2022 NFL Draft Cheat Sheet: Linebackers

Nakobe Dean, Georgia

Another week, another Georgia defender making the top five at their position. Nakobe Dean is, in my opinion, the best linebacker in this class by multiple leaps and bounds. Dean’s a tough, smart player with sure tackling and valuable traits against both the pass and the run. He’s a bit small at just a hair under the 6’0 mark, but his reaction time, quickness, and tackling ability make up for any size deficiency he might have when competing with bigger blockers at the NFL level.

On the flipside, Dean’s not as versatile as I’d hope for a modern NFL linebacker to be. While he can defend against both the pass and run game, and can get downhill with the best of them, he’s not going to work in every scheme. He’s more of an “even front” style player, where he can try to shoot the gaps between offensive linemen while the front line of defense occupies them. Playing Dean in an “odd front” might throw off his game just a bit, and again, it could result in him getting bullied just a little bit.

Comparison: Dean’s elite blitzing ability and general quickness getting downhill gives me the vibe of a smaller Lavonte David.

Devin Lloyd, Utah

If you’re looking for a “quarterback of the defense” type in this year’s draft class, Utah’s Devin Lloyd is your guy. Lloyd has good size at 6’3 237, takes his time in diagnosing plays, has immense leadership qualities that show up on his time, and his tackling is solid. When the Utes put Lloyd in the box and let him loose, he was as sure a tackler as there was in college football. There may have been some past worries about his ability to defend the pass, but he improved that area heavily in 2021, allowing his draft stock to shoot right up. For a player who will turn 24 during his rookie season, that’s a great sign that you can teach this old dog new tricks.

That’s the biggest gripe with Lloyd, though. As far as draft prospects go, he’s really old. Lloyd has been around for quite some time, which has allowed him to work on his mental game, but teams are often wary of picking such veteran upperclassmen in the first round. Lloyd’s talent speaks for itself, and he’ll almost certainly be a first round pick, but it’s just something to keep an eye on. My other big worry with Lloyd is that sometime he can come off as a bit stiff on the field. He has some trouble with change of direction and keeping his hips fluid, and shiftier NFL players might cause him some serious problems, even with his tackling ability.

Comparison: Lloyd is like a less fluid Darius Leonard.

Leo Chenal, Wisconsin

Former Badger Leo Chenal is quickly becoming one of my favorite value picks in this entire draft class. Coming out of Wisconsin, Chenal’s somehow been able to fly under the radar from most draft boards for being “not that athletic,” and I don’t think that’s entirely fair. In fact, I don’t think it’s fair at all. Chenal was one of college football’s premier hitters in 2021, and yet he plays with the composure I like to see from interior linebackers. When Chenal catches you at a good angle? Say goodnight. There’s not a ton of lateral mobility in his game, but there doesn’t need to be. Put him in the box and he’ll have NFL running backs regretting their career choices.

The drawback here is that Chenal is simply not worth putting in coverage to defend the pass. This dude is an old-school, “put him in the box and break stuff” linebacker. He has some value as a blitzer, but if a defense wants to put all their guys back in coverage, Chenal’s just not built for that. I’ve seen a lot of scouts say that he should lean down to get some more mobility in his game, and I mean, I guess, but I don’t think it’s worth it. Chenal’s superpower is how hard he hits you, and NFL teams shouldn’t try to take that away. Think about what he can give you, not what he can’t.

Comparison: Chenal is what would happen if you inserted the attitude and athleticism of Brian Dawkins into a 1970s linebacker’s body.

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