This is the sixth in a series of position previews for the 2020 NFL draft, which runs Thursday to Saturday. Today: linebackers. Read them all here.
OLB Isaiah Simmon, Clemson: Considered one of the top three defenders in the draft, this freakishly multidimensional talent isn’t expected to last beyond the seventh pick. A 6-4, 238-pounder who can tackle and cover with 4.39 speed, Simmons is a dream hybrid for defensive coaches looking to maximize an athlete who some think has the ability to morph into a wide array of positions. At Clemson, he excelled no matter where he lined up or what he was asked to do. Last season, according to Pro Football Focus, Simmons lined up on the line 116 times, in the slot 262 times and at free safety 132 times.
ILB Patrick Queen, LSU: Some analysts rank him as the top inside linebacker available. He’s not big at 6-foot, 229 pounds, but his speed, instincts and ability to cover make him the kind of inside backer teams need while facing today’s offenses. Probably a Day 2 pick, Queen doesn’t have a lot of tape to look at before last season. He played sparingly until helping LSU win the national championship last season.
ILB Jacob Phillips, LSU: Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman has taken a linebacker in the seventh round seven times in the eight drafts since being given the final say on personnel moves. That includes 2016, when he picked Stephen Weatherly, a Vanderbilt linebacker who became a defensive end. Phillips could be someone to watch this year. Playing alongside Queen, the 6-3, 229-pounder had a team-high 113 tackles while starting all 15 games during LSU’s national championship season a year ago. Phillips probably wouldn’t contribute much on defense right away, but he has the speed and athleticism the Vikings covet for their special teams when they’re picking players in the seventh round.
OLB Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois: Billed as a poor man’s Simmons, this hybrid FCS defender comes from a similar mold that teams covet. He’s 6-3, 221 pounds with 4.45 speed. He can play weakside linebacker, safety and big nickel. The concern, of course, is the small-school tape. He should be a Day 2 pick, but could slip into Day 3.
Eric Kendricks was the best middle linebacker in the NFL last year. Anthony Barr’s versatile skill set is highly valued by coach Mike Zimmer, even though it doesn’t flash in ways many outsiders expect from someone whose cap number has reached $12.7 million. Both players are only 28 as they enter their sixth season as NFL teammates and three-down backers in Zimmer’s defense. Ben Gedeon, a little-used starter in the base 4-3 defense, missed half of last season because of concussions. His future is uncertain. But Eric Wilson stepped in with six starts while playing a career-high 35% of the defensive snaps. One of the best athletes on the team, the former undrafted player continues to rise as a special teams leader and versatile weapon in Zimmer’s defensive schemes. Cameron Smith, a fifth-round draft pick a year ago, adds depth in the middle. The Vikings also turned to the XFL for depth when they signed DeMarquis Gates this spring.
VIKINGS' LEVEL OF NEED
Low: The depth of this year’s field of linebackers is much better than last year’s weak crop. But the Vikings probably won’t be tempted to take a linebacker until Day 3, when their board lines up with down-the-line needs for depth and special teams prospects.