The linebacker position has increased in importance in the NFL over the past few seasons as defenses seek to add players who can play the inside run and cover from sideline-to-sideline. A solid class of free agents have been paid handsomely, with Kwon Alexander leading the pack with a four-year, $54 million contract from the San Francisco 49ers. There is one top-1o linebacker prospect in this year’s draft class; LSU’s Devin White. The Chicago Bears selected Roquan Smith out of Georgia with the eighth overall pick in 2018, and White is a better prospect. He could go as high as fifth overall, and has All-Pro potential if developed correctly.
At 6-foot-0 and 236 pounds, White gives up an inch to Smith, but is the same weight, making him a bit stouter. White is also a stronger and more physical player than Smith, and does not carry Smith’s biggest flaw. While Smith’s instincts, speed, and coverage ability were all great, he lacked the functional strength to be a force in run support. He was unable to disengage from blockers; if an offensive lineman got his hands on Smith, he had no effect on the play.
White’s instincts are not nearly as good as Smith’s as he has been playing linebacker for just three years (he was recruited as a running back, which does give him a unique perspective on plays and allows him to diagnose certain runs before anyone else), but he carries a lot of power and strength in his frame. Not only can he run around blockers, but he can engage with them and get off the block just fine.
Physically, White is about as ideal a linebacker prospect for today’s NFL as you can find. His 4.42-second 40-yard dash proved he is an elite athlete, and has not even come close to reaching his ceiling. Even though he isn’t a refined player, he can still make a major impact as a rookie if he is drafted into the right situation.
Here are three teams who would be great fits for his skill-set.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Even before Alexander was signed away by the 49ers, the Buccaneers had a need at linebacker with new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles implementing a new defense. LaVonte David is an excellent OLB, but a new middle-backer is needed, and White fits the bill.
With him and David at the second level, Tampa Bay would have elite speed to counter the versatile runners in their division like Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffery. In the 4-3 sets that Bowles will run, the Bucs’ defensive line will be formidable, with Jason Pierre-Paul, Gerald McCoy, Vita Vea, and Noah Spence all lining up to rush the passer, leaving David and White to remain in coverage and sniff out the run.
Fifth overall is a high price to pay for a linebacker, but White’s immense potential makes him worth the investment.
2. Denver Broncos
The Broncos already have a potent pass-rushing duo in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, but now have an opening at linebacker after parting ways with Brandon Marshall. Head coach Vic Fangio is a defensive mastermind, and Denver would do well to give him a young linebacker to mold in White, just as the Bears did with Smith.
Adding a second defensive cornerstone under 23 would be a great way to continue the Broncos’ rebuild (or reload). Fangio would likely be the best coach that White could land with.
1. Detroit Lions
Sitting at eighth overall, the Lions are gearing up to have an excellent defense in 2019, especially the with free agency addition of defensive end Trey Flowers. Along with A’Shawn Robinson, Damon Harrison, and Da’Shawn Hand, Detroit has one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Jarrad Davis is a solid player, but the Lions need a true leader at linebacker, and if he is available, White would be an excellent pick, as long as general manager Bob Quinn isn’t set on going offense.
By adding White and a couple receiving weapons, Detroit would be in great shape to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.