The off-ball linebacker position is losing some value in the modern NFL, but a playmaking linebacker in the middle of the defense can still be highly valuable in pass and run defense. This draft class is loaded with linebacker talent from the conversation between Nakobe Dean and Devin Lloyd at the top to several players worth a selection on Day 2. In this article, I’ll analyze and provide strengths and weaknesses on my top linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft.
|Name||Pos. Ranking||College||Class||Overall Grade||Draft Range|
|Devin Lloyd||1||Utah||RS Senior||87||1st Round|
|Nakobe Dean||2||Georgia||Junior||86||1st Round|
|Chad Muma||3||Wyoming||Senior||83||2nd Round|
|Leo Chenal||4||Wisconsin||Junior||83||2nd Round|
|Christian Harris||5||Alabama||Junior||81||2nd Round|
|Brian Asamoah||7||Oklahoma||RS Junior||80||3rd Round|
|Brandon Smith||8||Penn State||Junior||78||3rd Round|
|Channing Tindall||8||Georgia||Senior||77||3rd Round|
|Damone Clark||9||LSU||Senior||75||4th Round|
|Darrian Beavers||10||Cincinnati||Senior||75||4th Round|
|Quay Walker||11||Georgia||Senior||75||4th Round|
|Troy Andersen||12||Montana State||Senior||74||5th Round|
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#1: Devin Lloyd – Utah
Devin Lloyd arrived at Utah as a three-star safety recruit before transitioning to linebacker, where he has started since 2019. Like many safety converts, Lloyd is built to play in space with natural movement and balance. Lloyd is an incredibly well-rounded prospect who contributed in every facet of the game for Utah and was the leader of one of the best defenses in the country last season.
- Excellent balance, change-of-direction, and agility to make plays in space
- Downhill aggression and physicality – 43 tackles for loss over the past three seasons
- Pro-level instincts and awareness to diagnose plays – doesn’t take unnecessary risks
- Length helps him work against offensive lineman and boosts his sneaky pass-rush profile
- Tends to lunge at tackles – 12.5% career missed tackle rate per PFF
- Body control in lateral movement can let him down at times
- Contact balance is average, not always the most physically imposing
- Lacks the elite athletic attributes you usually see in first-round linebackers
Summary: I’ve seen the Fred Warner comp made for Devin Lloyd quite a bit, and it’s one of my favorite comp in my draft class. From his all-around playstyle to his close combine measurables, they are very similar players. Warner was an All-Pro linebacker in 2020, and Lloyd has that kind of upside as a high-end starter with very few weaknesses and plenty of strengths. Lloyd should be a high-level starter from Day One in the NFL.
Draft Range: 1st Round
#2: Nakobe Dean – Georgia
A former five-star recruit, Nakobe Dean was the 2021 Butkus Award winner as the best linebacker in the country. Dean didn’t test at the combine, but the level of explosiveness and play speed you see on film should be more than enough to tell you he’s one of the best athletes in this linebacker class. Dean is an elite playmaker who flies to the football and plays with aggression and fearlessness.
- Play recognition, instincts, and explosive first step allow him to get to the ball quickly
- Agility, lateral quickness, and sideline-to-sideline speed makes him an elite playmaker
- High-energy player who plays with a fire lit under him and physical aggression
- Good coverage upside with his short-area burst, instincts, and eye discipline
- Undersized linebacker whose range is limited despite his elite speed
- Lacks power to compete one-on-one with NFL blockers
- Protected by the best defensive line in the country at Georgia
- Coverage scope can be limited by his lack of length
Summary: There will be plenty of discussion surrounding Nakobe Dean’s size, and it’s fair to assume some teams won’t be interested in drafting such an undersized linebacker. However, if you’re able to look past his lack of length, you see a player with elite sideline-to-sideline playmaking traits who will be a leader in the NFL with his excellent motor, high-effort playstyle, and instinctual diagnosis of plays.
Draft Range: 1st Round
#3: Chad Muma – Wyoming
Chad Muma is a converted safety who meets all of the height, weight, and strength thresholds for the linebacker position, unlike some players who make that switch. Muma’s combine was among the best at the linebacker position as he tested in the 96th percentile for the vertical and broad jumps while testing in the 90th percentile in the bench press. Muma faces a steep jump in competition level from Wyoming, but he has exciting projectable traits.
- Excellent in zone coverage with eye discipline and instinctual movement
- Tackling machine – just an 8% career missed tackle rate per PFF
- Rangy linebacker – agility and explosiveness to make plays in space
- Exceptional discipline to read the field and keep his hips square and feet working
- High-cut player who can get taken out of plays by opposing blockers
- Doesn’t play to his weight on film despite 90th percentile bench press (27 reps)
- Flat-footed in man coverage at times, needs to be more fluid
- Physicality was underwhelming, concerning given level of competition
Summary: While the level of competition wasn’t excellent, Muma averaged an absurd 11.2 tackles and over five stops per game in the past two seasons. That production is impressive no matter the competition. Chad Muma is a versatile linebacker who can contribute in coverage and the run game at all three linebacker positions. His elite tackling, agility, and ranginess give him a high floor, while improved range and strength could make him a Pro Bowl player.
Draft Range: 2nd Round
#4: Leo Chenal – Wisconsin
One of the biggest pre-draft risers, Leo Chenal, doesn’t fit the mold of typical Wisconsin linebackers who have middling athletic profiles and high levels of productivity – he belies the level of athleticism you would expect to see from a linebacker at 250 lbs. Chenal’s combine was flat-out incredible as he tested as an excellent athlete across the board, and it helped continue to boost his stock as a Day 2 pick.
- Elite play strength and a violent demeanor – puts fear in opposing blockers
- Surprising recovery balance and lateral quickness for his size
- Light on his feet for his size which should be a huge benefit for coverage roles
- Tremendous power in lower body to stop ball-carriers in their tracks
- Limited coverage role at Wisconsin, rarely asked to do much more than follow the QB’s eyes
- Play recognition and first step can be a beat slow at times
- Given a lot of freedom in run defense at Wisconsin that he won’t have in structured NFL
- Lacks the elite sideline-to-sideline speed to be a rangy playmaker
Summary: Leo Chenal stands out athletically as he carries 250 pounds quite easily without losing much in lateral quickness or agility. However, his lack of instincts holds him back for now as he’s much more of a reactionary player than an anticipatory one. Chenal is likely to be limited in his role in coverage as a rookie in the NFL, but if he can refine his instincts and coverage technique, his raw strength and athleticism can take him far.
Draft Range: 2nd Round
#5: Christian Harris – Alabama
Christian Harris arrived at Alabama as a four-star recruit in 2019 and immediately became a starter in his true freshman campaign. However, his production slipped since that solid first year, and he never quite developed in the ways NFL teams would have hoped. Harris flashed his elite athletic traits with a 4.44-second 40-yard dash (97th percentile) and an 11″ broad jump (99th percentile) at the combine. Still, NFL evaluators will have to ask themselves if the athletic upside will finally start to come to fruition after he’s drafted.
- Physical tone-setter who explodes into contact and always finishes plays
- Quick lateral movement and long-field speed to make sideline-to-sideline plays
- Played a versatile role in Alabama that should prepare him for various NFL roles
- Solid zone coverage reps with good awareness and feel
- Balance and body control in space lets him down as he ends up on the ground too much
- Discipline with instincts and vision is somewhat lacking
- Anchor can waver against bigger offensive linemen
- Takes too many steps when making plays in space, inefficient movement
Summary: I expected Christian Harris to take a significant step forward this past season at Alabama, but overall his production took a slight dip from 2020 and 2019. Despite being a bit undersized, Harris checks many of the boxes teams look for in physical attributes with lateral agility, long-field speed, and physicality. However, his lack of technique across the board is problematic for a three-year starter at one of the best programs in the country.
Draft Range: 2nd Round
#6: Brian Asamoah – Oklahoma
Brian Asamoah was one of the most improved defensive players in the country this past season as the switch flipped, and he suddenly began to use his sideline-to-sideline speed and smooth movement to make plays on the ball at a much higher rate. Asamoah’s combine only added to his athletic profile, and his improvement last season was a sign of bigger things to come.
- Impressive sideline-to-sideline and deep range with the ability to track down ball-carriers to make plays
- Fluid movement in space with massively improved body control in 2021
- Expansive coverage upside with his movement ability
- Gets downhill in a flash and finishes plays with violent tackles
- Built like a safety with limited upper and lower-body strength
- Lack of physicality limits his ability to take on blocks and win
- Instincts still a work in progress with discipline and patience needing work
- Takes inefficient angles to the ball sometimes, partially due to lack of ability to take on blocks
Summary: The lack of a strong physical element to Asamoah’s game likely limits him to a weakside linebacker role, but the improvement he showed in body control in 2021 helps boost his profile as a natural athlete who moves very well in space. The upside in coverage and playmaking in space makes him worthy of a Day 2 selection.
Draft Range: 3rd Round
#7: Brandon Smith – Penn State
Brandon Smith is a former five-star recruit with five-star athletic qualities and a five-star build for the linebacker position. Unfortunately, those traits never translated to sustained high-level production at Penn State, and he has a lot of work to do to live up to his athletic potential in the NFL.
- Massive wingspan and excellent athleticism help him make plays in coverage
- Spent some time in the slot at Penn State – incredibly rare for his size
- Excellent sideline-to-sideline speed, great range as a playmaker
- Rare fluid movement for someone who weighs 240 lbs, ideal for coverage roles
- Out of control as a tackler – 13% missed tackle rate every year at Penn State
- Lacks consistent downhill physicality and struggles to take on blocks
- Processing speed lets him down as he’s too often late to diagnose the play
- Doesn’t play to his size and is far too timid through contact
Summary: Unlike most linebacker draft prospects, Brandon Smith’s biggest deficiencies are in run defense and not coverage. Smith failed to produce consistently at Penn State, but he will only turn 21 a couple of weeks before the draft and has plenty of room for improvement. He could eventually become the best linebacker in this class if he reaches his ceiling.
Draft Range: 3rd Round
#8: Channing Tindall – Georgia
Channing Tindall wasn’t a full-time contributor for Georgia until his senior season, but when he got on the field, he was a wrecking ball who constantly made plays for the elite Bulldogs defense. Tindall flies to the football on film, and it wasn’t shocking to see him have one of the best combine performances of any player in the entire draft as he tested in the 95th percentile for the 40-yard dash, 100th percentile for the vertical jump, and the 96th percentile for the broad jump.
- Pursuit speed to the football is in another stratosphere for the position
- Elite blitzer who flies to meet the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage
- Energy and motor are consistently excellent – violent tackler
- Innate feel for which angle to take – rarely overruns or underruns the ball despite wicked speed
- More of a straight-line runner than an overall fluid athlete
- Slight frame and limited lower body strength hurt his ability to take on blocks
- Awkward change of direction movements can take him out of plays
- Limited coverage capabilities without much experience in that regard
Summary: Channing Tindall is a bit of a one-trick pony, but that one trick is extraordinary as he has wide receiver-esque athleticism at the linebacker position. Tindall’s scope of influence won’t be massive as his lateral movement can be lacking, and he’s untested in coverage. Still, creative defensive coordinators will find a way to let him fire out of a cannon and make plays in the backfield.
Draft Range: 3rd Round
#9: Damone Clark – LSU
While Damone Clark was a three-year primary contributor on the LSU defense, he didn’t fully break out until he was a Dick Butkus Award finalist in his senior season in 2021. Clark brings plenty to the table regarding his physical attributes, but the inconsistencies he showed throughout his LSU career are unlikely to disappear overnight.
- Possesses the length, size, strength, and athleticism to play all three linebacker positions
- Excellent play strength and physicality to work downhill and take on blocks
- High-quality reps as a strongside blitzer in certain packages at LSU
- Solid eye discipline to track the ball-carrier in space and work through traffic
- Takes himself out of plays too often by biting on the first read
- Eye discipline and awareness in zone coverage are lacking
- Limited first-step explosiveness, more of a build-up runner
- Late-career breakout after being in and out of the lineup in 2020
Summary: Damone Clark learned a ton from highly-drafted LSU teammates Devin White and Patrick Queen that contributed to his breakthrough season, and the excellent motor, physicality, and tackling he showed in 2021 make him worthy of an early Day 3 selection. Overall, if he can improve his coverage tendencies and instincts, he can become a highly productive starter.
Draft Range: 4th Round
#10: Darrian Beavers – Cincinnati
Darrian Beavers began his collegiate career at UConn before transferring to Cincinnati in 2019 and starting the past three seasons there. At 6’4″ and 255 lbs, Beavers is one of the largest off-ball linebackers in this year’s draft class, and that size translates to him being a physical force on the football field who consistently makes plays on the football.
- Consistently plays to his elite size with physicality and power
- Able to set the edge on run downs with a powerful lower-body anchor
- Quick-trigger instincts in the run game boost his tackle numbers
- Physicality and processing to hold up in coverage if asked to do so
- Linear speed and lateral athleticism are both lacking for the position
- Tackling outside the numbers and in space is inconsistent
- Doesn’t have the nimble feet to win in man coverage beyond the initial press
- Sideline-to-sideline playmaking is not part of his evaluation
Summary: Darrian Beavers is a throwback at the linebacker position with his massive frame, physicality, and strength to take on blockers with violence. His coverage experience at Cincinnati may not translate immediately to the NFL due to the jump in competition level, and he’s not an elite lateral athlete. Still, he profiles as a solid starter in specific NFL schemes.
Draft Range: 4th Round
#11: Quay Walker – Georgia
Quay Walker is the third Georgia linebacker on this list, but he profiles as a very different player than his former teammates. Walker was a two-year starter at Georgia after being a top-50 recruit in 2018. He specializes in pass coverage as he often played on passing downs over Nakobe Dean and Channing Tindall. Walker has enough competence in run defense to make him a high-value three-down player in the NFL.
- Excelent discipline, awareness, and instincts in zone coverage
- High-level understanding football IQ could make him a leader in the NFL
- Intelligent player in deciding whether to take on blocks or slip around them
- Reliable tackling mechanics with solid physicality
- Slimmer build and inconsistent play strength could cause problems in the NFL
- Long-field speed is lacking, will be difficult to consistently overcome that deficiency
- Blitzing profile is limited compared to his peers in this class
- Tight hips and high pad level don’t help with his limited athleticism
Summary: Quay Walker isn’t going to wow you as a raw athlete, but he has instincts and coverage skills that some pro players never pick up. Walker’s limited linear speed and lateral quickness will always make his life difficult. Still, he mixes in just enough tackling success and physicality to boost his stock in addition to his elite coverage capabilities.
Draft Range: 4th Round
#12: Troy Andersen – Montana State
Troy Andersen has one of the most unique profiles in terms of positional versatility as he was the Big Sky Freshman of the Year at running back before being an All-Big Sky quarterback and then a first-team all-conference linebacker. He has also been an excellent special teams player at Montana State. Linebacker appears to be his best long-term position, but the jump from FCS competition will take him some time to overcome given his lack of experience playing linebacker.
- Aggressive downhill playmaker with a non-stop motor and infectious energy
- Size and athleticism to be a high-impact linebacker in the future
- Solid range to mirror ball-carriers and make plays in space
- Possesses the tools teams look for in high-value special teams players
- Experience – only two years at linebacker in the FCS
- With lack of experience comes unrefined technique and limited instincts
- Processing speed has a long way to go before he’s making timely stops in the NFL
- Loses contain angles and struggles to always be in the right place
Summary: Troy Andersen is an incredibly raw prospect, but the athletic potential is evident as he was highly successful at three different positions at Montana State. The jump in competition level won’t make his life any easier as he learns proper technique and develops better instincts and play recognition. Still, some teams will make him a priority on Day 3 as a high-upside project linebacker.
Draft Range: 5th Round