The 2023 NFL Combine opened its on-field drills on Thursday, starting with the defensive linemen and linebacker groups. As is tradition, one group began by running the 40-yard dash, then shifted into position drills, while another group completed agility drills and measured jumps.
While the measurable numbers from the skill drills are slowly being released, let’s take a close look at the linebackers who stood out.
Note: Some edge rushers that project to the SAM role (i.e James Houston), were grouped with the linebackers at the Combine and are included in this article.
Pass rushing linebackers
Will Anderson, Alabama 6-foot-3 1/2, 253
40-yard dash/10-yard split: 4.6/1.61
Anderson attacked the drills with the ferocity that you would expect in a potential top-five pick. He looked aggressive and purposeful in the edge rusher drills, yet smooth in the off-the-ball linebacker drills that would make you wonder if he could situationally drop into coverage. Athleticism box: checked.
Yassir Abdullah, Louisville, 6-foot-1, 237
Things looked easy for Abdullah on the field and he moved laterally as well as the off-the-ball prospects. A lot of the movements that led me to call him a James Houston-type player were visible at the Combine as well. I’m still very much a fan.
Daiyan Henley, Washington State, 6-foot-1, 225
One of the big winners of the day, Henley showed consistent positive performances in every linebacker drill. His lateral movement looked elite, he made quick transitions between movements, showed rapid acceleration, and attacked the bags in drills, delivering strong blows. In coverage, he dropped with easy movement, almost gliding across the field. He was smooth the whole way. Stock way up.
Drew Sanders, Arkansas, 6-foot-4 1/2, 235
I really wish Sanders would have run because it could have been the cherry on top of an otherwise terrific performance. Sanders looks like he can do it all. He drops with ease into coverage, accelerates upfield with elite quickness, and can pass rush with aggression. With his size/athleticism combination, he’s a Day 1 starter.
Trenton Simpson, Clemson, 6-foot-2 1/2, 235
Simpson checked a lot of boxes, showing silky smooth lateral movement, the ability to drop quickly and change direction without losing speed, and he attacked the ball with purpose. I was previously quick to dismiss Simpson as a potential rookie starter but his combination of talents could put him in the mix for a starting WILL role with the right team.
Jack Campbell, Iowa, 6-foot-5, 249
40: 4.65, 3-cone: 6.74
Campbell ran a pretty average 40-yard dash time, which honestly lines up with his game film, but he was smooth in drills, showing the ability to use length, and displaying quick feet. Those quick-footed movements were further confirmed by his 3-cone drill—which measures the ability to change direction at high speeds—which was one of the highest marks we have seen in the past decade and a half at the Combine.
At 6'5/249 lbs— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) March 3, 2023
By far the fastest of the day. 13th fastest among Combine LBs since 2006 https://t.co/vHnOnczlf6
Owen Pappoe, Auburn (6-foot-0, 225) was the fastest linebacker at the Combine, running a 4.39 40-yard-dash and that speed translated over to drills. He moved well most of the day.
Dee Winters, TCU (5-foot-11, 227) is compact but he moves fast (4.49, 40 y/d) and easily. He transitioned well, showing solid balance when moving laterally.
Cam Jones, Indiana (6-foot-1, 226) ran a 4.69 40-yard-dash, but he looked smoother and faster than that measured time during the on-field drills. He is still much better moving forward, but I’ll have a checkmark in my notes to check back on Jones for his pro day.
Noah Sewell, Oregon (6-foot-1 1/2, 246) is a player I really want to like and his 4.64 40-yard dash gave me hope he could take a positive step, but he left me wanting more in drills all day long. One positive thing that I really liked about Sewell was what he did after his turn in the drills, as he routinely cheered on and celebrated with the other participants, showing a high level of character.