Breaking down the 2019 linebacker class
This year’s linebacker class is nothing to ride home about. It’s strong up front with three linebackers worthy of top 50 picks, but despite all the athleticism we witnessed from this group at the NFL Combine, this linebacker class is pretty weak overall.
After the Combine, I charted the top linebackers’ athletic measurables and SPARQ scores. Here is what I came up with:
Devin Bush tops this list of incredible athletes with a 144.9 SPARQ score. That’s better than nearly every drafted linebacker to come out over the past five seasons, including Leighton Vander Esch, Deion Jones, Jarrad Davis, and Eric Kendricks.
Devin White was just a hair behind, but still possesses athleticism in the 94th percentile. Some notable players, like Mack Wilson and Tre Lamar, didn’t participate in the athletic testing and were not included on this list.
However, as we all know, playing football is about a whole lot more than just numbers. Athleticism must be considered when evaluating talent, but nothing is more important than the tape. After hours of film study, here are my thoughts on the 2019 linebacker class.
Most Upside: Devin Bush and Devin White
The sky is the limit for both of these linebackers, so it would have been hard for me to leave one off this list. They truly fit the mold of ‘today’s’ NFL linebackers – fast and physical with coverage ability and top-notch speed. Their ceilings are high enough to be Pro Bowl (and potentially All-Pro) caliber at the next level.
Most NFL Ready: Mack Wilson
Mack Wilson doesn’t possess the wow factor like Bush and White, but he does bring a solid presence to the middle of a defense. Wilson is a patient player who typically waits for the play to develop instead of guessing. He rarely makes plays in the backfield (7 tackles for a loss over 3 seasons). Wilson only has two full seasons of starting experience, but he comes from a program in Alabama that does a great job of getting players ready for the next level. He should be able to step into a starting role early in his rookie season.
Stock Up: Blake Cashman and Drue Tranquill
Cashman and Tranquill made themselves some money at the NFL Combine. Though they weren’t talked about much before the Combine, they are finally reaching the media spotlight. Both linebackers are incredible athletes – possessing 91st percentile SPARQ scores.
Stock Down: Terrill Hanks and Dakota Allen
Hanks running a 4.98s 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine was the most disappointing 40 time this year at the linebacker position. There were rumors that he injured himself near the end of his run, and he elected to run it only once. Hanks has average explosion and did not participate in the agility drills. Meanwhile, 23-year old LB Dakota Allen posted excellent cone and shuttle times, but disappointed in the 40-yard dash (4.77s) and didn’t test well on his jumps. Some had him slated as a top five linebacker in this class earlier in the off-season, but he will probably end up being a day 3 selection.
Best Run Defenders: Devin Bush and Tre Lamar
Even at 5’11”, Bush is incredible against the run. He packs a surprising two-hand punch when engaged with offensive lineman, and holds up surprisingly well at the point of attack. Most of the time, however, Bush is too fast and explosive for offensive linemen to get a solid block on him. He flows easily to the ball and is a violent finisher. Lamar deserves some credit in this area as well. He’s a big, powerful, old-school, two-down thumper. His lateral movements are stiff, but he can take blocks head-on and disengage.
Best in Coverage: Mack Wilson and Devin White
Mack Wilson has smooth hips and shows excellent ability to feel out zone coverage. He has solid ball skills, evidenced by his 6 interceptions over the past two seasons at Alabama. Devin White Posted a 91.6 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus last season. He has the athleticism and hip flexibility to turn and run with any running back or tight end.
Most Scheme Versatile: Devin White
Weak-side, middle, mack or buck: it really doesn’t matter for Devin White. Though taking on blocks is considered a weakness for him, he still does it better than most. White could play on any team in any scheme and still be a very good NFL linebacker.
Most Underrated: Josiah Tauaefa
Josiah Tauaefa is not only my most underrated linebacker in this draft class, he’s also the biggest Combine snub of 2019. The USTA linebacker is big (6’2” 245), strong, and athletic. He received high praise from Pro Football Focus in both run defense (87.4 grade), and pass rushing (94.0). He pops on tape and has the range desired in today’s NFL. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself.
Most overrated: Tre Lamar and Te’von Coney
Tre Lamar was built for the NFL in the olden days – he’s a hard-nosed football player who can clog up alleyways for running backs. However, Lamar will get exposed early and often in coverage. His hips are a stiff as a frozen pair of Levi’s, and he serves very little purpose on passing downs. Coney was once considered a top three linebacker in this draft class. I don’t see any major flaws in his game, but I think he’s just an average athlete who doesn’t possess any great qualities.
Best Overall: Devin Bush
I know I’m going against the mold on this one, but I was riding the Devin Bush train long before the NFL Combine. Both he and Devin White are phenomenal athletes, but Bush has superior football instincts and blitzing ability. He’s an inch shorter than Devin White but makes up for it with longer arms. I’m confident both will be very good players at the next level, but Devin Bush is my favorite linebacker entering the 2019 NFL draft.
Tommy’s Top 5
- Devin Bush
- Devin White
- Mack Wilson
- Blake Cashman
- Josiah Tauaefa