The "The Triple Take" now moves to the linebackers. In our fourth installment of this draft prospect preview by position, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the linebacker position. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.
Matt's Take ...
Matt Williamson: This isn't a superb group of linebackers, but there are a lot of these second level defenders that can really run. We know that is exactly what the league is looking for from their linebackers in today's NFL. Speed kills and this group has plenty of it overall. Of course, a huge key here is how these players contribute on special teams and even some of the players on this list might have to make a living in that phase at least as much as contributing to the defense.
#10 - Tanner Muse, Clemson (6-2, 227 lbs.) - Muse is really a safety, but may best project as a dime linebacker with the potential to possibly develop into an every down player on the second level depending on which scheme he lands in. Muse lit up the Combine but isn't an overly explosive guy with just average lateral agility. But Muse is quick to diagnose, plays hard and does close on his target really well. At a minimum, he should be awesome on special teams.
#9 - Troy Dye, Oregon (6-3, 231 lbs.) - The first thing you notice about Dye is his height and length. In time, that might project quite well to covering tight ends at the next level. He is very agile with great hips and is a fluid mover overall. While very productive at the college level, Dye isn't a great tackler and is more of a finesse player than a banger. He is almost as much box safety as he is linebacker. But Dye's traits are enticing.
#8 - Logan Wilson, Wyoming (6-0, 241 lbs.) - Wilson is a big well-built linebacker that really shines as a blitzer. A bit of a throwback, Wilson is far more effective coming downhill than playing in space and his agility is rather worrisome. Wilson is a tough guy that logged a lot of snaps at the college level, but he is somewhat of what-you-see-is-what-you-get type of prospect. But it should be noted that Wilson's Combine numbers were rather impressive and he was very productive over a four-year period.
#7 - Malik Harrison, Ohio State (6-0, 247 lbs.) - Harrison really stepped up in 2019 and looks like a player on the rise overall. He is well built and proved to be a very effective downhill player, especially as a blitzer, this past year. Harrison doesn't' excel in coverage and doesn't handle playing in reverse all that well. He could improve in this area though. Harrison plays hard and runs well in a straight line. His Combine performance was a little eye opening and Harrison's best days might be in front of him.
#6 - Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech (6-0, 240 lbs.) - Brooks doesn't bring a ton to the table as a cover guy and that hurts him for this exercise, but he is a downhill player that is a superb tackler. He has a great powerful body for the position and plays in an explosive manner once he zeros in on his target. He is quick to defeat blocks and arrives with authority. The key with Brooks though is that he runs very well with great production and experience at the college level.
#5 - Akeem Davis-Gaither, Appalachian State (6-1, 224 lbs.) - Playing at a smaller school might give some pause about Davis-Gaither, but he obviously performed at a very high level at Appalachian State and he is an outstanding athlete. He covers a ton of ground and is very twitchy. With his blend of speed, coverage skills and blitzing ability, Davis-Gaither is entering the league at the right time for today's NFL. He isn't the biggest linebacker, but his explosive traits, including as a take on player, really help make up for that lack of bulk.
#4 - William Gay Jr., Mississippi State (6-1, 243 lbs.) - There are off the field issues with Gay and he has been suspended during his time at Mississippi State. But he also has undeniable high-end linebacker traits and was quite impressive when he was on the field. Gay can play out of control at times and must show better discipline, but he covers immense amount of space. With great hip turn and instincts in coverage, Gay should excel in this capacity at the next level. But he also can be an impactful downhill player. Gay blew up at the Combine.
#3 - Patrick Queen, LSU (6-0, 229 lbs.) - Queen fits what the NFL is looking for at this position. He has rare speed and explosion. While he doesn't make many plays behind the line of scrimmage and is a bit undersized, Queen is all over the place in LSU's defense. He also is very young and won't turn 21-years-old until right before his rookie year, but Queen is also really just a one-year producer at the college level.
#2 - Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma (6-2, 241 lbs.) - Murray is a tough and competitive player that is considered an excellent leader. He covers a ton of ground and is all over the field. While it could change in the NFL, Murray rarely got his hands on the ball as a coverage player though at Oklahoma and he can be a little slow to recognize vs. both the run and pass. Still, his explosiveness is simply rare.
#1 - Isaiah Simmons, Clemson (6-3, 238 lbs.) - This is the rarest of defenders because Simmons has unmatched versatility. What he potentially brings to the table is borderline ridiculous. He is a great pass-rusher. He has unbelievable length and athletic ability. Simmons can line up at just so many positions. If you constructed a defender to deal with someone like Lamar Jackson, it would be Simmons. That being said, his new team will have to have a distinct plan on how to best use him without putting too much on Simmons' plate.
Dale's Take ...
Dale Lolley: Off-ball linebackers come in all shapes and sizes. But one thing they had better be able to do is hold up in coverage. This year's group of linebackers has plenty of players capable of doing that, led by Clemson's Isaiah Simmons, a top-10 pick. But there is depth at the position, as well.
#10 - Evan Weaver, California (6-2, 237 lbs.) - An overachieving tackling machine, Weaver is the kind of player coaches love. He's always in the right position.
#9 - Justin Strnad, Wake Forest (6-3, 238 lbs.) - Is athletic enough to have led Wake Forest in both special teams tackles and interceptions in the same season. Is coming off a torn biceps or he might be a little higher.
#8 - Davion Taylor, Colorado (6-0, 228 lbs.) - Built like a safety but plays like a linebacker. Also was a state champion sprinter in Mississippi.
#7 - Troy Dye, Oregon (6-3, 231 lbs.) - A tall, rangy, instinctive defender who fills the stat boxes across the board. But his lack of bulk could hurt him in the NFL.
#6 - Logan Wilson, Wyoming (6-0, 241 lbs.) - Classic inside linebacker who could eventually be a three-down player as his skills develop.
#5 - Akeem Davis-Gaither, Appalachian State (6-1, 224 lbs.) - Undersized speed linebacker who has good instincts. But he'll be making a big jump up in competition.
#4 - Malik Harrison, Ohio State (6-0, 247 lbs.) - Has good size, but more of a classic 4-3 linebacker who could slide inside in a 3-4. Offers a little bit of everything.
#3 - Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma (6-2, 241 lbs.) - More of a classic inside linebacker, but with speed. Murray is a playmaker with surprising speed who does need to improve his instincts.
#2 - Patrick Queen, LSU (6-0, 229 lbs.) - Not quite the prospect that Bush or Devin White were last season, Queen is still exactly what teams are looking for in terms of coverage and run-stopping ability.
#1 - Isaiah Simmons, Clemson (6-3, 238 lbs.) - Almost a hybrid cross between Chargers safety Derwin James and Steelers linebacker Devin Bush. Simmons can run and cover, while also bringing some pop.
Mike's Take ...
Mike Prisuta: It's a different game inside these days, and there are an increasing number of inside linebacker candidates available capable of adapting to the new demands.
"The game's changed, the position's changed and you're seeing a lot of guys that probably would have been safeties 10, 15 years ago that now people are putting at linebacker at 220, 225 pounds, guys that can run and cover and play in space," Colts General Manager Chris Ballard observed on the NFL Network during the NFL Scouting Combine. "That's what our game's about."
It's now about run-and-cover more than it is stuff-the-run at inside linebacker.
And help is apparently on the way.
"I can't stress enough how impressive this group has been," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah announced after 12 potential draftees at inside linebacker posted sub-4.6 40-yard dash times at the Combine.
Among those who have impressed in advance of the NFL Draft are:
#10 - Joe Bachie, Michigan State (6-1, 230 lbs.) - He's not the flashiest, and he's a little old school (translation: a little slow) in this new-wave, speed age, but he consistently makes plays. And as the son of a coach he has the intangibles, perhaps, to compensate for less-than-desirable measure-ables. "A real physical, take-on player, which we don't see a lot of any more in the college game," Jeremiah observed.
#9 - Evan Weaver, California (6-2, 237 lbs.) - He's a tackling machine, And there was a play in the Senior Bowl where Weaver corrected the alignment of a defensive tackle pre-snap, got back into his drop and eventually made the play on a short completion to a tight end over the middle. He also downed a punt at the 1-yard line in Mobile, Ala. "Evan Weaver is one of those football players," NFL Network analyst Charles Davis maintained. "You turn him on, turn him loose and he finds a way to make plays."
#8 - Logan Wilson, Wyoming (6-0, 241 lbs.) - Another tackling machine and another candidate who oozes intangibles as a three-year captain. Jeremiah's a big fan. "One of my favorites in this class," he assessed. "I think he has a chance to sneak into the second round."
#7 - Malik Harrison, Ohio State (6-0, 247 lbs.) - The Buckeyes' leading tackler and 2019 first-team All-Big Ten selection made plays against the run and the pass. And he's athletic enough to have won the OSU football team's annual dunk contest.
#6 - Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech (6-0, 240 lbs.) - He's a sideline-to-sideline player when healthy. Brooks wasn't that at season's end (torn labrum, surgery) but he still showed up to run a couple 40s at the Combine (4.55, 4.54, unofficially). "I just wrote 'juicy,'" Jeremigh said of his evaluation. "This guy's really twitched up."
#5 - Akeem Davis-Gaither, Appalachian State (6-1, 224 lbs.) - "When you think of tackles, think of Akeem," Davis announced. "He can flat-out run." The Athletic's Dane Brugler projects Davis-Gaither as "a discount version of Clemson's Isaiah Simmons." Given Simmons' monster status in this draft, that's high praise.
#4 - Patrick Queen, LSU (6-0, 229 lbs.) - Opportunity knocked when teammate Michael Divinity Jr. got suspended and Queen made the most of it, especially against Alabama and Clemson. "He was everywhere, picked off Tua (Tagovailoa), sideline to sideline," Jeremiah noted. "A little under-sized but, man, he is a blur on the field. He's an energy guy. He gives energy to his defense. Patrick Queen, I believe, is gonna be a first-round pick."
#3 - Zack Baun, Wisconsin, (6-2, 238 lbs.) - He can cover tight ends and win in the running game, but he's also an excellent rusher off the edge so there's a lot to love about Baun. Another Wisconsin defender with a high motor and a high football IQ. "He made sideline-to-sideline tackles all year long for the Badgers," Davis said. That type of play-making at Wisconsin has a tendency to translate.
#2 - Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma (6-2, 241 lbs.) - He can run and jump and make plays and he's a two-time captain, so a lot of what makes Murray so highly coveted is obvious. The best revelation on Murray might be this from NFL Network analyst Peter Schrager at the Combine: "He walks in the room, a team told me, they said, 'OK, what are we getting from you?' He said, 'I was born to lead.' This is the player that everyone's talking about as your 15-year, middle linebacker type."
#1 - Isaiah Simmons, Clemson (6-3, 238 lbs.) - He ran one 40 at the Combine, a 4.39. "Why don't you just outfit him for a cape?" Davis wondered. A "Superman" designation might not be hyperbole for a player who lined up at free safety, off-the-ball linebacker, slot cornerback and outside linebacker. Simmons is the most unique player in the draft.