The mystery regarding who will be the first inside linebacker selected in the 2022 NFL Draft continues. Utah's Devin Lloyd and Georgia's Nakobe Dean are largely considered the top two contenders. Lloyd is a hard-nosed, throwback thumper with more athletic ability than he typically receives credit. Dean is an uber-athletic three-down linebacker with sideline-to-sideline range. Teams who are interested in bolstering their linebacker corps during this week's draft will likely have to sacrifice their first-round selection if they're hoping to secure Dean or Lloyd's services.
NFL franchises that are hoping to improve their current group of linebackers without using their first-round pick on the position are in luck. The 2022 NFL Draft is loaded with inside linebacker talent throughout all seven rounds. This year's draft class has earned a reputation for being of the weaker variety when compared to last year's crop of rookies, but the group of linebackers specifically may be stronger and deeper than last year's class. Teams will have an opportunity to select talented linebackers in the later rounds.
With our eyes firmly pointed towards the 2022 NFL Draft, we've identified three inside linebackers that represent excellent value on Days 2 and 3.
CHAD MUMA, WYOMING
Wyoming's Chad Muma marries desired athletic ability with the kind of advanced instincts that are rarely found at the collegiate level. On tape, Muma is an excellent run defender that reads opposing offenses with relative ease. Once Muma quickly diagnoses, he locates the football and has the abilities necessary to trigger downhill. Muma meets would-be blockers with the sheer strength required to deconstruct and defeat blocks. Plus, he’s an outstanding tackler whether he's in the box or tasked with playing out in space.
Muma then traveled to the NFL Scouting Combine and showcased true three-down athletic ability. The 6-foot-3, 239-pound Lone Tree, Col. native ran the 40-yard dash in a respectable 4.63 seconds after leaping a 40-inch vertical and 129-inch broad jump. Muma is athletic and smart enough to thrive in coverage. His spatial awareness and instincts allow him to disrupt throwing lanes. Muma carries true three-down value at the next level. Muma has received significant interest throughout the pre-draft process. We wouldn't be surprised if he was drafted in the second or third round.
DAMONE CLARK, LSU
Damone Clark is unfortunately expected to miss his entire rookie campaign due to spinal fusion surgery to correct a previously suffered herniated disk. Clark is expected to make a full recovery in time for the 2023 season. Whichever franchise is willing to draft-and-stash Clark may be rewarded with the services of a high-quality starting linebacker. Prior to news surfacing regarding Clark's injury, I had a second-round evaluation on Clark. He’ll likely get drafted much later than that now. I maintain strong faith in his long-term projection.
Clark was a team captain for the Tigers and he certainly led by example. Clark experienced an electric 2021 campaign by recording 100 tackles and 5.0 sacks. Clark is an exceptional athlete with the sideline-to-sideline ability necessary to cover every blade of grass. The Baton Rouge, La. native routinely displays an infectious amount of hustle and energy as a relentless pursuer of the football. Clark was healthy enough to participate at the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this year, and his results turned heads. A 4.57 in the 40-yard dash is an elite result from a defender at the linebacker position. A 36.5-inch vertical and 127-inch broad jump further cemented Clark's desired athletic profile.
DARRIAN BEAVERS, CINCINNATI
A standout on an excellent defense that helped the program defy the odds by reaching college football's four-team playoff, Cincinnati's Darrian Beavers is a highly physical and aggressive linebacker prospect. Luke Fickell's defense was littered with NFL-worthy playmakers and Beavers still managed to routinely stick out on tape. The Bearcats ran a multiple defensive front and Beavers was versatile enough to move all over their formation, including garnering some snaps on the outside in 3-4 looks. Like the majority of Cincinnati's defenders, Beavers possesses an advanced mind and his football I.Q. allowed him to consistently make impact plays in the running game.
Beavers is a 6-foot-4, 237-pound muscular prospect that has the desired mass, length and raw power to truly thrive at the next level. Beavers was a constant tone-setter for Cincinnati. Furthermore, the ability to play on all four phases of special teams is often viewed as the most straightforward path for a rookie to get himself on the field and earn the trust of his new coaching staff. Beavers should quickly become a core special-teamer in the NFL before eventually earning early-down defensive snaps.