NFL Draft: A Kwon Alexander-type sleeper, plus NFL comparisons for Devin White, Devin Bush and other top linebackers
Plus the former Washington star with similarities to Eric Kendricks and more on 2019's top LB prospects
If you're talking about top linebacker classes in the NFL Draft, this one probably isn't going to rank among the best. You just have to look to last year, when we had three first-round studs and the eventual Defensive Rookie of the Year was taken in Round 2.
Most of value at this position resides later in the draft -- early on Day 3 -- when somewhat raw but talented eventual starters will be available, and it's time to give the top linebacker prospects an NFL comparison.
It's important to remember NFL comparisons for draftees don't intend to guarantee a prospect will have the exact same career as his professional counterpart. In this series, I'll go through the top prospects at every position and give NFL comparisons -- some current players, some former. These comparisons are not based on size. They're almost solely stylistic.
Previous installments:, , , , , ,
(Prospects are listed in the order they appear in my.)
Ben Burr-Kirven, Washington
NFL comparison: Eric Kendricks
Kendricks was my top off-ball linebacker in the 2015 class for three reasons. His smooth athleticism, coverage skills, and polished ability to avoid and beat blocks en route to the ball carrier. When watching BBK, I see a similar, NFL-ready linebacker, and he tested better than Kendricks at the combine. Neither are big for the linebacker spot, but the modern-day player at the position shouldn't be much more than 230 pounds anyway. Yes, there are times when gigantic blockers engulf both Kendricks and BBK, but there are more instances in which their polish, awareness, and athleticism create big plays for the defense against the run and pass.
Devin White, LSU
NFL comparison: Myles Jack
Like Jack, White is a create-a-player type of linebacker, a chiseled 240-pounder with incendiary athleticism, hard-hitting tendencies, and scary, sideline-to-sideline speed. Both are better at delivering a major jolt to offensive linemen scraping to the second level than they are efficiently shedding them, but the physicality and aggression aspects of their games stand out in every contest. White's tackling and coverage skills improved in 2018 but, like Jack, at times, his engine is revving so much that he arrives on the scene out of control which leads to some misses in space.
Devin Bush, Michigan
NFL comparison: Jaylon Smith
Before his devastating knee injury in his final college game at Notre Dame, Smith was a missile on the football field. Whether it was chasing down an outside run or crashing a shallow cross, speed was Smith's greatest attribute as a linebacker. After a long rehab process, Smith finally recaptured that speed in 2018 for the Cowboys, and it led to a breakout season. Bush is the same type of linebacker, a player predicated on speed, speed, and more speed. Neither are excellent block-shedders. Most of the time it doesn't matter because they get to the ball-carrier before blockers can carry out their assignment. Because of their natural ability to simply run extremely fast, both Smith and Bush are assets in coverage too.
Terrill Hanks, New Mexico State
NFL comparison: Zach Brown
Hanks is the enigma of this linebacker class. Playing at New Mexico State, there weren't a lot of eyeballs on him -- relative to some of the other top players at his position. And while he looks exceptionally fast on film ... he ran 4.98 at the combine. He is a space linebacker with plenty of experience fighting through traffic on quick screens to the outside and is a no-nonsense gap-filler too. Hanks will add an intimidating presence to any linebacker room at 6-foot-2 and 242 pounds with a wingspan just over 80 inches. Like Brown, Hanks is mostly a linear rocket than anything else but has the athleticism and instincts to create high-level flashes in all areas at the next level.
Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame
NFL comparison: Shaq Thompson
I landed on this comparison because Thompson entered the NFL as a first-round pick in 2015 a little undersized and with a specialty in coverage thanks in large part to time spent as a safety early in his college career. All of that applies to Tranquill, who, had he entered the NFL about a decade ago would've likely be labeled as a strong safety. But as we're seeing today, the NFL is becoming more positionless. Off-ball linebackers are essentially strong safeties and vice versa. Tranquill doesn't have the strength or polish beating blocks to flourish against the run. He is a stellar coverage linebacker thanks to his route-recognition skills, twitch, and overall athletic talents.
Dakota Allen, Texas Tech
NFL comparison: Alex Anzalone
I have "quicker than fast" written in my notes for Allen, and that aligned with his combine workout. His three cone and short shuttle times were in the 86th and 94th percentile respectively. His 4.77 time in the 40 was in the 29th percentile. Like Anzalone when he came out of Florida, Allen is incredibly comfortable in space because of his ability to rapidly change directions en route to the football. Neither Anzalone nor Allen are squeaky clean block-shedders. They rely on their athleticism to avoid blocks to make plays against the run. Allen doesn't have the speed to cover tight ends down the seam but is a good matchup defender against backs and should be an asset in zone at the next level.
Vosean Joseph, Florida
NFL comparison: Kwon Alexander
Alexander and Joseph are fine athletes in every imaginable way. As a prospect, Alexander was relatively refined beating blocks too, just like Joseph is. To me, this is a home run comparison because of their most glaring weaknesses. Both are very inconsistent with their tackling and occasionally overrun their gaps -- the latter is usually a byproduct of their dynamic athleticism.
Germaine Pratt, NC State
NFL comparison: Zach Cunningham
A tall, physical, no-wasted-movement linebacker with a need to improve block-disengagement skills. That's a one-sentence scouting report on Pratt and Cunningham. Both were productive leaders of their defenses in college. When flying around in a straight line, they have the speed to be high-quality playmakers and will deliver big hits on running backs relatively often. Pratt offers a little more sideline-to-sideline range than Cunningham but both will make their money between the tackles on running plays and when a short pass is thrown.
Bobby Okereke, Stanford
NFL comparison: Kiko Alonso
At nearly 6-2 and with a wingspan just under 83 inches, Okereke has arguably the largest tackling radius of any linebacker in this class. Comparably to Alonso, Okereke is a game-changer against the run and as a blitzer. While they both have the athletic gifts to make the occasional play in coverage, it's not a forte. Alonso gets into trouble occasionally when he either takes an extra second to diagnose or has to guess where the ball is going. Okereke has the same issues. Like Alonso, Okereke should be a good albeit unspectacular starter for a long time in the NFL.
Mack Wilson, Alabama
NFL comparison: Alec Ogletree
With a sleek frame for the linebacker position, good on-field athleticism, yet a general dislike of contact, Ogletree went in the first round of the 2014 Draft. He and Wilson tested as similar athletes at their respective combines, and while Wilson flashed plus athletic traits in coverage during his stint at Alabama, he clearly wasn't big fan of taking on and shedding blocks against the run either. Both linebackers can make splash plays when there's a clear lane in front of them to the ball but, like Ogletree, Wilson will enter the NFL lacking aggressiveness and the refinement needed to defeat blocks.
Pick Six Newsletter
Get the day's big stories + fun stuff you love like mock drafts, picks and power rankings.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox for the latest sports news.
There was an error processing your subscription.
What might your team do in every round of the 2019 NFL Draft? Here's a look
The draft is almost here and here's our seven-rounder to get you in the mood
Washington makes a move for its QB of the future, while Giants also get a signal-caller but...
Four QBs come off the board, while the Vikings, Chiefs and Texans also trade up
Get ready for the NFL Draft with everything you need to know about all 32 teams
Who'll live up to the hype like Quenton Nelson? Which late-round receiver could be the next...