Bears

Hub Arkush’s 2022 NFL draft positional preview: Linebacker

LSU linebacker Damone Clark runs in pass coverage against Mississippi State on Sept. 25, 2021 in Starkville, Miss.

When you cull the edge rushers playing outside linebacker, the three-down, full-service linebackers in this draft offer a couple of studs at the top, but the talent thins out quickly halfway through Day 2.

There are a few young men to get excited about once you get used to the idea that it’s shorter, lighter players who are dominating the inside linebacker spots in the NFL right now regardless of whether it’s in a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme.

DAY 1 PROSPECTS

1. Nakobe Dean, Georgia (5-11 ¼, 229, Junior)

He’s a tad undersized, there is no way around that, but it didn’t keep him from being the most explosive and aggressive linebacker in the SEC last year. He comes to the NFL as another three-down linebacker in the mold of Roquan Smith and Devin White that may compete with them for Pro Bowls for the next decade. He can do it all, and if he had Devin Lloyd’s size he might be competing to be drafted first overall.

2. Devin Lloyd, Utah (6-2 ½, 237, Redshirt Senior)

Lloyd can play almost any linebacker position in any scheme, although he’s not the best prospect as an outside rush linebacker in a 3-4. But he can be effective blitzing from various positions and is a tackling machine wherever he plays, including regularly in the opponent’s backfield as an excellent penetrator. He will need work on coverage skills.

DAY 2 PROSPECTS

3. Christian Harris, Alabama (6-0 ½, 236, Junior)

The only real difference and drop off from Lloyd and Dean is Harris doesn’t appear quite as instinctive and sometimes loses that crucial first step thinking instead of reacting, but he gets where he’s going in a real hurry and can unload with the big guys when he gets there. Instincts can’t be taught but a year or two in the film room with the right coaching will decide if he stays inside or moves outside to maximize the value of his great athleticism.

4. Damone Clark, LSU (6-2 ½, 239, Senior)

Clark’s frame isn’t quite as big and he’s a quarter step slower, but as opposed to all the undersized athletes dominating the middle and inside linebacker spots these days, this kid looks more like a poor man’s Brian Urlacher. His playing style could remind you of the Urlacher, too, but he’s still raw as a technician and in diagnoses, and he will need time to approach the very high ceiling we’re describing.

5. Quay Walker, Georgia (6-3 ½, 241, Senior)

He’s played inside in college and projects there at the next level, but like Clark he has the body type to play the strong-side or weak-side linebacker depending on the scheme and eyes of his next coach. Walker is more of a dependable tackling machine than big-play athlete, but he will always be in the right place at the right time even if he’s not always the first guy to get there. Leadership and character suggest he’ll be running a defense and making the calls on the field.

6. Malcolm Rodriguez, Oklahoma St. (5-11, 232, Senior)

At some point size does matter, and while the 232 pounds is plenty, Rodriguez’s stocky frame limits his athletic traits. He is as instinctive and productive as any player in the draft and was highly productive in college. He will play, make plays and against some teams will be a tackling machine at the next level, but his ceiling is limited by his size.

7. Channing Tindall, Georgia (6-1 ¾, 230, Senior)

The reason Georgia is the national champ is the Bulldogs were loaded with four- and five-star athletes on defense. Tindall is another off that tree. But at some point you wonder are they all that good, or are some benefitting from playing with the others. Tindall is in that latter group for now. He has some great traits and flashed semi-regularly for the Bulldogs, but he got lost in the crowd at other times.

DAY 3 PROSPECTS

8. Chad Muma, Wyoming (6-3, 239, Senior)

Muma loves the game and plays it with a passion, but he’s just not quite the athlete, as explosive, fast or consistent as the kids rated ahead of him here. Expect him to be a quality special teams contributor and the top backup linebacker for some club who can step in and start when called on, but he’s just not quite complete enough a package to build around.

9. Jesse Luketa, Penn St. (6-2 ¾, 253, Senior)

Leadership, character, desire and commitment are the hallmarks of this quality college linebacker that will play at the next level but be limited by his lack of natural talents. Luketa is a classic 4-3 strong-side linebacker. Coming out of the school known as Linebacker U., he’ll probably be better than we think with toughness and talent no problem at all, but his average athleticism will probably keep his ceiling a bit low.

10. Troy Anderson, Montana St. (6-3 ¼, 243, Senior)

Anderson started at running back and linebacker as a true freshman at Montana St. before starting at quarterback as a sophomore, being named all-conference there and then returning to make all-conference again but back at linebacker and running back as a junior. He finally became a full-time linebacker last season and was an FCS first-team All-American as well as earning all kinds of academic honors. He’ll be a linebacker and Swiss Army knife at the next level, but as exciting as his versatility was in school, it’s kept him from fully learning any of the three positions.

11. Leo Chenal, Wisconsin (6-2 ½, 250, Junior )

12. JoJo Domann, Nebraska (6-1 ½, 228, Redshirt Senior)

13. Aaron Hansford, Texas A&M (6-2, 239, Redshirt Senior)

14. Brian Asamoah, Oklahoma (6-0, 226, Redshirt Junior)

15. Jake Hansen, Illinois (6-0 ¾, 238, Redshirt Senior)

16. Brandon Smith, Penn St. (6-3 ½, 250, Junior)

Previous entries in this series

Quarterback

Running back

Wide receiver

Tight end

Offensive tackle

Interior offensive line

Defensive line

Edge rusher

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is the Senior Bears Analyst for Shaw Local News Network and ShawLocal.com.