Expert Analysis


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NFL Insiders Scout the Draft's Top Linebacker Prospects

Top Linebacker Prospects

The NFL Draft is now just over a week away, and The 33rd Team’s most recent Wednesday Huddle featured Mike Giddings of Proscout Inc. breaking down three of the top linebacker prospects available in this year’s draft: Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker, and Chad Muma. 

Giddings and Proscout Inc. have worked with 33 Super Bowl teams and 12 Hall of Fame coaches, owners, and general managers. Proscout invented the color code system (Blue-Red-Purple-etc.) that many NFL personnel departments use for their own evaluations.

Giddings began by giving a brief overview of what he looks for when evaluating linebackers, which included physical measurables as well as other traits typical of successful NFL linebackers.  

First on the list were what Giddings referred to as “PQs” or “physical qualifications.” 

“Minimums are 5-foot-10 to 6036 [6-foot-3 6/8], weigh at least 227, and hopefully run better than 4.71," he said. "If you took the average of the productive linebackers in the NFL, they're 6014, so 6-foot-1 ½, 236 pounds and run 4.59 [40 time]. That tells you that off the ball linebackers in the NFL can run.”

Giddings then dove into what he really looks for when he puts on the tape. 

“When I throw on the tape, I really want to get a feel for his diagnose, and diagnose is football intelligence. Does he see it quickly? Does he not take any false steps? And does he have a nose for the ball?"

Giddings uses the aforementioned color system to grade traits with blue designated as the top level.

“The blue diagnose linebackers... that's what they do," he adds. "They see it quickly, they don't take false steps, and they have a nose for the ball.” 

Giddings also went into detail on some more technical aspects of linebacker play, such as how great linebackers “[don’t] crossover in the box from tight end to tackle,” along with staying “lateral with their shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage,” and “not sneak towards the line of scrimmage and get caught up in the wash.”

“Low pad level obviously, low man wins. Do they take on blockers you know with their pads lower? Do they hit with the correct shoulder? … I'm a big fan of outside arm, outside leg free, depending on the assignment.” 

Giddings also looks for what he calls “fill burst”:

“They're scraping or they're filling, and they know when to burst and go, and say maybe tackle for loss, or no gain, or a one-yard gain. Most coaches will take 2nd and 9…really good backers, they have a feel of when to go…[they’re] like a sports car with a gear shift. They're first or second gear scraping, and all of a sudden, they see the opening and they can bypass third and fourth gear, and be at their top end speed, and go and make the play," he says.

“Angles to me are also very important. You know, speed is important, but you [also need] angles, diagnose and technique. It's how a guy like Vontaze Burfict at 4.95 flat [40 time], could play in the league. He had unbelievable angles and he took no false steps. And then, like [Brian] Urlacher had unbelievable route feel and range in coverage.”

Concerning tackling ability, Giddings said, “I think they should tackle 85% or better. Anything above 90% is blue. I'm not a big fan of linebackers that miss tackles. He can't be an NFL linebacker and say tackle at 70-75% You need to be 85% or better.” 

Giddings finished his intro by mentioning that each position for him has 18-21 different traits on his grading sheets, and top end first-round linebackers will have “nine or more blue traits” on his color scale when he has finished grading them.

Nakobe Dean, Georgia

Dean led Georgia in TFLs and was second on the team in tackles, sacks, and QB pressures en route to winning the 2021 Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker. He was a unanimous All-American and was the captain of the AFCA Good Works Team for his off-field commitment to community service.

Giddings began his breakdown by discussing scheme fits for Dean and teammate Quay Walker:

“I don't think that the two Georgia kids are 30 defense fits. You know Dean is only 229 pounds. Walker is 241, but he's 6-foot-3 ¾. To take on guards you’ve got to be a little bit shorter. I see both of these linebackers as 40 [defense] guys. Even though we're in nickel 70% I still see them as 40 defense linebackers…They both have blue speed and change of direction. And I see them more as ‘search and flow’ guys rather than say ‘phone booth thumpers.’ They do take on blocks well, but I don't know if there is an old school linebacker who is a ‘phone booth thumper’ anymore because you all have to run.”

Regarding Dean’s height, which has been a point of criticism, Giddings was “a little bit concerned with his height at 5-11 1/4, but after watching the tape, I'm not concerned about it.”

When further asked about concerns about Dean’s ability to hold up over time at that size by former NFL General Manager Mike Tannenbaum, Giddings said: “I have no problem moving him to Will,” as Dean was the Mike in Georgia’s defense, “I hate to call a guy a Derrick Brooks because Derrick Brooks was so good and changed the Will linebacker position. But if I was a team and needed a Will, I think I could put Dean there and make him a Will.” 

Brian Schottenheimer was asked to give his opinion on Dean after having spent some time with him recently, and he responded: “Love his personality. Obviously, everybody knows how smart the guy is. But again, he's the type of guy who comes off as a guy that you just don't want to bet against. Right? There's the size issue, the durability issue, but again, the kid has been raised the right way. He loves football. He's passionate about it. I think he’s going to have a hell of a career as a backer.”

Quay Walker, Georgia

Walker finished the season ranked third on the team in total tackles and was the team’s leading tackler in the National Championship against Alabama. He was also a major special teams contributor throughout his career and appeared in 51 of 52 possible games.

“What I like about him is even though he's tall, he moves laterally very well,” Giddings said, “He doesn’t get long legged, or mechanical, or stiff. I like guys who are consistent, and he's just consistent. Every aspect, whether it is in the phone booth taking on a blocker, scraping off, playing in space, coverage — he does it all red or blue. There's not really a poor trait that he has. And to me that's another big linebacker thing is I'd rather have him smart and sound than the ones that are better, flashy, but then make an error.”

Giddings elaborated further by saying: “What impressed me was some of the plays he made in space…filling on a screen and just making [plays], you know, just consistent play after play…His evals were just consistent across the board…He’s a blue tackler, blue pursuit, blue blitzer, blue coverage…I think a team that realizes his strengths and fits him well, they're going to be really happy with what they get.”

Tannenbaum asked Giddings if he preferred Dean or Walker one over the other, to which Giddings replied “In the perfect world, I run the flop over under and I have both. It really depends on who the team is matching up their strengths for the fit…that's what's interesting about the draft is putting them (the players) in a position of strength. Let's use their strengths and hopefully they go to a team that does that.”

To wrap up both Walker and Dean, Giddings stated “both these guys, I think, will be first round draft picks and be successful.”

Chad Muma, Wyoming

Muma entered college as a safety before making the switch to linebacker. He saw a jump in his level of production every season and finished his career as one of the nation's leading tacklers in 2021 while also being a Butkus Award finalist. 

One of the first things Giddings liked about Muma was "no crossover and go,” as those checked off some of his aforementioned boxes for evaluating linebackers.

When asked about making sure to give fair grades to players because of over performance against lesser competition when compared to players like Dean and Walker going up against SEC talent week in and week out, Giddings simply said “would start with the diagnose because you know the balls still get snapped at the same speed. And his technique and footwork is what I'm looking at.” 

Giddings elaborated further with “Obviously with lesser competition you can get away with some things easier. So, then I'm probably making sure I feel really good about his diagnose and his technique. And then obviously he's got the height, weight, 40 that matches up,” Muma clocked in at 4.63s in the 40-yard dash at the combine, “I'm really looking for is he just running around reckless, making a lot of tackles at a lower level of play, and or, is he technically sound and making tackle after tackle? And that's what I kind of see with this kid, is that he is technically sound.”

Giddings was asked where he felt Muma fit at the next level as an NFL linebacker and responded simply, “I think he's a Mike and I think he could fit a 30 or 40 defense.” 

Circling back to Muma’s technique, Giddings said “Technique to me is blue. And then having the physical qualities match up just like that…Logan Wilson,” also out of Wyoming, “kid took a huge leap in Cincinnati this year in his second year. The game may be faster at the beginning, but I think he'll be fine.”

To finish the discussion former Miami Dolphins Defensive Backs Coach and Detroit Lions safety Gerald Alexander asked Giddings about how much he factors in the intangibles such as the traditional role as the communicator and the ability to be the quarterback of the defense into his evaluations when looking at linebackers entering the draft, to which he responded:

“That would be an added factor to the evaluation, where let's say you've got a good film evaluation, then you sit down and you find out that he's making all the calls, and that he's a leader. You're just adding blue traits and that's also part of the process. So with that, we have him blue on tape evaluation. Bring him in. They get the other blue intangibles. He called the defense…let's get the injury grade. Never missed a game. Those are just added intangibles that are a great point or other boxes that need to be checked, especially if he's going to be a first or second round draft choice.”