shed blockers…he’s all speed/agility. He fits more as a 4-3 OLB, I think. He has NFL speed/agility, tackling ability, instincts and pass rush/defending skills. Solid across the board…possible ‘A’ if he ‘wins’ at the Combine. B++
As an ILB: He played EDGE a lot in college but the instincts and raw skills to be an ILB are present. It’s not easy to flip a switch and make an improvising OLB/DE into a savvy ILB in the pros, but Nwosu has tools to want to do such a thing (but it’s not a given it can happen). He may be a better 4-3 OLB. B+
Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama (6’0”/235)
Looks and moves, and tackles much more like a top ILB prospect than higher ranked (by analysts) teammate Rashaan Evans. Among ILB prospects, it’s not even close – Hamilton is better than Evans. Good feet, NFL speed-agility and nice instincts. B+
Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State (6’4”/240)
I expected more. He’s good, but I was thinking he might be great looking at some basics ahead of the tape. Watched him against top rushing team San Diego State and he didn’t impress me with his ability to sniff out the running game. He is a very good tackler. Has solid movement skills at ILB. He just never showed me that extra ‘it’ factor of greatness. He’s good. Will start in the NFL but star/upside potential might be limited. B--
Kenny Young UCLA (6’1”/240)
Solid LB prospect – moves well, nice size, solid tackler, can drop back into coverage. He’s not an ace at anything but sound in all the areas you’re looking for. B-
Andre Smith, North Carolina (6’0”/240)
His prospect status got derailed by a knee injury two games into the 2017 season. He averaged 10.5 tackles per game in those 2 games, and returned a pick for a 73-yard TD. Had 113 tackles in 2016. He’s a classic, thick, tough ILB. Going to be hard to scout because of the knee injury…hurts his status. Could be a lot better than this grade right now. C++
Jason Cabinda, Penn State (6’1”/234)
Looks the ILB part. Thick, tough and great closing speed on tackles or getting into the backfield. Solid all around ILB prospect but not as instinctual/is out of position from sniffing out ballcarriers more than you want to see. Has more assisted tackles than solos. C++
Jack Cichy, Wisconsin (6’2”/234)
Missed time in college with a torn pectoral and missed all 2017 with a knee injury. I saw him called slow on an NFL preview analysis…but he looks NFL fast enough to me. Great instincts. Smart, tough player. Needs a little more bulk but he’s a legit NFL prospect. May end up at 4-3 OLB but either way he’s an NFL prospect for sure. Downgrade a bit on injury history. C
Rashaan Evans, Alabama (6’3”/234)
Looks and moves more like an OLB than ILB, a 4-3 OLB. Played some ILB but also floated around various spots on the Alabama defense. Wasn’t good enough to be a main player first three seasons and then had a decent season in 2017. Didn’t look like he had the heart or instinct of an ILB…likes to move around the field roving. Didn’t show great one-on-one tackling skills. Runs straight-line fast but a bit dicey going east-west. Not a huge fan of what I saw, but he has an NFL body and enough speed to make it to the league in some capacity. C
Joel Iyiegbuniwe, W. Kentucky (6’0”/230)
Played as a 4-3 OLB on the tape I watched…but he has an ILB feel to his game. Is a little stiff stopping and starting, but he’s not a bad athlete for the NFL. He didn’t sway me for or against him on the tape I watched. I saw a legit NFL body but suspect on how good compared to the rest of this ILB class. C
Roquan Smith, Georgia (6’1”/225)
From our earlier OLB preview: Played a lot in the middle on the tape I watched but didn’t make a lot of plays. Drops into coverage a bunch. Moves around the field solidly…but not often where the action is. He looks like an NFL LB/SAF hybrid more than a straight OLB. Looks like he’s low-end NFL-worthy but more of a nice backup. If he’s tests better then maybe safety is a possibility. C--
As an ILB: I like his skills more on the outside and not converting inside. He looks like he wants to roam around more than play a steady hand up the middle. C-
Tegray Scales, Indiana (6’0”/230)
A lot of things to like – tough, good anticipation, sheds blocks, sound tackler. What caught my eye and kept nagging me…a bad first step. He loses some ground trying to get started. Good speed once rolling but had a tough time in coverage with some receivers on crossing routes and got a late start heading towards a tackle. Great tackler if you fall into his web, but for every sound play he makes he’s at risk for getting burned on short speed/agility. Worry about him at the next level at a glance. C—
Mike McCray, Michigan (6’2’/242)
Solid college player but looks a little ‘slow on the draw’ for the NFL. Like his reaction time is like a slightly bad internet connection, a slight hesitation before making a move and that first step costing him from making plays the way you’d want an ILB to. He’s OK, but I have concerns. D+
Keishawn Bierria, Washington (6’1”/223)
Gets blocked out of plays easily. Has the look and movements of an OLB or SAF. Gives a great effort but I didn’t see a great defender/tackler here. Might make it in the NFL but I’m betting against after a first glance. D
Micah Kiser, Virginia (6’2”/240)
Has the ILB look and instincts but he looks dangerously slow. Unless the ballcarrier comes to him…he’s in some trouble trying to go get him. I saw it at the college level…so, it’s trouble for the pros. Watched him get burned in coverage by RBs and WRs crossing too much. Good body, strong tackler, good effort but may have Canadian Football League level athleticism. D-
Azeem Victor, Washington (6’3”/231)
Not a fan. He looked like a ‘chaser’…enough athlete to go chase and make some plays but not a seek and destroy, instinctual linebacker. He tackles with poor technique (wrangling the upper body in tight space too much). Was productive and lauded in 2015, then an injury and a off-field problems rendered him a part-time starter in 2017. I don’t like the whole vibe. F+
Chris Worley, Ohio State (6’2”/230)
Solid college player but I think he’s over his head for the pros…not enough NFL speed and reaction on the tape that I watched. He’s just ‘there’ taking up space and making a college play here and there. Not for me. F