FanPost

BTSC 2019 Post-Combine Big Board (Inside Linebackers)

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

At this point it seems clear to everyone that ILB is going to be Pittsburgh's primary target in the draft, especially with the loss of L.J. Fort to free agency. The two Devins (White and Bush) have risen to be the targets of choice but they are not the only ones out there.

Please share your thoughts in the Comments. One thing the Combine proved is the serious gap in talent between the top few Mack ILB targets, the clear #3 in Mack Wilson, and then the rest of the crowd. There aren't a lot of names to look at even in the late-2nd and 3rd round areas. That situation would be a bit different if we did not apply a stern discount to the traditional thumping Buck ILB types, but it seems pretty obvious that the Steelers have no particular need in that area unless the player is a unique freak athlete like Josh Allen (who Ain't Gonna Happen).

Mack ILB's

1:05

MACK ILB Devin White, LSU {Meeting at Combine}. 6'0", 237 lbs. White entered college as the #1 Running Back in the nation and then switched to linebacker, playing the position for the first time ever in 2016. He literally could not have been more raw in 2016; improved by leaps and bounds in 2017; and then improved another quantum leap in 2018 to the point of being "only" a relative ignoramus. But that astonishing athletic ceiling carried him through, and the pundits project that he has the ability to keep improving until his football IQ reaches NFL levels - hopefully by Year 2 if he works really hard. That required work/delay upstairs is the only real issue people point to. But it is definitely real. He could be slow to read a play even in college and often got faked or fooled into the wrong direction - at his typical 100 m.p.h., all out pace. Football IQ = play speed = the #1 asset required for a Mack ILB. See this gif-supported love note scouting report from our sister site for the Jets for an example of what gets people excited. It's balanced by unbelievable rawness in a D-I player and the inevitable questions about whether that comes from above-the-neck challenges. He is also young (a true Junior) and sometimes gets light in the pants when he isn't headed in a particular direction, which makes football IQ even more important. The Draft Network set of scouting profiles examines both the assets and the question marks, making him sound like an ideal run-and-chase tackler but not particularly good in coverage despite his speed. Here is a gif-supported BTSC scouting report that Nick Farabaugh put out in January. This January Post-Gazette article contains a nice summary too, as does this gif-supported, Steelers-oriented scouting report that is also from January. He came in an inch shorter and a bit lighter than expected at the Combine but the 97th percentile SPARQ score was just as hoped and reports say the interviews were great, and he earned compliments from Willie McGinest and others as an "easy mover" with "great transitions" and C.O.D. ability.

1:15

MACK ILB Devin Bush, Michigan. 5'11", 234 lbs. Possesses a rare combination of football IQ, speed, burst, pure athleticism and linebacker ferocity. The issue is simple: size (though he is just an inch shorter than Devin White FWIW). No human weighing 230-something will ever win going toe to toe with an NFL Guard or Center, but all ILB's must defeat an OL who has only started to latch on with his block. Can Bush learn to do that or will he be stuck with pure avoidance? Critics point to Michigan's great D-Line that afforded Bush a lot more freedom to roam than he's likely to see in the NFL. Fans point out that getting off blocks is a universal problem for ILB's with this kind of mobility. This New Year scouting profile ends with a Round 1 grade after praising all the physical assets, criticizing his trouble getting off blocks, and noting the suspicious lack of both interceptions and fumble creation. The Draft Network scouting profile agrees, adding that his coverage skills are raw but improving. This January Post-Gazette article contains a nice summary too, as does this Steelers-oriented, gif-supported January scouting report with a fringe-1st grade. The NFL.com scouting profile translates to an easy Round 1 grade fwiw. Bush rose to Nick Farabaugh's #1 ILB prospect in this February BTSC pre-Combine article. A wonderful Combine proved he has every athletic measurable unrelated to size and the highest SPARQ score of any ILB.

2:12

MACK ILB Lyndell "Mack" Wilson, Alabama {Meeting at Combine}. 6'1⅛", 241 lbs. Another Alabama ILB who can fly from sideline-to-sideline, work through traffic, evade blocks, tackle whatever he hits in the run game, cover RB's and TE's, and lead a defense to victory. He causes extra debate because, unlike most LB's, he seems to excel more in the coverage game than he does moving forward. The questions go his native athleticism (good or great?), how much of his success came from his own merits versus the monster Alabama D-Line, why his play degraded at the end of 2018, the lack of TFL's, the failure to markedly improve in 2018 versus 2017, and why he lost his play calling duties to an underclassmen (who is admittedly a rising superstar). All minor, but all real. At the Combine he came in taller and longer than the Devins but, claiming a sore hammy, did the leaps for athletic testing and they were pretty awful. Here is a gif-supported BTSC scouting report from February, and a follow-up February BTSC pre-Combine article that put him as the #2 prospect for the position. This gif-supported, Steelers-oriented January scouting report particularly praises his coverage skills and football IQ, calling him a "straight up playmaker who always finds himself around the football." This January gif-supported scouting report from our sister site for the Jets is very similar: "Smart, fast and a playmaker." This January Post-Gazette article contains a nice summary too. The NFL.com scouting profile calls him, "today's version of an NFL linebacker."

3:12

MACK ILB Ben Burr-Kirven, Washington. 6’2½", 230 lbs. A physical and explosive monster with monstrous college production, a football player’s heart, the agility to cover some slot receivers, and a floor at "special teams demon." He has almost everything you’d want except NFL size. He really is small and it has shown up even in college with subtleties like his tackling radius. His athletic spider graph is amazing because he nails every performance test but flunks every physical measurement (averages out to a top-20% SPARQ score). If you’re into such things check out this analytics-heavy website that concludes with a player comp to Thomas Davis.Jon Ledyard and Ben Solak dive into his game here. He was also discussed in Nick Farabaugh’s February BTSC pre-Combine article on favorite ILB prospects. The NFL.com scouting profile suggests that his college production required a DL that kept him clean. The Comments section to this March scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants illustrate the truth that BBK was thought to have a late-4th ceiling until he blew up the Combine. How much credit does athletic testing deserve?

3:12

MACK ILB Blake "Johnny" Cashman, Minnesota. 6'1⅛", 237 lbs. He quite literally dashed onto the radar after a remarkable Combine where this little known, high motor, former walk on recorded the third best SPARQ core of the ILB class, good enough to be in the 90th percentile for the whole NFL. Could two shoulder injuries have held back from showing his full ability? Start your research with this gif-supported scouting report from The Draft Network, which lauds his vision and confirms that the physical assets show up on tape (along with the T-rex arm length). It ends with a Top 100 (Round 3) grade. The NFL.com scouting profile describes him as "not big and not fast" (guess the testing proved that part wrong) but likes his demeanor enough for a decent grade anyway.

3:12

MACK ILB Terrill Hanks, N.M. State. 6'2", 234 lbs. As summarized in this Senior Bowl scouting profile, Hanks has almost-a-Safety skills as a coverage linebacker, but also almost-an-ILB when it comes to all the run support duties. Should be a good special teamer soon but will need at least a year of strength- and technique training before he has any shot at playing actual defense. Sounds a lot like L.J. Fort as a prospect but a bit ahead and boasting great leadership skills. Rose significantly after a tremendous Senior Bowl week proved his range, speed and leadership ability, then fell a bit after pulling a hammy in his miserable 4.98 dash at the Combine. The SPARQ score would be in the NFL's 7th percentile, but everyone seems to agree that his pretty good 60th percentile leaps are more consistent with the explosiveness seen on film. This admiring gif-supported scouting report ends with a Day 2 grade. He was also discussed in Nick Farabaugh's February BTSC pre-Combine article on favorite ILB prospects. The NFL.com scouting profile worries about his athleticism in space.

3:12

MACK ILB Bobby Okereke, Stanford. 6'1⅜", 239 lbs. with arms like vines. Okereke is Stanford smart and as cover-capable as almost any linebacker in the draft, but not as crisp on tackling and physicality as you might prefer (close to poor) and hasn't shown true field general characteristics yet. He also plays as if he was much faster than he is explosive, taking 3-4 steps to get up to what looks like an impressive top speed. Came in bigger than expected at the Combine and showed above average athleticism at that weight, but strength - his bugaboo, as confirmed by the NFL.com scouting profile - remains an issue. A very divisive prospect. The Draft Network scouting profiles identify tackling as a major thing he'll need to work on.

3:12

MACK ILB Germaine Pratt, N.C. State. 6'2⅝", 240 lbs. A converted Safety with the size and attitude of a true ILB, and who covers pretty well... for a linebacker. A productive 1-year starter, he brings a lot of the assets that Pittsburgh is looking for but his actual linebacker skills are as raw as you'd expect. Getting off blocks is a particular challenge and it will no doubt take him a while to build his football IQ. Some fans may also question his dedication, since he skipped his bowl game and likes to play the social media ‘money, money, money' game. As always, it is best to start off with a gif-supported BTSC scouting report like this January one from Nick Farabaugh. He was also discussed in Nick Farabaugh's February BTSC pre-Combine article on favorite ILB prospects. Here is another pre-Senior Bowl gif-supported scouting report. The athletic measurables show great speed but limited explosion for a good but not exceptional SPARQ score. To your author's eye he looked a bit mechanical in many of the Combine on-field drills, which echoes some of the concerns mentioned in the NFL.com scouting profile. He did not do the C.O.D. tests, which would have been particularly useful to answer questions raised in the Draft Network scouting profiles.

3:12

MACK ILB Cameron Smith, USC. 6'2", 238 lbs. A four year starter renowned for his high football IQ and quick processing speed. He's a complete package with the speed, coverage ability, tackling and explosiveness required to play the position but tempered by a bad case of being too aggressive. Ohio State killed him with misdirection plays and fakes that moved him wherever the offense desired, and he didn't shine at the Senior Bowl either. An excellent Combine showed top-quarter-of-the-NFL athleticism that's given him a mild bump. The NFL.com scouting profile describes him as "smart and steady." Here is a gif-supported scouting report, and the Draft Network scouting profile.

4:01

MACK ILB E.J. Ejiya, North Texas. 6'3", 231 lbs. The small school sleeper of the draft at ILB, Ejiya led the Mean Green defense for the past two years as one of those LBs who impacts everything on the field. He was uber-productive and was seemingly always around the ball due to nice athleticism. He is a clear leader, but his instincts and processing are issues that will need to be fixed at the next level, especially coming from such a small school. The potential, however, is there. He was discussed in Nick Farabaugh's February BTSC pre-Combine article on favorite ILB prospects.

4:01

MACK ILB Ulysses Gilbert III, Akron. 6'1", 229 lbs. Elite quickness and play speed that comes from a combination of native athleticism, pure competitiveness and confidence in his reads. The downsides are the low level of competition, a serious need to fill out his frame in an NFL weight room, trouble defeating blockers who make it to the second level, and some inconsistencies sifting through the trash. He might fit better as a 4-3 Will OLB than a 3-4 Mack ILB, but the latter is what he'd be in Pittsburgh. His standout Shrine Game performance led to both this brief Raiders-oriented scouting profile and this scouting profile from that SB Nation site for the Bengals. This goes to a summary scouting profile from a Bleacher Report article on draft sleepers. Here is a Steelers-oriented, gif-supported scouting report.

4:01

MACK ILB Vosean Joseph, Florida. 6'1½", 230 lbs. An athletic player who puts it all together on some days, and on others can look like the biggest liability on the field. Why the inconsistency? Here is a gif-supported scouting report from January. The Draft Network scouting profile suggests a limitation in the all important area of football IQ. The NFL.com scouting report offers what might be the perfect summary: "a narrow, underweight linebacker with excellent athleticism and outstanding closing burst but a maddening amount of negative tape."

4:01

MACK ILB David Long, W. Va.. 5'11¼", 227 lbs. Look at the scouting report for Devin Bush, slow him down from fantastic to excellent both athletically and in the processing department, remove any tackling technique, and then you'll have David Long. He has the assets to succeed in the NFL as an undersized, cover capable ILB. Consider things like a 4.45 dash and great leaps reported in the NFL.com scouting profile. But for now it is all potential and getting there will take some work. Here is a gif-supported scouting report along with the Draft Network scouting profiles.

4:16

MACK ILB Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame. 6'2", 234 lbs. A 88th percentile SPARQ score at the Combine based on almost-great testing in all the athletic areas but size. Those exceptional results probably shocked a lot of analysts because athleticism was the major question mark pointed to by multiple sources such as the NFL.com scouting profile and the Draft Network scouting profiles. Those film watchers all saw Tranquill as a 100% football player who'd be doomed to special teams duty by limited speed and mobility - factors that have now flipped in his favor. What could have caused it? This article on his recent marriage points out that Tranquill tore his left knee ACL in 2014, and then his right in 2015. One suspects that he is only now getting his full mobility back. This January article emphasizes his tremendous locker room character, grit, versatility, and off-field characteristics. His stock would be higher without the injury red flags and the fact that he will be a 24 year old rookie. Definitely a kid you root for.

5:01

MACK ILB Cody Barton, Utah. 6'2½", 237 lbs. Made it onto the Board with an excellent Combine that averaged out to a top-third SPARQ score based on a well balanced, movement-oriented athletic profile. The NFL.com scouting profile had made his range and ability to move in space the main question marks, and these results suggests he is physically capable. He particularly excelled in the C.O.D. drills, which the Draft Network scouting profiles had identified as a weakness even though he's called, "a great man coverage player." Being a 24 year old rookie will hurt a bit, however.

5:01

MACK ILB Gary Johnson, Texas. 5'11⅞", 226 lbs. They say speed kills, but what if it only goes in a straight line? The NFL.com scouting profile lauds Gary Johnson's energy and leadership skills but questions his actual foot speed, range and athleticism. OTOH our own Nick Farabaugh has no doubt about Johnson's athletic skills, and instead believes he is a boom or bust candidate with a real NFL future if but only if he can learn NFL schemes and recognition skills. The spider chart on his Combine results may explain some of this: it ranges from a 97th percentile dash down to an 8th percentile shuttle! Speed, A+; COD, F-. Note that Johnson comes with a great story that testifies to his internal grit: he spent years in foster- and group homes, and has used football to claw his way up from as tough a situation as you can imagine.

5:01

MACK ILB Ty Summers, TCU. 6'1⅜", 241 lbs. A 90th percentile SPARQ score at the Combine but, as the NFL.com scouting profile explains, he is more of a special teams super stud who doubles at linebacker than vice versa. He is also a bit on the older side compared to Pittsburgh's normal preferences (will turn 24 as a rookie).

5:16

MACK ILB Dakota Allen, Texas Tech. 6'¾", 232 lbs. Good game (but not timed) speed and coverage ability, combined with a good work ethic and big time willingness to hit. Recognition and wading through traffic could use some work. He just doesn't seem to have that knack for seeing the entire field and how plays are developing. There used to be a red flag for getting dismissed on burglary charges but it has flipped to his favor. The charges were dismissed, Tech took him back, he was elected twice as a team captain, and he is known for his leadership. The NFL.com scouting profile raises questions about his athleticism and instincts; questions also raised by poor testing in all but the COD drills, where he excelled.

6:01

MACK ILB/SS B.J. Blunt, McNeese State {Meeting at the Shrine Game}. 6'1", 220 lbs. Sometimes an article just nails it: "Blunt was such a delight to watch this [Shrine Game] week. Everything he does in practice and the game is at full-speed and exploding with energy. While he is undersized for the linebacker position and a transition to safety is inevitable, there is no denying his nose for the football... He may be from the small-school ranks and have tweener traits, but I am not betting against Blunt finding a role in sub-packages in the NFL while also being a dominant special teams performer. He has an infectious personality and love for the game that was obvious."

6:16

MACK ILB Leo Lewis, Miss. St. 6'1", 235 lbs. Once a top High School ILB prospect in the nation, he's underperformed and failed to ‘get it' but the native athleticism is still real and still there.

7:16

SS/MACK ILB Chase Hansen, Utah. 6'2⅞", 222 lbs. A box Safety in college who, according to this good December scouting profile, is likely to be more of an undersized ILB in the pros. A decent but definitely a developmental prospect. He will be a 26 year old rookie.

Buck ILB's

1:01

EDGE/BUCK ILB Josh Allen, Kentucky. 6'4", 258 lbs. Remember the debates about LVE in 2018? Get ready for a repeat. As an Edge player Allen has all the assets you could want in a Top 10 guy limited by only-adequate technique and strength - which are exactly the things good NFL coaching and training can fix. As a hyper-athletic Buck he features range, ability to play in space, and of course an exceptional talent blitzing when necessary. This great, gif-supported scouting report from former NFL player Stephen White captures the essence. Do a Google search if you want to find dozens more. Here is a solid November scouting profile.

4:01

BUCK ILB Sutton Smith, N. Illinois. 6'⅜", 233 lbs. Sutton provokes heated debates because he is a man without a position; an Edge player who lived off his bend and hand work in college but is just too small to do it in the pros (as proven in Senior Bowl week). OTOH, he has an exceptionally high floor because he has some real athletic talent and everyone seems to agree he will be a special teams superstar. The foreseeable ceiling is described in the Draft Network's comparison to Joe Schobert, Cleveland's fringe all-pro. The NFL.com scouting profile emphasizes the need to change his position.

5:16

BUCKILB Tre Watson, Maryland. 6'2", 236 lbs. A former JUCO product who possesses a superior ability to sift through the trash and scrape over the top to make plays, but who lacks first step quickness, overall range, and has only an average amount of native athleticism. He has flashed good ball skills, which accounted for 5 interceptions in 2018. A Buck ILB with good ball skills? A step-slow Mack? You decide. Here is the Draft Network scouting profiles page.

6:01

BUCK ILB Te'Von Coney, Notre Dame. 6'⅞", 244 lbs. A classic tackling machine whose athleticism and foot speed will limit him in the pros; think Vince Williams and Tyler Matakevich. Discount applied for lack of fit. Here is a Steelers-oriented, gif-supported scouting report from January that is as positive as any you'll find. The NFL.com scouting profile and the Draft Network scouting profiles agree that he is a pure 2-down thumper.

6:01

BUCK ILB Deshaun Davis, Auburn. 5'11⅜", 234 lbs. A fine football IQ with top notch tackling skills and a nonstop motor, but a fairly poor athlete who can get beaten by better ones. Would rank higher if that description did not fit Matakevich just as well or better. The NFL.com scouting profile is typical.

6:01

BUCK ILB TJ Edwards, Wisconsin. 6'⅜", 230 lbs. A fine run stuffer with a high football IQ but limited athleticism. Williams, Matakevich and Bostic require a major downgrade from a Steelers POV. This goes to the Draft Network scouting profiles and this to a February gif-supported and Steelers-oriented scouting report.

6:01

BUCK ILB Joe Giles-Harris, Duke. 6'1¾", 234 lbs. A good, solid linebacker with enough tools and football IQ to handle the college job but questions about whether it will be enough for the NFL: the sort of prospect who gets described as a much better football player than athlete. His Combine SPARQ score was pitiful. He was discussed in Nick Farabaugh's February BTSC pre-Combine article on favorite ILB prospects, and also listed in this pre-Combine article on "prospects who deserve more buzz". The NFL.com scouting profile and the Draft Network scouting profiles agree that his future in the league would be limited to a 2-down thumper role.

6:01

BUCK ILB Kendall Joseph, Clemson. 5'11½", 233 lbs. A smart, quick reacting field general who lacks the pure physical genius to excel at the next level. Contribute? Absolutely. But that seems to be his ceiling. It does not help that he will turn 24 during his rookie year. The NFL.com scouting profile expresses severe reservations about his athleticism.

6:01

BUCK ILB Tre Lamar, Clemson. 6'3⅜", 253 lbs. He'd rank a lot higher if Vince Williams and Tyler Matakevich didn't play his role so well.

6:01

BUCK ILB Sione "Taki" Takitaki, BYU. 6'1⅛", 238 lbs. An explosive athlete with poor C.O.D. skills who plays with his hair on fire. A natural special teams demon. Here is the NFL.com scouting profile.

6:16

BUCK ILB Joe Dineen, Kansas {Meeting at the Shrine Game}. 6'2", 230 lbs. A LB who The Draft Network's Brad Kelly describes as a guy who just "doesn't fit the modern NFL Linebacker": a converted safety who lacks both the quickness and the coverage ability you'd expect from that description, but is a great processor and run defender who led the NCAA in tackles last year. Is he more than a smaller rehash of Tyler Matakevich?

7:16

BUCK ILB Jeffrey Allison, Fresno St. 5'11¼", 228 lbs. Our own Nick Farabaugh discovered Jeffrey Allison in February and became an instant fan. His research showed Allison to be a genuine leader with NFL athleticism. This goes to the Draft Network scouting profiles page, where Jon Ledyard describes the same player but limited to Buck ILB duties due to a lack of NFL-caliber speed and coverage ability. A most unfortunate Combine confirmed extremely limited athletic talent (bottom 3rd percentile of the NFL) and substandard physical assets all around except for long arms and hands. The Combine coverage noted a particular knack for timing up blitzes and, like everyone, praised his leadership and productivity. Here is the NFL.com scouting profile.

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