Teams are now looking for more-athletic linebackers who can fill two roles for them. They need to be able to stay with receiving tight ends in coverage, but also physical enough to not be a liability in the run game. That’s where guys like Ohio State’s Darron Lee and USC’s Su’a Cravens find a role. Both are undersize compared to traditional linebackers and appear to have a body type more like a safety.
Their measurements at the combine will be interesting. Both have similar unofficial listings, Lee coming in at 6 feet 2, 228 pounds while Cravens is listed at 6-1, 225. Those compare favorably with Shaq Thompson (6-0, 225) last year; There was split opinion on whether he was a linebacker or a safety. Thompson was drafted by the Panthers in the first round last year and was plugged in as a linebacker who could be trusted in coverage. If Lee and Cravens can measure in close or better than their unofficial measurements, then teams will be more comfortable with them at linebacker.
However, if either one of them comes in smaller than their unofficial listing, then they could be seen as too small to play linebacker, and perhaps a better fit at safety. The weight will be important too, not just the height. Many draft analysts question if Cravens or Lee have the bulk to withstand the rigors of playing linebacker in the NFL. It’s tough to expect a 6-foot-1, 225-pound guy to be able to take on and beat a 6-foot-4, 300-pound guard in the run game. This could make the bench press somewhat important too. Linebackers need to have enough strength to shed blocks from much bigger linemen and be able to tackle bigger running backs. Alabama running back Derrick Henry measured in at 6-2 1/2, 247. Lee and Cravens need to be big and strong enough to be able to tackle a guy of that size and not get run over.
For Lee and Cravens, the measurements will be crucial. If they measure in above the perceived threshold of an NFL linebacker, then their value drastically increases. But if they are too small, it could lead to doubt among many teams. The measurements are so important that it could mean the difference between getting drafted a round higher or lower than originally anticipated.