Linebacker play in the Big 12 is an interesting case study. Defensive coordinators in the conference need their linebackers to be multiple and athletic to slow down the high-powered offenses prevalent in the league, which should project more Big 12 linebackers to the next level. However, Texas product Malik Jefferson has been the only Big 12 linebacker drafted over the past two years.
This is surely to change, as multiple linebackers in the conference appear to be locks to get drafted in 2019.
1. Ty Summers, TCU (6’2, 235)
Ty Summers is a natural athlete who perfectly fits the modern role that defensive coordinators expect out of their linebackers. He’s versatile in the sense that he can play all three linebacker positions, while having a nose for the ball and tracking ball carriers. Summers has produced to the tune of 271 tackles and 6.5 sacks to this point is his career, relying on his discipline and the force he brings as a tackler.
Summers is a well-rounded player with few weaknesses, but the main area in which he can improve is as a finisher. Summers brings a thumping blow as a tackler, but too often fails to wrap the ball carrier and ends up bouncing off running backs with plus contact balance as a result.
With his size, speed, production, and versatility, Summers should be one of the best linebackers in the draft class next season and could potentially finish with a Day 2 grade.
2. Dakota Allen, Texas Tech (6’1, 235)
Dakota Allen is a fan-favorite in the draft community, as a Last Chance U star and one of the few bright lights and likeable personalities from that season. With his off-field mentality on the right track, a lot came together for Allen on the field in 2017. He was voted team-captain and All-Big 12, and will be looking to refine his game and improve his draft stock in his Senior season.
Allen is a quick processor and blitzer, flying downhill with physicality and making plays near the line of scrimmage. He is solid while making tackles, giving minimal ground on a consistent basis. Allen is a rangy player who relentlessly works on the field.
Allen’s major area of weakness is the way he takes on blocks while moving laterally, sifting through the trash, and seeing blockers movements as the play develops. Allen is missing major block destruction moves and struggles to read and take on zone blocks.
Allen has an interesting backstory, but I’m willing to bet that NFL teams will look past the mistake he made because of everything he has accomplished off the field since. As a prospect, Allen is easily a draftable player with his processing ability and downhill attack mentality, and could vault himself into the middle rounds of next year’s draft.
3. Joe Dineen Jr., Kansas (6’2, 235)
Joe Dineen Jr. had incredible production for the Kansas Jayhawks in 2017 (133 tackles, 22.0 tackles for loss). However, Dineen Jr. is only an average athlete in comparison to other stand-up linebackers with similar builds. With slightly stiff hips and struggles in pass coverage, he seems pigeon-holed as a traditional stand-up, 2-down linebacker at the next level.
Dineen could thrive in this more limited role at the next level, as he is a powerful penetrator and enforcer on the field. Dineen does a nice job of scraping and filling, and is a sure tackler in space because of the pace and strength in which he gathers his feet.
Dineen possesses a strong, muscular build that will surely entice teams, and could be a mid-round pick if he shows more versatility in 2018.
4. Justin Phillips, Oklahoma State (6’0, 230)
Justin Phillips may be the most intimidating presence over the middle in the entire conference. He lays the wood to crossers, and is a turnover machine to ball carriers who enter his space. Phillips accelerates out of his stance well, which allows him to fill gaps despite larger offensive lineman. Phillips is tough and competes on every down, and is a sound tackler with proper technique.
Where Phillips can improve are his angles in which he flows to the ball. Too often he can over-pursue, or be slowed down by interior offensive lineman that Phillips struggles to shed. Phillips needs refinement in order to stay on the field as a three-down player, lacking pass rush counters to generate consistent pressure while also missing the instincts to play zone or fluidity to play man coverage.
Phillips has the traits of a draftable linebacker, but the areas in which he needs to improve are becoming increasingly valuable for NFL teams. He will need to refine his ability either as a pass rusher or in pass coverage to guarantee he is drafted.
5. David Long, West Virginia (5’11, 225)
David Long is another fast processor who thrives when attacking downhill towards the line of scrimmage. Long does a great job of taking on blocks with a sturdy base and half of his body free. He is a quick gap plugger, has a nose for the ball, and has a hot motor. Long will consistently alter the course of running plays when he’s able to attack downhill, and reads pullers’ hip pockets well.
Long struggles to scrape and maintain leverage and will too often only slow the ball carrier’s run and not finish the tackle. Long is susceptible to poor angles and an inability to destruct blocks. Though Long is physical with his re-routes, he can too often be lost in pass coverage and lunge and whiff on a receiver.
Like Phillips, Long has the traits to suggest a potential NFL linebacker, but he will need to prove himself as a 3-down player in 2018 in order to earn a draftable grade.