Engage in head-on collisions at your own risk.
If he catches you square, he’ll put you out. He’s got a massive amount of explosive hitting power in his frame and his ability to blow up ball-carriers should not be overlooked. His ability to flash and react late to cuts is only modest, however, so if you’re willing to play chicken with him and try to bounce late, you may be able to redirect outside of his tackle radius and force a missed challenge.
Play ID helps him navigate and beat blocks despite lack of length.
His ability to key and process back action out of the backfield as his primary read is consistent and helps him build momentum into his challenges and work into the line of scrimmage to play with the kind of big power he creates. I appreciate his effort in navigating the point of attack and ducking under blocks as the playside stack linebacker as well. His vision and feel for turning his back to the quarterback or playing zone coverage in space are not as strong.
Keep him between the tackles for best results but he wins in traffic and clearly has the athletic profile to play MIKE.
You’re not going to want to test his sideline-to-sideline range, but if you ask him to play between the tackles, you’re going to get a heavy hitter. I appreciated some of his reps to anticipate and shoot a gap on stretch concepts—although he was effective here when leveraged as the playside linebacker and when he attempted to assertively claim a gap scraping behind the back, he’d duck under a lineman and lack the burst to realign and accelerate to the ball. This is a stout tackler in traffic, too. He’s done well to keep ball-carriers in the grasp while being leaned on.
Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal developed into one of the most fearsome enforcers in the Big Ten in 2021, offering overwhelming hitting power with very good straight-line acceleration to play in attack mode as a blitz-heavy defender in Jim Leonhard’s defensive system with the Badgers. Wisconsin touted one of the fiercest, stingiest defenses in the country last season with Chenal and fellow linebacker Jack Sanborn serving in starring roles on the second level as the straws that stirred the drink.
There’s a rare level of production here with Chenal, who led the Badgers in both sacks and tackles for loss in both 2020 and the 2021 regular season (plus in total tackles in 2021). He’s featured in an abnormally high role as a pressure player, showcasing some alignment versatility to play mugged up in interior gaps or firing off the second level as a green-dog pressure add-on later in reps. Chenal gets high marks for his football character and is a visible catalyst of energy for his teammates.
With a rocked-up frame and some level of potential on passing downs, Chenal will have the opportunity to swoon an NFL franchise about his potential to become a more dynamic player in all phases. At the very least, he’s got a visible passion for the game and can be an early-down enforcer in a defensive system that puts “bumpers” around him and charges him with triggering downhill into the teeth of the point of attack to shoot gaps and attack lead blockers.
Ideal role: Early-down ILB in an odd-front defense
Scheme tendencies: Blitz heavy, aggressive defense with quality coverage options in the secondary (including the safeties)
Written by Kyle Crabbs
Games watched: Notre Dame (2021), Michigan (2021), Purdue (2021), Iowa (2021), Northwestern (2021), Minnesota (2021)
Best Game Studied: Purdue (2021)
Worst Game Studied: Notre Dame (2021)
Tackling: See Above.
Football IQ/Instincts: See Above.
Competitive Toughness: An absolute jackhammer. He’s a blast to watch smash into lead blockers and pullers, or kick-out blocks, or ball-carriers, or quarterbacks. He’s relentless in pursuit and even when he busts his contain and leverage, he is quick to rally and continue to the ball. He’s got a lot of power and plays with the mentality of looking to dictate reps, even when catching offensive linemen trying to climb to him.
Pass Coverage Ability: Chenal is not going to offer you a lot of value in this regard. I don’t see a lot of mobility and fluidity to turn and run with tight ends, the lateral quickness to attack backs in coverage, or the anticipation to play in zone. He’s produced next to zero ball production throughout the course of his collegiate career with just one interception and one pass defensed. Quarterbacks have had success taking tight-window throws in his space in just about every game I checked.
Run Defending: See Above.
Block Deconstruction: I wish he had a little bit more functional length to play with to press and extend. He’s such a big body that the extension that he does have is marginalized by his muscle density up top, offering a large strike zone for opponents. He’s got plenty of power in his hands and violent collisions can force some space for him to slide off and continue in pursuit, but he’s largely a thud player with his pads.
Lateral Mobility: I don’t see a lot of enticing slide ability or short-area agility. He’s tightly wound through the hips and therefore struggles to drive and produce suddenness when needing to stick his foot in the ground and redirect.
Flexibility: Chenal plays with low pads in gap shooting instances and is a low tackler who does well to hit with both leverage and coil. That said, he doesn’t show a lot of mobility in rotational reps, meaning his ability to flip open and get depth is modest at best and his dynamic ability in space is hindered. I do wonder how much athleticism could be unlocked with a bit of redistribution of mass on his frame. Chenal is a big, powerful, and built-up player but likely could lean down and maintain much of that hitting power but free himself to move cleaner.
Leadership: I love the fire and the energy that he plays with. This is a “lead by example” player who plays a million miles per hour. He’s often seen chatting up with closely aligned teammates before the snap too, indicating he’s a part of the communication chain.
Versatility: This is something of a rare breed, given that he is indeed capable of producing in the pass defense as a blitz player. But defenses that don’t want to play musical chairs to match personnel may have a hard time leaving him on the field on third down for worry that opposing offenses will find ways to exploit his tightness in coverage.
TDN Consensus: 76.83/100 (Third Round Value)
Crabbs Grade: 76.00/100
Marino Grade: 76.00/100
Harris Grade: 75.00/100
Sanchez Grade: 76.50/100
Weissman Grade: 77.50/100
Parson Grade: 80.00/100