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Making the case: Leo Chenal, Chad Muma, or Troy Anderson?

Let’s talk about some intriguing inside linebacker prospects

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Wisconsin at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Despite retaining the services of the talented, but injured, middle linebacker Blake Martinez, the New York Giants find themselves in need of help at inside linebacker. The Giants have several needs heading into the 2022 NFL Draft, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they used one of there three Day 2 picks (Nos. 36, 67, 81) at the linebacker position.

Linebackers like Georgia’s Quay Walker and Channing Tindall, Alabama’s Christian Harris and Oklahoma’s Brian Asamoah are all viable options on Day 2 and beyond. Three linebackers are widely discussed among the Big Blue View staff: Wisconsin’s Leo Chenal, Wyoming’s Chad Muma, and Montana State’s Troy Anderson. Let’s make the case for each.

All three of these players are different. Chenal is a downhill thumper in a 250+ pound frame who tested like he was 225 pounds. Muma has a complete skill-set and also tested well, but isn’t as dynamic as Chenal coming downhill. Anderson is a small-school stud with three-down capability, a former quarterback and running back who set rushing records at Montana State.

I’m personally neck and neck with two of these players; a graceful zephyr could alter my final determination, which speaks to the player’s talents - not my indecisiveness (I hope). Let’s start by making a case for a player who elicits nostalgic emotions for anyone with an affinity for 1990s defenders; this same player has true unicorn tendencies, which is why he is so intriguing.

Leo Chenal

Outside the arm length, this is a pretty impressive spider graph for a player who is almost 6’3, 250-pounds. Kent Lee Platte, an excellent follow on Twitter, has Chenal ranked fourth in RAS (Relative Athletic Score) out of 2,188 linebacking prospects from 1987-2022.

The quick burst and acceleration when coming downhill are evident throughout Chenal’s film. He’s quick to trigger and fill against the run and does a solid job scraping over the top and locating ball carriers while bringing elite play strength to the point of attack. His hands are heavy, and he shows the ability to dip low and angle himself underneath and around offensive lineman in pass protection.

Chenal had 26 pressures, 18.5 tackles for a loss, 115 total tackles, 63 STOPs and eight sacks in 2021. He was a pass-rushing weapon for Jim Leonard’s defense. The burst downhill is undeniable, and a 1.55-second 10-yard split substantiates the quick penetration ability that was on display throughout his 2021 tape.

Chenal’s top speed, per GPS tracking data, was 20.3 MPH. He had 26 plays that eclipsed 16 MPH. That’s no shock; it’s easy to see the sideline to sideline range.

I love Chenal’s fit with New York as a potential SAM linebacker in some situations and an ILB in four-linebacker packages in Wink Martindale’s scheme. Martindale brings pressure, and Chenal’s skill-set and temperament coincide perfectly with what Martindale wants at the second level. It sounds like a match made in football heaven, right?

In some ways, yes. Chenal, however, is discussed as a Day 2 option because he’s raw in coverage and not the most fluid mover in space. He tested very well, but there’s some stiffness to his zone drops. He has little to no ball production; he’s spatially aware but somewhat unnatural when moving backward - opening his hips and shading a specific direction.

His best utilization is in the pressure package, which limits his upside. I think he can get away with zone dropping and won’t be a huge liability, but several linebackers in this class are much more comfortable in coverage; we’re about to go over one of them.

Chad Muma

Like Chenal, Muma packs a physical punch in the box, and he’s a good athlete.

Muma recorded 142 tackles, eight for a loss, 1.5 sacks, 21 pressures, three interceptions, and 68 STOPS for the Wyoming Cowboys in the Mountain West Conference. Muma was productive, instinctive, and athletic, with good size and a three-down skill-set.

Muma returned two of his three 2021 interceptions for touchdowns. When kept clean, he does well with his angle execution while staying square to his targets in the box and while flowing laterally. He has good range when he’s running in pursuit.

He was a team leader in college who helped set the defense up by efficiently communicating to his teammates. He has good play speed, moves well in space, and shows the ability to turn and play man coverage on tight ends.

He’s a good football player who can improve his ability to stack and shed offensive linemen when they climb and locate. Muma also suffered a torn patellar tendon in high school, which could be a chronic issue. I’m no doctor, but that’s something that has to be evaluated.

Overall, there’s a lot to appreciate about Muma’s game and what he can offer a defense. He’s smart, good coming forward, quick, and he has coverage upside. He’s a three-down player if he can stay healthy.

Troy Anderson

The versatile former college quarterback had a perfect score of 10, according to Platte’s RAS Score. Anderson is freaky athletic, and he proved at the Reese’s Senior Bowl that he wasn’t just a big fish in a small pond at Montana State.

Anderson’s journey to the draft is unusual. Not many record-breaking college quarterbacks transition to linebacker, where they’ll have a realistic possibility of being selected on the second day of the draft. He was by far and away the best football player on the field in every college football game he played in during 2021.

Anderson had 150 total tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, and a touchdown in 2021. Anderson has the versatility to play offense and defense - like Taysom Hill. However, just looking at the defense, he has the potential to develop into a MIKE, the athletic ability to play over-hang, and he’d already make a good sub-package linebacker. I love his size and ability to cover ground.

Like Chenal and Muma, Anderson has a quick trigger to come downhill and fill. He packs a punch on contact and is a sure tackler. There are times when he over-pursues or doesn’t position himself in the right gap; he would still flow back and make the tackle, but those mistakes will be exploited at the NFL level.

Anderson is the perfect Day 3 - high upside - selection whose floor is an elite special teams player. I think Anderson will start his career in a minimal role as he develops and learns some of the more nuanced realities about playing linebacker in the NFL. His development is exciting, to say the least.

Final thoughts

All three of these linebackers are unique in their own way, and all three are great athletes who are exceptional, coming downhill with bad intentions. All three have range, they’re physical, and none of them is the perfect complete prospect.

I like Anderson’s game, but my choice comes down to Muma and Chenal. I’m going with the Wisconsin Badger - Leo Chenal. The slight stiffness in zone drops is a risk I’m willing to accept because of his potent ability to pin his ears back and blitz while also being a very physical and adept run defender.

It’s so close with Muma, who I like. The past injuries are a little concerning, albeit they weren’t a huge issue in college. I believe that Chenal’s skill-set is better for Martindale’s pressure defense.

If Anderson develops a bit more, all three have the upside to be three-down linebackers. I get that Chenal isn’t the most natural in coverage, but he can be a three-down linebacker in blitzing packages or in a four-man pressure. The power he employs while rushing, combined with his body control when moving forward and slipping through tight spaces, will lead to the necessary harassment of opposing offenses. I also think Chenal is capable enough to drop to zone flats to the boundary or middle hooks over the field; it’s just not one of his top strengths.

However, Chenal’s strengths correlate well with Martindale’s overall philosophy, which is similar to Jim Leonard, the Badgers’ defensive coordinator. Martindale wants to pressure the quarterback and dictate the offense’s terms with unique blitzing packages that manipulate the offense’s protection. Chenal is tailored-made for that role at the second level. He is a great athlete who goes from zero to one hundred quickly. He would be a fan favorite in New York. This selection would ideally take place with one of the third-round picks, but the unique nature of Chenal’s size and athletic ability may lead him to a second-round selection.