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2022 NFL Combine preview: 12 linebackers the Lions should be watching

Who and what to watch from the linebackers during the 2022 NFL Combine.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 NFL Combine on-field workouts and drills begin on Thursday, March 3 with the offense on display over the first two days. When the weekend arrives, the defense will take the field for their drills. The interior defensive line, edge rushers, and linebackers go through the process on Saturday, March 5, and the defensive backs close out the event on Sunday, March 6.

This is the latest in a series of articles that will explore the participants at the Combine that the Pride of Detroit staff believes the Detroit Lions should keep a close eye on during positional activities. Previously, we reviewed the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, interior defensive line, and EDGE groups.

Next up: Linebackers

Team need

If the season were to start today, the Lions’ starting linebackers would be Derrick Barnes and Josh Woods. Last year's starters, Alex Anzalone and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, are set to be unrestricted free agents, creating the potential for an overhaul of the linebacker room. The Lions need to be aggressive in adding more talent to the group, and that likely means signing a free agent (or two) and also looking to select an impact player (or two) in the draft.

What to watch for

When scouting the linebackers, it’s important to note the significant difference in traits this regime prefers as compared to the past one. Gone are the days of favoring size and ignoring athleticism. In its place is a desire for speed, agility, and explosion.

So, when scouting the linebackers at the Combine, look at a player's lateral movement, which should be smooth and quick. They should be able to process and react to what's happening in front of them, and turn and unlock their hips when dropping into coverage. Their heads should be up at all times, as it helps them identify and flow to the football. Finally, keep an eye on which linebackers participate in EDGE drills at the end of the day, as those hybrid players have value in a hybrid scheme like the Lions.

Now, on to the prospects.

Devin Lloyd, Utah, 6-foot-2, 235

Suggested by Erik

Lloyd and Nakobe Dean will battle it out to be the top linebacker off the board, and what happens at the Combine could be a separator for some teams. Lloyd is a very aggressive player and that should come through in his workouts. Look for him to attack each drill with the same level of intensity he brings with him to games. He probably won’t measure/time better than Dean—which won’t that big of a deal, as he isn’t supposed to—but he needs to shine in his fluidity and reaction time.

Nakobe Dean, Georgia, 6-foot-0, 225

Suggested by Mike and Hamza

Dean should test out as one of the most athletic linebackers at the Combine, as he possesses rare speed and explosiveness. Keep an eye on his impressive foot quickness, lateral mobility, and technical movements during drills. Don’t be surprised if his ability to flip his hips and turn and run makes him look more like a defensive back than a linebacker, because he is that smooth.

Chad Muma, Wyoming, 6-foot-2 12, 241

Suggested by Jeremy and John

Fast, explosive, and instinctual in coverage, Muma is one of my favorite prospects to outproduce his draft slot. He should test well in the measured drills and runs, but his fluidity in drills could really help his case to be selected on Day 2. He is a plug-and-play starter on defense and special teams.

Damone Clark, LSU, 6-foot-2 12, 240

Suggested by Ryan

Clark started at the MIKE on the Lions roster at the Senior Bowl and has a connection to Lions’ outside linebacker coach Kelvin Sheppard, who was on LSU’s staff in 2020. Make no mistake though, if the Lions draft Clark, it won’t be because of his connections, he has very much earned consideration as one of the best linebackers in this class. Highly intelligent, things finally clicked for him in 2021 when he stopped “overthinking” and played more instinctually. He is very athletic for his size and explodes to the ball with exceptional acceleration and speed.

Brandon Smith, Penn State, 6-foot-2 12, 241

Suggested by Morgan

Smith’s going to test extremely well at the Combine, and his high level of athleticism had evaluators excited about what he could do on the field this season. Unfortunately, his elite intangibles never fully translated and he looks like he could slide during the draft. He may walk away as one of the “winners of the Combine” but it’ll be buyer beware come draft time. If teams draft him on Day 2, it’ll be because of his athleticism, banking that they can develop his skills.

Quick thoughts

  • Quay Walker (Georgia, 6-foot-4, 245) is instinctive and fast, but at his height/weight, he can look a bit stiff at times.
  • Channing Tindall (Georgia, 6-foot-1 12, 223) has sideline-to-sideline speed and will chase people down, but he’ll need to show he can do more than just run. He was the other starter on the Lions-coached roster at the Senior Bowl and played the BUCK role.
  • Christian Harris (Alabama, 6-foot-2, 232) is fast and smooth through the hips and can turn and run with running backs and tight ends. His instincts need to improve.
  • Brian Asamoah (Oklahoma, 6-foot, 222) is the smallest of the linebackers profiled on this list, but he has the speed and explosion to warrant consideration as a coverage backer.
  • JoJo Domann (Nebraska, 6-foot-1, 226) is a bulked-up safety with the coverage skills to match. He is an immediate nickel starter who can match up with backs, tight ends, and slot receivers.
  • D’Marco Jackson (Appalachian State, 6-foot, 235) is an excellent coverage backer who has the speed to contribute early in his career as a core special teamer and develop into a starter with time. He could have a similar career arc as Reeves-Maybin.
  • Nephi Sewell (Utah, 6-foot, 228) is the younger brother of Lions’ 2021 first-round pick, Penei, but he’s slightly smaller (five inches shorter and 100 pounds lighter) and will probably end up drafted in the back half of Day 3. A sub-package linebacker (and former safety), Sewell is rangy, can cover, and should be an immediate contributor on special teams.