Kendall Joseph (LB, Clemson) – 79

After an injury-plagued redshirt freshman year, Joseph shone as a sophomore last year, with 124 tackles (13.5 of them for a loss) making him a key component in Clemson’s run to the national championship.  On tape, there is a lot to like about Joseph’s play.  He is very instinctive and athletic – he plays quicker and makes reads faster than a lot of the other LBs in this class.  He is an alert, heady player – see for instance, his forced fumble in the Ohio State game (Q3, 13:22), when he very deliberately pokes the ball out of the RB’s grasp in the act of making the tackle.  He is very comfortable in space; he is assured in zone coverage and has the speed and agility to match up well with TEs.  He is also a technically sound tackler, albeit not a huge hitter.  There is, however, no getting around his lack of size.  Clemson list him as 6-0, 225 and I’d be surprised if he were that big.  This manifests itself against the run; he can use his hands and explosiveness to shed a TE’s block but, all too often, when an OL gets his hands on Joseph, he gets submerged.   Overall, though, I like Joseph’s potential as a WLB in a 4-3 base and I could certainly see a team being interested in him on Day 2 of the 2018 draft, should he decide to declare this year.

Advertisements

Auggie Sanchez (LB, South Florida) – 58

The first word that comes to mind when you see Sanchez play is “opportunistic”.  He isn’t the biggest, strongest or quickest LB but he has an instinctive understanding of how to do his job.  That works well, of course, in the AAC but I’m sceptical as to how it translates to the NFL.  In the running game, I think he’s a step slow to recognise his gap responsibilities.  He is a good tackler – not explosive, but dependable – but I still wouldn’t be confident in his ability to make plays against an NFL running game.  Against the pass, he is quick to diagnose threats from the WR or TE position but, when it comes to RBs coming out of the backfield, I have major reservations in his ability to react to a play.  I like him as a blitzer, though.  In the Connecticut game (2Q 6:01 and 1:53) he flies out like a shell from a cannon to make the sack whilst, against Florida State (3Q, 12:44), he demonstrated an abrupt change in direction to enable him to effect the snap.  Sanchez, essentially, is a football player – instinctive, scrappy and motivated.  It’s easy to see why he’s been so productive at the FBS level.  I have my concerns, however, about his athleticism and some of his diagnostic skills, which is why I have a late Day 3 grade on him.

Azeem Victor (LB, Washington) – 66

Azeem Victor has had a lot of hype coming in to the 2017 season and, on occasions, you can see why. He has natural playmaking abilities and shows the ability to stack and shed blockers on a pretty consistent basis. In the Utah game, he was all over the field and, if you watched that tape in isolation, I can see why you would see him as a Day 2 pick; he is clearly an athletic and rangy LB, whose tackling technique is basically very sound. At the same time, however, I have two fundamental concerns about Victor. The first is the speed with which he reads his keys and reacts. Time and again, on tape, I see him flat-footed and static while the play unfolds around him. He might be able to use his athleticism to compensate in the Pac-12 but he will be destroyed in the NFL if he adopts the “Let’s have a good, long peer” approach. My second concern is his physicality. There are times when he simply allows RBs to take him along for a ride; Q4, 10:13 v Cal in 2016 is a good example. With the right coaching staff, I can see Victor having a good career in the NFL but there are so many flaws in his game right now that I would be disinclined to spend anything more than a mid-Day 3 pick on him.

Josey Jewell (LB, Iowa) – 59

I can see why Jewell is a favourite of Iowa fans. He is well-coached, determined, reliable and a technically sound tackler. He is certainly the sort of player who could be in contention for All-Big Ten honours after the 2017 season. Does this make him a good NFL prospect? Unfortunately, I fear, it does not. He is a productive LB at the FBS level but his skills do not naturally translate to the NFL. He is, often, slightly slow to read his keys and, even when he does make a quick read (ie goalline 3Q 7:22 v Wisconsin) he’s not strong or agile enough to make the tackle. He is also a bit of a liability in coverage; he is not a particularly fluid or quick athlete and can quickly be exposed by fast-twitch slot WRs or RBs. I think Jewell could be a good special teams player in the NFL but I don’t see him as much more than that. I fully anticipate that he will have another hugely productive season for the Hawkeyes but, at the same time, it is difficult to see him winning on a consistent basis in the NFL. In light of this, I have a 6th/7th round borderline grade on Jewell, going into the 2017 season.

 

Manase Hungalu (LB, Oregon State) – 86

Not many people are talking about Hungalu as we go into the 2017 season but, in my view, he’s one of the most underrated linebackers in college football.  The thing that stands out most when you watch Hungalu is how quick he is to diagnose a play.  Both against the pass and the run, it looks like he there is an iron filing in the ball, with Hungalu playing the role of the magnet.  This means one of two things; he is either a “first-in, last-out” type in the film room, or he is quite incredibly instinctive – perhaps it’s both.  There are plenty of examples; the obvious one is the touchdown return in the UCLA game but one of my favourites is his pass break up at the 1:56 mark of the 3rd quarter of the Minnesota game.  He is also a very good athlete; the rapidity with which he chases down Royce Freeman at the start of the Oregon game speaks volumes for his quickness.  The other thing I love about Hungalu is the ferocity with which he takes on blockers.  Drew Sample, the Washington TE, was simply abused at times last year, even in a game in which the Beavers were outmatched.  There are, of course, things he needs to work on.  Hungalu is a really unrefined pass rusher when he comes on the blitz and, like many college linebackers, he could benefit from being bigger and stronger.  I do, however, really like his skill-set, which I think translates really well to the next level; he probably fits best as a WILB in a 3-4 defence.  I suspect I’m much higher on Hungalu than many others but I think he could be an excellent NFL player and I currently have a second round grade on him.

Jack Cichy (LB, Wisconsin) – 83

What I like most about Cichy is that, the bigger the game, the better he plays.  His most impressive performances on tape have come against USC (where he earned his nickname, ‘Three Sack Jack’), Ohio State and Iowa – that is really encouraging and tells me a lot about his competitiveness.  He is slightly undersized at 6-2, 234lb, but I could see him carrying 245-250lb comfortably at the next level.  Cichy is, by all accounts, a natural leader and he’s certainly a natural playmaker.  He has good instincts and an almost maniacal determination to make a hit.  At the same time, though, his tackling technique is erratic; he often goes very low and, in the NFL, it is easy to imagine RBs, in space, simply jumping over him.  He will occasionally guess, when it comes to run fills, but, more often than not, his instincts are impressively sound.  I’m not convinced of his functional strength when it comes to shedding and stacking, though, and I think this is something he will need to address prior to the combine.  In coverage, he can become somewhat fixated on the QB and allow receivers to slip behind him.  When he keeps his head on a swivel, however, he shows really good range and ball skills – he has the traits to make NFL teams very interested.  He is not a 1st rounder for me – there are too many issues with strength and technique – but, nevertheless, I do really like Cichy as a mid-day 2 prospect.  At the very least, he will be a special teams dervish; equally, though, I can see him developing into a good starting LB at the next level.

UPDATE: Sadly, Cichy will now miss the 2017 season with a torn ACL.

Nyles Morgan (LB, Notre Dame) – 71

Morgan is more of an aggressive, downhill LB than a read and react type. It’s impossible to escape the impression that he’d have been much happier in the middle of a 4-3 defence 20 years ago, when his ability to hit and stuff the run would probably have been more appreciated. I do, though, really like the way in which Morgan embraces contact and, if he gets a clean shot at the ball carrier, he is going to ensure that the opposition’s training staff earn their money that week. In pass coverage, he seems less inclined to cover his man than to line him up in order to beat the snot out of him – again, there is something pleasingly old-school about this approach. As a LB in the modern NFL, however, he lacks the range and athleticism you need to see from a starting LB. He is, apparently, trying to slim down from 250 to about 235 for the 2017 season and it will be interesting to see if this reaps its rewards. I have concerns about his processing skills but I think Morgan can definitely earn a paycheck in the NFL as a special teams demon and spot starter. He reminds me a lot of Vince Williams coming out of Florida State and Williams is just about to enter his fifth season with the Pittsburgh Steelers. As such, there is certainly some value in drafting him and I could see him going early on Day 3.