The 2023 NFL Draft is regarded as a somewhat weak one due to a lack of sure-fire “blue chip” players at the top of big boards. However, this is also a very deep draft with several position groups that will produce starters well into the third or fourth rounds. The defensive side of the ball is particularly deep at just about every position.
There are several linebackers that New York Giants fans would probably like to see the team draft in the first round. If the Giants opt to go in another direction, however, they could look at Washington State’s Daiyan Henley on the second day of the draft.
Henley started raising his profile when he transferred from Nevada to Washington State prior to the 2022 season. His performance in the 2023 Reese’s Senior Bowl practices cemented him as one of the draft’s biggest risers.
Games Watched: vs. Kansas State (2021), vs. Boise State (2021), vs. Oregon (2022), vs. USC (2022)
Red Flags: Knee (2019)
Games Played: 50
Tackles for a loss: 18.5
Forced fumbles: 3
Passes defensed: 4
Games Played: 12
Tackles for a loss: 12.5
Forced fumbles: 3
Passes defensed: 1
Best: Athleticism, competitive toughness, versatility, pass rush
Worst: Instincts, size
Projection: A rotational off-ball linebacker with starting upside.
(Henley is Washington State linebacker number 1)
Washington State’s Daiyan Henley is a compact, athletic, versatile, and highly competitive linebacker prospect.
Henley has had an intriguing path to being a linebacker prospect. He began his career at Nevada, where he played until transferring to Washington State prior to the 2022 season. Henley played wide receiver, safety, and linebacker at Nevada before transitioning to linebacker full time at Washington State.
His background as a receiver and safety is evident in his movement skills. Henley is an easy mover in space, with quick feet, fluid hips, and very good range. He is comfortable playing in space, and is capable in both man and zone coverage. He quickly gets good depth in zone coverage and does a good job of keeping his eye in the backfield and letting the quarterback lead him to the play, or when to trigger downhill. Henley’s athleticism and fluidity also allow him to play man coverage on most tight ends and running backs. Not only can he stay with them through their routes, but he can turn and run downfield with them as well.
He has an explosive burst from a stand-still, and he flies to the ball once he commits to a course of action. Henley is a very hard hitter once he arrives at the ball carrier, uncoiling his hips and delivering bigger shots than his frame would suggest.
Henley is a very willing run defender, playing with great toughness when taking on bigger blockers and offering consistent effort when in pursuit. His explosion and leverage allow him to deliver hard jolts to blockers, and his quickness lets him capitalize to slip past them or shoot gaps into the backfield.
Likewise, he also shows promise as a blitzing linebacker. He generally times his rushes well and uses his athleticism to run past most blockers, as well as run down scrambling quarterbacks.
Henley is still developing as a full-time linebacker and appears somewhat raw at the position. He can need an extra second or two to process the offensive play, delaying his downhill trigger. He can also find himself biting hard on misdirection if he attempts to guess and increase his play speed. He can also be prone to running himself out of position to make a play on the ball carrier.
And while Henley can deliver surprising jolts to blockers, his relatively modest size shows up once he is actually engaged with them. He can struggle to shed bigger blockers if they can absorb his initial burst.
Overall Grade: 7.2
Daiyan Henley projects as a rotational off-ball linebacker in an aggressive one-gap defense, with the potential to grow into a starter by the end of his rookie contract.
Henley is an impressively athletic and explosive linebacker. He’s smooth in space, has the ability to fairly fly to the ball, and arrives with bad intentions. He can play the run, though he’s best as a pursuit player or when shooting gaps, but might struggle to stack and shed blockers early in his career.
Henley still seems to need development in his processing and play recognition. It isn’t bad, per se, but he seems to take a bit of extra time to ensure his diagnosis is right, rather than trusting his eyes and going. That hesitation was fine in college, as his athleticism more than made up the difference. That advantage would be less pronounced in the NFL, where his opponents are more athletic (on average), and the offensive schemes are more complex.
He will probably start his career as a nickel linebacker. His athleticism should allow him to cover tight ends and linebackers in the flat or hook/curl area. Likewise, he’s a threat on blitzes off the edge or through an interior gap. He’ll be best when put in positions where he needs to do the minimum amount of diagnosing and is allowed to play fast.
Henley should be a popular linebacker among fans and coaches, and he has the potential to develop into a three-down player with some development.