Sat, 27 Feb 2021

Linebacker Prospects at the 2021 Senior Bowl

Houston Texans
23 Jan 2021, 18:02 GMT+10

John Harris

It's my third Senior Bowl positional breakdown and it's time to flip back over to defense - linebackers. This linebacker group isn't on the level of the running backs headed to Mobile, but there are plenty of options for teams to find quality run stuffers with the versatility to do a number of things on third down as well. Let's take a look at the linebackers headed to Mobile.

Players headed to Mobile (as of 1/21/2021)

Paddy Fisher, Northwestern (6-4, 240)

Charles Snowden, Virginia (6-7, 240 - OLB/Edge)

Garret Wallow, TCU (6-2, 230)

Riley Cole, South Alabama (6-3, 225)

Hamilcar Rashed Jr., Oregon State (6-4, 245 - OLB/Edge)

Baron Browning, Ohio State (6-3, 240)

Tuf Borland, Ohio State (6-1, 234)

Justin Hilliard, Ohio State (6-1, 231)

Janarius Robinson, Florida State (6-5, 260 - DE/Edge)

Jabril Cox, LSU/North Dakota State (6-4, 231)

Grant Stuard, Houston (6-1, 225)

Monty Rice, Georgia (6-1, 235)

K.J. Britt, Auburn (6-0, 243 - injured and played just two games in 2020 - 23 tackles, though)

Tony Fields II, West Virginia/Arizona (6-1, 220)

Jordan Smith, UAB (6-7, 255 - DE/Edge)

Derrick Barnes, Purdue (6-1, 245)

The Houston Connection

Fisher - In 2015, Fisher was the leader of the best high school defense I'd ever seen at powerhouse Katy HS. After leading Katy to eight shutouts in 15 games, he took his talents to Northwestern where he became one of the greatest defensive players in school history. He's an old school thumper, but he's smart and quick to the football. He'll be challenged covering running backs throughout the week in the passing game, but given how well he's played in his career to date, he'll rise to the occasion.

Stuard - The one with the hair is how I referred to Stuard because I couldn't find his number 3 when I watched Houston to start 2020. I found the Conroe native soon enough, though, as he continued tackling everything that moved, wearing number 0. He averaged nearly nine tackles a game and finished with 5.0 TFL and 1.0 in just seven games.

Outside the Box

Snowden - The former Cavalier defender missed the last few weeks of the 2020 season dealing with a lower body injury. He didn't leave without making a mark in Charlottesville as Snowden finished with 15.0 career sacks and dominated from the edge at times. He looks like a small forward on the field and is an interesting chess piece, when healthy, in the future.

Rashed Jr. - The ability to show crossover skills in Mobile will help Rashed Jr. in a massive way. He's shown that he can go get the quarterback, but he could be on the same track as Zack Baun (Saints/Wisconsin) and Josh Uche (Patriots/Michigan) were in Mobile - drop in coverage on Tuesday, rush on Wednesday, do both on Thursday and make an impression all week long.

Smith - After an off the field situation forced Smith to leave the University of Florida, he eventually found a home at UAB. The 6-6, 255 lb. pass rush star must show that he has the functional strength to play anywhere on the field. He's lithe and long, but will he be able to hold up at any linebacker position when forced to set the edge, take on blocks and, in general, hold up against the run? If he answers those questions in the affirmative, he's going to be one to watch throughout the draft process.

Robinson - If the three above names joined together to form one singular football player, it would be the star from Florida State. The test for Robinson is to be consistently explosive with his edge rushes and on point with how he employs his length. He's intriguing, but there are times on tape where he disappeared and I wondered where he was. Now, his highlight plays are impressive, but I want to see him be more consistent and play with more technique, especially with his hands.

Intrigue Meter is high

Barnes - The former Purdue star transitioned over to a stack position after playing out on the edge early in his Purdue career. He's built like a tank and hits like one, but it's clear that he has some work to do as far as reading play schemes, understanding angles and taking the proper pursuit path to the ball. That said, he showed how far he'd come throughout just six games in 2020 and there's a ton more he can learn in the NFL. With his ability to rush (ten sacks in his career from playing out on the edge), on top of his ability to play inside, he's going to be widely intriguing for NFL teams. I love to watch him run to the ball and connect with blockers/ball carriers in the hole. There's an audible collision every single second he's on the field.

How many linebackers did Ohio State have?

The short answer is a lot and three of them will be in Mobile this week. In all honesty, Borland could turn into a fullback and no one would have any qualms with that move. Hilliard flashed significantly over the last half of the 2020 season and got plenty of attention. But, Browning may end up being the most coveted of the bunch. Now, in my opinion, the most coveted Ohio State linebacker will be Pete Werner (not headed to Mobile as of yet) but Browning will have a ton of eyes on him in Mobile.

The Transfer Train

Fields II - Man, you talk about one explosive dude, Fields II is that guy. First of all when studying him on tape, it's not all that easy to find where he lines up. He'll be at Mike. He'll stand up and rush. He might be out on a flexed out tight end or slot receiver. Throw on top of that the ability to find the ball and run, and I mean really RUN, and teams will want to use Fields II the way West Virginia did after he starred at Arizona for three years (and graduated in three years). It just felt like he was playing the game at a much faster rate of speed than the rest of his Big 12 counterparts in 2020. I really love watching him play the game and he'll make an impact on all three downs eventually in his career. Shoot, if Darius Leonard (Colts Pro Bowl linebacker) can play the game at 215 lb., Fields II can find a way to make it on the field at a shade over 220 lb.

Cox - Um, see below.

Crush Alert - My positional crush - I have one every year at each position.

Cox - The 2020 LSU defense was a shell of the unit that produced a handful of day one/day two draft picks in 2019. However, Cox stepped in and became the defense's best player, and its most versatile. I was convinced that he would play on the edge when he transferred, but he was deployed in such a way at LSU that he showed that he could play any linebacker position, in any capacity. I saw him in games track slot receivers down the field in coverage like a safety. He played the run with strength and leverage stopping the run like an inside linebacker. He'd set the edge or contain the run like an outside linebacker. Transferring to LSU didn't yield the team results that Cox anticipated, but he improved his draft stock immensely and I can't wait to see him answer the bell again in Mobile.

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