The spider web of each prospect's test results from the NFL Combine comes courtesy of MockDraftable. SPARQ composite scores are provided by Zach Whitman. All players’ ages are calculated as of September 2019.
This is the 10th installment of my NFL Draft deep-dive scouting series, following quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, guards, centers, tackles, interior DL and EDGE. Wrapping up next with defensive backs, followed by my top-400 big board and my final mock draft on Wednesday!
1. Devin White (LSU) | 6’0/237
SPARQ percentile: 93.3
Devin White is a different kind of dude. After watching a YouTube video about horses, he got it into his head that he would own one. Perhaps you’ve had a similar fleeting thought, if not about horses than about buying a yacht, or building an engine, or moving abroad for a year.
But Devin White isn’t into half-measures nor fleeting thoughts. He spent a day driving 12 hours to Tennessee to buy a horse while in college — this is a true story, I swear — named Daisy Mae. You may have seen the video of White riding Daisy Mae to class. If you haven’t, you’re in luck — enjoy.
White went on to buy six more horses. He and his stable — I predict it’s about to get a lot bigger! — are now off the NFL. The class of this year’s off-ball crop, White is a next-generation prototype. He’s a true five-tool modern linebacker: Athleticism, versatility, run defense, blitzing and coverage.
Against the run, White is a sideline-to-sideline drone who squares up targets and blasts them, like Aaron Judge. He racked up 256 tackles and the past two years in the SEC, and forced three fumbles last season.
As a blitzer, White sees creases, times his jailbreak, and explodes through them like a Jose Altuve line drive opposite-field double between two chasing outfielders. White may be the off-ball classes’ best blitzer. Over the past two campaigns, White logged 26 TFL, 7.5 sacks and 13 hurries.
And in coverage, White boasts the athleticism, skill and know-how to excel in both man and zone, an athletic rover out there like Byron Buxton. He broke up nine passes and picked off one ball the last two seasons.
He actually began his LSU career as a freaky 260-pound running back after arriving as a local four-star athlete. Tigers DC Dave Aranda — whom LSU had only just poached from Wisconsin earlier in the offseason — got one look at White in practice in 2016 and fell head over heals in love.
Aranda’s first enormous recruiting win in Baton Rouge was convincing a kid who otherwise would have tried to become the Christian Okoye of our generation to lose a little weight and become the Whi-gerian Nightmare on defense.
White’s running back background — he shredded Louisiana prep defenses with over 5,000 rushing yards and 81 TD during his high school career — is apparent when watching him maneuver through traffic at high speeds while locked onto the ballcarrier.
As a true freshman, White earned playing time as a part-timer. He had one sack that year, and it came in the bowl game on New Year’s Eve against Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, who I picture jogging back to the sidelines to ask HC Bobby Petrino: “What in the #@$% was that?!”
A fiery player known as a locker room leader, White has labored in the film room to improve his instincts, an area that will play up each of his strengths as it continues to improve. On specific reps in college, White’s lost his athleticism trump card as he took an extra beat to decipher where the ball was going.
NFL offenses have gotten more tricky with misdirection in recent years, making read-and-react fluidity even more important. White can also lose a step or two on play-action, which forces him to play catchup. White bests Roquan Smith in more than one trait/area of the game, but I liked Roquan a wee bit more coming out last year due to Smith’s superior diagnostic skills.
White can get engulfed by offensive linemen when his feet get stuck in the mud for a beat while processing (OL have all kinds of issues touching him if he diagnoses quickly and correctly). The more White is protected by block-eating interior linemen, and the more he cuts down on false steps, the more his athleticism will play up.
White also must work on thinking on his feet as quickly as his actual feet move. Sometimes his eyes are bigger than his stomach, causing him to come screaming in and either fritter a tackle away by either not barreling-up a runner or by outright overrunning him.
A fan favorite at LSU, White rides into the NFL as a top-10 overall talent with perennial Pro Bowl talent. Like his horses, White’s next developmental leap will occur when he’s broken of his tendency to buck and gallop at high speeds whenever he hears a loud noise.
A disciplined Devin White is going to blast poor running backs and collect a trophy case full of hardware over the next decade. If he never gets there, he’ll merely be a good starter who bursts off the screen a few plays per game with a TNT detonation of a hit or by running down a ball carrier from behind like a racehorse who makes up several lengths down the home stretch to win the Preakness.
2. Devin Bush Jr. (Michigan) | 5’11/234
SPARQ percentile: 97.5
Comp: Stephen Tulloch (Zierlein)
An LB/S hybrid who may have been seen as a tweener two decades ago but is now a speed-nullifying trump card prototype, Bush is an electric athlete with a super processor between his ears.
He’s short and skinny but plays bigger than he is, consistently laying the wood because he generates a ton of force through speed and leverage. He screams toward the ball low to the ground, and springs through the hips at the target in the kill zone with form and ferocity.
Bush rarely misses tackles. And because he has ridiculous range, he’s an extremely efficient and proficient defender, swishing a high-percentage at heavy volume like Steph Curry. And while he lacks length and strength, Bush has compensated like a linebacking version of RB Devin Singletary, picking his way through trash with agility, purpose and balance.
Bush’s father — Devin Bush Sr. — was a first-round safety of Atlanta’s in 1995 out of Florida State who won a Super Bowl on Kurt Warner’s “Greatest Show on Turf” 1999 Rams team. In a very cool turn of events, Bush Sr. was able to coach Bush Jr. when Jim Harbaugh hired the former as an analyst.
Bush Jr. is fabulous in coverage, where his safety background and his father’s teachings really shine through. He knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s very difficult to shake because not many NFL RBs and TEs can match his size/athleticism combination.
Bush’s weaknesses are predictable for a player of his type. He’s not afraid of big uglies, but he gets trucked when he gets a kamikaze complex. And like White, Bush can overrun plays. Bush also will always have to play with a smaller tackling radius due to his dimensions, an issue he can’t just overcome with hard work.
3. Blake Cashman (Minnesota) | 6’1/237
SPARQ percentile: 90.9
Comp: Jake Ryan (Kyle Crabbs)
When you write about the NFL Draft for work, you get DMs from little-known prospects looking for exposure (in the last class, UTSA CB Devron Davis was infamous for this), or from the friends and family members of overlooked guys.
In early-January, I received a DM from a member of Cashman’s inner-circle that read: “Check out LB Blake Cashman from Minnesota. He’s rated #72 out 101 of best players for 2018 by PFF. He’s a sleeper and a great story.” It was the first cold-call NFL Draft Twitter DM message that I’ve ever wholeheartedly agreed with.
This person must have been startled when I responded like Brian Fantana in that scene in Anchorman when Ron Burgundy gets his mojo back and emerges from the bar bathroom clean-shaven and dressed to go on the air, using a conch shell to call out for a team he thought had abandoned him: “NEWS TEAM — ASSEMBLE!”
Fantana, shooting pool in the back of the bar with Champ and Brick, casually responds: “We’ve been here literally the entire time you have.” I wrote back to Cashman’s contact the same day: “Preaching to the choir my dude. I live in Minneapolis and watch a ton of Gophs football. Cashman tackles everything that moves. I swear I looked out my window in Uptown one day and saw him tackling pedestrians and cars alike.”
I am a college football writer in Minneapolis who doesn’t attend games, but instead covers four or five every time slot thanks to more screens in my apartment than a Parris Campbell highlight reel. Naturally, I assigned myself the hometown Gophers every weekend. I had a front-row seat to Cashman’s leap.
A local stud at powerhouse Eden Prairie High School under Mike Grant -- the son of legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant -- Cashman helped EPHS win four consecutive state titles during his prep days. But because of his sawed-off, alligator-arm build, nobody wanted him.
Not even the local Minnesota Gophers, who over the years have shown a particular skill for discharging shotgun rounds into their feet by allowing out-of-state poachers to steal mega-recruits like Larry Fitzgerald (Pitt), Seantrel Henderson (Miami), Michael Floyd (Notre Dame) and Frank Ragnow (Arkansas)*, among others, and then missing on under-recruited local kids who make-good elsewhere (Adam Thielen, Billy Turner, Zach Zenner, John Crockett, Joe Haeg and Matt Burk, to name a few).
*(little known fact: Terrell Suggs grew up in St. Paul and was briefly Joe Mauer’s center in youth football before moving to Arizona in the eighth grade).
And that should have been the story with Cashman, whom 247Sports listed as a 0-star safety (the 3,100 overall recruit in his class). North Dakota State wanted him, and that’s usually where the kids Minnesota mistakenly overlooks usually end up.
Most fortunately for PJ Fleck -- who at the time was still building a short-lived MAC powerhouse at Western Michigan -- Cashman elected to forgive the slight and walk on at the state school. At that time, Minnesota was coached by Jerry Kill.
Most walk-ons have a restraining order from stepping foot on the field as freshman. Cashman won a gig on special teams, a small, fearless burner. He carved out a rotational niche as a sophomore — which won him a scholarship — and then did similar work in 2017.
A prolific gym rat who lives with an I.V. of football injected intravenously, Cashman broke through to seize a starting job this past season. It was clear, from the very start — I’m talking in September — that he was a completely different player than the part-time grinder we’d seen before. Cashman wasn’t just a starter — he had kicked the “ter” without warning.
Cashman was all over the field every game. I would be looking at one of my secondary screens for a second and hear the name “Cashman” again, only to look up to see him jogging back to huddle up with his teammates again. The Gophers had a joke of a defense last fall, run by a DC (Robb Smith) who was so overmatched that he was fired mid-season by a low-tier Big 10 program that would go on to make a bowl game.
About the only thing that defense had going for it after S Antoine Winfield Jr.’s season-ending injury in September was Cashman, the fleet pinball warrior who cleaned up his teammate’s messes all over the field.
Cashman finished with 104 tackles, 15 TFL and 2.5 sacks in 12 games, earning an overall PFF grade of over 90.0, the threshold you can read as “dominated.” He was only named Third-Team All-Big 10 — as his his custom, Cashman was slighted out of his just rewards by players who were more recognizable.
Despite that, Cashman entered the draft process overlooked and unknown (shocker!). He was scoffed at for skipping the team’s bowl game — omg lol even blake friggin cashman is skipping bowl games now?!?!?!? — to begin preparations for the NFL Combine. And then Blake Cashman did what Blake Cashman does: He dropped the jaws of tobacco-spitting scouts who’d already pre-written “UDFA” into his report.
He dropped a 90th percentile SPARQ score that nearly matched his 2018 PFF grade. And in so doing, Cashman finally — after years of dogged work despite being told over and over again that he’d never succeed in football* — earned a little respect. But still probably not as much as he should be getting.
*(per Cashman’s contact, at least one high school coach told Cashman that he was crazy for believing he could play FBS football).
Yes, Cashman is small. Yes, he has a shortest recorded LB arm length at the NFL Combine the past five years outside of Shaquem Griffin (a fact, not a joke). Yes, he only has one season of big production. Yes, he's a former walk-on with no pedigree. Yes, he has three shoulder surgeries in his recent past.
And yes, he’s never going to be able to take on blockers and thus must be protected. He has a tiny tackling strike zone and sometimes runs out of arm to reach you, but he never misses when he can.
The only area where Cashman wasn’t elite last year was in coverage, and that’s an area he’ll almost assuredly improve in at the next level as he gets more reps, because his athleticism, mind and work ethic make it almost impossible for him not to. His lack of length also caps his ceiling in this area, but he’s not going to languish.
But, okay, can we talk about what Blake Cashman IS, now? Blake Cashman is a tackling machine with A+ athleticism. He’s a maniacal worker who is going to reach every inch of his ceiling. He plays with incredible technique at high speeds, detonating the chests of ballcarriers with squared shoulder pads.
From Day 1, he’ll be a tremendous special teams player, and he’ll likely be that for the duration of his career. He also has a better chance of starting Year 1 in the NFL than many believe. I told Cashman’s contact in the days after the NFL Combine that I thought he was earmarked for Round 3.
I still believe that. But I also wouldn’t argue with an LB-needy team calling his name at the end of Round 2. There’s so much to work with here, and this off-ball class runs out of guys who could start early real quick. Cashman must be included in that group.
4. Mack Wilson (Alabama) | 6’1/240
SPARQ percentile: 30.5
Comp: C.J. Moseley (Zierlein)
You can’t begrudge a prospect ticketed for Day 2 for making the leap into the NFL — the math checks out from an incentive-to-risk perspective. That said: Dangit, Mack! This kid could have lit it up next year on another Alabama playoff team and potentially worked himself into the top-10. Instead, he’s probably going to have to settle for a Round 2 call.
The former five-star prospect contributed off the bench and on special teams as a freshman in 2016 (and even moonlighted on offense) before earning two starts as a true sophomore. Boy did he flash in limited exposure, picking off a team-leading four passes, including a pick-six in the semifinal against Clemson.
A little more than a week later, he tormented Georgia in the national title game with 12 tackles and two TFL during Alabama’s come-from-behind win. Much was expected of Mack heading into his junior year, his first as a starter. And in many ways, he met expectations.
Mack earned Second-Team All-American honors on another team that made a run to the title.* He showed off a game predicated on size, smoothness in space, and power. Mack confirmed his interceptions in 2017 weren’t a right-place-right-time fluke by picking off two more balls and forcing a series of contested situations with tight ends and running backs who leaked out of the backfield.
*(this time, Clemson got the last laugh — Mack’s pick-six the year before off Kelly Bryant no doubt replayed in Dabo Swinney’s mind throughout the offseason as Swinney kicked around how and when he’d make the switch to true freshman child prodigy Trevor Lawrence).
For a classic Alabama downhill thumper with a surly attitude, Mack presented a nifty dichotomy with his patented skill with the ball was in the air. Hand on the Bible, I swear: If Alabama had developed Mack on offense, he would have turned into a more dangerous receiving weapon than Irv Smith.*
*(Of course, that development would have killed two guys’ rookie paychecks, as Mack is even more vertically challenged than Irv — but at 6’1/240, Wilson has great size for a linebacker).
Having said all this, I was still a bit disappointed that Mack didn’t return to team up with Tua and his merry band of marauding burners for another crack at Clemson. He provided more flashes in 2018, but was not the wrecking-ball the Devins were, in large part because his inexperience wafted off him during lost reps when Mack’s indecision had a corrosive effect on his effectiveness.
Last year, what we saw out of Mack was a slugger who hammered balls across the street from Fenway when he guessed the pitch correctly or cooled off infielders with massive whiffed cuts when he didn’t.
And for a player with his frame and physicality, Mack has this weird quirk where he’ll gift yardage to the offense because he’s more hell-bent on not engaging with blockers than he is with using his body as a sacrifice in the name of truncating the play.
We saw Mack take ultra-wide berths to the ball, like a skittish jet skier who won’t go within 100 feet of a buoy, or voluntarily elect to leave his perch in a running lane while trying to thread the needle of ducking a linemen laterally to try to clip a runner, which is a strategy not unlike stepping around a screen in basketball, giving the dribbler extra space to drive or pull up.
Mack is an interesting prospect. The pedigree, the physical package and the flashes all suggest a future star, but the warts in his game and disappointing athletic testing introduce risk into his profile. Risk that he could have potentially mitigated or eliminated by returning to campus to camp out with Nick Saban’s collection of film rat assistants over the summer.
But to give the counter-point to the counter-point, Wilson proved from the jump in Tuscaloosa that he’s a superb special-teams contributor. He deserves a bit of a value bump from that, especially if you’re going to dock him for perhaps not being ready to challenge for a Pro Bowl berth at linebacker as a rookie, as both of the Devins could if they find the right situations.
Consider him a medium-floor, high-ceiling prospect and earmark him to get plucked off the board early Friday evening.
5. Jahlani Tavai (Hawaii) | 6’2/250
SPARQ percentile: N/A
Comp: Vontaze Burfict (Matt Miller)
*Did not test at the NFL Scouting Combine
A rugby star at Mira Costa High in California, Tavai received only a modicum of recruiting interest in football. Rivals graded him as a two-star recruit in the 2014 class. USC kicked the tires -- specifically Ed Orgeron, a vaunted recruiter now running the LSU program — but didn't pull the trigger on a scholarship offer.
So Tavai moved to Honolulu, not the worst of consolation prizes. Tavai redshirted, and then recorded 56 tackles as a second-year freshman. He went on to collect 252 tackles (30.5 TFL) between 2016-2017 while shifting between all three linebacker spots.
This was borderline heroic work. The Rainbow Warriors had one of the worst defenses in the FBS during Tavai’s stay and, incredibly, cycled through six defensive coordinators during Tavai’s stay on the Islands. Cashman persevered through poor coaching, Tavai persevered through worse coaching.
Less heroic was Tavai's barroom fight stunt last summer that got him arrested and suspended for the opener. And then a season-ending shoulder injury cut his year short at eight games. Tavai missed the pre-draft process while rehabbing.
But barring clearance on his background check and medicals, I saw enough on the field to grade him as a late Day 2 prospect. Tavai plays so hard, and he’s got a sonar radar for movement and flow that reroutes him while picking through traffic. It sharpens his chase angles like a knife.
Tavai is not “twitchy,” but he gets there fast enough and brings hurricane force explosion on impact. Sometimes to a fault. Tavai loves to launch at ball-carriers. And in short, that’s how you shake him: Allow him to overplay his hand and then run the hell away before he can get back up. You can also slop him. In traffic, sometimes Tavai gets lost in a maze.
For the next level, assuming he can recover from his shoulder injury, Tavai’s versatility makes for a real plus. As does his tone-setting play style. Just please let him land in a stable situation. He needs to develop under one defensive coordinator, in one system.
Going through six at Hawaii and getting shuffled this way and that to best cover for his overmatched teammates did a disservice to Tavai’s development. And yet he still found ways to succeed. I like me a passionate self-starter, and that’s Tavai.
6. Sutton Smith (NIU) | 6'0/233
SPARQ percentile: 42
Sutton Smith doesn't look like much and his size-adjusted SPARQ percentile did not impress. He’s the kind of guy you have to see play to believe. He leaves college as one of the great front-seven G5 defenders of the past decade — and he only really saw the field for two years.
Between 2017-2018, Smith recorded 56.5 TFL and 29 sacks. That’s not a typo — 28.25 TFL and 14.5 sacks per campaign. He also forced seven fumbles those two years, recovered six and scored three defensive TD.
He ranks third in MAC history in TFL and second sacks, respectively — again, having put those stats up in two campaigns (he had one sack and two TFL off the bench in 2016 and redshirted in 2015).
I’m choosing to list him with the off-ball linebackers, in my estimation his best NFL position fit. I’ve never bought the idea that Sutton’s game wouldn’t translate to the NFL — he’ll just be playing in space a bit more, now.
And he’ll be able to swing that. Smith’s measurables are poor, no getting around that. But he consistently displayed one utterly elite trait on the field: There may not have been a front-seven college defender in the country the past few years who possessed a better combination of agility, quickness, and fluidity of movement.
Smith confirmed our eyes weren't lying in Indy, posting a 6.75-second three-cone that was tops in his position class and ranked among the fastest times ever for an edge player. Many NFL scouts think that the three-cone is the single-most important drill at the combine. Von Miller posted a 6.70, Khalil Mack posted a 7.08, and Chandler Jones posted a 7.07.
“The shorter you are and stronger, you [have] a lot more leverage whenever you play,” Sutton Smith has said. His size, speed, fluidity, technique, and warrior attitude and play style should translate to off-ball, and Smith can be used situationally off the edge in passing situations.
He’s also going to be a special teams standout from Day 1. I think some team is going to get a Day 3 steal. A+ production, A+ fluidity and A+ effort and work ethic tend to translate. At the very, very worst -- at his floor -- Smith will bring a ton of special teams value, give you a situational edge rusher off the bench, and provide linebacking depth.
At best, you're getting the special teams and situational edge-rushing stuff along with a strong starting off-ball linebacker. I've seen Smith ranked outside the top-200 on so many draft boards behind a ton of guys I know are stiffs and bums. I don't get it. Sleep on him at your own peril, folks.
7. Drue Tranquill (Notre Dame) | 6’2/236
SPARQ percentile: 88.8
Like the more-heralded Germaine Pratt, Tranquill is a former safety. Unlike Pratt, whose coverage skills have not translated to linebacker, Tranquill is a coverage ace, one of the best coverage linebackers in this class. Put him on a tight end and watch him stick like meat on an unoiled griddle.
He blends his nuance in coverage with a safety’s desire to lay a thumpin’. Think the blasting guitar riffs on Iggy Pop’s “Search and Destroy.” Or just think search and destroy. He might not take the most efficient lines to the ball, but should he reach his target, condolences to the ball-carrier’s family and friends.
While Tranquill lacks a little for size, he makes up for it in movement and heart, playing bigger than his frame. As a blitzer, he has a stellar feel for just how to navigate through blocks.
You slow him with chips from sturdy running backs, but if you don’t blast him off course, Tranquill’s backup generator kicks in. Think of it like the quick hops of prime Dwight Howard gathering a rebound and immediately taking it up for the dunk. Tranquill doesn’t require a long reset after engagement so long as he can weather it.
Tranquill is football smart and locker room-loved -- a team captain who has pushed through serious injury on several occasions (more on that in a moment) -- but there’s a little bit of an off-script quality to his approach.
He’ll bring the energy and heat no matter his internal plan, but steps off the worn trail too often. Pro Football Focus graded him as the No. 94 linebacker in this class in terms of tackling efficiency. Tranquill has played linebacker for just two seasons. I think he gets there technically and instinctually with time.
So long as his body does not undermine the effort, which it might. Tranquill tore both ACLs while at Notre Dame,-- in 2014, as a true freshman, he tore his left, and he evened things up with a right ACL tear the next year while celebrating a game-closing deflection versus Georgia Tech. Ouch.
It’s impossible to dismiss two torn ACLs, particularly because Tranquill wins with athleticism. But that athleticism — which he’s retained, as evidenced by his testing — and his coverage chops are things that are fetishizes by the pass-happy NFL.
Those around the Notre Dame program rave about Tranquill. I’d be happy to bring him into my building on a Day 3 flier to see if those knees will hold up. They have so far, and he remains an outstanding athlete. I think he's being slept on.
8. Sione Takitaki (BYU) | 6’1/238
SPARQ percentile: 75.9
Comp: Todd Davis (Matt Miller)
Everybody loves a redemption story. You saw that on Sunday, when Tiger Woods won the Masters. Sione Takitaki was never quite so lost as Tiger, but he spent time in the wilderness, too, hit with a suspension after he was caught stealing on the job as a custodian and even at one point getting kicked off the team for a locker room fight.
The team forgave him for those transgressions, voted to allow him back into the fold. Then he fell in love and got married. And everything changed. Takitaki’s wife serves as his confidant, his heart, his moral compass. Without her buoyant impact on his outlook, we probably wouldn’t be talking about Takitaki as an NFL prospect, let alone as one of the more underrated prospects in this class.
He plays like he’s spent time in Shawshank and just crawled into the rain after chipping away at a wall for years. Everything came together for him in the fall, when he registered a career-best 119 tackles while posting an overall grade on PFF of 82.7 -- and a grade of 88.6 on run defense, tied for 13th-best in the position class.
Takitaki’s game is predicated on aggression and energy, but he’s more than paint-by-numbers hustle. Not the fastest for his position, but flexible and bursting with more flavor than a Starburst, Takitaki combines energy and athleticism into one hell of an energy drink.
His patience comes and goes. Sione is the person who approaches the waiter and asks for the check. That can result in big, game-changing plays. It can also result in plays running completely past him because he jumped a slant-and-go or played a screen too hard.
In the NFL, he is going to have to temper his aggression and improve on his discipline. If he can show proof of concept with that discipline on special teams he should be able to work his way into a backup/rotational role in his early development.
9. Ben Burr-Kirven (Washington) | 6’0/230
SPARQ percentile: 84.6
Had Burr-Kirven entered the league 20 years ago, the screams of “too small, too tiny, too weak” would have reverberated through the rafters of Radio City Music Hall. Lucky for him, we’re not partying like it’s 1999.
To state the obvious, Burr-Kirven is a lightweight. It’s easy to nitpick, but dismiss him over size. Anthony Hitchens, Roquan Smith and Lavante David are all in the same height-weight phylum as Burr-Kirven and have proven more than capable of making it work in the NFL. Those three combined for 376 tackles last season.
That’s cherry-picking, sure, but the point is not to outright dismiss Ben Hur-Swervin because of the size thing. He wrecked the Pac-12 with an FBS-leading 176 tackles last season, a campaign which saw him post career-best analytics across the board from PFF.
If Chase Winovich is the epitome of ball of energy at the edge, that’s Burr-Kirven at linebacker. Even so, it’s difficult to get him to overcommit. He’s an experienced sailor who works with the waves, not against them. The field unfolds before him.
When there’s no clutter in the way -- he can get swallowed up -- and he gets his shoulders squared, brings his momentum to the ball like a sledgehammer.
Give him the clear path, give him an opening, try to block him with inconsistent effort, and Burr-Kirven will make you pay. He can be rubbed out on scheme, though, if you can grind him down with larger bodies.
As sound a tackler as he is when he has you in his sights, jitterbug backs and wideouts can shift off him, and he doesn’t have the arm length to cover for it. That’s simply part of the bargain with Burr-Kirven.
He gives it his all, all the time, he has stellar instincts and feel for the game, but his size does come with limitations, even as he is skilled at minimizing those limitations within the laws of physics.
His energy and vibrato should play immediately on special teams at the next level, while he tries to work his way toward a backup role. His coaching staff will love his gung-ho attitude, too, I'm sure. But it's going to be a high-wire act to work into a starting gig.
10. Germaine Pratt (NC State) | 6’2/240
SPARQ percentile: 53
Comp: Danny Trevathan (Matt Miller)
Pratt has been living down the line for his entire life. By his own account, he grew up impoverished “in the hood.” Classic case of football serving as a distraction. He won scholarship offers, chose NC State, and arrived a sinewy 200-pound safety.
His first two years under Dave Doeren, Pratt recorded modest -- and respectable -- stats in the defensive backfield. A shoulder injury ruled him out for the year in 2016 and he was forced to take a redshirt. The subsequent surgery changed the course of his life.
While rehabbing, Pratt began to bulk up. And that’s because Doeren — who also oversaw Garrett Bradbury’s shift from TE to G to C during this time — wanted Pratt to become a linebacker. Pratt worked closely with a nutritionist. Week-by-week, the once-slim safety began to look his new part.
In 2017, his first year at LB, Pratt finished fourth on the squad with 69 tackles (5.5 TFL) despite not starting a game (he rotated in behind a pair of seniors). Pratt became a full-time starter in 2018.
He went on to lead the ACC with 104 tackles, 10 TFL, six sacks, three passes defended on his way to first-team all-conference honors. Pratt left NC State an adored figure in the locker room. His best friend on the team, wideout Steph Louis, calls him “probably the most loyal person I know.”
Pratt isn’t there as a coverage backer, despite his experience at safety. Watching him, you wouldn’t know about his past life as a safety. He’s got a crusty lower body and strangely lacks intuitive feel for his responsibilities when the quarterback is in the pocket.
But while Pratt moves side-to-side like your drunk uncle doing the electric shuffle during your cousin’s wedding reception -- lack of fluidity is a big reason I'm lower on him than most -- he’s a dynamite north-south athlete, with slick 4.50 wheels at 240 pounds (88th percentile). That was the seventh-fastest 40-yard dash time among linebackers at the NFL Combine in one of the speediest groups of the past decade.
At the Senior Bowl, Pratt had a sick 50-yard chase-down of Dexter Williams and finished the week tracking faster than any other player -- regardless of position -- at 20.1 MPH. That’s eye-opening. The size/speed combination is superb, and Pratt is very strong.
He plays with a reckless, almost gleeful abandon, as if he might lose his job if he fails to bring down his target. Pratt ranked No. 6 in PFF tackling efficiency among this LB class last season.
If Pratt can stay disciplined and continue to develop, he could develop into a long-term starter. I just struggle to picture him as a really good one, because guys who can't cover and labor to change directions are always going to be replaceable in the modern NFL.
11. Bobby Okereke (Stanford) | 6’1/239
SPARQ percentile: 64.8
Okereke plays up to the Stanford egghead stereotype and has immediate special teams chops. Put the play in front of him and he’ll make it -- he's very sharp, very athletic and technically sound.
But blockers who get hands on him Thanos-snap him out of the picture. He gets muddled out of too many plays for my liking, but I do really like the overall skillset. And I especially like that Okereke sniffs things out extremely quickly.
He should see the field early in nickel packages, but adding muscle and increasing play strength will be a must if he wants to start long-term.
12. Vosean Joseph (Florida) | 6’1/228
SPARQ percentile: N/A
Joseph’s drafting team is going to need a fair amount of thread to sew up his technical holes. An undersized, woefully inefficient body tackler -- he’ll plow into you, you’ll bounce off him -- whose stellar burst, speed and aggression entice even if the product is more a scattering of traits than a consistent football player at this juncture.
Joseph's got skill and very-well may outperform this ranking. There's just too much risk in this wonky profile for me to push him above guys like Pratt or Okereke. And if I want an undersized linebacker, I want the proven production and verified athletic profiles of the Cash Man, Sutton and BBK.
13. Cameron Smith (USC) | 6’2/238
SPARQ percentile: 77.5
Steady Eddie as they come, Smith surveys the field with a general’s eye and diagnoses with quickness and confidence. He’s strong in run defense and solid in coverage, but doesn’t get there on the blitz and has shown little development as a pass-rusher (3.5 career sacks, PFF pass-rushing grade of 55.4 in 2018).
Smith looks the part and boasts athleticism, but his play consistently left me wanting more in college. He'd do well to turn into a league-average starting linebacker by tackling what's in front of him and showing well in coverage.
14. Te’Von Coney (Notre Dame) | 6’0/234
SPARQ percentile: N/A
Comp: Craig Robertson (Zierlein)
Coney has no traits that stick out except for effort. He has solid burst but lacks speed, and he is muscled-up but lacks above-average play strength. A Third-Team All-American last year, Coney gobbled up all kinds of tackles in South Bend. In the NFL, he’ll be more grinder than star. Low-impact starter is the ceiling.
15. David Long (West Virginia) | 5'11/227
SPARQ percentile: 9.6
Comp: Mark Barron (Matt Miller)
A thunderstorm of a linebacker, Long takes the field with the urgency of a man who wants to be everywhere all at once and knows he's too small to coast on any snap. That energy only goes so far on coverage assignments, where he generally lacks feel, and can be negated when plays are run directly at him with momentum and authority.
For a mid-round option, he intrigues with immediate special teams upside and potential as a subpackage banshee. And heck, maybe you smooth out the rough edges and get a starter out of the deal, too. There's much work to be done, though.
16. Emeke Egbule (Houston) | 6'0/245
SPARQ percentile: 44.2
For as smooth as Egbule is on the move, for as at ease he seems in coverage, he plays with little nuance or subtlety. Good news, Emeke, like your buddy Ed Oliver, you might have a chance to land with a competent coaching staff! Just don't expect immediate dividends or instant gratification. Egbule's upside -- and there is undercooked upside here -- is going to require patience to chip into.
17. Terrill Hanks (New Mexico State) | 6’2/242
SPARQ percentile: 16.5
Hanks is coachable to the -nth degree and causes bruises to surface when he connects with his targets. Put him in a footrace or ask him to move sideline-to-sideline and that’s where the evaluation fogs up. He has immediate special teams upside, but his lack of athletic bonafides are problematic for much more than that.
18. TJ Edwards (Wisconsin) | 6’0/230
SPARQ percentile: 4.6
Rolling off the Badgers' assembly line of competent-but-unspectacular workers, Edwards brings the expected lunch pail to a day’s work, especially against the run, but there simply isn’t much to chew on athletically in that pail.
He decodes plays faster than a CIA agent working code at Langley, though, which should help his chances to develop toward -- if things break right -- a rotational role. Limited upside beyond that.
19. Dakota Allen (Texas Tech) | 6’0/232
SPARQ percentile: 65
From LAST CHANCE U to the NFL? Allen is freakishly light a-foot -- posting the second-best 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drill times at the combine -- and it helps him to slip past blockers.
A strong run defender, his footing in coverage is less certain and a little play action or misdirection will freeze him like a deer in oncoming traffic. Allen's ability to work against the run despite his lack of size appeals for a Day 3 flier.
20. Joe Giles-Harris (Duke) | 6’2/233
SPARQ percentile: 3.9
Comp: Beniquez Brown (Kyle Crabbs)
One of my favorite defenders in college football the past two years, but I fear he doesn’t have the measurables to translate into an NFL starter.
But I will say: JGH knows where you want to go, and he often got there first in the ACC. His lack of pure athleticism does put a cap on his ceiling, but it’s not a Hobbit’s ceiling. I think he’s smart enough to hang around as a bench guy and special teams contributor.
21. Chase Hansen (Utah) | 6'3/222
He'll be 26 as a rookie and may not have any developmental advancement to go, but the former safety has the athleticism, coverage chops and football IQ to outplay his draft slot.
22. Kaden Elliss (Idaho) | 6'2/238
*Was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine
The son of 10-year NFL vet Luther Elliss, Kaden, a Combine snub, opened eyes with a 6.63-second 3-cone at his pro day workout -- he's an interesting developmental flier who'll be a special teams contributor early.
23. Ryan Connelly (Wisconsin) | 6'2/242
A try-hard three year Big 10 starter, Connelly has enough north-south athleticism to hang but lacks the fluidity in space to make a difference.
24. Cody Barton (Utah) | 6'2/237
Barton offers some developmental intrigue due to his athleticism and dogged work ethic, but he's no sure thing due to his medical rap sheet and lack of experience/polish.
25. Ty Summers (TCU) | 6'1/241
A smart, physical 'backer with 4.5 speed, Summers can blame T-Rex arms and a lack of agility if he washes out quickly.
26. Gary Johnson (Texas) | 6'0/226
A high school track star and verified burner (4.4 speed), Johnson consistently underwhelmed at Texas because he plays out of control and loses access to his straight-line speed when he's jarred or forced to change directions.
27. Drew Lewis (Colorado) | 6'2/229
*was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine
Undersized and at times a tick slow to react, Lewis nonetheless has developmental appeal because he's a top-notch athlete whose father and brother both played in the NFL.
28. Tre Lamar (Clemson) | 6'3/253
A big middle linebacker with some speed who showed a knack for blitzing, Lamar changes direction as slowly as your grandpa changes lanes on a busy freeway and doesn't bring his lunch pail against the run -- the latter issue will wash him out of the NFL if it isn't fixed pronto.
29. Ulysees Gilbert (Akron) | 6'0/224
*was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine
A stud athlete and fiery competitor who dominated in the MAC, Gilbert is tough eval because he's got the body of a safety and the game of a linebacker; he's worth a late flier for special teams contributions and the opportunity to see if you can find a way to get his athleticism on the field in sub-packages.
30. Porter Gustin (USC) | 6'4/255
The former top-recruit is a great athlete for his size who plays with some pop, but he's a Mr. Glass type who can't stay healthy, and he lacks the movement, bend and skill for edge rushing duties; perhaps he can be salvaged by moving off the ball.