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Top 2022 NFL Draft Prospects: Rookie Linebackers

Top 2022 NFL Draft Prospects: Rookie Linebackers

Top 2022 NFL Draft Prospects: Rookie Linebackers

The offseason is in full swing and team needs are becoming more evident. As many fans begin looking forward to 2022 the NFL Draft is on many of our minds. The SGPN crew has begun our offseason Top 10 lists. If you have not begun to check them out I strongly suggest doing so. This week we continue our series as we highlight the heavy hitters, the 2022 NFL Draft Linebackers.

One of the most important positions on the defensive side of the ball, these guys are making the signal calls for many NFL defenses. Finding quality linebackers is an art form for NFL franchises and scouts alike. The position has transitioned year over year, they are being asked to do more every year. In today’s NFL finding a coverage linebacker who can run with Running Backs and Tight Ends is just as crucial as the big thumper in the middle of the defense.

This year there are a few top-tier prospects who may become true three-down linebackers at the NFL level. After that the class thins out some, however, there are always those sleepers who emerge late in the draft process. If your favorite team is in need of an upgrade or replacement at the linebacker position keep reading as I break down my Top 10 NFL Draft Linebackers!

Top 2022 NFL Draft Prospects: Rookie Linebackers

1. Devin Lloyd-Utah

Measurables:  6-3, 235 lbs

Projected Round: 1st

Potential NFL Landing Spots: Philadelphia, Los Angeles

Pro Comparison:  Darius Leonard but a project

Devin Lloyd joined the Utes as a safety and three-star recruit out of  California, he transition to linebacker. Standing 6-3, 235lbs gives him good size which made this transition easy. In 2019 he accounted for 48 solo tackles, along with 43 assist tackles. While adding 6.5 sacks and an interception that he returned for a touchdown. In 2020 he produced 48 total tackles, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble in a shortened covid season. This past season he made a statement as he had 111 total tackles, 66 solo, and 45 assists. On top of that, he added 8 sacks, a forced fumble and recovery, and 4 interceptions. He also scored two defensive touchdowns. All of these numbers back up what we see on the film, a quick, smart three-down linebacker.

As we project forward, he will need to improve on his ability to diagnose plays a touch quicker. Along with getting off blocks to attack the ball carrier. He has shown the ability to do this at times however more consistency is key here. Along with that, he could still use some improvement on passing downs to cement that three-down role. He has made his name by being a tough downhill linebacker who makes good sound tackles in space in the run game. Along with that, he was the leader of the Utes defense, he will bring emotion and leadership to any defense at the next level. I expect him to come off the board as the top 2022 NFL draft linebacker, most likely to the Eagles or Chargers in the middle of the first round.

2. Nakobe Dean-Georgia

Measurables:  6-0, 225 lbs

Projected Round: 1st

Potential NFL Landing Spots: Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, New England

Pro Comparison: A poor man’s Devin White 

Nakobe Dean is a former 5-star recruit and top 20 player in his recruit class. From day one he demonstrated great instincts and athleticism for a 6-0, 225 lbs linebacker.  As a freshman, he recorded 25 total tackles. Although the numbers were not there, the talent was evident. In 2020 he broke out with 71 total tackles and added 1.5 sacks. This past season he won the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker while totaling 72 tackles. Along with producing 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, and a defensive touchdown. His quickness and nose for the football are next level. Also, he has demonstrated an ability to cover running backs and tight ends and has the ability to recover if he gets caught out of position.

https://youtu.be/IQ1eWMsKRoA

At the NFL level, he will need to improve his ability to shed blockers in the box. He lacks length and size, this allows linemen to latch on and overwhelm him. Along with finding improvement in his discipline, his instincts and speed often cause him to overrun tackles at times. The talent is there for him to mature into a three-down linebacker, however, he may need some seasoning. If he puts that all together and adds it to his already strong leadership on and off the field he could be a great building piece for any NFL defense. I am predicting Nakobe Dean to come off the 2022 NFL Draft board as the second linebacker to either the Eagles or Chargers. If he manages to slip past either of those teams, I expect him to land in Cincinnati or New England.

3. Christian Harris- Alabama

Measurables:  6-2, 244 lbs

Projected Round: 2nd

Potential NFL Landing Spots: Atlanta, Houston, Minnesota

Pro Comparison: A bigger Roquan Smith 

Christian Harris is a 6-2, 244 pound thick-framed animal in the second level of the Alabama defense. He came to the Crimson Tide as a four-star recruit and a Top-10 linebacker in his class. Early on he showed off his ability to cover the whole field as he recorded 61 total tackles as a freshman. He only continued to improve year over year as he managed 79 tackles in 2020 and 80 in 2021. Of his 80 tackles in 2021, 11.5 of them were tackles for a loss. He also added 10 sacks in his Alabama career. Christian Harris is an extremely athletic linebacker who has played multiple positions in his football career. This has allowed him to excel in space and helps him in coverage assessment. He excels in this part of the linebacker game, this will make him very desirable to many NFL franchises.

https://youtu.be/KGc1CniiNII

With that being said he is no slouch in the run game. His long, thick frame, paired with his extremely strong lower body allows him to fly to the ball and deliver powerful hits. Pairing this with his ability to get off blocks and work sideline to sideline, gives him three-down potential. However, he does lack consistency in finishing tackles does favor lunging at them. Christian Harris will be drafted for his best trait, which is his pass coverage, although I think he can become a three-down linebacker. I expect him to go in the early second round of the NFL Draft, potential teams are Atlanta, Houston, or Minnesota. He could become one of the best linebackers of the 2022 NFL Draft class.

4. Damone Clark- LSU

Measurables:  6-4, 236 lbs

Projected Round: 2nd-3rd

Potential NFL Landing Spots: Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York Jets

Pro Comparison: More explosive Isaiah Simmons 

Damone Clark was the 20th ranked interior linebacker of the 2018 class.  So his slow start at LSU was not a surprise, playing in only one game as a freshman. In his Sophomore and Junior years, he began to make his presence felt, however, totaling 113 tackles and 4.5 sacks. As a result, his Senior year explosion was expected, however, he exceed those expectations. As he led the SEC in solo tackles with 77 while adding 58 assist tackles. If that wasn’t impressive enough 15 of these tackles were for a loss and added 5.5 sacks! All of these stats just back up the film. We see a quick, instinctual player who makes solid tackles and plays extremely fast to the ball.

At the next level, his ability to shed blockers to make plays in the run game will shine through. Along with his strength and power at the tackle point to drive ball carriers back. However, he will need to improve with his pursuit and diagnosis of plays. He finds himself out of the play at times due to eye discipline and the speed at which he plays the game. Along with some improvement in pass coverage to really cement his three-down role. As a result, I project him to go in the second or third round of the draft, the Philadelphia Eagles could be a team looking to add him. Others are Atlanta and New York Jets. I expect him to develop into one of the best 2022 NFL draft linebackers.

 

5. Brandon Smith- Penn State

Measurables:  6-3, 241 lbs

Projected Round: 2nd-3rd

Potential NFL Landing Spots: Tennessee, New England, Detroit

Pro Comparison:  A more physical Jaylon Smith 

When Brandon Smith joined the Nittany Lions he was a 5-star recruit and the top interior linebacker in the 2018 class.  He possesses great length and athleticism at the position. In his three years at Penn State he totaled 132 tackles, 19 of these were tackles for loss. In 2020 and 2021 he added back-to-back 2 sack seasons. As a Junior, he really flourished totaling 45 solo tackles along with 36 assist tackles, totaling 81 total tackles. The talent is undeniable here, however, he is a work in progress and will need the ability to learn and develop at the next level.

Although he possesses great closing speed allowing him to cover the whole field, he needs to work on his anticipation and instincts. He seemed slightly out of place at times. His eye discipline got him in trouble at times he will need to improve this at the next level. However, when he gets a chance to hit you, he’s as powerful a hitter as they come. He will also need to improve in coverage, whether it is man or zone he has struggled at times. This is correctable though via coaching as the physical traits are all there. As a result, I expect him to fall into the second round even though his ceiling is incredibly high. He has the potential to be the best 2022 NFL draft linebackers of this class. I think his most likely landing spot will be, Tennessee, Philadelphia, or Detroit.

6. Nik Bonitto- Oklahoma

Measurables:  6-3, 240 lbs

Projected Round: 2nd-3rd

Potential NFL Landing Spots: Philadelphia, Detroit, Houston

Pro Comparison: A weaker Kenneth Murray 

Nik Bonitto has all the size of a prototypical NFL linebacker standing at 6-3, 240 lbs. He also holds the pedigree as a former four-star recruit. In his four-year career at Oklahoma, he totaled 69 solo tackles and added 49 assist tackles. Of these tackles, 33 were for loss and his 15 in 2021 was 5th in the SEC. Along with this he totaled 19.5 sacks and added one interception along with two fumble recoveries. These stats paint a perfect picture of who Nik Bonitto is, a quick explosive hard-working linebacker.

At the NFL level, he will need to work on adding some strength and power to his game. He has a great get-off and his agility and quickness allow him to get around the edge as a pass rusher. However, if a lineman gets their hands on him he has trouble disengaging from their grasps. Aside from that, he does a great job in the run game in finding the ball carrier and makes strong sound tackles. He also brings a good ability to cover in the passing game. As a result of lacking the high-end strength that many NFL linebackers need he will slip in the draft some. I project him to get drafted in the second-third round, due to his high ceiling. The Eagles are a good candidate for him, if not Detroit could be a solid option.

7. Chad Muma -Wyoming

Measurables:  6-3, 242 lbs

Projected Round: 2nd-3rd

Potential NFL Landing Spots: Dallas, Minnesota, Denver, Washington

Pro Comparison: Cowboy version of Blake Martinez 

Chad Muma came to Wyoming as a safety and a three-star recruit, he ranked as the 149th safety in his class.  He quickly made the transition to linebacker where he excelled for the next four years. In his career, he has totaled 266 tackles for the Cowboys. However, this season he made his presence really felt as he led the Mountain West in solo tackles with 83. Also, his 142 total tackles led the Mountain West and NCAA. He also added three interceptions and he returned two of them for touchdowns. His high football IQ allows for him to be a versatile player at the linebacker position, and he has a great nose for the ball.

As we look forward to him in the NFL, I  see him growing into a three-down linebacker. He can quickly diagnose plays,  then has the ability to navigate and disengage from blockers allowing him to find the ball carrier with ease. Once he reaches the ball carrier he hardly misses a tackle. Added to his power and strength at the tackle point he is a monster in the run game. However, he also brings great insects and athleticism that helps him succeed on passing downs as well. Overall he is a solid prospect who could develop into one of the best linebackers of this 2022 NFL draft class. I project him to go in the second or third round of the draft. Some of the potential landing spots include Dallas, Minnesota, Denver, and Washington.

8. Jojo Domann- Nebraska

Measurables:  6-1, 230 lbs

Projected Round: 3rd

Potential NFL Landing Spots: Dallas, Carolina, Las Vegas, Denver 

Pro Comparison: A more athletic Devon Bush  

Jojo Domann was a three-star recruit out of Colorado and was the 35th ranked athlete in the class.  Over his five-year career at Nebraska, he played both defensive back and linebacker. He totaled 208 total tackles, of these tackles 132 of them were solo tackles. This season he also added two interceptions and forced two fumbles. His move to linebacker made him a force for the Cornhuskers in the running and passing game. He has become a true hybrid defender and this is drawing the eyes of many NFL scouts.

His ability to cover the entire field whether it is chasing down run plays or being asked to cover a slot receiver at the next level. He has a great ability to get good depth in zone coverages, or run will players in man. However, his passing down prowess does not limit his power and ferocity in the run game. As he plays downhill on all run plays and is looking to run through the ball carrier. He has true potential to be one of the NFL’s next top hybrid linebackers. There is an argument to be made that he has one of the highest ceilings of the linebackers in the 2022 NFL draft. Due to this potential, I project him to get drafted in the 3rd round, some potential teams would be Dallas, Carolina, Las Vegas, and Denver.

9. Darrian Beavers- Cincinnati

Measurables:  6-4, 255 lbs

Projected Round: 3rd

Potential NFL Landing Spots: Cleveland, Detroit, Las Vegas, Arizona

Pro Comparison: Poor man’s KJ Wright 

Darrian Beavers was a three-star recruit when he joined Connecticut as the 157th ranked safety. After two years there he decided to return home to Cincinnati. In his three years there he totaled 192 total tackles, 98 of them last year. Along with that he added two forced and recovered fumbles, one interception, and 4 sacks. Over his collegiate career, he has proven to be a sound player who is reliable and always in position. This paired with his aggressive physical style of play makes him a great second-level defender.

He is bringing great size, length, and strength to the next level. Also, he possesses good instincts, an ability to shed blockers, and an ability to cover short areas quickly. Add all of this to his tone-setting hitting style and he makes a tough run defender. He also does okay in zone coverage using his length and athleticism to get into throwing lanes. However, he does struggle in man coverage. He will need to improve here to help cement a three-down role in the NFL. With his sound style of play, he has a safe floor, this will allow him to get drafted in the 3rd round I project. Some teams that make sense to me would be Cleveland, Detroit, Las Vegas, and  Arizona.

 

10. Zakoby McClain- Auburn

Measurables:  6-0, 220 lbs

Projected Round: 3rd

Potential NFL Landing Spots: New York Jets, Pittsburgh, Chicago

Pro Comparison: A more expensive Nigel  Bradham

Zakoby McClain was ranked in the top 15 linebackers of the 2018 recruit class and was a four-star recruit. His impact was evident in his sophomore year as he took on a large role for the Tiger defense. He totaled 55 tackles and took an interception the full length of the field for a touchdown. Along with this, he added 3 forced fumbles. In 2020 as a junior his 57 solo and 113 total tackles led the SEC. Then this past season he finished the year with 95 total tackles. Over his four-year career, he was able to total 5.5 sacks as well. He is one of the most highly productive linebackers in the 2022 NFL draft.

As an NFL prospect, he has a lot of traits that could make him a great NFL player. He has an ability to play sideline to sideline with his speed. Along with this he diagnosis plays well, splits blockers, and make plays behind or close to the line of scrimmage. However, this gets him in trouble at times as he can’t square up at the tackle point. As a result, he will over pursue the play at times. If he wants to find success at the NFL level he may need to bulk up as he is undersized and lacks play strength. He could also improve his ability in pass coverage to secure a role as a solid coverage linebacker. His upside will allow him to get drafted as early as the 2nd or 3rd round. Potential landing spots could be the New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Chicago Bears.

Top 2022 NFL Draft Prospects: Rookie Linebackers

Player University Measurables Proj. Round Possible Landing spots
Devin Lloyd Utah 6-3, 235lbs 1st Philadelphia, Los Angeles
Nakobe Dean Georgia 6-0, 225lbs 1st Philadelphia, Los Angeles,Cincinnati, New England
Christian Harris Alabama 6-2, 244lbs 2nd Atlanta, Houston, Minnesota
Damone Clark LSU 6-4, 236lbs 2nd-3rd Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York Jets
Brandon Smith Penn State 6-3, 241lbs 2nd-3rd Tennessee, New England, Detroit
Nik Bonitto Oklahoma 6-3, 240lbs 2nd-3rd Philadelphia, Detroit, Houston
Chad Muma Wyoming 6-3, 242lbs 2nd-3rd Dallas, Minnesota, Denver, Washington
Jojo Domann Nebraska 6-1, 230lbs 3rd Dallas, Carolina, Las Vegas, Denver
Darrian Beavers Cincinnati 6-4, 255lbs 3rd Cleveland, Detroit, Las Vegas, Arizona
Zakoby McClain Auburn 6-0, 220lbs 3rd New York Jets, Pittsburgh, Chicago

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I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. I am happily married to my wonderful wife Lauren. I am a life long Buffalo Bills fan. To set the record straight, we don’t always have snow, and we do have the best pizza and wings! Dynasty fantasy football is my niche, the process it takes to build a dynasty is so rewarding! I am excited to bring my ideas here to The Sports Gambling Podcast. My evaluation process is a two step process, using film study along with statistics to build a case for or against players. With this I determine their viably for fantasy production. Picking apart the incoming NFL rookie prospects has become one of my favorite parts of dynasty. My most important goal is to help everyone succeed and enjoy fantasy football as much as I do! Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter.

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