There’s nothing worse than putting together a puzzle and realizing you’re missing a couple of pieces. For most NFL draft prospects, this is often the case.
Too small. Not fast enough. Not strong enough. Not smart enough. Not enough production. Injury prone. Questionable character/off-field history.
A lot of teams are able to hide or make due without these pieces and still get production out of the player. In fact, some of the best players from each draft class had missing “puzzle pieces” as prospects coming out of college, but the majority of times, teams simply cannot mask the lack of completeness in a player’s profile, especially from a physical traits perspective.
Conversely, a “complete package” player has all of the tools on and off the field that you look for at their position. One of those players in the 2020 NFL draft class? LSU junior linebacker Jacob Phillips.
At 6’4, 235 pounds, Phillips has excellent size and length. As a run defender, he uses his physical gifts to his advantage extremely well. His combination of length and play strength allows him to have more control at the point of attack, get off blocks quicker, and have a wider tackling radius — all of which you see Phillips do consistently.
As you may already know, cover skills and the ability to move in space are of high importance at the linebacker position in today’s NFL. This is a great example of two things with Phillips: 1) His range in coverage; 2) His 6’4 length, going back to my previous point. Having this kind of athleticism and length in coverage can make a linebacker extremely disruptive at the catch point, and in turn, extremely valuable to a defense. Phillips’ athleticism and cover skills allow for him to be an asset on all three downs.
On this play, Phillips diagnoses the screen quickly, aggressively drives on the ball with a precise angle, and explodes through the receiver. Two things about the linebacker position have not changed since the beginning of football — Instincts and physicality. If you don’t have those two traits, you’re not going to last long at the position. Phillips consistently shows both on tape, and it’s a big reason why he’s LSU top returning tackler heading into this season.
When I watch most linebacker prospects, I often see them either waste their quick mental trigger with lackluster athleticism, or waste their elite athleticism with sluggish processing. So it is rare to see prospects like Jacob Phillips who can blend together both, as you can see on this play. Sure, there are linebackers who can also quickly diagnose this read, but how many of them can capitalize on it? This is why when I continue to watch more of Phillips’ film, I start to realize with my linebacker rankings — Player X isn’t better than Phillips. Player Y also isn’t better as Phillips. I need to move Phillips ahead of those guys.
Despite checking the boxes in size, athleticism, power, mental processing, cover skills, production, durability, and character, LSU linebacker Jacob Phillips is somehow flying under the radar in the media. I can guarantee you this — NFL front offices know exactly how good he is, and other draft analysts are playing catch-up. Replacing Devin White as the shot-caller of the defense this year, look for Phillips to have his breakout year and cement himself as one of the top linebacker prospects eligible for the 2020 NFL draft.