Rob Rang’s Top 5 Off-Ball Linebackers
Much has been written about this year’s potentially historic talent along the defensive line and in the secondary, overshadowing a talented and very deep linebacker crop. It is this depth of this year’s class, in fact, that really stands and could allow teams to invest their earliest picks elsewhere, knowing that potential rookie starters might still be on the board well into Day Two. Even with Jordyn Brooks seemingly on a path to stardom, releasing Bobby Wagner this spring on the heels of parting ways a year ago with KJ Wright means that the Seahawks will almost certainly be drafting a linebacker from this group, perhaps quite early. Might the Seahawks consider adding another Ute in Devin Lloyd to challenge his former Utah teammate, Cody Barton? How the Seahawks feel about Barton, as well as the recoveries from serious knee injuries to both Ben Burr-Kirven and Jon Rhattigan, could dictate just how early and often Seattle focuses on this position.
1. Devin Lloyd, Utah, 6-3, 237, 4.66, First Round
A star the past three seasons for Utah, Lloyd took his game to another level in 2021, pushing the Utes to a PAC-12 title and the Rose Bowl with a scintillating all-around performance that included career-highs in tackles (111). tackles for loss (22), sacks (seven) and interceptions (four), earning him the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. Frankly, had he played in the SEC or Big Ten, Lloyd might have generated the kind of buzz to be invited to New York for at least a little Heisman consideration. He’s seen action at all three linebacker roles and should be able to immediately play wherever his future team needs him most, possessing a rare combination of size and speed, as well as physicality and awareness in coverage.
2. Nakobe Dean, Georgia, 5-11, 229, 4.50 (est.), First / Second Round
As good as Lloyd was for the Utes, it was Dean’s Bulldogs, of course, who won the national title and that was very much due to a defense NFL scouts told me months ago might be historic, with every single starter ultimately likely to be drafted into the league. Dean, a true junior, was the leader of Georgia’s defense and generated all sorts of attention for his stellar play, winning the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker with 72 tackles, including 10.5 for loss, six sacks, three forced fumbles and two interceptions , including one against Florida he returned 50 yards for a touchdown. Dean is shorter than ideal but he’s tough and greased lightning to the flanks in run support and in coverage.
3. Channing Tindall, Georgia, 6-2, 230, 4.47, Second Round
Tindall patiently waited his turn at Georgia, finally getting the chance to start as a senior and taking full advantage, jumping from 41 combined tackles over his first three seasons to 67 as a senior with 7.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. These statistics don’t do his speed and agility justice, however, though the 4.47-second 40-yard dash and 42 “vertical jump he posted at the Combine come close. His impressive Combine workout came on the heels of a terrific week at the Senior Bowl An exciting and ascending talent whose best football should be in front of him.
4. Christian Harris, Alabama, 6-1, 226, 4.44, Second Round
While perhaps not quite as polished as some of the star linebackers from Alabama during the Nick Saban era, Harris certainly qualifies as a Crimson Tide-caliber athlete, pacing the Combine’s true off-ball linebackers in both the 40-yard dash and the broad jump (11’0). Harris dutifully handled middle linebacker last year and may make strides with more experience inside, but he’s a classic run and chase hitter who could become a monster in the NFL if allowed to more freely roam.
5. Leo Chenal, Wisconsin, 6-3, 250, 4.53, Second Round
Chenal flashed in 2020, his first year as a starter, but few anticipated that he’d more than double his previous production (115 tackles, including 18.5 for loss and eight sacks in 2021) and emerge as the top linebacker in the Big Ten – a conference which has always prided itself on this most iconic position in the game. Chenal is a traditional Big Ten linebacker in that he plays with an old school frame and mentality, bludgeoning would-be blockers in the hole and taking down ballcarriers efficiently. He certainly showed new school speed at the Combine, however, which could have Chenal (pronounced sha-NELL) smelling like roses on draft weekend.
One of the most recognized names in the industry, Rob Rang has been covering the NFL Draft for more than 20 years, with work at FOX, Sports Illustrated, CBSSports.com, USA Today, Yahoo, NFL.com and NFLDraftScout.com, among others. Rang’s opinions and evaluations are his own and do not reflect those of the Seahawks.