Linebacker remains one of the Eagles’ biggest offseason needs. Even after the addition of Kyzir Whitethere is so much room for the unit to be improved through the 2022 NFL Draft. While there is reasonable debate about using high draft picks on the position, the Eagles are lucky that this is a deep and talented group for them to choose from. Here are the ten best backers in this year’s class.
Nakobe Dean, Georgia, 5’11”, 229 Pounds
What he does well: Nakobe Dean was a special weapon in Georgia’s arsenal. His speed, aggressiveness and instincts from him were deployed in a variety of ways as a run stopper, an incredibly efficient blitzer and in coverage. Dean plays much bigger than his listed size of him attacking the line of scrimmage and might be the best tackler in the class. His range from him allowed him to flow sideline to sideline and make stops anywhere on the field. Georgia’s defensive scheme is pro-level in terms of its complexity and Dean handled all his responsibilities from him at an extremely high level.
Where he can improve: Dean played on a very talented unit where he was able to trust his teammates and stick to his assignments. His role in the NFL might give him more responsibilities and create a steeper learning curve. His size was rarely an issue in college due to his speed, but he might have to adjust to NFL blockers being more able to get hands on him.
NFL Comparison: Devin Bush
Devin Lloyd, Utah, 6’2”, 237 Pounds
What he does well: Devin Lloyd was a serious playmaker at Utah for three straight years. His aggressive brand of football yielded big plays against the run, as a pass rusher and in coverage. He stuffed the stat sheet game after game the way he was always looking to make a splash. Lloyd is a very good athlete with ideal size at the position.
Where he can improve: Lloyd would have a brilliant play one snap and look completely lost the next snap. Linebacking typically values consistency over big plays and Lloyd will need to become a steadier player before he will have the opportunities to make splashes.
NFL Comparison: Lawrence Timmons
Christian Harris, Alabama, 6′, 226 Pounds
What he does well: Christian Harris is a jack of all trades linebacker who can cover, attack the run, and blitz. I have played an extremely disciplined, consistent brand of football for three years at Alabama and rarely was on the wrong end of a big play. Extremely impressive tested athleticism.
Where he can improve: Harris is not an extremely flashy player. He made plenty of nice plays behind the line of scrimmage, but he is typically just very solid instead of being spectacular. Hardly a bad thing, but notable that such an athletic linebacker had so few “wow” plays.
NFL Comparison: Jerome Baker
Chad Muma, Wyoming, 6’2”, 239 Pounds
What he does well: Athletic, aggressive linebacker that piles up tackles every game. He attacks the line of scrimmage like his hair is on fire and can punish ball carriers in an alley. His athleticism of him makes him a solid coverage linebacker and his big hitting ability of him means the middle of the field is a scary place for potential receivers.
Where he can improve: Aggressiveness can take him out of plays sometimes and he looks better coming down hill than he does moving sideline to sideline. Not a problem of athleticism, but a concern of the game slowing down for him. Most competition was against lower level college football teams.
NFL Comparison: Brian Cushing
Darrian Beavers, Cincinnati, 6’3”, 237 Pounds
What he does well: Beavers manned the middle of one of their nation’s best defenses and played a key part in the unit that catapulted Cincinnati to a playoff appearance. Beavers is a smart, physically and technically sound linebacker who can wreak havoc against the run and create pressure as a blitzer. He has a great build where his strength and length allow him to shed blocks with ease. He is a solid coverage linebacker, but did his best work in college attacking the line of scrimmage.
Where he can improve: Beavers’ tested athleticism was a bit of surprise given he did not always look so explosive on tape. Responsibilities in the Cincy defense could’ve tapered his aggressiveness from him and asked him to be more reactive, but there might be a learning curve as he transitions to the NFL.
NFL Comparison: Daryl Smith
Troy Andersen, Montana State, 6’3”, 243 Pounds
What he does well: Troy Andersen blew the roof off Lucas Oil Stadium with a truly incredible combine performance and that is still hardly the most impressive thing about him. At Montana State, Troy Andersen garnett All Conference honors as a dual-threat quarterback before moving over to defense and gaining honors playing linebacker. Anderson is a truly special athlete whose explosiveness helped him make big plays in the big sky conference.
Where he can improve: Andersen is really raw playing linebacker at a high level. It is hard not to love his athletic gifts, his splash plays and his quarterback background, but that does not change that he has a lot of room to grow in the NFL. Which is actually pretty exciting given the playmaker he is already.
NFL Comparison: Kenneth Murray
Quay Walker, Georgia, 6’3”, 241 Pounds
What he does well: Second of three UGA linebackers to make this top ten. Quay Walker was a high performer in the legendary 2021 Bulldog offense. His speed and instincts from him allowed him to flow around with ease and make big plays against the run and the pass.
Where he can improve: Walker played with a lot of finesse where his size and strength could’ve been used more physically. Playing to his size will be crucial to being a successful three down linebacker in the NFL.
NFL Comparison: Akeem Davis-Gaither
Leo Chenal, Wisconsin, 6’3”, 250 Pounds
What he does well: Extremely physical linebacker who has great playing speed. No problem attacking the line of scrimmage as a run defender or a blitzer. Aggressive, but not reckless. Athleticism to play three downs.
Where he can improve: Not tested very much as a pass defender. Defensive role asked him to play more in a phone booth than flow sideline to sideline. Has the tested ability to be an every situation defend, but requires projection.
NFL Comparison: James Laurinitis
Channing Tindall, Georgia, 6’2”, 230 Pounds
What he does well: Tindall is the third of the Bulldog backers on this list. Like his teammates of him, he is an outstanding athlete who got to play behind the monstrous defensive line down in Athens. Tindall took advantage of the space being eaten up in front of him to crash down against the run. He has the speed to hold up on passing downs.
Where he can improve: Tindall might be the most “insulated” of the three linebackers given his role playing mostly inside linebacker. His job was made so easy by those around him that it is tough to project what he does on an NFL defense where things will not be so simple. Tindall has the tools and the mindset to be a difference making backer, but he might need more experience before he is a positive asset on a defense.
NFL Comparison: Bernardick McKinney
Brandon Smith, Penn State, 6’3”, 250 Pounds
What he does well: In terms of size and athleticism, Brandon Smith is among the most impressive players in this class. He has an old-school linebacker build with new age athleticism at the position. He has sky-high potential. He also one of the more steady coverage linebackers in the class.
Where he can improve: Smith should be a much more imposing run defend given his physical traits. He lacks the consistency or discipline to be a difference making run defender and needs to be far more physical taking on blocks than he is. Smith is extremely talented and has bright moments, but he needs to play more to his abilities than he did at PSU.
NFL Comparison: Martez Wilson