Defensive Line and Linebacker Observations At 2020 NFL Combine

Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — With the offensive side of the ball officially in the books at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, it was time for the defensive prospects to grace the field inside of Lucas Oil Stadium. 

Outside of the quarterbacks, the top of the draft is expected to be littered with prospects on the defensive side. There’s a lot of excitement about the defensive line and linebackers in this draft class. 

Both groups proved their worth Saturday from Derrick Brown to Kenneth Murray, there were plenty of “oohs and aahs” as the groups competed during the waning moments of the combine.

Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson

There are plenty of prospects that scouts were looking forward to watching, but none more than Isaiah Simmons. The former Clemson is expected to test otherworldly at the next level and easily lived to the hype. After running a 4.39-second 40-yard dash time and leaping 39 inches in the vertical jump, Simmons firmly secured himself as a top-10 selection. 

The New York Giants, who hold the fourth-overall pick, have a need at linebacker after releasing Alec Ogletree, and there’s some serious consideration that Simmons could land there. Their defense has struggled to find its way for multiple seasons, adding an athletic do-it-all hybrid piece like him could go a long way for the team to establish an identity on the defensive side.

Willie Gay Jr., LB, Mississippi State

The SEC is always known for its overall talent, but Mississippi State has quietly been a school that has churned out talent yearly. Cornerback Cameron Dantzler has received most of the attention leading up to the draft, but it was Willie Gay Jr. who stole the show at the combine. At 6-foot-1, 243 pounds, he ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash.

That speed itself will catch the eye of many, but even though he has abnormal athleticism, he does come with red flags. Prior to the Music City Bowl in December, the Bulldogs linebacker allegedly punched starting quarterback Garrett Shrader in the jaw and left him with a cracked orbital bone. Something like will always be a red flag to many and I’m sure teams have done their homework regarding the altercation. Gay was surely asked about that during his team meetings, we’ll have to wait and see how much it affects his draft stock.

Logan Wilson, LB, Wyoming

There’s always a small-school linebacker that remains under the radar and goes on to light it up the combine. They eventually, usually, have an excellent NFL career. This year, that candidate is Logan Wilson.

He recorded 421 career tackles at Wyoming and already had plenty of buzz coming into the week, but it was the testing that everyone wanted to see. He checked those boxes quickly. Wilson ran a 4.63-second 40-yard dash positioned himself to possibly be a second-day selection.

Justin Madubuike, IDL, Texas A&M

We’re always waiting for a player to separate themselves from the pack, especially when there’s a group of players that are cluttered in the same tier. With the interior defensive line group, the top-tier is headlined by Brown and Javon Kinlaw, but the second tier is a jumble of names. Ross Blacklock, Jordan Elliott, Neville Gallimore and Justin Madubuike were the four names that were seen as the prospects at that level.

However, it was the former Texas A&M interior defender that distanced himself from the rest during the on-field portions of the combine.

Madubuike at 6-foot-30inches, 293 pounds ran a 4.83-second 40-yard dash and 7.37-second 3-cone drill. By recording those, he firmly put himself into considerations as a top-50 selection.

Khalil Davis, IDL, Nebraska

It seemed as if the entire Nebraska defense was in Indianapolis — and for good reason. But the standout performer among all of them all was the eldest, Khalil Davis. As a former track athlete, his easy movement skills were obvious when going through drills and testing. Prospects of his size don’t normally move as fast as he was moving Saturday.

He clocked a 4.75-second 40-yard dash and shocked some, but there were others who had their stopwatches out for him knowing he might hit that time. Of any defensive line prospect, he’s the one that evaluators will be running back to watch the tape on. 

Written By:

Jordan Reid

Senior NFL Draft Analyst

Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-Founder of Former QB and Coach at North Carolina Central Univ.