Josh Allen (41) pass rushes against Penn State Nittany Lions offensive lineman Ryan Bates (52) during the first half in the 2019 Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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NFL Draft Preview: Josh Allen, Devin White Lead LB Class

Matt Citak
April 18, 2019 - 11:51 am

The NFL draft kicks off one week from today down in Nashville, Tennessee. Leading up to the start of the first round, I will be breaking down the top prospects at each position, and whether or not the Giants or Jets may have interest.

We took on the quarterbacks and running backs to start before discussing the wide receivers and tight ends last week. After getting the “hog mollies” and the defensive linemen out of the way, we continue with the top linebackers in this year’s draft.

Both the Giants and Jets can afford to add some talent to their linebacker groups during this year’s draft.

The Giants have a few skilled linebackers currently on the roster, but will likely look to add more bodies to the group in next week’s draft. Big Blue will have Kareem Martin, Alec Ogletree, B.J. Goodson and Lorenzo Carter all returning to the team in 2019, while the team also added Markus Golden in free agency. Golden will be reunited with James Bettcher, who was Arizona’s defensive coordinator in 2016 when Golden racked up 12.5 sacks. Nathan Stupar, Avery Moss and Tae Davis round out the team’s linebackers.

The Jets added a big name to their linebacker group last month when they went out and signed C.J. Mosley to a massive 5-year, $85 million contract. Mosley will join Avery Williamson, Brandon Copeland and Jordan Jenkins in New York. Former first-round pick Darron Lee is still currently on the roster, but could be dealt sometime next week for additional draft capital. At No. 3, the Jets are in a prime position to add one of the top outside linebackers to beef up the team’s pass rush.

And away we go.

Josh Allen, OLB, Kentucky

Allen is a true hybrid linebacker with elite physical traits, and has shown the ability to excel in both coverage and pass rush duties. Standing in at 6-foot-5, 262-pounds, the edge rusher out of Kentucky was unbelievable last season. Allen put together an amazing senior campaign for the Wildcats, registering a whopping 17 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles in 13 games.

Allen ran a 4.63 40-yard dash, highlighting his speed and explosiveness. He’s already established a few go-to rush moves, and has shown a tendency to target the football for strip sacks after turning the corner. He’s capable of taking care of tight ends downfield in man coverage, which has helped him solidify his status as a top-5 pick.

When the Jets are on the clock at No. 3, assuming they don’t trade down, they will likely be choosing between Allen and Alabama DT Quinnen Williams. Allen would fit in perfectly as the outside linebacker in Gregg Williams’ 3-4 defense, which is why I believe he will end up in New York with the Jets. The OLB from Kentucky would more than make up for the sting of Anthony Barr’s rejection last month.

Devin White, LB, LSU

For any team looking for an absolute thumper to anchor the middle of your defense, White is your guy. At 6-foot-0 and 237-pounds, White isn’t the biggest linebacker in this year’s draft. Not even close, actually. However, he is the perfect fit for today’s NFL, as he is a physical force against the run, covers a ton of ground in pass defense and is a great team leader. White sets the tone for the rest of the defense, and should have no problem staying on the field for all three downs at the next level.

White finished 2018 with 123 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, six passes broken up, three sacks and three forced fumbles. The linebacker out of LSU is praised for his work ethic, competitiveness and quickness, which was on full display at the combine where he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash. White shoots the gap to get into the backfield better than anyone in this draft, and could step in and immediately become a Pro Bowl linebacker. You want this guy on your team.

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Tampa Bay is the favorite to land White at No. 5, but as we’ve seen in years past, you never know what could happen once the draft gets underway. If he’s still on the board when the Giants are on the clock, I have no doubt that Dave Gettleman will strongly consider pulling the trigger on the middle linebacker. Even though adding a pass rusher is certainly more of a concern for the Giants, White may be the first linebacker Big Blue takes in the first round since Carl Banks in 1984.

Montez Sweat, DE/OLB, Mississippi State

Sweat has been one of the draft’s biggest risers over the last few months. The edge rusher from Mississippi State put together a strong 2018 campaign, picking up 11.5 sacks, 14 tackles for losses, 53 total tackles and a forced fumble. That alone was enough to make him a top-20 prospect, but then Sweat shined at the Senior Bowl before crushing it at the combine, which has led to him likely jumping up into the top 10.

Sweat excelled in pass-rushing one-on-ones at the Senior Bowl, where he used his elite size, speed and strength to consistently blow by offensive linemen. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound edge rusher then blew the doors off of the combine by running a 4.41 40-yard dash. All of this has led to Sweat being considered one of the top pass rushers in this year’s class, despite having a minor heart condition.

Due to his size and speed, Sweat is likely to be one of the first edge rushers off the board. He likely won’t go as high as to the Jets at No. 3, but he will definitely be in consideration for Gang Green if they end up trading down a few picks. Similarly, Sweat will likely be near the top of the Giants’ draft board at No. 6, and could be just the edge rusher Big Blue has been trying to find for the last few years.

Devin Bush, LB, Michigan

Devin White may be garnering more buzz, but let’s get one thing straight. Devin Bush is quite the linebacker himself. Bush’s draft stock has risen drastically since the combine, where he wowed scouts with his 4.43 40-yard dash. He’s definitely a bit undersized, coming in at 5-foot-11 and 234-pounds, but he makes up for it with his speed and cover talent. Any way you look at it, one thing is clear: Bush is a dynamic playmaker.

Bush uses his speed to help defend receiving threats in the intermediate part of the field. His above-average skills in coverage will help him quickly develop into a three-down starter in the NFL. Some teams will decide to pass on him due to his size, but I don’t think he will have any trouble becoming one of the league’s better outside linebackers.

The Giants brought Bush in for a two-day visit earlier this month, which clearly shows that Gettleman has at least some interest in adding the linebacker to Bettcher’s defensive schemes. Bush is widely considered a top-10 talent in this year’s draft, so there is a good chance he won’t make it to No. 17. Don’t be surprised to hear Bush’s name called when a Giants’ pick is announced, whether it’s at No. 6 or elsewhere in the first round.

Brian Burns, DE/OLB, Florida State

Despite flying a bit under the radar, Burns is one of my favorite pass-rushing prospects in this entire draft. The edge rusher out of Florida State has a lean frame, coming in at 6-5, 249 pounds, and is incredibly quick off the ball. Burns ran an impressive 4.53 40-yard dash at the combine, which combined with his production last year bodes very well for his draft stock.

Burns racked up 52 tackles, 15½ tackles for losses, 10 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2018 and finished with 24 sacks in three seasons at FSU. He will need to hit the weight room and put on some muscle before Week 1, but he should be able to quickly grow into either a 4-3 or 3-4 end. Burns is going to leave a lot of teams regretting that they passed on him.

Depending on what the Giants do at No. 6, Burns could easily be Gettleman’s target at No. 17. In fact, if New York goes with a QB or even linebacker Devin White with their first pick, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Big Blue trade up a few picks to ensure they land a top edge rusher in Burns.

Jachai Polite, DE/OLB, Florida

While many prospects use the weeks leading up to the draft to build up and improve their draft stock, Polite has seemingly done the opposite. Polite had only one impressive campaign during his three years at Florida, but boy was it a good one. The 6-foot-3, 258-pound edge rusher collected 45 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and led the nation with six forced fumbles. That sort of production should be good enough to warrant consideration in the first round, right?

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Wrong. Polite had just about as bad of a combine as possible. First, he did poorly in team interviews, portraying a low football IQ and failing to eliminate concerns regarding character issue. He then ran a poor 4.84 40-yard dash before pulling out of the workout with an injury. Oh yeah, he also showed up to Indianapolis well over his playing-weight. Like I said, it’s been a rough stretch for Polite.

Putting the last two months aside, Polite’s game tape shows an instinctive rusher with great speed to get pressure in the pocket. He will have to get back into shape and commit to putting the work in to improve his game, but as long as he does that, Polite could definitely be in play for the Giants in Round 2, depending on how they use their picks in the first round. If the Jets trade back in Round 1 and take an OL, Polite is a potential target on Day 2.

Chase Winovich, DE/OLB, Michigan

I’m not going to lie, I am very bullish on Winovich. Standing in at 6-foot-3, 256-pounds, Winovich is a physical edge defender with a motor that doesn’t seem to stop. Over the past two seasons at Michigan, the outside linebacker had the fourth-most pressures (109) and the third-most run stops (69) among all defensive linemen in college football. During that same stretch, Winovich ranked inside the top-10 among all edge rushers in overall grade and pass-rush grade by Pro Football Focus.

Winovich shined at the combine, running a 4.59 40-yard dash while finishing third among edge defenders in the 3-cone drill and first in the 20-yard shuttle. Of all the edge defenders in this draft, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one with a better combination of physicality, athleticism, high-motor and desire to get better. I have no doubt that he is going to make one NFL team very happy they took a chance on him on Day 2.

Funny enough, Winovich has drawn comparisons to Markus Golden, the linebacker Gettleman signed last month because of his 12.5-sack season with Bettcher in Arizona. I believe Bettcher could find multiple ways to use Winovich in his defensive schemes, and think the Michigan OLB would be a perfect fit for the Giants at No. 37.

Mack Wilson, LB, Alabama

The top two inside linebackers in this year’s draft, White and Bush, are elite prospects that will step in on day 1 and immediately contribute. Following those two, there is a significant drop-off in talent before we get to Wilson. The Alabama linebacker has good size at 6-foot-1, 240-pounds, and is known for his abilities in coverage. Wilson has amazing coverage instincts and shows a knack for getting to passes, evidenced by his six interceptions and seven passes defended over his last two seasons.

Inside linebackers that excel in coverage are always in demand in the NFL, so Wilson will likely hear his name called in the second round of the draft. He can sometimes be a little too mechanical on the field and has to show more of an ability to play freely, but Wilson can likely develop quickly into a three-down starter at the next level.

The Giants have been linked to both Devin White and Devin Bush, so it wouldn’t be a complete shock if Wilson is a Day 2 target. However, No. 37 is likely a reach for the Alabama LB, and with so many other holes throughout the roster, I don’t think Wilson ends up in New York, especially because the Jets already have their two inside linebackers in Mosley and Williamson.

Tre Lamar, LB, Clemson

This might be a little too high for Lamar, whose game looks to translate more into a two-down linebacker in the NFL, but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt due to his size. Lamar’s frame will certainly appeal to NFL teams, as the former Tiger comes in at 6-foot-3, 253-pounds. His monster size allows him to leverage the gap, but also leads to a lack of foot quickness.

Lamar set a physical tone in the middle of the defense for the reigning National Champions, which should help his draft stock next week. He does offer the combination of speed and athleticism, which will help him contribute on special teams right away. Lamar has a lot of work to do before he becomes a productive NFL player.

The Giants could always use more depth at the LB position, so Lamar could be a possible late Day 2/early Day 3 target if Big Blue doesn’t spend a higher draft pick on the position. The Jets are less likely to target Lamar, but it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that they could take him and shift him to outside linebacker.

Germaine Pratt, LB, NC State

Pratt is one of the more interesting linebackers available in this year’s draft. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound prospect spent the first two years of his NC State career at safety before making the transition to linebacker. This explains Pratt’s good cover skills. He showed good lateral athleticism and burst during his two years as a linebacker, but it is clear that the young man is still learning the feel of the position.

Pratt performed well at the combine, running a 4.57 40-yard dash. He has experience at both inside and outside linebacker from his college days, and this versatility should bode well for him next week. After picking up 104 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, six sacks and two forced fumbles in 11 games during his senior year, Pratt has shown enough for teams to take a chance on him as soon as late Day 2.

Due to Pratt’s experience playing multiple positions, I could easily see Bettcher pushing hard for Gettleman to spend a pick on the NC State linebacker. The Giants seem to be collecting players that have the ability to play a few different positions, and Pratt fits that bill perfectly. It’s harder to see the fit for Pratt with the Jets.

Matt Citak is a web producer for WFAN. Check him out on Twitter at @MatthewCitak.