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2023 NFL Draft: Defensive Line, Linebacker NFL Combine Preview

To preview the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine, The 33rd Team's experts are going position by position, breaking down what NFL teams look for when evaluating prospects in Indianapolis. 

The defensive line and linebackers kick off the NFL Combine's on-field workouts on Thursday. There are 51 defensive linemen and 34 linebackers slated to participate this year. The linebacker group also includes players usually denoted as edge pass rushers.

With so many prospects competing at the same time it can be difficult to know what to look for. Here is a guide, highlighting the drills that matter most and how NFL teams use them to evaluate prospects.

Defensive Line, Linebacker Workouts

  • When: Thursday, March 2
  • Time: 3-8 p.m. ET
  • How to Watch: NFL Network, NFL+

The 33rd Team's Top 5 Interior Defensive Linemen

Player  Overall Rank  Grade
Jalen Carter No. 1 7.09
Bryan Bresee No. 22 6.72
Keeanu Benton No. 52 6.30
Tuli Tuipulotu No. 54 6.30
Calijah Kancey No. 59 6.22

Drill That Matters Most

The hoops drill is especially helpful because when they have to get around the corner and pick up the bags. You can see if they can bend and dip at the corner or how stiff they are if they get to the corner of a pass rush, and they have to close at the quarterback's level in the pocket. If they can pick up that tennis ball or that towel, whatever they have down there, and they can continue to accelerate as they bend around and dip and pick that up, that's a pretty good indicator. But you can see how stiff a defensive lineman is. Maybe he can't get around that hoop, or he can't bend to pick that ball up as he comes screaming around the corner of that hoop. So that gives you a pretty good indication of how stiff his lower half was, and if he can bend as a pass rusher or not.

Most Confusing Drill

The one drill that kind of got to me, and I didn’t understand, is when they take these 6-foot-6, 290-pound five-techniques and defensive ends, and they drop them in coverage. I've only seen it maybe once or twice, and only if you're doing some kind of zone-blitz scheme. But for the most part, those guys will be going forward and trying to get after the quarterback. But it just fascinated me. This guy’s 300 pounds, and you’re having him drop in coverage like he will cover a curl route in the flat. I just never understood that. Then, they throw the ball at them, and it goes off the top of their head. It's just a mess.

The 33rd Team's Top 5 Edge Rushers

Player  Overall Rank  Grade
Will Anderson Jr.  No. 5 7.00
Tyree Wilson No. 8 6.97
Myles Murphy No. 15 6.79
Lukas Van Ness No. 34 6.50
Byron Young No. 35 6.50

The 33rd Team's Top 5 Inside Linebackers

Player  Overall Rank  Grade
Trenton Simpson No. 21 6.73
Noah Sewell No. 53 6.30
Henry To'oto'o No. 58 6.23
DeMarvion Overshown No. 60 6.22
Owen Pappoe No. 64 6.21

Linebacker Drills Help Evaluate Movement Skills

You get to see how fluid their hips are and if they can open their hips. It's similar to what you're watching in a defensive back and how quickly they drop, and then they can react to where the coach is pointing. You can see how good their hands are, too. You get a lot of that stuff when you're evaluating tape, but you still will be able to tell on these drills if they can step up and play with heavy hands and take on offensive linemen at the point of attack. If they can, they should get separation off blocks.

But you're going to have to go off what you're seeing on the collegiate tape that you watch. A lot of these guys now coming up to the NFL have to learn how to use their hands, especially at the linebacker position, because they're not taught to use their hands. It's all spread-out offenses and just go run and chase the ball.

Combine Proves LB Prototype is Changing

I haven’t seen a 300-pound middle linebacker playing much anymore. They don’t exist anymore. So a lot of these guys that you see are long, they're athletic, a lot of them are undersized. I looked at every guy down at the Senior Bowl this year. You rarely get a 6-foot-4 linebacker now. Drew Sanders (scouting report) from Arkansas is a very good linebacker, but he has a unique size. Jack Campbell (scouting report) from Iowa is also unique in size. They could have that old-school size, but they have the new-school athletic ability to go along with it.