We’ve been taking advantage the lull in the football calendar between the end of mandatory minicamp and training camp to take an early look at some of the top prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.
With the advent of college offensive concepts in the NFL, professional offenses have been putting more stress on defenses than ever before. The linebacker position, in particular, has become one of the most difficult to play at a high level in the NFL. The days of the “downhill thumper” are long gone and teams need linebackers that can play in space, rush the passer, and still be able to fill gaps and defend the run. Players with the skills and athleticism to do all of that at a high level are just rare.
The New York Giants have been trying to find a linebacker who can be a long-term, every-down answer for a long time now. Could Alabama’s To’oTo’o be a player to keep an eye on this year?
Henry To’oTo’o (10)
Linebacker, Alabama (senior)
Weight: 228 pounds
Tackles For a Loss: 8.5
Forced Fumbles: 1
Passes Defensed: 2
(To’oTo’o is Alabama LB number 10)
- Good size and length.
- Instinctive with (generally) good discipline and a high football IQ.
- Quick trigger – great reflexes.
- Quick feet, fluid hips, good range in space.
- Good foot speed.
- Versatile. Can play inside and out, in space and downhill.
- High-energy player, great competitive toughness.
- Needs to be more consistent taking on blocks.
- Can get stuck on blockers around the line of scrimmage.
- Can occasionally run himself out of good position.
- Lacks the play strength to be a true “thumper”
- Needs to improve technique as a pass rusher.
What makes him a top prospect?
Alabama’s Henry To’oTo’o (pronounced TOE-ohTOE-oh) is an athletic, instinctive, and productive linebacker prospect. He started his career at the University of Tennessee before transferring to Alabama before the 2021 season. While To’oTo’o was productive at Tennessee, he blossomed in Nick Saban’s defense.
To’oTo’o is a versatile linebacker who’s capable of playing both the MIKE and WILL positions effectively. He’s an active communicator in the pre-snap phase, showing great football IQ when lining his teammates up to anticipate the coming play. To’oTo’o is an energetic linebacker who is constantly bouncing around the second level of the defense. He’s generally disciplined in his play, paying close attention to his run fits or coverage responsibilities. That said, To’oTo’o routinely makes a quick, accurate first move when he’s on the play-side.
To’oTo’o is a good athlete for the position and has the tools to be a three-down linebacker in a modern defense. He’s an easy mover who has quick feet and fluid hips – at least for a linebacker. His foot speed and change of direction skills allow him to patrol a broad swath of field and have good range in pursuit.
His mental footwork, instincts, fast downhill trigger, and good athleticism for the position give To’oTo’o very good play speed.
He’s also a good downhill player, who appears fearless taking on blockers and shows great instincts for picking out rushing lanes. He generally puts himself in good position to make plays on the ball carrier or force the play back toward his waiting teammates if he has contain on the outside. To’oTo’o is generally a sound tackler and usually does a good job of getting the ball carrier on the ground when he’s in good position.
What can he improve in 2022?
To’oTo’o is a fun linebacker to watch, but there are still areas of improvement for the 2022 season.
Most notably, he needs to get more consistent when taking on blockers around the line of scrimmage. He’s able to use his athleticism and hands to slip would-be blockers in space, however he has a tendency to get hung up on offensive linemen’s blocks when playing downhill. He does flash the ability to use his hands and shed linemen blocks, but too often he can stay blocked. Likewise, To’oTo’o needs to do a better job of using his hands to defeat cut blocks.
He can also be a bit over-aggressive at times. There are certainly instances where he can occasionally bite hard on play-action or misdirection, and run himself out of plays. More commonly, there are times when To’oTo’o seems to play a bit too fast and takes himself just out of position to make good form tackles. He has the agility to adjust and still make a tackle attempt, but ball carriers with good contact balance can slip those attempts and pick up yards after contact.
To’oTo’o is already a good modern linebacker prospect. He both blossomed in the Alabama defense and had an immediate impact on the field for them. He’s also a leader on that defense and could be a team captain this year. He also has some room for growth and further development as a prospect as well. His upside is exciting if he’s able to take the next step with Alabama’s coaching and he could be a candidate for the top linebacker prospect in next April’s draft.
One game to watch
It’s highly likely that Alabama will be one of the teams in the SEC championship, but considering that game is completely unknown right now we won’t be considering it.
Looking at Alabama’s schedule, they have a bunch of potentially great games in store for the season. For our purposes, however, I’m going to circle the Iron Bowl, the annual rivalry game between Alabama and Auburn. This is one of the fiercest rivalries in college football and these two teams always play each other hard. While Auburn hasn’t been able to match Alabama’s consistent success on the field, they are usually a talented squad that can test any defense. Their scheme also tends to put a lot of stress on the linebacker position. This should be good scouting tape of To’oTo’o in coverage and playing downhill.