LB2: Drew Sanders (Arkansas)
Drew Sanders is unlike any projection I’ve made in my short career as an NFL Draft analyst. He began at Alabama as a five-star pass rusher, but due to a combination of injuries and a lack of playing time, Sanders moved further west in the SEC and linked up with the Arkansas Razorbacks.
With Arkansas, Sanders took on an entirely different role. Rather than being a full-time rusher off the edge, the uber-talented defender became one of the best off-ball linebackers in the country. He still flexed his untapped potential as a pass rusher by bringing the quarterback down 11 times, including 25 hurries.
On top of being an effective rusher, Sanders showed the full capability of handling linebacker duties. He boasts ideal size and is a freaky athlete considering this. Sanders is as fluid of a mover as there is in the class, and he uses this trait to chase down ball carriers and hound pass catchers over the middle.
Now, some concerns must be addressed. First, Sanders only has one season of elite production. I trust the tape, but some teams shy away from grading a prospect high if a limited amount of tape is available. Additionally, Sanders, although strong, does not play as strong as he could. Too often, he gives up leverage when engaged and is taken out of the play completely.
He is another prospect that needs a plan early in his career. Sanders will develop into a top-tier linebacker in the NFL, but there just might be some growing pains in year one as he adapts to the speed of the game and his added responsibilities as a linebacker.
NFL Draft Grade: Fringe Day 1
LB1: Jack Campbell (Iowa)
The best linebacker in the 2023 NFL Draft is also the most prototypical linebacker in the class. Jack Campbell is the definition of middle linebacker; when you look it up in a dictionary, it is just a picture of Campbell.
He is nearly 6-foot-5, weighs 249 pounds, and aced every explosion and agility drill. Want more? Campbell ran a 4.65 40-yard dash, too. Off the field, the Iowa veteran was poised and confident in interviews, while also remaining humble.
In 1,845 snaps since 2021, Campbell racked up 178 tackles, regularly popping up out of nowhere to make a stop. As I said in my scouting report on Campbell, I’ve never watched a player who is always in the right spot at the right time like he is.
These instincts allow Campbell to see plays unfold, and his deceptive agility gives him the range to knock passes down in coverage. Most reports I read state pass coverage as a weakness for Campbell, but it makes me wonder how someone could come to this conclusion given his testing numbers and 92.9 coverage grade in 2022 (the highest among all qualified linebackers).
Campbell is an above-average run stuffer, a borderline elite defender in coverage, and an underutilized pass rusher. His leadership ability is second-to-none, and he will be a force in the middle of the defense for the next 12-15 years. Campbell is an All-Pro MIKE. Stamp it.
NFL Draft Grade: Mid-to-Late Day 1
NFL Draft Honorable Mentions:
Dee Winters (TCU)
SirVocea Dennis (Pittsburgh)
Bumper Pool (Arkansas)
Ventrell Miller (Florida)
Cam Jones (Indiana)
Jeremy Banks (Tennessee)
Anfernee Orji (Vanderbilt)
Charlie Thomas (Georgia Tech)
Carlton Martial (Troy)
Shaka Heyward (Duke)