Continuing my series on the top ten prospects at each position, I want to take a look at this year’s class of linebackers. To make this clear – I differentiate between interior defensive linemen, edge rushers and off-the-ball linebackers. So this list won’t include guys like Arden Key or Harold Landry, who most would call 3-4 outside linebacker, because they primarily will still play on the line, despite maybe not putting their hand in the dirt a lot. So these upcoming prospects can be anywhere from true 4-3 middle linebackers to outside guys in a scheme with three down-linemen, if I think they will have a large role off the ball as well.
This linebacker class has a quadruple of headliners and then a bunch of guys, who I have rated very closely together. Of course, these lists deviate strongly depending from team to team, depending on their defensive scheme and what their coaches value. The trend that is clear with these guys though, is the fact, that the NFL is looking for more and more athletic guys at the position.
1. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
At 6’5, 250+ pounds, Edmunds has unique measurements for the linebacker position. He shows up all over the place with great sideline-to-sideline speed. He shoots gaps and barely lets blockers touch him against the run, while having gotten better at using his long arms to avoid contact and he will learn how to maximize that at the pro level. The first-team All-ACC performer was kind of a hybrid linebacker for the Hokies, with a gift of finding a way to slither through traffic and arrive at the ball-carrier, often chasing down plays, that get stuck in the backfield. I would like to see him stun the blocker at the point of attack more instead of giving up ground and then redirecting a couple yards into the defensive backfield, but he is still so raw in that regard and already flashes textbook tackling.
Edmunds is an athletic freak with transcendent abilities at the linebacker position. In zone coverage, he has his eyes glued on the QB and follows them before using his length and short-area burst to react to the throw and knock passes down. The Hokies linebacker has been very effective as a part of different stunts and twists, with him looping along the formation. His size makes me think he could even rush off the edge, as his skill-set is kind of similar to Haason Reddick, who was drafted 13th overall a year ago. However, Edmunds has much more experience at standing up. He clearly has the speed to run with backs and tight-ends.
Yet, like I said, he is still a raw prospect. I thought he got caught with his eyes in the backfield in coverage a few times, instead of being aware of his surroundings, but that’s something I can live with as he will improve on that with work in an NFL film room. The same thing is true with his angles to the ball, when he often trusts his speed too much, or he takes a few wrong steps, which he got away with at the collegiate level, but won’t do so in the NFL. The Virginia Tech LB was fooled for a long touchdown by Clemson’s running back Tavien Feaster, who sold staying in protection for a second before leaving on a wheel route. Edmunds thought he had a green light to scan the backfield and got burnt.
Regardless of his areas of improvement, the overall athleticism and pure speed are off the charts. Early in the first quarter versus rival Virginia, he ran stride for stride with a receiver lined up in the backfield on one snap and the one right after that, he chased down a shovel pass to a 190 pound running back to the opposite side of his alignment for a four yard loss. His closing speed is just ridiculous. When he diagnoses quickly and just screams down, he looks like he’s shot out of a cannon. Edmunds was lined up at outside linebacker at times as well and showed the ability to set the edge and keep contain. He is not even 20 years old yet and will only get better from this point on.
2. Roquan Smith, Georgia
This guy made plays all over the field last season. Smith has rare speed downhill and dropping back in coverage. He was a thumper in the middle of Georgia’s defense and kind of reminded me of Alabama’s Reuben Foster a year ago, excellent pursuit. Smith can absolutely light up people when he gets a straight shot at them, as displayed by a hit on the sideline versus Auburn in the SEC Championship game on the game’s initial drive. His demeanor is reminiscent of an actual Bulldog. As a tackler, he rarely moves backwards and puts his helmet right on the football consistently.
Smith is at his best in space, where he trusts his eyes and goes. You see some snaps on tape, where his outside linebacker takes the wrong angle, but Roquan chases so hard, that he can force the ball-carriers back inside, where his teammates clean things up. He can shift gears and run people down better than anybody else in this draft class. Most of his tackles came from the backside and you rarely saw him actually using a true wrap-up form, because the run didn’t go right at him. He made an unbelievable play in the National Championship game, when Alabama tried to run a pick-play on third-and-three with Smith in man-coverage on the running back, he went over the pick and then closed to the sideline to bring down big Bo Scarbrough for one yard, to send the Tide off the field.
The 2017 Butkus award winner is a nasty blitzer, who makes it hard for the opposition to figure out if he’s coming or not. Smith has the quickness to get around blockers in protection when blitzing, but even more so, he can absolutely jack up running-backs look to put hands on him. He’s excellent at looping around along the offensive line to spring himself free or simply beats the blocker to the punch and keeps his hands off himself.
However, the big knock on this guy, is the fact he can get swallowed up by big bodies occasionally. If he hesitates, instead of pursuing and allows bigger bodies to get hands on him, he has problems releasing from those guys. If he gives the blockers a chance to engage, he loses the battle more often than not. Watching him get blocked by receivers at times isn’t very encouraging.
I believe Smith will be at his best as a WILL, where he can fly around and not have to worry about offensive linemen coming at him. When he is spying on the QB and a lane opens up, he will close so fast and deliver the blow. In addition to that, he kills some receivers crossing the field, when he can race up on them and has the flat-out speed to recover from bad decisions. Just don’t expect him to be a true middle linebacker, who sheds guards and makes tackles that way.
3. Rashaan Evans, Alabama
The newest Alabama linebacker to enter the league has great lateral range and gets involved on almost every snap. Evans is outstanding in space with all that quickness on display. However, he doesn’t care if offensive linemen outweigh him by 100 pounds either. If he has a head of steam and can hold up the ball-carrier by pushing the big guys backwards, he will do that.
Evans stays flat-footed for the most part if offenses are giving him eye-candy and then he just takes off, once he knows where the ball is going. He ran down a bunch of sweeps as a member of the Crimson Tide and brings that little extra when finishing tackles, over and over again throwing guys to the ground once he has a grasp on them. When he has an angle, he often times puts both hands on the ball and continuously rips at it. Against most ball-carriers he meets straight up, he gets a good thump to stand them up and is able to drive them backwards.
Considering his run-stuffing prowess, I think Evans might even be better in the passing game. He doesn’t open up his hips too quickly, allowing himself to turn in any direction, and has a unique gift of being able to read his keys up front and what ha0ppens in the backfield at the same-time. Evans reminds you why it’s called blitzer, when he’s sent because of how fast he’s at the QB and he has a sweet spin move to counter that speed. The Bama backer rushed off the edge quite a bit as well for the Tide and showed pretty nice hands and bend for an inside guy. In totality, he recorded six sacks and another 13 tackles for loss as a senior.
Evans missed some time over the last couple of seasons with groin problems, but always managed to make an impact. He absolutely destroys some running-backs in protection and is a true team-player, who doesn’t care about getting credit for a play, but is more focused on making an impact on it, as he was the first guy on a lot of cross-blitzes and freed up his teammates.
While he doesn’t quite have the explosive traits of those two guys ranked ahead of him and there are some durability issues, Evans is a flat-out first-round prospect in my opinion. Evans didn’t run the 40 at the combine, but he looked outstanding in all the on-field drills. If you want to know just how good he can be, watch him embarrass the entire Arkansas offense last season.
4. Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
This dude went from former walk-on to a game-wrecker in the Mountain West. Not only was he named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, he also received MVP honors in the championship game. Vander Esch is a workout warrior, who has developed into a freakish athlete at 6’4’’, 240 pounds and scouts are highly intrigued by his abilities.
Vander Esch gets in the backfield before offensive linemen can get to the second level, especially against zone-plays, creating a bunch of negative plays or not allowing any gain at all. Often times he steps over and around the mesh to get to the ball-carrier. When he arrives there, he lowers his head and shoots into his opponent with hip explosion. The junior break-out excels at fighting through trash and working his way down the line against the run.
He also possesses great flexibility, to be able to lean into blockers and at an aggressive angle and then pop back up to get involved on the tackle. When Boise faced San Diego State, this linebacker and the rest of the front seven were all over the country’s leading rusher Rashaad Penny, holding him to a season-low 53 yards on 21 carries, which is 120 under his season average. That was a game the Broncos held the Aztecs scoreless through the first 40 minutes of the game and Vander Esch recorded nine solo tackles.
What makes Vander Esch a unique LB prospect is the fact, he displays extremely loose hips and an explosive lower body. He can drop diagonally one way and then laterally the other in a matter of split seconds without any problem. He makes some of those things safeties struggle with look easy. Moreover, Vander Esch is an excellent blitzer, with the ability to smack backs in protection and then swim over them once, they are forced to lunge into him.
His biggest are of improvement will be learning how to punch and extend to gain vision on the ball-carrier, instead of relying on his athleticism and speed to chase plays down. He runs himself out of the play occasionally and allows some cut-back lanes that way, which NFL running backs work on exploiting all the time.
Overall, Vander Esch is just all over the field. He proved that in the Las Vegas Bowl versus Oregon and he made the game-winning interception in the conference championship game against Fresno State. The unicorn finished second in the nation with 91 solo tackles and whoever drafts him, inherits a special teams demon.
5. Malik Jefferson, Texas
Coming into the 2016 college football season, I thought Jefferson had the potential to develop into the top linebacker in the country by the end of that year. Unfortunately, his learning curve proved to be steeper than expected and two years later, I still don’t believe he is quite where he could be, but I’ve seen flashes of brilliance last season.
To me, Jefferson is at his best when seeing the opening, shooting through it and shutting down plays right away, but he was too passive for most of his collegiate career. Thankfully, he stopped overthinking plays in 2017, just trusting his eyes and taking off. The Texas standout might have still benefitted from another season to grow, because I think he is still not the type of player I think he could become and his draft status should improve. He is already excellent at slipping blocks and combines a good wrap and twist to bring down ball-carriers. Jefferson has the potential to shut down plays on consecutive snaps and he packs a punch when arriving at his target.
When he doesn’t shoot the gap, he over-pursues too many runs and tries to get around the blocker, giving up too much ground and a lane to cut back. The majority of his stops came at or behind the line of scrimmage and that’s where they should come. Therefore he would be suited best in a scheme, where he can run around free and be aggressive. Range-wise I believe Jefferson could be an impactful piece at the next level.
He didn’t do a lot of different things in coverage for the Longhorns, but he put a lot heat on opposing QBs. Jefferson forces offensive linemen to turn their shoulders immediately when blitzing through gaps and he came off the edge a few times each game as well, where showed some ability to dip the shoulder. Even though he has a lot of room to improve in his technique to get around blockers and how to use his hands once he gets a step on his blocker, he was asked to blitz or spy a ton and got home a bunch of times. He misjudges some angles when chasing quarterbacks, but had the burst to make up for it for the most part.
Versus USC, Jefferson made a bunch of big plays in the backfield, including two tackles for loss, completely shutting down a screen to the running back and several hits on Sam Darnold that led to incompletions. He didn’t record a single interception during his collegiate career and his awareness in coverage is questionable, but his ability to rush and keep athletic QBs from taking off is a valuable attribute. Based on pure instincts, I’m not quite sure if he fits that many teams, but when you limit the input on him and allow him to do what he’s best at, I think his best days should be ahead of him.
6. Jerome Baker, Ohio State
The first time I really got familiar with the name Jerome Baker was when I watched tape on his former teammate Raekwon McMillan a year ago. This Buckeye stud seemed to come up with huge plays time and time again, which led me to following him throughout the college football season, whenever Ohio State played.
Bakers weighs in at just 225 pounds and is built rather slim, but he can get pretty physical for that. He never lets blockers get a straight shot at him, but rather consistently keeps one arm free and finds a way to get under the block. While doesn’t go all in at taking on blockers and works through the contact, he is slippery in space and hard to get hands on. Baker’s initial burst is really good, but he pulls up and starts jogging too early for my taste.
The next undersized OSU linebacker to enter the league shows easy movement skills in coverage. He has the speed to run with tight-ends and guys out of the backfield, although I would like him to get a little more hands-on and physical with them going forward. Not only does Baker have the quickness on change-of-direction to attack underneath routes, he also is very loose with his hips and can sink diagonally to take away seam routes. He attacks through the ball against receivers and he can get out to the flats quickly to chase guys down.
I question his awareness in coverage to some degree and I’d like him to keep his eyes in on the QB more, but once he figures out the nuances, he could be a difference maker against the pass. To me it’s all about reading his keys and understanding route-concepts to get him to that elite level, because he clearly has the range and ability to get into position to make plays at the next level. I’d like to see him stay lower when dropping back and his feel for receivers around him needs to improve, like continuing to sink with tight-ends if nobody else can come into his area.
Baker seeks and destroys screen plays all the time and he is dangerous blitzer, with the way he slithers through trash. The former Buckeye recorded seven sacks, 17.5 TFLs, five takeaways and a couple of touchdowns over his last two seasons. He was all over the field in the Big 10 Championship game versus Wisconsin with 16 total tackles. There are limitations due to his size, but the way he finds himself around the football and comes up big plays all the time is just unbelievable.
7. Tegray Scales, Indiana
This guy is a run-and-chase linebacker, who reads his keys and goes. Scales seems to be in the magnet field of the football and always gets pulled towards it. He led the nation with 24 tackles for loss in 2016, recorded 13 sacks over the last two seasons and eight interceptions in his four years with the Hoosiers. At six feet, he might not have the size of your prototypes at the position, but boy – he plays like one.
Scales lacks some physicality at the point of attack, he but continues to fight through blocks and grabs anything he can hold onto. The Indiana monster gets off the snap in a heartbeat and then has the burst to make blockers open their hips up instantaneously. Scales closes on ball-carriers with an extra gear and an attitude and he displayed all-out effort for sixty minutes on every single tape I watched.
At under 230 pounds, this kid was a hybrid linebacker for the Hoosiers, who can rush off the edge, loop around as a blitzing inside linebacker, cover different bodies one-on-one or play half the distance to the slot and then drop into the flats. Scales is incredibly loose in space to take away multiple reads throughout lays and he can put a lot of pressure on opposing passer. He times up his blitzes extremely and has some shake to him, as well as being able to get around the corner quickly.
I’ve seen him cover guys like Penn State tight-end Mike Gesicki, so I have confidence in him being able to run with those move tight-ends at the next level. In other games. I’ve also seen him check RBs out of the backfield and terrorize protections with how quickly he gets into the backfield. In the Michigan State game, he was lined up as an outside linebacker, playing the hook-to-curl zone to the left. Scales denied the running back out of the backfield to the opposite side, followed him for two steps breaking inside and then immediately flipped his hips, to take away a running lane for the quarterback.
I couldn’t get enough of this dude’s tape and with his combination of instincts and hustle, I don’t understand why he isn’t more highly regarded among the scouting community. His only real weakness is the fact he is easily swallowed up in the run game if an O-linemen has an angle and put hands on him, but this is a passing league and Scales could be an integral piece to many NFL defenses.
8. Darius Leonard, South Carolina State
Talk about a downhill, chasing linebacker. This man comes in with a relentless motor and doesn’t mind running into guys, who outweigh him by 100 pounds. Leonard first really grabbed my attention during Senior Bowl week, when he made a couple of big plays on the goal-line during practice, once stuffing Rashaad Penny for no gain and the other snap sprinting out to the flats and knocking Ito Smith back for negative yardage. He repeatedly showed up nicely in coverage and continued to make plays all over the field in the actual game.
So, I started doing my research. Leonard is an FCS All-American and broke Deacon Jones’ school record for most career tackles. He is looking to attack the shoulder of the blocker and even though he doesn’t really knock those guys backwards all the time, he gets involved on the action and doesn’t let ball-carriers get the edge on him. Leonard just has a feel for where the ball is going. At times you believe he’s more guessing than really knowing, but he is right most of the time.
Leonard doesn’t just hit like a lot of guys do nowadays, but rather he runs through the tackle his legs through the tackle and sits those offensive guys down. When he has an angle on the ball, he is looking to swipe at it and he has strong arm to hold on to the guy with the ball and pull him down. By watching his tape, I could tell that he racks up a boatload of tackles and when I looked at the actual numbers, I saw that he was second in the league in solo tackles, despite having one or two games less than basically everybody else in the top 20.
The Bulldogs linebacker is very good when he can stride and run with people, but his gets his feet stuck in the sand a little bit when asked to change directions. Leonard sees things develop and can undercut routes, but experienced quarterbacks will be able to look him off in coverage, because his eyes get stuck in the backfield at times. Leonard blows up screens continuously and knocks out receivers crossing his face.
He showed up much lighter than I anticipated and didn’t run that well, but I’ve seen everything on tape and at the Senior Bowl to put this guy on my list. He is hungry, and I can’t wait to see him light up people in the league.
9. Skai Moore, South Carolina
This is a very dynamic and super-athletic SEC linebacker. Moore has been the leader of the Gamecocks over the last three plus years, as a highly productive player at the position in the SEC, despite clearly being undersized for the conference.
Moore has an uncanny ability to read the quarterback’s eyes in coverage. He is outstanding at turning and running, not only with tight-ends and backs, but also a lot of receivers. The transition from keeping his feet parallel and toes pointed towards the backfield to streaming down the seams is better than most safeties out there. The crazy part is, I’ve even seen him line up at middle safety for a few snaps. He can undercut routes very well and knock down passes. However, he is much better at bailing or coming up on receivers than moving laterally.
At 220 pounds, Moore can get pushed around quite a bit by bigger bodies in the run game, but he always found a way to work around that. He plays a little high-hipped and doesn’t quite have the speed to simply run around blockers all the time if he can’t take them on already, yet he led his team in tackles all his four years with the Gamecocks. It will be crucial for him to find a fit in the NFL, where opponents can’t let their guards climb up to him immediately and he can beat them to the punch.
The All-SEC linebacker recorded a total of 14 interceptions in his four years at South Carolina. But he can impact the passing game without picking off passes as well. With his ability to move in open space, he can take away multiple reads in the passing game. Moore also has a feel for coming on delayed blitzes, as he got home on a pretty good rate when he was sent, and he did a nice job selling blitz on other downs.
Moore’s neck injury, which required surgery and forced him to miss all of 2016, might be a serious concern for most NFL teams, but he was an extremely consistent contributor in the most hard-nosed conference in college football. His best showing came versus North Carolina in 2015, when he recorded two crucial picks in his own end-zone.
10. Dorian O’Daniel, Clemson
This dude was a tackling-machine for the Tigers. O’Daniel is lightning fast and gets physical when a target is in range. He is a true seek-and-destroy player who doesn’t give a damn about what’s in his way. He’s fun to watch on tape, because he just flashes through the screen and he brings some of those abilities to the next level.
O’Daniel still started on special teams coverage for the Tigers, despite being a star linebacker, where he showed the same attitude as he does on defense, which means just running downhill straight to the target he wants to blow up. That also might be his biggest weakness though, as he lacks some awareness and vision for the entire field. I truly love the aggressiveness and trusting his eyes, but he can get fooled at times. O’Daniel does a good job fighting through traffic and getting hands on the ball-carrier. However, I’ve seen him get blocked by tight-ends and slot receivers quite a few times, which is hard to look at for a LB tape.
The speedy outside backer lined up at half the distance or on slot receivers a lot of times and even played safety on a few snaps, while taking on similar coverage responsibilities from the LB spot. O’Daniel gets from point A to point B in a heartbeat, especially when the ball-carrier is in range, but he also suffers from over-running plays occasionally. Against Virginia Tech, he was lined up in-between the two interior receivers on the trips-side and because the outside guy tipped the ball up, he was able to pick it off his back and take it back to the house. A few weeks later in the Sugar Bowl, he blitzed off the slot and was basically heading straight for the quarterback, yet he still had the speed and ability to change directions to get out to the toss-man.
He certainly doesn’t have edge size, but he rushed off the corner on some snaps for the Tigers. I saw him get swallowed up by bigger bodies at times, but for the most he arrived at the ball so fast, nobody even had a chance to get in his way. O’Daniel collected 22 TFLs over his last two seasons and two pick-sixes as a senior. I don’t see him being able to stack and shed at the NFL level, but there is definitely a place for his play-making abilities.
Just missed the cut:
Fred Warner, BYU
Man, this guy smacks some tight-ends in the run game. Warner displays excellent pursuit, consistently puts his head on the ball, wraps up and drives his legs through contact. He plays with good pad-level in general and has a way of slipping blockers in open space. However, he loses gap integrity when doing so and is burnt for it occasionally. The BYU backer flashes in coverage, while carrying good weight at about 230 pounds. At times, he’s a split second late in committing to a receiver, but he consistently tracks the eyes of the quarterback and gets involved. Overall, he recorded 13 pass break-ups and 7 INTs since the start of his sophomore campaign. Yet, he also was the Cougars’ leading tackler over the last couple of seasons and came up with 31.5 TFLs during that stretch. Warner takes on receivers in his area, while using the sideline and his teammates very well to not force himself to open up and run with them, but rather getting parallel again and shuffling to react to anything happening underneath. He doesn’t get fooled by draw plays and he really puts some big sticks on people, when the opportunity arises. Warner is probably at his best as a SAM at the next level, but he can slide inside in nickel packages, which gives him three-down value. He plays with high football IQ and I was encouraged when I saw him run in the low 4.6s at the combine.
Nick DeLuca, North Dakota State
I watched a couple of Bison games throughout the season, but it was at Senior Bowl week, when I really put my eyes on the Bison linebacker. He showed off some intelligence and instincts in team-drills, sniffing out toss plays and arriving at the ball-carrier in a hurry. DeLuca comes downhill aggressively and likes to get physical with RBs out of the backfield. He will put hands on his opponent and get called for some holds at the next level, which was obvious in one-on-one coverage drills down in Mobile and then confirmed when, I put on his tape. During those Senior Bowl drills, he showed a little bit of everything with awareness and thump to make his mark, which didn’t leave any doubt, that he belonged with those talents of the FBS. DeLuca takes his head down and leaps too much into tackles, leading to a few pretty bad misses, but when he does get his legs under himself, he shows solid drive. He has excellent balance and therefore can lean into the block before bouncing off it. In addition to that, he seems to be able to control blockers by extending his arms and keeping them away from his body. He played pretty far off the ball and anywhere from head-up to the guards to opposite the slot. DeLuca has a way of knifing through the O-line and getting to the passer when sent on a blitz. When he comes in late on a tackle, he gets a good punch on the ball. The North Dakota product uses his instincts to make an impact and is very passionate about the game. He has the looks of a starting-caliber NFL linebacker to be honest, if he puts in some more work, but he also was a monster for the Bison on special teams, during his first two years with the program, recording 25 tackles as a part of them during that stretch.
Shaquem Griffin, UCF
By now, everybody knows about how this guy lost his left hand at four years old. He never let that slow him down and he shows more all-out effort than anybody in the country. Griffin was the clear-cut leader of the UCF football team over the last two years and was named Defensive Player of the Year of the American Conference in 2016. He has this energy about him that makes teammates gravitate towards him and he just jumps off the screen at you, because of the way he is flying around on the field. Griffin started his career as a safety, before converting to outside linebacker two years ago and you just can’t doubt the productivity. He has pretty good hip flexibility to bend around the edge and a quick up-and-under move to jump inside and beat tackles clean off the snap. More importantly, he clearly has a plan, when rushing the passer and sets up his man throughout games. Once the quarterback is in range, he accelerates like crazy and delivers some big blows. Griffin’s best attribute is his ability to run and chase, yet he rarely gets fooled by play-fakes or screen passes. The only facet you can see his amputated hand come into play, is when he takes on bigger bodies in the run-game and decides to slip some of those blocks early, when he actually needs to extend and hold his ground. However, he has found ways to work around that and maximize his talents. I believe he will definitely have to be a stand-up linebacker on early downs going forward, because of his sub 230-pound frame, but he was already used all over the field the entire Senior Bowl week and showed he can fit in a lot of spots. Griffin covered tight-ends and backs one-on-one, rushed off the edge and made some plays against the run. Texans’ DC Romeo Crennel put him in a bunch of different spots and the former UCF backer moved well in all of them. Then he went on to light up the combine, with the fastest LB time in the event’s history at 4.38 and he put up 20 reps on the bench press, plus he fought through cramps during his workout. This guy isn’t a feel good story, he’s a flat-out baller.
Jack Cichy, Wisconsin
Here is a former walk-on, who I didn’t even know about when he got on the field the first time for the Badgers. Cichy didn’t let me wait very long to realize what his future would look like, earning the nickname ‘Three-sack Jack’, due to recording sacks on three consecutive plays in his first bowl game. He didn’t necessarily have the stature of an inside linebacker at that moment, but I quickly realized he is so dynamic, smart and instinctive, that he will become a great player. The Wisconsin backer is a tremendous run-stuffer, who hits the ball-carrier with a downhill approach. He is an excellent solo-tackler, which was validated by a 96 out of 100 rating in that regard, according to advanced analytics. Cichy can slip blockers and cut down ball-carriers at their legs continuously. While he doesn’t nearly have the same kind of sideline-to-sideline speed, his football IQ and instincts are unmatched by any other of the top-tier draft prospects at the linebacker position. The former Badger can be outrun by some of the faster guys and I’ve seen him underestimate their acceleration on a couple of occasions, but when he sees things develop in front of him and can come up in open field situations, he’s going make the tackle or force the incompletion. Cichy brings a lot of special stuff with him on passing downs. He shows smart in coverage and has a knack for finding his way to the passer, before the ball is released. Moreover, he times his blitzes extremely well and uses his hands equally as effective to get around blockers. CFP stats don’t provide any number on QB hurries, but by watching him on tape, I can tell you he had quite a few of them. He sticks his hands into the passing lanes as well as in-between the ball and receivers when they are around. Cichy has that it-factor you want to see from your leaders and he leaves everything out on the field. After he was lost for the 2017 season with a torn ACL, before even recording a single tackle, he offered his services as a full-time assistant coach basically.
The next guys up:
Micah Kiser (Virginia), Josey Jewell (Iowa), Shaun Dion Hamilton (Alabama), Marquis Haynes (Ole Miss), Mike McCray (Michigan), Oren Burks (Vanderbilt), Genard Avery (Memphis)
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