We continue right along with our breakdown of the top prospect rankings at positions of need for the San Francisco 49ers. Today, our focus turns to the linebackers. This is another position that will have the front office’s attention.
There’s good news and bad news for the 49ers. The good news is that Fred Warner is a keeper. He has had his ups and downs but the promising rookie is trending in the right direction, and I expect he will build upon his rookie season, and have a successful sophomore campaign 2019. Now, onto the bad news…from first round pick to his release in under two seasons, Reuben Foster will go down as one major disappointment. What’s done is done, and the 49ers can only look forward. Malcolm Smith and Dakota Watson are not the future at the position for this team. I expect that the 49ers will be taking a good, long look at many linebackers in this upcoming draft.
Our focus today will be on the top 5 ranked linebackers. As always, these rankings are fluid and subject to change. Also keep in mind that we have a mix of outside and inside linebackers on this list. There is still so much that will happen between now and draft weekend. Finally, as a friendly reminder, some of these prospects are underclassmen and could potentially return to school.
Please continue to share your valuable thoughts in the comments below! As always, THANK YOU for the read!
1. Josh Allen, OLB/EDGE, No. 41 – Kentucky, Height: 6’5 |
What a tremendous season it has been for Kentucky’s Josh Allen. This season Allen had 84 tackles, 14 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 4 passes deflected. Allen is a linebacker with range and a burst of speed who can rush the passer and cause absolute havoc in an opponent’s backfield. Allen’s blend of speed, initial burst, and length allow him to rush from the edge on the outside. Allen’s ability to rush from the edge keeps tackles on their heels, delivering constant stress and pressure. Trusts his lower body, particularly his feet when rushing the quarterback. Watching his tape, Allen is quite explosive often and always. Only gains momentum as the game tires on. Has tremendous range, both vertically and horizontally, covering a wide range of field, and accelerates in space, especially in pass coverage.
Allen has a high motor and plays with urgency throughout the course of a game. Will fight through tight coverage and double team efforts from the opposition. On tape, Allen has demonstrated his ability to be successful in pass coverage, particularly against tight ends. Has strong football instincts and IQ with a strong sense and anticipation for where the play is going to occur. While Allen has great speed and burst, I think there is still room for growth in the strength department. An area I expect he will focus on in his preparations for the 2019 NFL Draft. Allen is the full package and blue-chip prospect who just might be a top 10 pick. Because he is so versatile, the real question with Allen is, where will his future team play him on the field? Let’s just say that is a great problem to have!
2. Devin White, LB, No. 40, - LSU, Height: 6’0” I Weight: 240 lbs.
Some might argue that White belongs at number one on this list, and rightfully so. White is a true linebacker where Allen is a bit of everything. I completely respect that argument. With that said, White is an elite playmaking linebacker who is a first-round lock in next year’s draft. This season White had 115 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 5 passes deflected. White has great speed for his position, covering a lot of ground, and defending the perimeter well against the run. White is a versatile linebacker who can defend against both the run and the pass in coverage. On tape, White has demonstrated his ability to break up plays for a loss of yardage behind the line of scrimmage. Finishes most of his tackles, while quickly wrapping his opponent and bringing them to the ground.
White has above average flexibility with the ability to cut through and slip by blockers in his attempts to rush the passer. While I like White’s speed, he is not the most explosive linebacker off the initial snap. His aggressive tendencies can be inconsistent and doesn’t play every down up to his capabilities. Those are few and far in-between of course. There is so much to like about Devin White, and all that he brings to the position. He seems a bit stronger against the run than in pass coverage. The Auburn game will show that he has some room to grow in the pass coverage department. Finally, as of this writing it was reported that White has informed teammates of his possible return to LSU for his senior year. We will have to wait and see. White plans on playing in the Fiesta Bowl against UCF.
3. Mack Wilson, LB, No. 30 – Alabama, Height: 6’0” I Weight: 239 lbs.
Anybody ready for another Alabama linebacker? Mack Wilson had a successful junior season with 63 tackles, 1 Sack, 1 Interception, and 5 passes deflected. Wilson, like most Bama linebackers before him play a physical brand of football. Plays tough against blockers and trusts his strong and reliable hands. Has good down-hill speed and produces a positive push along the line of scrimmage. Has great range and instincts in coverage and in open space. Plays at his highest ability defending against the run. Has a natural initial burst and is explosive, with a high motor. From his straight-line to horizontal speed, Wilson just might be one of the fastest if not the fastest linebacker in the country.
Watching his tape, I do like his football instincts and anticipation for where the play is going to occur. This includes his awareness to pick up routes in pass coverage, and abilities to create turnovers and change the momentum of the game. Wilson needs to finish his tackles more cleanly, and develop more consistency in this area. At times, watching his tape, Wilson over anticipates and puts himself out of position to make a potential play. Wilson is tough to project, come draft time, and I will say he is an early second round selection and borderline fringe first round prospect. The College Football Playoff will offer Wilson more opportunities to raise his draft stock.
4. Te’von Coney, LB, No. 4 – Notre Dame, Height: 6’1” I Weight: 240 lbs.
The senior linebacker out of Notre dame was a major contributor to Notre Dame’s undefeated regular season and college football playoff berth. This season Coney recorded 107 tackles, 3.5 Sacks, 1 Interception, and 4 passes deflected. Coney is a high-volume producer and often has an impact on the play. Coney plays his best against the run, and has developed and grown his instincts as a run defender. Finishes tackles quickly, and breaks up potential plays along the edge. Coney can be lined up at multiple positions along the field.
Displays toughness, and plays a physical brand of football. Has efficient downhill speed against the run, while clogging up running lanes along the line of scrimmage. On tape, Coney demonstrates an ability to maneuver around blocks. There are some growing pains for Coney in pass protection, and he will need to continue his development in this area. This is perhaps what can hold Coney up from being a three-down linebacker. The NFL demands linebackers who can perform in space. Coney simply isn’t the best linebacker in space, and will need to improve in this area. Still, there is a lot to like about Coney, and his volume in early down work, especially against the run. At the moment Coney is a late day two pick with an opportunity to improve his draft stock.
5. Germaine Pratt, LB, No. 3 – N.C. State, Height: 6’3” I Weight: 240 lbs.
The senior out of N.C. State recorded 114 tackles, 6 Sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 3 passes deflected. The high volume, three-down, linebacker has had a fine senior season and is quickly gaining the attention of scouts and evaluators. Overall, I think there is a lot of NFL upside when you watch the tape on Pratt. The crazy part about Pratt’s story is that he didn’t start one game last season, playing behind seniors, and only making appearances as a rotational linebacker. Pratt has the abilities to stop the run and have a positive impact in pass coverage. A converted safety, Pratt has natural, quick feet with great speed and bust, who can change direction on a dime and defend along the edge against ball carriers and take on tight ends in man to man coverage up the middle. Pratt is successful defending in space and while in pass coverage.
Pratt finishes his tackles quickly and cleanly, wrapping his opponent with his arms and preventing yards after the reception. Many scouts and evaluators feel Pratt needs to add more strength to his frame. That will improve his abilities to make a positive impact along the line of scrimmage. Pratt executes in space, and covers the field both laterally and vertically. As I mentioned earlier, I believe Pratt has a lot of pro potential. He may only have one year of starting experience, but that will not matter much to scouts and evaluators come draft time. I see Pratt as a second day selection with his arrow pointing up.