Now that the third day of the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine has come to a close, we should have a pretty good grasp on where most of the players in the 2019 NFL Draft are as athletes. While we patiently await the fourth day, which will be littered with defensive backs, I began to think to myself.
What was I thinking about?
It wasn’t about Kyler Murray being the first pick of the draft. No, it was actually about the gap that is between two talented linebackers, Devin Bush and Devin White, “the two Devins.” Despite having the defensive tackles and edge rushers light up the third day, there were plenty of linebackers that turned heads at the event. However, LB1 and LB2 were the primary focus of the group.
In every drill they did, they were making quite the splash. But how big of a splash did Devin White make to separate himself from everyone else in the group? How much noise did Devin Bush make to put himself in the running as the top linebacker of the 2019 NFL Draft?
Devin White, LB, LSU, (Junior, 6’1″ and 237 pounds)
No doubt about it, Devin White is one of the most athletically gifted players in this draft. I think he’s going to have a long career and should fill a huge need for any team that selects him. At the Combine, he posted a 40-time of 4.42 seconds and had a vertical jump of 39.5 inches. More importantly, he posted good numbers in the agility drills, with a 20-yard shuttle time of 4.17 seconds and a 3 cone drill of 7.07 seconds.
Going into this weekend, the numbers really weren’t going to be a question. They were expected. On the field, that’s where some question marks arise.
Let’s start with getting a feel for blocks and shedding them. On the play above, you can see White (LB 40) getting into the A-gap, but look at where his pad level is. It’s much higher than the left guard, and rather than reading the block and getting square, his feet get narrow and he gets thrown off his base and into the dirt. These plays don’t happen all the time, but it’s certainly concerning for a player that’s been discussed in the top-10 of the draft.
One of the biggest concerns with White is that he’s struggled with mental processing. There are plenty of plays where it looks like he’s guessing and not actually reading what’s developing in front of him. On the play above, he starts to flow to his left (our right), then he plants and changes direction to his right. Getting through the arms of the offensive lineman, he does a pretty good job, but look at how little control he has. He doesn’t break down fast enough and doesn’t stay square when approaching the running back. This allows the running back to get around him with ease, and it’s a bad look on the linebacker.
I don't have questions on Devin White and his ability to go sideline-to-sideline. The range is certainly there. He just has to show improvements within his mental processing and ability to shed blocks. Here's an example of him getting on his horse (yes, I know what I did there) pic.twitter.com/uBuNNDFuEd— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) February 6, 2019
It’s not all bad, though. Again, it’s clear that White has the athletic ability to succeed at the next level. He flashes the range to get from sideline to sideline. In fact, he led all SEC linebackers with making first contact on the ball carrier on 92 snaps this season (per Pro Football Focus). That will be needed in today’s NFL. The play above is a perfect example of him giving tremendous effort to make a key stop in the red zone. Teams will love this type of effort and pursuit on a toss play like this one.
Devin Bush, LB, Michigan, (Junior, 5’11” and 234 pounds)
Going into the Combine, the two biggest question marks with Devin Bush were his size and his health. To end his junior season, he was hampered by lower body injuries and was considered to be undersized, despite being listed 5’11” and 233 pounds on the Michigan website.
Out of all of the linebackers, nobody helped their draft stock more at the Combine than Bush. He started the day with a vertical jump of 40.5 inches but topped that by showing his straight speed of 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash. During the agility drills, he showed that he’s got the hip fluidity needed to change direction. He ran the 3 cone drill in 6.93 seconds and posted a 20-yard shuttle time of 4.23 seconds. Seeing Bush have the ability to flip his hips shouldn’t come as a surprise, though.
On the play above, you can see Devin Bush pursue to the football with good bend and hip fluidity. Once he gets through the LOS, he quickly opens his hips towards the direction of the ball carrier and bends down the LOS to assist with the tackle. These are plays that he contributed frequently for the Wolverines.
I’m not going to say that Devin Bush is perfect in coverage, but he’s far from poor. Michigan shows man coverage to the trips side of the empty set. Bush is locked in man, and if it was zone coverage, you’d see Bush taking the first receiver in, and the cornerback on the outside of Bush would take the first receiver out. That isn’t the case, and Bush trails within his coverage. He does a good job closing on the receiver and displays solid form when tackling.
Lastly, take a look at the play above, where Devin Bush does a great job in every aspect of what a linebacker needs to do. Starting with the play recognition, he does a great job reading the screen pass the entire way. Meanwhile, look at that range and closing speed. This is a terrific job by Bush.
Closing the Gap
There won’t be much bashing on either one of these players from me. They play incredibly hard and are extremely gifted athletes. Their numbers from the Combine speak for themselves. However, with some of the flaws in the game of Devin White, he’s closer to the 15th spot on my big board than being comfortably placed in my top-10.
Much like every position, there’s a gap between one player and the next. In regards to LB1 and LB2, the gap between these two linebackers is nearly negligible. We all have Devin White as our top linebacker, but it’s pretty obvious that Devin Bush isn’t too far behind. Between the film and the athletic testing, Bush will be around a top-20 player on my board, and that’ll keep the gap between him and White smaller than originally anticipated.