2020 NFL Draft Scouting Reports: Inside Linebackers

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Sarah Ruppert

Jack Markowski, The Delphi Editor

As the NFL enters the new league year, talks about the NFL Draft are gotten louder.

The draft is one of the most anticipated events around the league and brings up a variety of discussion and opinion about the prospects each year. I’ve started watching game film of prospects for the first time this year, and each position group will be covered this year.

The first position will be the inside linebackers, and here are my 2020 ILB Rankings and Scouting Reports.

1) Isaiah Simmons, Clemson

Measurables: 6’4” 238 lbs

Simmons is an athletic “freak,” running a 4.39 second 40-yard dash at the Combine, which is the 2nd-highest total at the position since 2006, only behind Shaquem Griffin. He shows incredible range across the field and is fluid in coverage while also exhibiting sideline-to-sideline speed. He will be a versatile chess piece on whatever team he ends up on, as he can be a weapon in the secondary due to his history as a safety. In addition, he’s a great tackler who won’t shy away from contact, so he really is an all-around dominant player. He should be a Day 1 starter and will be making headlines from the first time he steps onto the field.

Round Projection: Early 1st

Actual Pick: Round 1, Pick 8 to Arizona Cardinals

2) Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma

Measurables: 6’2” 234 lbs

Murray is yet another amazing athlete among this class’ ILBs. He had a good Combine showing and has positioned himself to be taken off the board early. He’s a good cover LB, as he is shut down underneath and is a solid man defender. He possesses plus-plus speed and uses it to aid his aggressive style of play, as he’s not afraid to get physical. He’s a good pass rusher as well. He exhibits good bend around the edge and is a good speed rusher who knows how to hit his gaps and affect the pass. I have some concerns with him as a run defender, and his aggressive style of play can lead him to have some false steps and to over-pursue, but overall he’s a rangy player that can man the middle of any defense with his fantastic speed and athleticism as well as above-average blitzing skills.

Round Projection: Late 1st

Actual Pick: Round 1, Pick 23 to Los Angeles Chargers

3): Patrick Queen, LSU

Measurables: 6’1” 227 lbs

Queen is one of the late risers of this class, going from a projected 6th rounder to a player who has a real shot of being selected at the back end of the 1st round. Queen’s best tool is his athleticism and speed, which allows him to be rangy and a good cover LB against tight ends and running backs. Experience is a bit of question mark, as he is only a 1-year starter, and this can be identified by his false steps and inability to read routes, but he’s a fantastic tackler and a force coming downhill, making him a perfect traditional linebacker. He flashed his IQ throughout the year. His ability to read-and-react got better as the season went on, which was a major factor in improving his stock.

Round Prediction: Early 2nd

Actual Pick: Round 1, Pick 28 to Baltimore Ravens

4): Malik Harrison, Ohio State

Measurables: 6’3” 240 lbs

Harrison ran a 4.66 40-yard dash at the Combine, but he plays faster than that on tape. He struggles in coverage but makes up for it with his physical style of play and extreme ability to stop the run. Harrison is very twitchy and uses his short-area burst and quickness in pursuit to make plays. He is also a physical and secure tackler that doesn’t let the ball carrier break loose and his competitive edge is undeniable. He has flashed some upside as a pass rusher as well, where his big frame and strength aids him and his instincts in this part of the game are better than in coverage.

Harrison is one of my personal favorite players in this draft class, and he can be an explosive player in the front-7 for any team that takes him as he can play OLB, ILB and is worth giving a shot at EDGE every so often.

Round Prediction: Late 2nd

Actual Pick: Round 3, Pick 34 to Baltimore Ravens

5): Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech

Measurables: 6’1” 245 lbs

Brooks is one of the bigger linebackers on this list, and because of his size, he very well could end up being a 4-3 OLB long-term in the NFL. As an ILB at Texas Tech, he produced at a high level for several years and became a leader for the Red Raiders’ defense. Brooks has shown off good athleticism and speed and uses these skills to his advantage as a force coming downhill towards the line of scrimmage. He is a extremely physical player and often over-pursues and takes poor angles when trying to make a play. There aren’t many coverage opportunities in man-defense on tape, but Brooks shows off good tools in this category, mostly in zone, as he has fluid hips, quick feet, can change direction seamlessly and knows the depth of his spot drops. His IQ flashes on tape, too, through his processing skills and his ability to read his keys and react as the play unfolds in front of him.

Brooks has a chance to be a solid starter at the next level and can contribute in multiple ways on Day 1 without having to see the field all that much as a rookie.

Round Prediction: Mid 3rd

Actual Pick: Round 1, Pick 27 to Seattle Seahawks

6): Troy Dye, Oregon

Measurables: 6’3″ 231 lbs

Watch 15 seconds of Oregon’s defense and fans will realize the athletic ability that Dye has. He uses his skills to his advantage by always being around the football and showing off great versatility, which may be a product of his background as a former safety. His competitive edge is great as well, as he never shies away from contact and fights through traffic well to make plays. His coverage ability is worrisome, but not completely irrelevant. He is a natural when in zone but he’s not as adept at staying with his man. He could be aided by adding a bit more strength, as there are too many times where he’s completely taken out of the play by an O-Lineman.

While I think Dye needs some time to develop and reach his potential, I think he has the highest ceiling of anyone not named Isaiah Simmons on this list. He is an absolute tackling machine and has shown off insane tools, but he still needs to put it all together.

Round Prediction: Mid 3rd

Actual Pick: Round 4, Pick 26 to Minnesota Vikings

7): Akeem Davis-Gaither, Appalachian State

Measurables: 6’2” 216 lbs

Davis-Gaither was extremely productive at Appalachian State, finishing the 2019 season with 101 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. He has shown his ability to defend the run throughout his college career and his overall range and speed will be a definite weapon at the next level. His twitch and explosiveness allows him to be versatile as a pass-rusher as well as a solid coverage LB, and he has a knack for being able to make plays on the ball in coverage. His size is a bit of a concern and the processing part of his game needs to improve if he wants to be a full-time starter, as there are many examples on tape where he is slow to react to, or has trouble identifying, the play.

Davis-Gaither is a sleeper and can make some team better after using a mid-round pick on him, as he has the potential to be a good starter for years to come.

Round Prediction: Early 4th

Actual Pick: Round 4, Pick 1 to Cincinnati Bengals