We started our positional rankings on Tuesday with the running backs and the way we are going to do this is alternate between offense and defense with kind of the direct matchups in one week (so tackles vs. edge rushers, wide receivers vs. cornerbacks, etc.). So that leads us to the linebackers in this edition and the opinions about this group seem to be all over the place.
While I do believe there is a clear order of one, two and three, after that there is a lot of disagreement. I think there are two clear first-rounders and another guy, who might sneak up somewhere in the later picks, but my number four prospect possibly won’t even hear his name called before day three when I look at many of these rankings out there.
Two that are frequently among the top five or so didn’t even make my list at all. I am looking for fast, athletic linebackers who fit the modern game, while also being able to defend the downhill run game, as I could see a trend of more power football being played in the near future.
#1 Devin White, LSU
A former four-star running back out of high-school, Devin White saw early playing time at LSU and became a full-time starter as a sophomore. He was a first-team All-SEC and second-team All-American selection in his second year, recording 133 total tackles, with 13.5 going for a loss. White put up almost identical numbers last year while making more plays on the ball, breaking up six passes, forcing three fumbles and recovering another two on his way of improving to first-team All-American and earning the Butkus award for the nation’s best linebacker.
White has been the catalyst for the Tiger defense these last two years. He plays with an attitude and swagger, gets downhill and moves people backwards in the run game while being feather-light on his feet and having a jump to his step. He displays tremendous pursuit and has the speed to show up anywhere on the field.
On some snaps he even goes underneath the block, redirects to run down the line and stops the ball-carrier for no gain, while also simply being too fast for most guards and centers to climb up to on zone running plays and just shooting gaps before the O-line is ready to come off their combo-blocks.
White displays elite closing burst and is an explosive hitter, who drives his legs through tackles and twists ball-carriers to the ground. You can not let this man run free or he will track down the ball from sideline to sideline. The LSU star backer is not afraid to bump heads with those big offensive linemen, packing a strong punch and understanding how to disengage.
At 240 pounds, White has no troubles getting depth after stepping up against run-fakes. He is comfortable picking up RBs out of the backfield and running with them on wheel routes, while also lining up with tight ends in the slot and displaying the fluid hips to react to secondary routes once the scramble drill is happening. While you like him operating in space, he is even more dangerous lurking around the line of scrimmage in the passing game.
White is an outstanding and instinctive blitzer, who has a feel for where the open lane is and puts the heat on opposing QBs. The All-American is pretty slippery through traffic in general and he can not only go through backs in protection – but he also uses his hands to get around them. Having the O-line open up any lane to get through against White can prove to be deadly because he doesn’t mind just taking off and arrives at the passer in a heartbeat. His explosiveness showed up when he notched 31 pressures as a blitzer last season.
Even though he has enough size to take on blockers. White is very dependent on his speed and is just way too inconsistent with his reads at this point. He gets caught peeking in the backfield instead of reading the offensive line and loses time with blockers in his face, which just allows the ball-carrier to get past him. As a former running back recruit, White often times reads run plays like a former ball-carrier and guesses on cutbacks due to the leverage of his own D-line as the backside linebacker, opening up space on the actual play-side.
He was put in several bad spots on draw plays against Georgia last year and could not really affect the plays. White can be manipulated by the QB’s eyes and pump fakes as well. However, his biggest technical flaw at this point is that he wraps up too high and thinks he can make tackles with his arms instead of driving through contact if he doesn’t get a straight shot at the ball-carrier. It may lead to flashy lasso tackles, but also quite a few misses.
This guy simply is a very fluid and explosive athlete whose instincts for the linebacker position have improved a lot during his time with the Tigers, but still aren’t where they need to be. Due to his ability to run, hit and cover he is a fit for multiple defensive schemes and at different spots. I think White can play any of the three linebacker roles in a 4-3 and he can line up inside in a 3-4 while bringing upside in any sub packages either blitzing, spying the quarterback, covering in man or dropping out.