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NFL 2022 Scouting Combine preview: Linebackers to watch

Here are some of the players Giants fans need to be aware of

Auburn v LSU Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The New York Giants need help at the linebacker position. The fate of Blake Martinez is still uncertain after he tore his ACL in a Week 3 loss against Atlanta. If general manager Joe Schoen is attempting to discard $40 million off the cap, Martinez is a realistic option to be cut-loose in the final year of his current contract.

2020 Mr. Irrelevant Tae Crowder was the replacement; Crowder struggled to consistently read his keys and react accordingly in both run and pass phases of playing defense. Reggie Ragland is a free agent. Carter Coughlin transitioned to linebacker but only played 40 snaps after suffering an injury. Cam Brown dealt with injuries and is more of a special teams player.

Benardrick McKinney and Jaylon Smith might not be retained after less than a year with the Giants, albeit I’m open to Smith as a situational linebacker. Nevertheless, New York would still need to address the position.

The Combine testing doesn’t include the EDGE position as its own entity. Several high-profile EDGE players will be included in this list because they are testing under the designation of “linebacker.” Here’s a list of the players in the linebacker position group:

  • Christopher Allen, Alabama
  • Troy Andersen, Montana State
  • Brian Asamoah, Oklahoma
  • Darrian Beavers, Cincinnati
  • Terrel Bernard, Baylor
  • Darien Butler, Arizona State
  • Chance Campbell, Mississippi
  • Leo Chenal, Wisconsin
  • Damone Clark, LSU
  • Nakobe Dean, Georgia
  • JoJo Domann, Nebraska
  • Jeremiah Gemmel, North Carolina
  • Isaiah Graham-Mobley, Boston College
  • Jake Hansen, Illinois
  • Aaron Hansford, Texas A&M
  • Christian Harris, Alabama
  • D’Marco Jackson, Appalachian State
  • Drake Jackson, USC
  • Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State
  • Nate Landman, Colorado
  • Devin Lloyd, Utah
  • Boye Mafe, Minnesota
  • Zakoby McClain, Auburn
  • Micah McFadden, Indiana
  • Jeremiah Moon, Florida
  • Chad Muma, Wyoming
  • Malcolm Rodriguez, Oklahoma State
  • Mike Rose, Iowa State
  • Josh Ross, Michigan
  • Jack Sanborn, Wisconsin
  • Nephi Sewell, Utah
  • Brandon Smith, Penn State
  • Baylon Spector, Clemson
  • Channing Tindall, Georgia
  • Quay Walker, Georgia
  • Tre Williams, Arkansas

The two big names for the true linebacker position are Utah’s Devin Lloyd and Georgia’s Nakobe Dean. Lloyd is lean but long, and he can be a three-down backer. Dean is short, intelligent, a quick accelerator, but I don’t think he’ll be a 4.4 linebacker like the Buccaneers’ Devin White; he can run a 4.51 like former Georgia Bulldog linebacker Roquan Smith (Bears). Dean’s a great athlete and mover in space, but his height will be over-analyzed. He should teeter near six-foot, and even being slightly over that number would be excellent for Dean.

Both Lloyd and Dean could be first-round selections, but there are plenty of options on Day 2 that fit Don “Wink” Martindale’s philosophy.

Linebackers

Damone Clark, LSU

Clark produced a ton at LSU and has a great 6-2, 240-pound frame with just under 33-inch arms (confirmed at Senior Bowl). In 12 games during the 2021 season, he had 135 tackles, 15.0 for a loss, and 5.5 sacks to go along with three passes defended and two forced fumbles. He broke out in his senior season and had the most total tackles and solo tackles (77) in the SEC. His leadership on and off the field helped him earn the coveted No. 18 jersey at LSU. Clark is constantly communicating with his teammates pre-snap to figure out offensive intentions. He should be a starter in the league soon enough.

Leo Chenal, Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard loves to bring exotic blitz packages, and Chenal directly benefited from his coordinator’s aggressiveness. Chenal is a redshirt sophomore who entered the draft - he probably received a high grade from the advisory board. He’s 6-2, 260 pounds, but he explodes downhill like he’s 220 pounds. His explosiveness and ability to find paths through protections translate well to what Martindale wants to do with his defense.

Chenal reportedly ran a 100-meter dash in 11.89 when in high school. He has an opportunity to defeat the linebacker bench press record at the Combine. For a man of his size he’s still a great athlete who anticipates snap counts well with great initial burst. He will be an option for New York on Day 2.

Troy Anderson, Montana State

Anderson was one of the small-school risers at the Senior Bowl. He has excellent 6-3, 242-pound size, and he was physical, showed his movement skills, and made several plays on the football in coverage. Anderson is unique as a prospect. He played quarterback and running back for Montana State in previous years before transitioning to linebacker.

The offensive experience could entice teams to view him as a Taysom Hill type of player on offense. He has the coverage skills to play SAM, the pursuit to be a WILL, and, if he develops a bit more, he could be a MIKE in the NFL. The Combine is always a big event, but small-school players like Anderson will have to test accordingly to maintain his Day 2 status.

Brian Asamoah, Oklahoma

Asamoah may realistically run a 4.41 40-yard dash. He was 6-feet, 222-pounds in Mobile, with good 33⅜-inch arms and an 80-inch wingspan. The height isn’t ideal, and 222 pounds is on the light side for a linebacker, but Asamoah can cover ground and he can hit with force.

Quay Walker, Georgia

Walker was one of many incredibly talented players on the Bulldogs’ defense. He was set to attend the Senior Bowl but pulled out because of an injury. He’s now reportedly healthy, and he will pass the eye test. He’s 6-4, 240 pounds with excellent range, foot-quickness, and physical temperament.

Walker has only played 500 snaps once in his college career. He should test well, look good in movement drills, and he could be an option for New York in Round 3.

JoJo Domann, Nebraska

Domann lists as a linebacker, but his primary role in college was an overhang defender. He was recruited to be a safety and made the transition closer to scrimmage. He had the athletic ability to shade inside of number two receivers to the field and still defend bubble screens outside. He is physical coming downhill and is a good tackler, despite his 6-foot, 226-pound frame. His size will lead to a slide into day three, where I think he’d be a value. Domann should get cross-trained in Indianapolis with the defensive backs; if he does, he’ll show off his coverage and movement skills, which can only help regain ground after measuring in undesirably at the Senior Bowl.

Christian Harris, Alabama

Harris could be an option for the Giants on Day 2. He’s quick coming downhill, has NFL range, and has really good short-area quickness; however, he is chaotic heading into tackles, resulting in misses. I believe he has the necessary athletic ability to be a three-down linebacker, which should be validated at the Combine. He finished the 2021 season with 80 tackles, 11.5 for a loss, 5.5 sacks, three passes defended, and two forced fumbles. He also had 26 pressures and two sacks; Harris does a good job penetrating gaps, shielding himself from blocks, and getting skinny to pressure the quarterback when tasked to blitz.

Channing Tindall, Georgia

The third Georgia linebacker we are discussing! Tindall will more than likely be a Day 3 type of selection. He never started a game at Georgia, which isn’t necessarily a slight; he could have dominated at other schools but decided not to transfer, and he consistently made plays when his name was called.

He’s only 6-1, 223 pounds, but he looks imposing in pads with a chiseled physique. He is a bit raw and could use some coaching on the finer points, but he has a lot of upside, and his skill-set meshes well with Martindale’s pressure philosophy. Georgia ran a diverse pressure package; he recorded 26 pressures and nine sacks in 2021.

Malcolm Rodriguez, Oklahoma State

Another former safety who is undersized (511, 225 pounds), but he has some pop in his hands to defend himself at the second level or when closing width down near the line of scrimmage. He has incredible athletic skills. He was the starting quarterback for his high school team and didn’t lose a game. Rodriguez was also a state champion wrestler in Oklahoma. He is going to look great at the Combine. He’s somewhat unknown right now, but people would be discussing Rodriguez if he were taller.

Zakoby McClain, Auburn

McClain’s size will always work against him; he’s only 5011, 220 pounds, but similar to Asamoah, he’s quick. McClain can cover space, has excellent range, is very fluid, and his coverage instincts are solid. He could have an excellent combine from an athletic testing standpoint while looking very adept in the movement drills.

Brandon Smith, Penn State

I mentioned Smith because he will test very well at the Combine. He’s a phenomenal athlete with elite movement skills. I wish his tape was more physical, and he’s sloppy from a technical standpoint. Some teams will appreciate his movement skills, but he is very raw in many aspects of playing linebacker.

EDGE

The “EDGE” group with linebacker designations will test very well. Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson, Minnesota’s Boye Mafe, and USC’s Drake Jackson should all test out of the gym while looking excellent in movement drills.

I’m looking forward to the figure 8 drill that tests the lower-body flexibility and ability to maintain speed in tight quarters; these three players should look fluid in those exercises. Although he’s listed in the defensive line category, Michigan’s David Ojabo may perform some “linebacker” drills. Ojabo may look the best in Indianapolis when it’s all said and done.