Detroit Lions 2020 NFL Combine preview: Linebackers

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

This is the seventh installment of a multi-part series previewing the NFL Scouting Combine. The event will be broadcast over four days on the NFL Network, Thursday, Feb. 27 through Sunday, March 1. Today, we'll look at the linebackers.

Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray was a playmaking machine the past two seasons, racking up 257 tackles (29.5 for a loss) and 8.5 sacks in 27 games.

Lions pre-free agency needs

Do the Lions need a linebacker? Well, with the way the roster is currently constructed, it would seem to be near the bottom of the team's shopping list, especially after drafting Jahlani Tavai and extending Christian Jones' contract last year. 

The big question mark is Jarrad Davis. As a first-round draft pick, the team holds a fifth-year option on his contract, which it must exercise by the end of May. That one-year salary would be the average of the 25 highest-paid players by the position. On the surface, the value makes little sense, but Davis is a favorite of the coaching staff, and the option is only guaranteed for injury, so it remains unclear which direction the team will go with it. 

Metrics to monitor

► 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle, 3-cone drill, bench press

Strong, quick and fast is the name of the game. 

Speed has become more and more important in the second level. The league is increasingly pass-heavy and linebackers have to be able to cover a steadily improving group of receiving tight ends and running backs. Speed also is critical as more offenses incorporate zone-read elements that used to be limited to the college game. 

As for strength, there's no substitute for good instincts, technique and angles, but there is always going to be multiple situations each game where a linebacker has to beat the block of an offensive lineman to make a stop. 

Clemson's Isaiah Simmons is considered the top linebacker prospect in the NFL Draft.

Top prospects

Isaiah Simmons, Clemson

If you watched the national championship game, you got a good feel for Simmons' versatility and ability to impact a game. An extremely athletic hybrid player who can be a menacing blitzer and has the length and speed ideal for any coverage assignment. He's the type of athlete capable of topping the charts in multiple drills. 

► Patrick Queen, LSU

Listed at 227 pounds, Queen doesn't really fit what the Lions look for at the position, but his skill set likely will appeal to a number of teams, starting in the back half of the first round. His instincts are a strength that won't show up in any combine drills, but he should score well in the agility drills. 

► Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma

Murray was a playmaking machine for the Sooners the past two seasons, racking up 257 tackles (29.5 for a loss) and 8.5 sacks in 27 games. Well put together and explosive on film, he should do well on the bench, as well as post strong vertical and broad jump figures. It will be interesting to see if his muscular frame hinders him at all in drills measuring change-of-direction quickness. 

► Malik Harrison, Ohio State

A big-bodied, physical linebacker that the Lions got a close look at during the Senior Bowl. Harrison found himself in the backfield much more as a senior with 16.5 tackles behind the line, more than he totaled his first three season with the Buckeyes combined. It wouldn't be surprising if he doesn't post chart-busting numbers at the combine, but he has the makings of a longtime NFL contributor. 

Sleepers to watch

► Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech

Again, it starts with the size profile. Brooks isn't the tallest option, but at 245 pounds, he packs a punch, which pairs well with his strong instincts when coming downhill. Coming off a monster senior year, he had 20 tackles for a loss in 2019. He wasn't asked to do much in coverage, which could limit his immediate impact in the NFL. 

► Logan Wilson, Wyoming

In high school, Wilson played defensive back, wide receiver and was an all-state punter. The athletic fluidity required to play the first two have helped his transition to linebacker as he added weight to his frame in college. 

He has some intriguing playmaking ability on the resume, with at least one interception each of his four seasons, including four as a senior. He also snagged a pick on the practice field while at the Senior Bowl. 


► Offensive line

► Defensive backs

► Wide receivers

► Defensive line

► Running backs 

► Quarterbacks

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers