Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley is the best-performing coverage linebacker in the 2023 NFL Draft. Henley was outstanding at this year’s Senior Bowl. Henley shut down running backs throughout one-on-one drills in Mobile. That’s typically a difficult spot for linebackers to be in, but Henley passed that test with flying colors.
A quarterback-turned-linebacker, Henley’s background gives him a unique perspective on how to approach the linebacker position. Henley has a nose for the football as a result. Teams in search of coverage specialists will possess a high grade on Henley. We’ve identified four potential fits for Daiyan Henley.
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
The Raiders were abysmal against the pass last season. An underwhelming linebacker group contributed to their failures. They allowed a 29th-ranked 242.9 passing yards per contest last season. General manager Dave Ziegler hasn’t improved the position through free agency.
Robert Spillane was added via a two-year contract, but Spillane scored a coverage grade of 39.5 from Pro Football Focus last season. Spillane isn’t going to improve Vegas’ coverage unit. Jayon Brown was signed last offseason to be a designated coverage ‘backer, but is currently an unrestricted free agent again and isn’t expected back in Vegas.
This current group is ripe for the picking by high-octane passing offenses like the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers. Playing in the AFC West means Ziegler should draft a coverage specialist. Henley would immediately see the field in Vegas.
The Texans received horrid play from their linebackers last season. Houston’s new regime includes head coach DeMeco Ryans, a defensive-minded leader that experienced an unwavering amount of success as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator. The Texans allowed a 32nd-ranked 170.2 rushing yards per outing in 2022. Ryans won’t stand for that.
Christian Harris struggled mightily as a rookie. Harris scored a run defense grade of 29.1 and a coverage grade of 29.6 from PFF. Denzel Perryman was added in free agency to stabilize the position, but more is needed. Henley has three-down potential as a linebacker that can tackle, run and cover. He’d thrive under Ryans’ tutelage.
The Lions re-signed Alex Anzalone this offseason, but Anzalone has always been more productive when coming downhill as opposed to being assigned coverage duties. Malcolm Rodriguez enjoyed a surprisingly effective rookie season, but opposing quarterbacks enjoyed a passer rating of 109.3 when targeting Rodriguez in coverage. Dan Campbell’s defense could use a coverage-only linebacker.
Depth behind Anzalone and Rodriguez is non-existent. Neither player has earned trust in coverage assignments via sub-package looks. Henley’s explosive skill set would complement what Detroit’s current starters bring to the table.
The Ravens made a big-money move for Roquan Smith at last year’s trade deadline. There are some question marks over who Smith’s long-term running mate will be. General manager Eric DeCosta has until early May to exercise the fifth-year option on former first-round linebacker Patrick Queen.
Queen has enjoyed an up-and-down career. DeCosta may not want to guarantee Queen a sum of $12.7 million in 2024, especially after signing Smith to a $100 million extension. Drafting Henley would add some low-cost insurance to the future outlook of the position.
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