By Dylan MacKinnon
Eagles fans have been begging and pleading for the Eagles to take a linebacker for a long time. It has been over 40 years since the eagles spent a first-rounder on an LB. But there are some who think that trend ends this year. For one, the Eagles have 3 first-round picks and could consider using one on a position because they have the picks to spare. For two, we saw last year how Jonathan Gannon’s defense desperately needs help there. And finally, it is a good year to target an LB. There are two linebackers scouts are very high on. One we already talked about in Nakobe Dean. The other one is Devin Lloyd. So let’s take a look at the LB prospect out of Utah.
Size and Athleticism
With how many elite TEs we see in the NFL now, it is important linebackers be able to match that size and speed combo. Devin Lloyd does that. Not only does he have decent size at 6’3″ 237 pounds, but he has play speed to match it. He is no burner but ran a solid 4.66 40 yard dash. However, it is his lateral quickness that really stands out. People throw around the term sideline to sideline range. That is Devin Lloyd. He has the range to chase down a ball carrier and make the play. Watch some tape of the Utah defense, you will see several plays he should have been out of but still made a play.
These traits lend to him being very versatile. He was very capable of stepping up into the box and banging with the blockers. But his quickness also would drop back in coverage when needed. The Eagles are often interested in linebackers and safeties capable of wearing many hats. Well, Lloyd has a whole closet full of hats to wear. He can rush the passer, defend the run, drop in coverage. Whatever you need him to do, he can usually do.
This year, he had 8 sacks, 4 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, and 22 tackles for a loss. He also scored two touchdowns. He is a playmaker. Some scouts have compared him to Micah Parsons. And while his overall traits don’t quite match Parsons for me, he certainly is the type of player who can immediately jump-start a defense. He is the high-energy high production type of player who can turn a mediocre defense into a capable one. Lloyd is a highlight machine. Whether it is huge hits, or impressive picks, he often found himself making the types of plays on defense that get fans out of their seats.
Devin Lloyd: PFF’s LB2 in the 2022 NFL Draft 🔥pic.twitter.com/k0Ag4Acy2d— PFF (@PFF) December 4, 2021
His Head Coach at Utah gave him high praise, dubbing Lloyd the best defensive prospect to come out of Utah in the modern era. He also said this about him.
“We projected him at linebacker and just through sheer hard work and determination. He’s one of the top linebackers in the country. His versatility allows us to use him at the inside backer spot which is where he is most comfortable. We can also bring them off the edge, he’s done a lot of a pass rush for us in the sub packages and he’s a guy that really can do it all. He’s got the size, the strength, the speed, the agility that all the big time players have. He’s meant the world to us. Of course, he just won the MVP in the Pac-12 Championship game a couple nights ago and very well deserving of that.”
Leadership that Matches the Talent
The primary linebacker is often considered the QB of the defense. They are perfectly positioned top be calling the plays. But Lloyd is more than just the leader on the field. His coaching staff and his team mates credit him as a guy where it is the team that matters most, even if it means sacrificing his own goals.
That was evident last year, when he returned for a final season because he did not like the way things were left off. Lloyd easily could have entered the draft. And many will say he should have. And this isn’t to say people who do leave college early are wrong. For many players it is the right choice. But not for Lloyd. And his determination to return and leave things the right way does say a lot about his leadership.
“I want to bring everyone along with me, too. I know this team wants to be great. I’m not the only one on this team that wants to be great. My passion for the game as well — the NFL isn’t going anywhere. I just want to cement a legacy here at the university and do a lot of great things here.”- Devin Lloyd on returning another year.
After the decision, his coaches were effusive in their praise of Lloyd.
“Devin was a leader last year, he’s a leader this year. Leaders lead. There’s no drop-off there. Not only in the ’backer room but you can see him holding other guys accountable in other position groups. He’s just a guy that gets it. That’s not just calling guys out, it’s also promoting our culture and when guys are doing things right, give him a pat on the back. I love Devin, guys that are compelling and leading. It’s great to have them in the program.”- defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley.
With Lloyd you don’t just get a phenomenal talent. You get the type of guy you want hanging around your locker room. There has been a slight leadership vacuum on the defense after they lost Malcom Jenkins. Not to say Lloyd slides right into that as a rookie, but he is the type of guy who can grow into that role.
Areas to Improve
He is by no means a perfect prospect. While the tape is impressive, and his traits suggest he can be even better than the tape suggests, there are always areas to improve.
Lloyd sometimes struggle with change of direction. He mostly moves well on the field. But when he finds himself out of position, or he over pursues, he is a bit stiff when trying to recover. He also needs to be more consistent when finishing tackles. Lloyd will make some highlight style hits, but he will also occasionally miss a tackle. That was not a huge issue in college, but its not something he can let carry over to the NFL.
He also needs to learn to use his hands better when shedding blocks. At times he very easily gets around a block. But too often he gets locked up. Better hand technique and footwork would go a long way to helping him use his natural athleticism and talent and make him a more efficient pass rusher. He is capable of being a very good pash rusher. But the consistency is lacking.
Overall, he does not come in as ready of a prospect as Nakobe Dean is. But the upside is there. His technique requires refinement though.
What Draft Experts Say
Lance Zierlein- NFL Network
“Highly productive and highly physical, Lloyd could create interesting discussions in draft rooms as teams work through his process versus production. Lloyd can be a little inconsistent with early diagnosis and fit recognition and unorthodox in how he flows to the football. With that said, he has a stat sheet full of production in every major category, including 43 tackles for loss over the last three seasons. He plays with the willful demeanor of an NFL alpha linebacker and is sneaky talented as a rusher either blitzing or aligning off the edge. Lloyd will make plenty of plays and should become a good starter as an inside or strong-side linebacker, but inconsistent process could limit his consistency.”
Drae Harris- The Draft Network
“My initial assessment pegged him as a two-down linebacker, however, he has had some on-the-ball production which has solidified his ability to remain on the field in sub-package situations. In the passing game he can rush from inside or outside, and while he shows some stiffness in space, he can still get depth in his zone drop, come up, and tackle underneath. He has also proven in 2021 that he can get home in pass-rush situations from various alignments. In the run game, he’s a thumper who plays downhill and physical.”
Lloyd is the type of linebacker the Eagles seem to love. Converted Safeties. It hasn’t always worked for them, but in this case it is at least a player with pedigree, unlike Nate Gerry. Lloyd would immediately help fix the Eagles issues covering tight ends. Dean is probably the better prospect, but Lloyd is not just a consolation prize. He is an impressive prospect in his own right. But there are some rough edges his team will have to smooth out. He should be given some leeway to have growing pains.
Whereas Dean is coming from a National Championship caliber defense, Lloyd is coming from Utah. He just isn’t as well refined a player yet as Dean. But the upside is there. Lloyd should at worst be a starting linebacker better than anyone the Eagles have had recently. At best, he could be a true star.