2019 NFL Draft Position Review: Outside Linebackers

Charlie lays out an overview at the top players from each position for the 2019 NFL Draft. For further information, check out our in-depth analysis of 2019 NFL Draft Prospects by Position.

By Charlie Campbell.
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This page was last updated April 17, 2019. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

Outside Linebacker Class
Early-round talent: B+
Mid-round: B
Late-round: B
Overall grade: B+

2019 prospects vs 2018
Josh Allen
Roquan Smith
Montez Sweat
Tremaine Edmunds
Brian Burns
Darius Leonard
Harold Landry
Uchenna Nwosu
Lorenzo Carter
Jachai Polite
D’Andre Walker
Chase Winovich
Jerome Baker
Fred Warner
Terrill Hanks
Vosean Joseph

The 2019 NFL Draft features a decent class of outside linebackers. There are some early-round talents, a few quality players on Day 2, and some developmental talents for the third day of the draft. The outside linebacker class features good run defenders, pass-rushers, and some dynamic play-makers. This year’s group is comparable to last year’s class.

If you were to merge the players together, Josh Allen would be the top linebacker and is a better prospect than Roquan Smith. Montez Sweat is behind Smith and is a little better than Edmunds. Brian Burns would go behind Edmunds and ahead of Darius Leonard as a prospect, although I think Leonard will have a better NFL career than Burns. Jachai Polite is an odd ball in these rankings, because if it weren’t for off-the-field issues, he would be ranked next to Montez Sweat. Chase Winovich is another player who is hurt by makeup concerns. That pair with D’Andre Walker are better prospects than Jerome Baker or Fred Warner were last year. Terrill Hanks and Vosean Joseph would go behind Warner.

Safest Pick: Josh Allen, Kentucky
Previous Picks:
2018: Tremaine Edmunds
2017: Jarrad Davis
2016: Myles Jack
2015: Eric Kendricks
2014: Khalil Mack
2013: Arthur Brown

My track record here is solid. Kendricks has been a solid player, while Mack is a superstar. Davis had a good rookie season and was okay in his second year, but he could stand to improve and probably will. Those three I was correct about. Brown is the blemish, turning out as a bust for Baltimore. Jack was up and down for the Jaguars but is rounding into a solid pro. After only one season, you can’t make any judgments on Edmunds.

With the way that Allen has developed over his past two seasons at Kentucky, he could be one of the safer players in the 2019 NFL Draft. Allen is a do-it-all defender who carried the Wildcats to a big year for the program in 2018. He was a dominant pass-rusher and a steady run defender, plus made some huge clutch plays in pass coverage. In 2018, Allen totaled 88 tackles with 21.5 tackles for a loss, 17 sacks, five forced fumbles and four passes batted. That came after an impressive junior with seven sacks, 65 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and three passes batted.

With his speed, athleticism, size, strength and length, Allen (6-4, 262) has the potential to be an impactful edge defender with double-digit sack potential as a pro. He also is a good run defender who is capable of contributing in pass coverage.

Biggest Bust Potential: Jachai Polite, Florida
Previous Picks:
2018: Lorenzo Carter
2017: Haason Reddick
2016: Kamalei Correa
2015: Randy Gregory
2014: Dee Ford
2013: Chase Thomas

One can’t make any judgements on Carter after one year, but he had a solid rookie debut. The jury is also still out on Reddick, although the early returns aren’t good. Considering Arizona’s recent track record with Robert Nkemdiche and D.J. Humphries, the franchse has to be concerned that it reached again on a great athlete who isn’t a good NFL player. I was right about Kamalei Correa, who was a bust for Baltimore. Dee Ford had a good 2016 season, but his other three seasons were underwhelming before playing better in his contract year. Still, Ford probably wouldn’t count as a bust given that the Chiefs were able to trade him away and the 49ers gave him a big contract. I was correct on Randy Gregory and Chase Thomas, but Thomas wasn’t an early-round pick, so he really doesn’t count as a bust.

I love Polite as a player and have been high on him throughout the 2019 draft process, including him being a mainstay in the top 10 of my big board. However, Polite has major bust potential because of off-the-field issues. He quit on his team in 2017, quit on his workouts at both his pro day and the combine, plus has issues that could lead to suspensions in the NFL. As a player, Polite is a dynamic pass-rusher who is a natural quarterback hunter. His character issues, however, could cause him to bust in the NFL, and that is why he has slid from being a projected top-16 pick to the middle of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Outside Linebacker Rankings by Attributes

Pass Coverage:
NFL prototype: Lavonte David, Buccaneers
  1. Josh Allen
  2. Terrill Hanks
  3. Vosean Joseph
  4. D’Andre Walker
  5. Montez Sweat
  6. Brian Burns
  7. Jachai Polite
  8. Chase Winovich

Recap: The NFL is all about the passing offense, so linebackers must be be an asset at defending the aerial attack. Defensive coordinators want linebackers who function well in space and cover a lot of ground. They have to have good instincts and anticipate the routes that are coming their direction. Linebackers also need to function well in zone and have the ability to quickly get deep in their drops. Those who can play man coverage on running backs and tight ends are in serious demand.

Overall, this group of outside linebackers has no standouts in pass coverage as the majority were used as pass-rushers in college. In pass coverage, Allen showed serious improvement as a senior, as his pass breakups were huge plays to lead Kentucky to a road upset over Florida. Allen shows a nice ability to function in space, quality instincts, and fluid athleticism to cover. He has the skill set to cover with good speed, athleticism and length. In time, Allen could end up being an asset to help cover receiving tight ends and backs out of the backfield, but in the NFL, he will be mostly rushing the quarterback.

Hanks has some limitations for pass coverage. New Mexico State did not do him any favors by having him play some slot cornerback. Hanks’ stiffness and average instincts hurt his ability to cover. As a pro, he could be limited to just playing zone coverage in the underneath part of the field.

Joseph and Walker could contribute in pass coverage in the NFL. Joseph was similar in doing it on a limited basis, but Joseph has the skill set to develop into a pass-coverage linebacker. He has the speed and athleticism to cover backs, tight ends, and defend the middle of the field. However, Joseph will need development there. Walker showed some ability to function in space as a zone defender. He can drop some in coverage and help defend the short middle part of the field.

Sweat, Burns, Polite and Winovich were edge rushers in college who will need development for dropping in coverage in the NFL. That may not happen though, as all four of those players will get drafted to be pass-rushers for their NFL teams.

Pass Rush:
NFL prototype: Von Miller, Broncos
  1. Josh Allen
  2. Montez Sweat
  3. Jachai Polite
  4. Brian Burns
  5. Chase Winovich
  6. D’Andre Walker
  7. Vosean Joseph
  8. Terrill Hanks

Recap: This is a talented group of edge rushers but Allen is the best. The first thing that stands out about Allen is how dangerous he is as an edge rusher with his natural feel and nose for the quarterback. He is very fast off the edge with a quick first-step and serious speed to run the loop around the corner. Allen has a nice ability to bend and quick feet to cut around blockers. Offensive tackles can really struggle to get their hands on him and lock him up. In the pass rush, Allen has a speed-based set of pass-rushing moves. He uses a spin move, speed around the corner, some speed to power, and rushes to the inside. He also is versatile to put his hand on the ground, stand up over the tackle, or blitz up the middle. On top of getting to the quarterback, Allen creates a lot of pressures while creating sacks for his teammates.

Sweat is a dangerous pass-rusher who shows good instincts and natural feel on the edge. He has good play recognition and uses his instincts to get in the right position to affect the quarterback or disrupt plays. For a tall defender, Sweat has a nice ability to redirect, and he uses that to get after the quarterback or defend the perimeter. As a pure pass-rusher, Sweat is quick off the edge with the speed to turn the corner and run around offensive tackles. One of his most impressive traits is his active hands to fight off blocks while using his feet at the same time. Sweat has some functional strength that he uses to get off blocks and shows impressive hand placement to get under the pads of blockers or rip them away from him. Sweat’s excellent length helps him to do that and also makes it harder for offensive tackles to get into his chest. Once he gets free, Sweat has a burst to close on the quarterback. He also gives a second effort and will continue to fight if he’s initially blocked. For taking on NFL offensive tackles, Sweat could use more pass-rushing moves. He should add a spin and rip move to go with his speed or power rushes.

As an edge defender, Polite has huge potential in terms of excellent instincts and physical tools. He has the skill set to be an annual double-digit sack producer in the NFL if he commits himself to working hard and being the best he can be. As a pure pass-rusher, Polite is fast off the edge with an excellent first-step and the speed to turn the corner while darting by offensive tackles. On top of his ability to fire off the snap and flat out run by tackles, he has a second gear with impressive closing speed to finish plays. Polite also shows an inside counter move that makes it hard on tackles to commit to just trying to stop his speed rush around the corner. Polite has a the potential for a repertoire of moves with a spin move and an ability to dip under blockers. When he gets there, Polite is physical, putting quarterbacks and running backs down hard into the turf. Polite has good instincts to go for the strip and good awareness to adjust to scrambling quarterbacks.

In the pass rush, Burns is very talented, and he could produce a lot of double-digit sack seasons in the NFL. Off the snap, Burns has an explosive first-step quickness. He is fast to turn the corner and just flat runs by tackles with pure speed. Burns has a long frame, but shows some nice ability to bend around the edge. He can dip underneath blockers and has a burst to close that makes it difficult for tackles to recover against him. For the NFL, Burns could use more pass-rushing moves. Featuring more spins, cuts to the inside, and rip moves would help him when he takes on better competition who won’t be beaten by just a speed rush. As a junior, Burns flashed the potential for a repertoire of moves, and he just needs to continue to work on it for pro offensive tackles.

Winovich is fast off the edge and has a low center of gravity to dip under edge blockers. He had 13 sacks over the past two seasons and applied steady pressure on the quarterback. In the NFL, Winovich should be a solid edge rusher if he can keep himself on rosters, because his personality issues might be problematic for him sticking.

Walker is a quick edge rusher who gets physical with tackles. He can use speed around the corner and is able to fight through blocks. He totaeled 7.5 sacks last year and could be a contributing rusher in the NFL.

Joseph was a dangerous blitzer for the Gators in 2018, using his dynamic speed to fly into the backfield and close in an instant. Given his size, he may not rush a lot in the NFL, but he could contribute to the pass rush in an occasional blitzing role. Hanks is similar in that he has some blitzing skills to contribute in the NFL, but that won’t be a typical way he is utilized.

Run Defense:
NFL prototype: Lavonte David, Buccaneers
  1. Josh Allen
  2. Chase Winovich
  3. Montez Sweat
  4. Terrill Hanks
  5. Vosean Joseph
  6. Brian Burns
  7. D’Andre Walker
  8. Jachai Polite

Recap: In the ground game, Allen is a solid defender. He has good instincts, reads his keys well, and consistently is around the ball. Allen uses his speed to chase down backs and flows quickly to the ball. He is fast to the perimeter and is a good tackler in space. For the NFL, Allen could stand to get better at taking on blocks from offensive linemen, but he was stronger and showed improvement in this regard as a senior. He can get covered up and pushed back on runs coming straight downhill at him, but he was much better last year, so if he continues that level of improvement, he should be an asset in run defense during his NFL career.

Winovich is a tough run defender despite being undersized. He has some issues with length and runs coming downhill at him, but in the NFL, he probably will be an outside linebacker, which will cut down on some of the blocks he has to take on from offensive linemen. At 6-foot-2, 258 pounds, Winovich is too undersized to be a base end. As a Sam – strong side – outside linebacker in a 4-3 or as a 3-4 edge rusher, Winovich should be a solid run defender.

As a run defender, Sweat sets the edge better than one would expect for a 241-pound edge defender. He uses his functional strength to stand up offensive linemen and does a nice job of stringing out perimeter runs to the sideline. Still, there were times where Sweat’s lack of weight were problems, letting him be knocked on the ground and pushed out of his gap. Thus if he stays in a 4-3 defense in the NFL, he should add more weight to his frame to hold up as a base end or outside linebacker.

Hanks is tough at the point of attack in run defense. He uses his size to take on blocks and is able to get free of them to chase down ball-carriers. Hanks has the straight-line speed to get to the perimeter and defend runs to the outside. His instincts are rather average, but once Hanks recognizes the play, he is quick to close on ball-carriers.

Joseph is a fast pursuit Will – weak side – linebacker who can go from sideline to sideline in a blur, but he will have issues defending downhill runs straight at him in the NFL. Team sources say that Joseph is a tough football player, but one who needs to get bigger and stronger before be can compete to be an every-down starter as a pro.

As a run defender, Burns is much better in pursuit, where he can use his speed and athleticism to chase down ball-carriers. Burns is agile to work through trash and get to backs. He has good vision with read-and-react skills to get in position to make plays. There is no doubt that Burns is going to need to add weight and strength for the NFL. Against pro offensive linemen, he is going to have problems holding up against downhill runs coming straight at him. Burns has gained some weight, but he needs to gain a lot more. Luckily for him, he has the frame to do it, so it is possible that he fills out as he as he ages and gets experience in a pro strength and conditioning program. However entering the NFL, Burns is a liability in run support.

Walker flashed some run defense at times, but he was generally quiet in the ground game while at Georgia, and he didn’t total 100 tackles over the past two seasons, combined. As a pro, Walker needs to do a better job of getting off blocks and getting in on tackles.

As a run defender, Polite is just okay. He flashed sometime, but at other times, he has seemed not that interested and did not appear to go all out. Some team sources say that they put in his report that he doesn’t always want to play against the run. That meshes with the personality and work ethic he has displayed throughout the pre-draft process.

NFL prototype: K.J. Wright, Seahawks
  1. Josh Allen
  2. Chase Winovich
  3. Terrill Hanks
  4. Montez Sweat
  5. Jachai Polite
  6. Vosean Joseph
  7. D’Andre Walker
  8. Brian Burns

Recap: Allen is the best tackler in the class, as he is reliable in taking ball-carriers to the ground when he gets a hold of them. He chased down fast runners and held his ground on power backs with good technique.

Winovich is a good tackler who wraps up and gets running backs to the ground when he gets a hold of them. Hanks was a reliable tackler at New Mexico State, and he has the strength to get big backs on the ground. Sweat is a solid tackler when he gets a hold of a back. He does a nice job of taking ball-carriers.

The Gator defenders can be hit and miss in tackling at times, but both of them flash the ability to get violent. Polite will put ball-carriers to the turf hard and rip them to the ground. Joseph dished out some devastating hits and is a violent tackler. He has a real physical presence despite being undersized. Both of them need to become more consistent.

Walker was a quality tackler for Georgia. Burns was a drag-down tackler at Florida State in part because he lacked strength and weight. He has added weight, but his drag-down tackling could be problematic in the NFL. As a pro, Burns probably will have some struggles in getting some power backs and big quarterbacks to the ground.

Shedding Blocks:
NFL prototype: K.J. Wright, Seahawks
  1. Josh Allen
  2. Montez Sweat
  3. Jachai Polite
  4. Chase Winovich
  5. D’Andre Walker
  6. Brian Burns
  7. Terrill Hanks
  8. Vosean Joseph

Recap: Allen is very adept at shedding blocks. He uses his strength and length to disengage and then his explosive speed to dart away.

Sweat, Polite and Winovich were good at getting off blocks when it came to rushing the passer. However, they all could stand to get better at shedding blocks in the ground game for the NFL. Walker has the ability to get off blocks, but never did it consistently.

Burns can get covered up by offensive linemen and struggle to get off their blocks. He has added weight since the end of the college football season, so that could help him to improve in this regard. Hanks and Joseph are going to need to develop their ability to get off blocks for the NFL.

Splash Plays:
NFL prototype: Von Miller, Broncos
  1. Josh Allen
  2. Terrill Hanks
  3. Jachai Polite
  4. Brian Burns
  5. D’Andre Walker
  6. Montez Sweat
  7. Chase Winovich
  8. Vosean Joseph

Recap: NFL coaches love players who can take the ball away. It is a great equalizer against high-powered offenses, and they directly lead to victories.

Allen was a splash-play machine for Kentucky last year, notching 17 sacks and five forced fumbles along with some huge passes defended. This group could produce some good splash play defenders, but Allen is the best in this regard heading into the next level. Over his career at Kentucky, Allen produced 11 forced fumbles and did it in clutch situations as well.

Hanks impressed against a weaker level of competition, so one would expect that he should have some more numbers given the caliber of players he went against. That being said, Hanks produced a lot of splash plays during his career, including six forced fumbles and eight interceptions. He had a knack for getting in on turnovers, and if he can replicate that in the NFL, he will have an excellent career.

Polite was phenomenal last year in going for the strip sack, as he totaled six forced fumbles and came close on a number of other plays. Polite has good instincts to go for the strip, the awareness to adjust to scrambling quarterbacks, and an ability to redirect. Polite is very cognizant to try to knock the ball out when he gets close to the quarterback, even if he can’t wrap them up for a tackle.

Burns is similar, as he had seven forced fumbles over the past three years. He goes for the strip-sack and makes a play for the ball. Walker had some huge plays for the Georgia defense in 2018, including some clutch sacks and four forced fumbles. It was a big jump for him, so he could have play-making upside for the NFL.

Sweat had only one forced fumble over the past two seasons, which is surprising considering he had 22 sacks over that span. Sweat should work on his ability to create turnovers, but he has the potential to improve in the NFL.

Winovich had some clutch sacks for Michigan, but he still never had a double-digit sack season and totaled only three forced fumbles over three seasons. In 2018, Joseph made some splash plays for the Gator defense, but he only had one forced fumble and one interception during his collegiate career – both came in 2017.

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