The NFL Draft is less than two months away and the race to build the most competitive roster before the start of the 2022 season is well underway. If your team needs to improve their Linebacker core, this year’s draft is a great place to start. From Devin Lloyd to Nakobe Dean and more, here’s a look at the top 10 LB prospects entering the 2022 NFL Draft.
Top 10 Linebacker Prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft
1) Devin Lloyd
Height: 6-3 Weight: 235lbs 40 Time: 4.66s
With 111 total tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 4 interceptions, 6 tipped passes, and 7 sacks in his senior season, Devin Lloyd is to the linebacker position as Dr. Dre is to music. Calling Lloyd just a linebacker, much like calling Dre just a rapper, is an incredibly confining distinction given his versatility as a defensive player. In pass coverage, he’s able to play like a safety — a position he did play in High School — with a great sense of where the quarterback is going with the ball. As a pass rusher, he has a great set of moves and a tall build that’s great for tipping passes. From a scheme fit perspective, Lloyd is able to line up as a MIKE or outside linebacker with the ability to rush off the edge.
He has all the mental qualities you’d want out of an NFL player especially at a position that demands a high level of intelligence. What’s left to improve upon is primarily physical traits, namely speed and size. Given speed will be hard to change, he will certainly benefit from bulking up a bit in his first year or two in the league.
2) Nakobe Dean
Height: 6-0 Weight: 225lbs 40 Time: 4.52s
While Nakobe Dean is widely recognized as the best pass rusher at the LB position in this year’s draft class, he’s underrated for his ability to line up on the outside and make plays in coverage. Accumulating 72 tackles, 6 sacks, and 2 interceptions in his senior season, Dean’s speed and awareness makes him a lethal threat no matter where he is on the field. In his marquee highlight which entails him returning an interception for a touchdown against Florida this past fall, the only thing that appears to differentiate Dean from a cornerback is the fact that it looks like he can bench north of 400 pounds. Like Lloyd, Dean is a very intelligent player with a great sense for where a play is going. As a byproduct of this, he rarely hesitates and always trusts his instincts.
At just 6’0”, Dean struggles sometimes to get a push on bigger linemen and tight ends. His quick twitch speed and anticipation can also work against him, causing him to overshoot or take roundabout routes to the ball.
3) Brian Asamoah
Height: 6-1 Weight: 222lbs 40 Time: 4.56s
The leader of the second best linebacking core in college football this past season, behind only Georgia, Oklahoma ILB Brian Asamoah is a cerebral, quick twitch athlete that consistently keeps 3-5 yard plays from turning into 10-15 yard plays. He led the Sooners in tackling in 2021 with 55 solo tackles and 25 assisted tackles along with 2 forced fumbles. Despite appearing undersized on screen, he hits with ferocity and has the gym strength to back it up — able to squat 500 lbs for multiple reps. His 40 speed is quick but doesn’t jump off the charts, though his short area burst when closing out on guys is indisputable.
Asamoah will need to improve his pass rush moves and hand use to be a consistent feature at the next level. He also isn’t a punishing hitter though he can bring guys down.
4) Leo Chenal
Height: 6-2 Weight: 250lbs 40 Time: 4.53s
The 2018 Wisconsin High School Gatorade Player of the Year, Chenal led the Badgers in both sacks and TFL in the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Much of his success as a pass rusher in college can be attributed to the rare combination of a big frame paired and track-level speed. With the two, he’s able to establish leverage over bigger linemen with a running start. Similarly, he’s a great run stopper with an instinctive nose for the ball and textbook tackling. He will work great in blitz-heavy defenses with good secondaries — teams like the Ravens or Dolphins.
Chenal isn’t the best coverage linebacker and sometimes struggles to find receivers in zone. Similar to Dean, his strength is his weakness insofar as his stout frame that makes him a great pass rusher also hurts him in coverage by taking away from his agility.
5) Christian Harris
Height: 6-2 Weight: 232lbs 40 Time: 4.44s
An agile speed demon out of Alabama, Christian Harris is a quick hitting linebacker that works well in a 4-3 scheme where he can attack the run. He’s a defender who loves contact and has had success shooting up through the center of the line. He’s also got arguably the best closing speed of any linebacker prospect in this draft and the strength to bring down the biggest fullbacks.
Harris does struggle as a pass rusher despite possessing the physical traits characteristic of a good one. He also takes poor angles sometimes and was never an exceptional producer at Alabama.
6) Nik Bonitto
Height: 6-3 Weight: 240lbs 40 Time: 4.54s
The complement to Brian Asamoah on the outside of the Sooner linebacking core, Nik Bonitto has made a name for himself as a pass rusher, evidenced by 7 sacks in his junior season. He’s got a wide range of pass rush moves and is able to work out of both man and zone. He gets a good jump off the line and closes out well in pursuit — able to adjust well to misdirection.
Bonitto can be a bit of a one trick pony — hesitant to make plays in run defense and good but not great in coverage. He will also need to bulk up as he can be disregarded by bigger tackles if located.
7) Chad Muma
Height: 6-3 Weight: 241lbs 40 Time: 4.63s
The best NFL prospect to come out of Wyoming since Josh Allen, Chad Muma is a ferocious run stopper who is probably the best “angle-taker” in this draft class. He does a great job making sure guys don’t fall forward when he tackles and is a huge asset in short yardage situations. He’s incredibly strong but also deceptively quick. With a running start he can get by the biggest offensive linemen. Muma’s skill set lends itself to a 4-3 scheme fit.
Understandably, there’s soom room for skepticism with Muma given that he played in the Mountain West and hasn’t been battle tested against NFL level players. This remains a valid concern given that none of his athletic measurables jump off the charts. He isn’t a bad athlete by any stretch, though he’ll work best if he’s around other guys who can cover.
8) Brandon Smith
Height: 6-3 Weight: 241lbs 40 Time: 4.52s
With 81 tackles, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble in his junior season, Brandon Smith is a quick hitter out of Penn State with great closeout speed and solid athletic measurables. He had frequent success lining up on the edge for Jame’s Franklin’s defense, where he could really showcase his combination of length and quickness. As he transitions to the NFL, his biggest asset will be versatility in coverage. He has great speed that allows him to hang with small, fast WRs and the height and length to match up one-on-one with TEs.
Smith will need to improve his tackling if he wants to be a consistent feature in the NFL. Many of his more “highlight worthy” plays in college were also a product of broken coverages more than they were Smith imposing his will. He has great size on paper, but has been relatively ineffective as a pass rusher and run defender.
9) Troy Anderson
Height: 6-3 Weight: 242lbs 40 Time: 4.52s
The former RB turned LB, Anderson is an incredibly fast player with the ideal size for the position in the NFL. His experience as a RB gives him a unique skill set that includes an ability to cut through blocks and find gaps better than anyone he competed against in college. Anderson is also a great cover LB, where his experience as a dominant high school quarterback is apparent in his ability to read opposing QB’s. All around, he is a solid athlete who continually made clutch stops at the collegiate level albeit playing in a small market at Montana State.
Clearly, Anderson lacks some experience at the position having only played 2 full seasons at LB. He can also be fooled by trick plays or misdirection. Whether or not this will go away as his feel for the position improves remains to be seen.
10) Quay Walker
Height: 6-4 Weight: 240lbs 40 Time: 4.52s
The linebacking room in Athens this past fall was so deep that Channing Tindall, who will likely get drafted on day 2, was never good enough to lock down a starting spot behind Walker and Dean. As far as Walker is concerned, his ability to both drop back deep in coverage and defend well near the line of scrimmage allow him to fit into a lot of different defensive schemes. He’s got great strength and is up there with Muma as one of the best tacklers in this year’s draft class. He finished his junior season at Georgia with 63 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 2 pass deflections.
Walker does have a tendency to play upright sometimes and hasn’t been able to physically impose himself like you’d think he would given his size. He also has trouble against technically sound blockers with good hands.