Who are the best linebacker prospects in this year’s NFL draft?
Ben Fennell is an Emmy Award-winning producer, editor and researcher across several media platforms, including NFL Network, ESPN College Football, the Athletic and Eagles Game Plan on philadelphiaeagles.com.
He is analyzing the 2019 NFL draft for The Inquirer, breaking down the best player, the riser and the sleeper at each position. Today, in part 2 of our series, he looks at the linebacker position.
You can follow him on Twitter at @benfennell_NFL.
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Devin Bush, Michigan
5-11, 234 | Arms: 32 inches | 40 time: 4.43 seconds | Vertical jump: 40.5 inches | Broad jump: 10-4 | 225 bench press: 21 reps
Projected round: 1
Ben’s take: “Devin Bush and LSU’s Devin White are the cream of the linebacking crop in this draft. There’s them, and then there’s everybody else. Bush is a little bit more under control and a more prototypical off-ball linebacker as opposed to White.
“Bush has some size limitations. He’s out of that short, stocky mold like a Stephen Tulloch or a Jonathan Vilma, as opposed to a high-cut linebacker with long legs like White. He ran a 4.4 and jumped 40.5 inches at the combine. He has that short-area explosion. He can thump you face-to-face. He doesn’t really need a lot of space to rock you off your feet. He’s a good blitzer, a good pass-rusher.
"The way college teams use these linebackers can tell you a little bit about their abilities as pros. When Alabama linebackers like Reuben Foster rush the passer on third down, what’s Nick Saban telling you about the guy’s ability to cover? Probably that he’s not that strong.
“Bush, on third down, he rushes the passer. So he’s a very good blitzer, but there are some questions about whether he can cover backs and tight ends on third down. He’s a three-down linebacker, but he’s someone who is more effective closer to the line of scrimmage on third down as opposed to further away from it [in coverage]."
Blake Cashman, Minnesota
6-1, 237 | Arms: 30 ½ inches | 40-time: 4.50 seconds | Vertical jump: 37.5 inches | Broad jump: 10-4 | 225 bench press: 18 reps
Round projection: 3-4
Ben’s take: “He doesn’t have a lot of athletic gifts. But I love guys like Cashman, who was a walk-on and had to earn his scholarship. Those guys have a chip on their shoulder and a great work ethic.
“I’m not going to say they’re Tommy Tryhards, but yeah, they are. They weren’t given anything. They don’t feel entitled. They had to work for everything.
“He tested really well at the combine, which surprised me a little bit. Because on tape, he didn’t look like he had the athletic ability to consistently make plays sideline to sideline and in the alleys. But he got there enough times and has a high football IQ that helped offset his athletic shortcomings.
“He’s tough. He’s nasty. He’s a finishing-tackle machine. He had a couple of shoulder surgeries, which could be a concern."
Terrill Hanks, New Mexico State
6-2, 242 | Arms: 33 ½ inches | 40 time: 4.98 seconds | Vertical jump: 35.5 inches | Broad jump: 9-10 | 225 bench press: 21 reps
Round projection: 4-5
Ben’s take: “My [physical] comparisons to him are Darius Leonard, Demario Davis and Daryl Washington. He’s one of those upright, long-legged, long-armed, off-the-ball linebackers. He was a four-year starter and had three years of 100-plus tackles.
“He’s what I call that halfway player. He’s a SAM linebacker, but he’s also a nickel. He kind of plays in space a little bit like a defensive back, a little bit like a linebacker. So, he’s inserting himself in the box late in the run game and making plays out on the perimeter in bubble action. So you get to see him run and hit it when he sees it.
“He’s an explosive athlete. A long strider with long arms. He moves very well on the field and is a bit of a thumper when he gets there. He can turn and run in man coverage against tight ends. He fights off blocks. He’s explosive downhill. He always plays with his fists clenched, and just has this attitude about him.
“He has some issues. He’s a little stiff at times. He arm-tackles a lot with those long long arms, but doesn’t always bring his hips through. So he’ll fly off some ball carriers from time to time. But this isn’t the deepest linebacking group. So that’s going to push him up."