Greetings once again, 49er faithful! It is I, your trusty college football contributor bringing yet another round of prospects rankings - this time we’ll be focusing on the linebacker position. The future was supposed to be solidified with the additions of Fred Warner and Rueben Foster - with Foster’s legal troubles and ultimate release, though, San Francisco is left with Warner (who has shown a ton of promise) and...nothing else, really. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan would be remiss not to look at the free agent market and draft class to shore things up. Here are some prospects who may find themselves in red and gold come 2019.
1. Devin White, LB, LSU - Height: 6’1” Weight: 240 lbs 2018 stats: 123 total tackles (62 solo), 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
In 2017, White went from a backup to one of the best linebackers in the nation. He had totaled only 30 tackles with one sack and forced fumble in 2016, but he exploded onto the scene as a sophomore. His 2017 production went through the roof as he was all over the field for the Tigers. White totaled 133 tackles with 14 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, three passes broken up and one interception that season.
As a linebacker, White is the complete package. He has excellent instincts and is very fast to read his keys to get in position to make plays. For a big and thick linebacker, White has shocking speed to get to the perimeter, and he eats up space in a hurry. White is also a good tackler who wraps up ball carriers and puts them into the turf with force. White has the size and mentality to take on blocks, holds his ground, shed the block, and get in on tackles. He is a superb run defender.
2. Mack Wilson, LB, Alabama - Height: 6’0” Weight: 230 lbs 2018 stats: 71 total tackles (36 solo), 1 sack, 2 interceptions
Many were disappointed by Wilson’s inability to take the next leap and really pull away from the rest of the linebacker group (this is why, in large part, experts say that he should have returned for his senior year). Still, though, Mack Wilson is a talented defensive player coming out of Alabama, a school that regularly trots out players ready to make an impact at the pro level relatively quickly.
Wilson has done well in the pass rush as he has shown that he is a really effective delayed blitzer and has the ability to rush off the edge situationally. He has also shown tremendous physicality to take on backfield blockers, lowering the shoulder to power through running backs. Areas that he will need to improve on mainly have to do with being mentally prepared, something which he can obviously grow into as his career continues to develop.
3. Devin Bush, LB, Michigan - Height: 5’11” Weight: 233 lbs 2018 stats: 66 total tackles (41 solo), 4.5 sacks
Devin Bush is a player who is set to benefit from this new era of play in the NFL. Bush’s mobility experience in numerous types of responsibilities against the run and upside as a 3rd down defender (blitz ability and potential in coverage) set him up for an impact role. One of the most dynamic linebackers in the class, has terrific ability to dart through short spaces or scrape laterally and slide a gap to slip a block. Has great speed through all angles and is smooth when planting to drive forward and work into the play.
If all goes well for Bush during the Combine then he very well could find himself being taken in the mid-to-late portions of round 2. If not then he could potentially slide to day 3 of the draft. Whoever ends up with him, though, will find themselves a player with a high I.Q. and tons of room to grow.
4. Te’von Coney, LB, Notre Dame - Height: 6’1” Weight: 240 lbs 2018 stats: 123 total tackles (63 solo), 4 sacks, 1 interception
Te’von Coney’s listed size and frame are excellent. If he isn’t 240, looks like he has the length to put on some muscle as needed. He’s a strong tackler who comes in low, keeps his eyes up and wraps with good form. Solid athlete with legit range when he opens up and runs. Uses his hands and length well to keep himself relatively clean from blockers despite not being a true stack-and-shed linebacker. Mental processing and aggressiveness were at their best during the end of the season.
Coney projects as an early down linebacker at the NFL level. His range and impact on passing downs are major hurdles to a featured role, but his physical limitations present a very limited ceiling with little room for growth. Coney has the physicality to be a force defender in the box and plug up gaps. He’s ideally a rotational defender who gets run in early downs and short yardage situations so look for him to be selected anywhere between round 4 and 6.
5. Ben Burr-Kirven, LB, Washington - Height: 6’0” Weight: 221 lbs 2018 stats: 176 total tackles (94 solo), 2 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions
Ben Burr-Kirven faces an uphill battle if he wants to make it as a linebacker in the NFL and that is mostly due to his size (or lack thereof). Standing at 6’0” and 220 lbs he may convert to safety - as things stand right now, though, the dude is a linebacker and watching tape on him only proves that he was born to hit people and hit them hard.
A bat outta hell in terms of explosiveness and physicality. Fires into oncoming blockers with great speed-to-power conversion. Uses his hands to win the chest plate and displace players over 100+ lbs heavier than he is. Explosiveness and physicality also allow him to rip through gaps when attack the backfield, which adds to his disruptive ability. He honestly reminds me a little bit of former 49er Chris Borland - someone who is knows what it takes to play football and gets the job done no matter what it takes.