Bears

NFL draft deep dive: Who is Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal?

Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal plays against Purdue on Oct. 23, 2021 in West Lafayette, Ind.

Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal became an All-American because of his ability to quickly diagnose holes in an offensive line. It’s a big reason why he led the Big Ten with 18.5 tackles for loss, despite missing two games due to COVID-19.

His linebacker coach at Wisconsin, Bob Bostad, is a former offensive line coach. Having a former offensive line coach in his ear certainly helped Chenal learn to diagnose what he was seeing in real time.

“A lot of it is angles,” Chenal said at last month’s NFL Scouting Combine. “We really focused on those angles. We focus on the timing, but our position coach at Wisconsin, coach Bostad, was so particular about angles, that’s why we had some success.

“He definitely looked at it through the offensive line’s eyes, the weaknesses, the strengths.”

With new Bears head coach Matt Eberflus stepping in and implementing his 4-3 defensive scheme, the team now needs three linebackers on the field in its base defense. Roquan Smith is going to take one of those spots. Free agent signing Nicholas Morrow is likely to take another. But the Bears still need to find a third.

Chenal is likely to be a second- or third-round draft pick later this month. It would be a little surprising to see the Bears invest such a high pick on a linebacker, but that’s a premium position for Eberflus’ defense and the team is currently one starter short of what it needs.

Chenal is one of the more interesting players at the position. He’s the 12th of 16 siblings raised in rural Grantsburg, Wisconsin, just east of the Minnesota border.

A three-star recruit out of high school, he played in 11 games as a true freshman in 2019. Then started all seven games in 2020 and 11 games in 2021. During his college career, he totaled 181 tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception.

Chenal is powerfully built and absorbs contact well. He’s solid against the run, but still needs to improve in coverage.

“I definitely feel comfortable [in coverage], but at the same time, I can get so much better, not just the pass coverage but every aspect of my game,” Chenal said. “And that’s the most exciting part is I’m ready to get better at every single part of my game.”

Prospect breakdown

Leo Chenal

Height: 6-2

Weight: 250

College career: Chenal was a first-team All-American and the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year as a junior in 2021. He totaled 115 tackles last season, including 18.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks. He was a two-year starter for the Badgers, and elected to leave early for the NFL. He possesses solid instincts in the run game, although he’ll need to grow as a blitzer and in coverage. He’s a highly aggressive linebacker who made a living in the backfield.

They said it: “Chenal has rare point-of-attack power and will be a handful inside the box, but will be limited by athletic deficiencies. He might never be more than a good backup or low-end starter but he should be able to make a living in the league.” –Lance Zierlein, NFL.com draft analyst

Draft projection: 2nd-3rd round

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.