CFF Overview: LB - Buyer Beware
We’ve gone through and looked at our top linebackers from this class, now let’s move on to guys receiving considerable buzz that we have lingering question marks about. Every draft season we talk about ‘red flags’ for players off the field, but it’s usually the on-field red flags that are the bigger issue.
The following linebackers are no doubt talented, but each has a glaring weakness that teams will have to vet out before they feel confident handing a card in with their name on it.
Shaq Thompson, Washington
Shaq Thompson is no doubt a fantastic athlete. He was a five-star recruit, a professional baseball prospect, and worked overtime as a linebacker and running back for the Huskies. Our problem with Thompson was that he just wasn’t a productive football player last season. People like to point to his splash plays, but recovering fumbles for touchdowns isn’t really a projectable skill. Going over his games, I question if he has the requisite instincts to play the run as a linebacker.
Thompson isn’t close to NFL caliber in three of the main aspects you look for in a linebacker playing between the tackles: run/point of attack recognition, downhill angles of attack, and ability take on/shed blocks. The only run aspect Thompson has down is his ability to locate a ball carrier and tackle in space. That’s certainly a desired trait in today’s NFL, but with all the knocks against him it’s hard to project him as anything other than below average against the run.
Signature Stat: Thompson’s 7.3 Run Stop Percentage was 41st among 58 draft-eligible inside linebackers.
Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
McKinney, like Thompson, is in the conversation for first linebacker off the board come April 30th. At 6-foot-4 and 246 pounds with off-the-charts explosive combine numbers, McKinney fits the profile of a bruising inside linebacker in the NFL. That bore out in our numbers as he graded well among linebackers against the run, but that was where the positives ended.
Simply put, McKinney was a nightmare when asked to cover and tackle in space. He looked like a defensive lineman when asked to break down and react to a ball-carrier’s cut in the open field. All of our analysts agreed that McKinney plays extremely tall and at his height, I’m not sure his lateral agility is a fixable problem. He may just be stuck as a two-down linebacker and that is getting valued less and less with each coming year in the NFL.
Signature Stat: McKinney made just seven solo tackles in the passing game all season while missing five tackles.
Ben Heeney, Kansas
Heeney isn’t exactly a top linebacker prospect, but ever since his impressive combine he’s been gaining steam as a versatile linebacker who could be a mid-round project. The trouble with Heeney, though, is that he has no power behind his tackles whatsoever. The Kansas linebacker’s 21 missed tackles last season were the second most of any linebacker in the draft and even when he wasn’t bringing the ball-carrier down he was yielding serious yards after contact.
The running backs only get bigger and stronger in the NFL and if you already have tackling problems in college they will only be exacerbated with the running back talent at the next level.
Signature Stat: Heeney’s 6.2 Tackling Efficiency against the run would have been the second-worst mark among NFL inside linebackers last season.
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