NFL Combine: Linebackers for the Lions
The Detroit Lions are in dire need of help at the linebacker position. While they may be comfortable with the two linebackers drafted by Brad Holmes in the last draft, the Lions are facing some uncertainty at the position. Malcolm Rodriguez has secured the starting WILL linebacker role, and Derrick Barnes is at worst LB3, but his potential as a starting MIKE is yet to be proven. The current starting MIKE, Alex Anzalone, is an unrestricted free agent, which leaves a potential gap that the Lions could fill during the upcoming draft. Additionally, the Lions’ three reserve linebackers are also free agents, with only Anthony Pittman likely to return. With such uncertainty at the position, the Lions will need to use the draft to secure reliable talent and build depth. Additionally, they will be studying the position closely at the NFL Combine.
6th-round rookie LB Malcolm Rodriguez is turning heads in camp 💪 @malcolmlrod (via @nflfilms)
📺: #HardKnocks with the @Lions available now on @hbomax pic.twitter.com/YQGRBxOIPF
— NFL (@NFL) August 17, 2022
The Lions are on the hunt for linebackers with the traits they covet most: speed, agility, explosion, and the ability to play downhill. During drills, the Lions’ scouts will be closely monitoring prospects’ lateral movement, processing skills, the ability to unlock their hips in coverage, and if they play with their head up and eyes on the ball. With a lack of legitimate starting stack linebackers in this draft class, the Lions will need to find lightning in a bottle, much like they did in the previous draft with Rodriguez, or look for draft-and-develop types like Barnes. As the Lions look to rebuild and strengthen their roster, the linebacker position will be crucial to their success in the upcoming season.
Jack Campbell, Iowa, 6-foot-4, 248
Campbell is a highly instinctual player with a big, long frame, making him an imposing presence on the field. His communication skills are highly valued, and he is an effective leader on the defense. Campbell has a feel for blocking schemes and can neutralize lead blockers, making him an effective run defender. He scrapes with pads square to the line and finds his run fit, spilling the action wide. Campbell’s awareness and ball skills make him a potential playmaker in zone coverage. His careful tackling approach ensures tackle success and prevents any big gains.
Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa
*Throwback type LB
*Physical coming downhill
*Very good lateral agility
*Cleans up around the box
* + processor
*Recognizes and uses hands to control and leverage blocks
*Sure tackler – finisher
*Squeeze overlap areas in Zone
*Reads and attacks threat in… https://t.co/oTYg5eXVRh pic.twitter.com/AbQN8vNvTm
— Erik Turner (@ErikJTurner) February 28, 2023
Campbell’s strengths lie in his ability to read the offense and communicate effectively with his teammates. He possesses the physicality to take on lead blockers and stop the run in its tracks. Campbell’s speed and agility allow him to move effectively in coverage and make plays on the ball. His leadership qualities and on-field awareness make him a valuable asset to any team looking for a reliable, versatile linebacker.
Drew Sanders, Arkansas, 6-foot-5, 232
Sanders is a unique prospect in this draft class, possessing the size, explosiveness, and versatility to be an effective defender at multiple positions. He can line up at inside linebacker or as an outside rusher, and his athleticism allows him to beat tackles around the edge. Sanders’ wickedly fluid slide-and-swim move as an A-, B-, or C-gap rusher makes him a dangerous pass-rushing threat. His contact balance keeps him upright and in the play, making him an effective run defender. Sanders’ lateral speed allows him to pursue the ball-carrier from sideline to sideline.
Drew Sanders delivering a blow in coverage pic.twitter.com/mKJeaxymr5
— Tyler Browning (@DiabeticTyler) February 24, 2023
Sanders’ strengths lie in his versatility and explosiveness. He can be an effective defender at multiple positions, making him a valuable asset to any defensive coordinator. His athleticism allows him to make plays in the backfield, and his contact balance makes him a formidable run defender. Sanders’ speed and agility also make him effective in coverage, making him a potential playmaker in the secondary. His unique skill set makes him a plug-and-play starter, and he is sure to draw interest from multiple teams in the draft.
Daiyan Henley, Washington State, 6-foot-1, 230
Henley is a relatively raw prospect with only three years of experience playing linebacker, but he has demonstrated the potential to become a dynamic zone coverage defender. His speed and range allow him to go sideline to sideline as a run defender. Henley possesses above-average length with a jolting punch to play off blocks, making him difficult to handle in traffic. He bends and stays wide and square during block take-on, allowing him to make plays on the ball-carrier. While his lack of production against the run is concerning, his core special teams traits and experience make him an impact player on special teams. Henley’s performance at the Senior Bowl showed his developmental ceiling, making him a potential late-round steal.
Daiyan Henley (#1) is not Fred Warner.
BUT…if there was ever a super athletic, 230lb former receiver turned linebacker prospect that could do some Fred Warner-ish things on a football field as a value pick in the 3rd or maybe 4th round…..it's probably Daiyan Henley! pic.twitter.com/k0bywRkIpD
— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) February 20, 2023
Henley’s strengths lie in his speed, range, and length. He has the potential to become a dynamic coverage defender and a reliable run defender. His core special teams traits and experience make him an impact player on special teams. Henley’s gritty, hard-working style of play is sure to make him a valuable asset to any team looking for a developmental linebacker with high upside.
DeMarvion Overshown, Texas, 6-foot-2 1/2, 220
Overshown is a converted safety with a unique skill set. His defensive back instincts make him effective in coverage, and his athleticism allows him to make plays in the backfield. Overshown displays adequate patience to diagnose and process, making him an effective defender against the run. His hustle and excellent awareness of routes make him effective in zone coverage. Overshown is an athletic blitzer, and his versatility makes him a valuable asset to any defensive coordinator. He is likely best suited for a subpackage matchup linebacker role and can be a core special teamer on defense.
Filthy spin move by Texas LB DeMarvion Overshown. 👀
Former converted safety got better each year for Longhorns and better each day of @seniorbowl practices.
NFL teams looking to hit on high ceiling SL-to-SL Will ‘backer will be targeting Overshown.#TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️ pic.twitter.com/dt0K5jT03L
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 21, 2023
Overshown’s strengths lie in his athleticism and versatility. His ability to play multiple positions on defense makes him a valuable asset to any defensive coordinator. His patience and awareness make him an effective defender against the run and in coverage. Overshown’s athleticism and ability to blitz the quarterback make him a dynamic playmaker on defense. His special teams experience also makes him a valuable asset on special teams. He is a highly intriguing prospect in this draft class and is sure to draw interest from multiple teams.
Cam Jones, Indiana, 6-foot-1, 227
Jones is a highly aggressive defender with excellent play recognition post-snap. He is patient in diagnosing and reading the runner’s lane choice, allowing him to pursue the ball-carrier with proper leverage. Jones stalks the field with a desired level of aggression and gets wide and in a ready stance to tackle in the gap. He explodes through the hips with full chest-to-frame contact, making him a formidable force against the run. Jones is a three-time team captain, and his leadership skills are highly valued. While undersized for a stack role, he has the frame to add weight and develop into a starting MIKE with help from an NFL weight room program.
Spoke with Indiana LB Cam Jones after an impressive first day at the #SeniorBowl. Love the way he Carrie’s himself. pic.twitter.com/ncPFVF5oTu
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) January 31, 2023
Jones’ strengths lie in his aggression and play recognition. His ability to diagnose and read the offense allows him to pursue the ball-carrier with proper leverage. Jones is an explosive tackler, making him a formidable force against the run. His leadership skills and ability to play multiple positions on defense make him a valuable asset to any team. While undersized for a stack role, he has the frame to add weight and develop into a starting MIKE with help from an NFL weight room program. Jones is a highly intriguing prospect in this draft class and is sure to draw interest from multiple teams.
Anfernee Orji, Vanderbilt, 6-foot-1, 230
Orji has a nose for the football and a relentless pursuit of the ball-carrier. He attacks with downhill flow to play ahead of linemen, making him an effective run defender. Orji stays square to the line with a ready base when scraping, and his lateral agility allows him to slip around big bodies. He plays with active, urgent football and has a good feel for angles and timing as a blitzer. Orji’s traits and demeanor make him an effective core special-teamer, and his attacking style of defense is sure to make him a valuable asset to any team.
Vandy LB Anfernee Orji does a great job here dropping into his zone and reading the QB's eyes for a pick. QB doesn't even see him. pic.twitter.com/nW0Mrna051
— Joe Cammarota (@jcamo4) January 29, 2023
Orji’s strengths lie in his attacking style of defense and his relentless pursuit of the ball-carrier. His lateral agility and ability to slip around big bodies make him an effective run defender. Orji’s traits and demeanor make him an effective core special-teamer. His willingness to attack and make plays is sure to make him a valuable asset to any team. He may not be as clean against the run as some of the other linebackers in this draft class. However, his potential as a blitzer and his special teams experience make him a potential late-round steal.
Addressing the Linebacker Position in the NFL Draft
With Brad Holmes at the helm of the Lions’ draft strategy, there is plenty of reason for excitement when it comes to the linebacker position. Holmes has a proven track record of finding talent in later rounds. The success of Malcolm Rodriguez last year is a testament to his keen eye for potential. While there may not be a wealth of starting stack linebackers available in this draft class.
The Lions have shown that they are willing to take chances on players with high ceilings and the potential to develop into impactful starters. With a clear understanding of the traits they covet in their linebackers and a deep understanding of the needs of their team, the Lions are well-positioned to add some key pieces to their defense during the upcoming draft. If Brad Holmes and the Lions can continue their success in finding top-tier linebackers, the future of the position looks bright for the Lions.
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