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2022 NFL Draft: LB depth options

It’s a top-heavy class, so target developmental options 

After seeing A.J. Klein in-person from their time with the Carolina Panthers, Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane and his staff decided to target and sign the linebacker during the 2020 offseason to a three-year, $18 million contract. Since that point, Klein has done exactly what the team has asked of him: become a reliable depth option and be able to carry water at the position if either Matt Milano or Tremaine Edmunds misses time due to injury.

While Klein’s time on the team has been productive, his 2022 cap hit of $5.5 million is a bit rich considering the amount of snaps he plays, as well as the possibility of slotting other options—such as Tyrel Dodson or a rookie. If the team were to be interested in new, cost-controlled rookies here are some of the prospects who would make sense for that kind of future team role.

Tier I

Christian Harris (Alabama)
Quay Walker (Georgia)

Although he sports a somewhat unique body-type for the position, being a bit tall and lighter than you usually see from the Crimson Tide roster, Harris is a physical, downhill linebacker who has speed to cover as well. Walker serves as a tone-setter on the field—you want him in situations where he is free to run and smack ball carriers. His awareness in zone coverage is open to questions, however.

Tier II

Brandon Smith (Penn State)
Damone Clark (LSU)
Darrian Beavers (Cincinatti)

Despite his size being ideal, right now Smith is only a coverage linebacker. He’s comfortable in locking down his zone and even carrying players in man coverage. NFL coaching should be able to help him learn to depend on his technique in the run game. Clark hits like a truck and has a quick trigger, but lacks patience, which can get him in trouble. He also doesn’t offer much versatility as a traditional middle linebacker. Beavers is even more limited, as it doesn’t appear that he can cover a lot of ground. Between the hashes though, and his energy and physicality as a tackler—absolutely palpable.

Tier III

Brian Asamoah (Oklahoma)
Zakoby McClain (Auburn)

The next two players are both smaller ‘backers but offer some developmental traits that good coaching would unlock. Both Asamoah and McClain’s awareness in coverage are already pretty strong, and their straight-line speed looks solid (they will be worth watching at the NFL Combine). They both need to be protected though, as neither player has even average strength or length for the position.

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