The 2020 NFL Combine on-field workouts begin Thursday, February 27th in Indianapolis but the linebackers won’t take the field until Saturday, February 29th. One interesting note about some of the players in this group is that while they will work out with the linebackers, they may play another role in the Lions scheme.
This is the latest in a series of articles leading up to this year’s NFL Combine, where the Lions Wire team has identified players they will be tracking in order to determine potential fits within the organization.
If you missed the previous articles in this series, be sure to check out our quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen, interior defensive linemen, and EDGE rushers previews.
Off-the-ball linebacker traits to evaluate
There are several on-field drills that emphasize a player’s abilities and the main areas Lions’ scouts will likely be focusing for the linebackers are:
- Lateral movement should be smooth and quick.
- Reaction to instructions, too many times prospects guess the command and make mistakes.
- Can they turn and unlock their hips when dropping into coverage?
- Head up and eyes on the ball.
- Which linebackers take place in EDGE rushing drills? How do they perform under those expectations?
Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
Suggested by: Bryce Rossler
Simmons was a chess piece at Clemson, seeing snaps at free safety, strong safety, over the slot, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, and outside corner. And at the college level, he played all of them at a high level.
In the NFL, he likely won’t have that positional range, and depending on the scheme, he may be labeled either a linebacker or a safety. At the Combine, he will work out with the linebackers, but with the Lions, he would likely find the most success at the safety level, in Tavon Wilson’s role.
Blessed with both speed and quickness, Simmons uses his rare athleticism to win in coverage, stop the run, and get home on disguised blitzes.
The Lions deploy three-safety sets roughly 50-percent of defensive snaps, and pairing him with Tracy Walker — along with last years third-rounder Will Harris in the third safety role — would give the Lions an instant upgrade in the secondary.
Zach Baun, Wisconsin
Suggested by: Jeff Risdon
Baun played outside linebacker in Wisconsin 34 scheme, alternating between rushing the passer and dropping into coverage. Due to his build (6-2.5, 240, with 31.13″ arms) and skill set, he is better suited for an off-the-ball role, and with the Lions, he is a natural fit for the Christian Jones role.
Comfortable operating in space, Baun is a plus athlete who uses his intelligence, instincts, lateral quickness, and internal drive to flow to the ball all over the field.
Josh Uche, Michigan
Suggested by: Scott Warheit
Uche spent his first few years at Michigan adding weight and learning techniques as a situational stand-up pass rusher before finally earning a starting role in 2019. Like Baun, Uche is comfortable bending the edge and dropping into space, but Uche’s arm length (33.25″) and athleticism, makes him a player who will spend more time rushing the passer.
At 241-pounds, Uche is a bit undersized to be an every-down JACK linebacker in the Lions scheme, but his ability to drop into coverage and insane speed/bend off the edge makes him a unique prospect that is the perfect fit at SAM and WILL linebacker spots in a multiple scheme.
Malik Harrison, Ohio State
Suggested by: Scott Bischoff and Ty Finch
After examining three hybrid defenders in Simmons, Baun, and Uche, Harrison represents the first true off-the-ball linebacker on this list. Harrison has the size (6-2.5, 246 at Senior Bowl), speed, range, and power the Lions look for at their MIKE and WILL positions. He is gap sound, a complete run defender, and has shown some cover skills, which would make him an instant competitor in most schemes.
Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech
Suggested by: Matt Urben
With speed, athleticism, and plus instincts, Brooks (est. 6-0, 241) is not talked about enough in the Lions community. He is a downhill, productive, run-stuffing inside linebacker, who fits the mold of a Lions linebacker, including struggling to cover tight ends and running backs. If the Lions plan on moving on from Jarrad Davis when his contract expires after this season, Brooks could be a target to develop and mix into a starter rotation in 2021.
Akeem Davis-Gaither, Appalachian State
Suggested by: Sonja Greenfield and Derek Okrie
Like Simmons, Davis-Gaither (6-1.5, 219 at Senior Bowl) would be a hang defender in the Lions scheme, but without the range to play deep safety. Davis-Gaither can rush the passer, cover the slot, and will be one of the quickest athletes on the field at any given time. If you like Miles Killebrew, then you’ll love Davis-Gaither, as he can do a lot of the same things Killebrew can, but with less power and more speed.
Troy Dye, Oregon
Suggested by: Max Gerber
Like Davis-Gaither, Dye (est. 6-3, 218) is another hang defender with speed to burn and strong tackling skills. In Detroit, he would play in the Killebrew role as a potential four-down defender, who would backup at WILL linebacker, see coverage work in obvious passing situations, with his skills truly shining on special teams.
Evan Weaver, California
Suggested by: Erik Schlitt
When watching Senior Bowl practices, Weaver stood out for being gap sound, recognizing the play early, and beating the offensive player to the correct hole. He has terrific football instincts and his anticipation shows up rep after rep. He attacks downhill with tenacity but won’t win any athleticism competitions, and at 6-2, 239 pounds, fits the profile of a Lions linebacker.
Shaq Quarterman, Miami
Suggested by: Zack Moran
Loaded with experience at the MIKE, Quarterman jumped onto the big stage as a true freshman. Quarterman is a two-down defender who attacks with power but lacks the range and athleticism to stay on the field in traditional third-down situations. He has a long history of production and rarely misses opportunities to make tackles, which will help him be an instant impact starter on special teams and reserve interior linebacker.