To the casual fan, the NFL Scouting Combine may be an event to learn about which prospects could become the next stars in the league but to many coaches and general managers, it gives them the opportunity to not only interview them and perform medical checks but to see if they have the desired measurables for their respective schemes.
Many NFL teams – most notably the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers – will only draft players that meet their physical profiles. Seattle prefers cornerbacks with 32-plus inch arms, while Green Bay prefers 5-foot-11 or taller cornerbacks. The Falcons recently began valuing the three-cone drill in their player evaluations.
Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane aren’t as strict with their thresholds, but our team gathered all of the combine data from every defender McDermott coached with the Eagles and Panthers. Additionally, we compiled all of the data from draftees and notable free agent additions from 2002-2016 when Brandon Beane was with Carolina in order to see if we could identify any trends in what style of player we could expect Buffalo to select in the 2018 NFL draft.
Sean McDermott’s defense has a 4-3 defense with bigger defensive ends, lighter, athletic linebackers, and defensive backs who excel in zone coverage.
Our goal was to look at the historical numbers (height, weight, 40 times etc..) and see who from the 2018 draft class matches up best as potential targets based on their measurables and workout numbers from the NFL Combine.
- Which players match up most closely to recent picks/signings?
- What players may be able to get into that list with good pro day performances?
- Which players surprisingly didn’t meet the thresholds?
In our previous post.. we broke down Defensive Tackles.
In this edition, we will take a look at the Linebacker position
Below are the measurables for all of the linebackers drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers during McDermott and Beane’s tenure there as well as those acquired by the Bills last year.
Let’s highlight several of the notable LBs and see how they stack up to the historical averages
Drafted out of Boston College in 2012, Luke Kuechly quickly developed into arguably the best linebacker in the NFL. When healthy for a full season he has consistently bested the 150 combined tackle mark adding in a few interceptions for good measure. While not known in particular for his pass rushing skills Kuechly is an elite run defender (PFF gave him a 92/100 grade for 2017). He has also been invaluable in coverage for the Panthers (PFF graded him 87.4/100 in 2017).
The Bills linebacking corps lacked speed and struggled in coverage last year in most part due to an aging Lorenzo Alexander and a miscast Preston Brown. One bright spot was the smaller, more agile rookie Matt Milano who filled in for the injured Ramon Humber and flashed impressive coverage ability and range.
As shown above, Kuechly’s height, weight, arm length, and hand size all hover around the average thresholds that McDermott and Beane have shown to covet.
However, Luke’s short area quickness numbers ( 20 Yd, 3-Cone) and explosiveness numbers (Vertical and Broad) are markedly better than average. We will take a look later on in the article and see if there are any touted 2018 LB prospects who can match Kuechly’s numbers.
Shaq was drafted by the Panthers in 2015 to play weakside linebacker. He’s a hybrid safety/linebacker – like veteran Thomas Davis. As shown below, his combine numbers are right at the “McBeane” average in every category. He is known more for his run stuffing ability (82.5 PFF grade 2017) than his coverage abilities (43.8 PFF grade 2017). Of course, there are not many Luke Kuechly type athletes out there so perhaps Thompson can serve as a more recent/reasonable template for the kind of run-and-chase ‘backer that could be found in middle to late rounds in 2018
2018 NFL Draft Prospect fits
OREN BURKS – VANDERBILT
When it comes to measurables, Vanderbilt LB Oren Burks is the 2018 prospect who matches up most closely with Luke Kuechly’s combine numbers. In some ways his numbers are superior. He has slightly longer arms and both his vertical and broad (explosiveness) are actually better than Kuechly’s
Most draft sites have him pegged as a mid-round selection and just outside of the top tier of ILBs. As a former safety, Burks seems to have a natural ability to excel in coverage. In 2016 he tallied 59 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 6 passes broken up. He upped his tackles to 82 in his senior year and also tallied an interception and six passes broken up. Breaking up passes has been a theme for Burks as he had 6 breakups as a sophomore and seven as a freshman. With an SEC pedigree, combine measurements similar to Luke Kuechly and past experience as a safety Burks is a prospect the Bills will likely have on their radar. He is very much in the vein of 2016 Ohio State LB Darron Lee. Check out the link below for an excellent film study done by Oliver Connoly at seccountry.com.
Prospects that could meet threshold at Pro Days
Below are several highly touted prospects that did sit out of a few drills at the combine. If Smith and Leonard can score around the McBeane average in these missed drills at their respective pro days they could further solidify themselves as top tier ILB prospects.
Roquan Smith is a blue-chip player that projects to both inside and outside linebacker. He’s incredibly athletic and plays the fast and physical brand of football McDermott covets.