2019 NFL Draft Middle Linebacker Prospects with Strong Production

Solo tackle market share is the players number of solo tackles divided by the total team number of solo tackles. NFL Pro-Bowl and All-Pro linebackers have historically shown high solo tackle market share production in college.   Here are ten highly regarded NFL linebackers and their college last year solo tackle market share. Only one shows his second to last year production (Sean Lee)

Player Team College Solo Tackle Market Share
Luke Kuechly Panthers 22%
Bobby Wagner Seahawks 12.6%
Deion Jones Falcons 12.6%
Sean Lee Cowboys 11.5% (Junior)
CJ Mosley Ravens 12.9%
Reuben Foster 49ers  11%
Lavonte David Buccaneers 13.9%
Eric Kendricks Vikings 16%
Telvin Smith Jaguars 11%
Jordan Hicks Eagles 10%

Here are ten middle linebackers 2019 draft prospects that have great solo tackle production in 2018. Each of these backers have attained 11% or better solo tackle team market share.

Joe Dineen, Kansas

Sr, 6’2″” and 235 lbs

Joe Dineen was one of eight semi-finalists for the Lott Impact Trophy which recognizes the personal character of the winning player as well as his athletic excellence among defensive players. Made the Sports Illustrated 2017 and 2018 College Football All-America  Second Team.  Played as starter in games for last for years. Dineen was one of 20 semifinalists for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award which recognizes player’s leadership on and off the field. Dineen is one of just three players in Kansas’ 128 years of football to be voted a team captain three times. He has been named a team captain in each of the last three seasons. Joe Dineen is one of ten finalists for the Senior Class Award given to the student-athletes who excel both on and off the field.

Dineen was number one in the nation in solo tackles with 109. The  second place player had 17 less solo tackles. Dineen’s solo tackle market share was 19.3 percent. To put that percentage in perspective the top solo tacklers in 2017 and their market share percentages were Frank Ginda (14.8%), Leighton Vander Esch (16.2%), Joe Dineen (15.3%), Christian Sam (15,2%) and Roquan Smith (16.3%).

Dineen is deadly against the run but “Can Dineen play pass coverage?”  is the  big question. Joe Dineen had a goal for this season to improve on pass coverage. He had his first career interception in 2018 to go with 2 passes defended. At week 7 this season this is what Pro Football Focus had to say about Dineen when it selected Dineen to their Midseason All-Big 12 Team.

“He’s allowed just 44 yards after the catch on 181 snaps in coverage and a career-best 80.4 passer rating on throws into his coverage.”

At the end of week 5 PFF selected Dineen as the top graded defensive player in the Big-12 and had this to say

“He has five QB pressures from just 13 pass-rushes, has allowed just 35 yards on 10 targets in coverage and has a whopping 35 defensive stops, 12 more than the next closest Big 12 defender.”

Ben Burr-Kirven, Washington

Sr, 6’0″ and 221 lbs

Ben Burr-Kirven was selected the 2018 Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year.  He made the 2018 All-Pac-12 First Team and the 2017 All-Pac-12 Second Team. Burr-Kirven was one of four finalists for the Lott Impact Trophy. He is the Pac-12’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Burr-Kirven was 2018 All American Team (AP, FWAA, ESPN,Athlon).

Ben Burr-Kirven is number one in the nation in total tackles (165) and eighth in forced fumbles (4).  His 85 solo tackles was fifth in the nation. The solo tackles was good for a 17.5% team market share which is second best of linebackers examined.

Burr-Kirven is fast, tough and has great vision. Here is what head coach Chris Peterson said about Bent Burr-Kirven after the Arizona State game this season. In that game Ben had 20 tackles of which 14 were solo and had 2 forced fumbles.

…you could see Ben flash out there and go make a play. Not only did he have 20 tackles but I think he caused a couple of fumbles. The guy is a heck of a player, obviously. But he plays like that all the time. He’s fast, he’s really, really smart and he’s as tough as they come. You want them all built like that. He’s got great instincts and he’s also smart, and that’s what makes him special.”

This quote from Washington defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski shows the qualities you want in a middle linebacker.

“Ben’s in the middle of the defense, and he’s a smart guy, He’s getting guys lined up (properly). And the way he flies sideline to sideline … the energy he plays with, the passion he plays with, and then how productive he is, that’s what you want in a football player.”

In 2018 Ben has had double digit tackles in 11 of the 13 games.  He has played in a total 52 games at Washington.

Jordan Kunaszyk, California

Sr, 6’3″ and 235 lbs

Jordan Kunaszyk is a 2018 All Pac-12 Conference First Team. Kunaszyk was one of eight national semifinalists for the Lott Impact Trophy. He is second in the nation in solo tackles with 92 and second in forced fumbles with 5.  His 143 total tackles is fifth in the nation. Kunaszyk’s team solo tackle market share is 16.6% which is third best among the linebackers examined.

Kunaszyk is a film room junkie that loves football and his team. He lives and breathes football doing all that he can to be the best and help his team win.

“I know I’m not the fastest. I know I’m not the biggest. I know I’m not the strongest. So, how can I have an edge on my opponent? I know I’m willing to do things that my opponents aren’t.” – Kunaszyk.

This from his head coach

“He’s built to play the position, in a lot of ways — physically, mentally, He’s a physical guy, he loves contact, he’s into the game. I think everything, the preparation part, meetings, he’s always up watching extra tape. The way he prepares his body, he’s a football player, through and through.” – head coach Justin Wilcox

T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin

Sr, 6’1″ and 242 lbs

T.J.  Edwards made the 2017 All-Big Ten First Team and the 2018 All-Big Ten Second Team.  He was 2017 All American Team (AP, USAT, ESPN, Athlon).  A four year starter he played in 53 games with 52 starts at inside linebacker. Edwards had 73 solo tackles which was second in the Big Ten and accounted for a 15% solo tackle team market share. He also is strong in pass coverage getting 3 interceptions and 2 passes defended in 2018. In 2017 he had 4 interceptions and 7 passes defended. Pro Football Focus gave Edwards a passer rating allowed of 63.3 for 2018 which was wanked 6th among Big 10 linebackers.

“Two super productive players … two guys who play with high motors … two selfless program guys who put the team ahead of themselves. The thing I’ve been really proud about this year is that whatever was going on in the game, good or bad, they were consistently positive for the young guys. – Bob Bostad (Wisconsin ILB coach) on TJ Edwards and LB Ryan Connelly

“I came here and worked as hard as I could to get to where I’m at. I tried to help guys younger than me to follow that path as well. Hopefully, I’ll leave here and be remembered as a good person and a good football player.” – TJ Edwards

Blake Cashman, Minnesota

Sr, 6’2″ and 235 lbs

Blake  Cashman was selected to the 2018 All-Big Ten Third Team (coaches) and the 2018 All-Big Ten Second Team (Media). His 62 solo tackles in 2018 was fifth in the Big Ten and earned a 13% team market share.  Cashman had 15 tackles for Loss in 2108 which was also fifth in the Big Ten. Pro Football Focus had Cashman as the highest graded linebacker in the Big Ten for 2018. He made their national team of the week two consecutive weeks for week 11 and 12 in 2018. Cashman made the Pro Football Focus 2018 All American Second Team.

“He is difficult to block because he’s powerful, but he also has that speed, A lot of guys are kind of one dimensional as a linebacker; they either have the power or the speed. He’s got both. He’s a tremendous, tremendous athlete.” – Fellow Minnesota Gopher OC Jared Weyler, who had to block Cashman

Blake Cashman did not receive any Division I scholarship offers following an all-state high school career. He  was a walk-on at Minnesota that played for his first two seasons without a scholarship. Blake was one of ten semi-finalists for the Burlsworth Trophy awarded to the most outstanding football player in America who began his career as a walk-on. Cashman was twice honored with team’s Gary Tinsley Award, as the player who best embodied the underdog spirit of the late former Gopher Gary Tinsley.

“He refuses to lose, There is a refuse to lose that comes as part of being a champion. They know how to win so much that losing is not an option, and that’s how Blake Cashman plays.” – PJ Fleck (head coach)

Ryan Connelly, Wisconsin

Sr, 6’3″ and 237 lbs

Ryan  Connelly made the 2018 All-Big Ten Third Team (coaches) and the 2018 All-Big Ten Honorable Mention (media). He also made the 2017 All-Big Ten Honorable Mention. In 2017 Pro Football Focus reported that no returning linebacker was better at stopping the run in 2016. Pro Football Focus selected Connelly for their 2018 Big Ten Team of The Year Second Team. Ryan Connelly was a walk-on and was one of ten semi-finalists for the Burlsworth Trophy awarded to the most outstanding football player in America who began his career as a walk-on. Connelly was one of ten semi-finalists for the Butkus Award given to the nations top linebacker. Ryan is recognized for seldom missing tackles and for coming through in big moments.

“Ryan is a tackling machine. That dude is a beast,” – redshirt senior safety D’Cota Dixon

Germaine Pratt, North Carolina State

Sr, 6’3″ and 240 lbs

Germaine  Pratt was selected for the 2018 All-ACC First Team. Pratt played safety his first two seasons and has a career 4 interceptions and 9 passes defensed. His first season at linebacker as a junior Pratt had two interceptions with one returned for a touchdown. He is reported to be an outstanding athlete with range to go sideline to sideline. Pratt is another tackling machine and had the second highest tackles per game (9.45) in the ACC. Defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable  describes Pratt as a “gym rat”. He was 195 lbs coming out of high school. He is now 240 and big, strong and athletic. Head Coach Dave Doeren had all praise for Pratt following their win October 6th over Boston College.  In that game Pratt had 13 tackles, 1.5 tackle for loss, 1 sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovered.

So I was really proud of him, not just for how he played but how he ran the show out there and got people lined up…..

…That says a lot about them, one, that they didn’t transfer when they weren’t the No. 1 guy, they kept working and grinding and being a great teammate, and now that it’s theirs, they’re seizing the moment….they’re kids of high character that when they have adversity they continued to battle. …. they don’t flinch. I mean, they make mistakes, they learn from them, the next play is the most important play, and those are things that when your best players do that, it helps the rest of the team immensely…”

 Cameron Smith, Southern California

Sr, 6’2″ and 250 lbs

Cameron  Smith was a 2015 All Pac-12 Team Honorable Mention, 2016 All Pac-12 Second Team, 2017 All Pac-12 First Team and 2018 All Pac-12 Second Team.  He made Pro Football Focus 2018 All Pac-12 Team as Flex Defense.

“Smith made a splash as a freshman and improved his grade every year since, and his 91.2 run-defense grade leads all Pac-12 linebackers.” – Pro Football Focus

Cameron is a two-time Trojan captain who started all four years at inside linebacker. He was the quarterback of the defense. He has been described as a “film rat”, instinctive, explosive and athletic. Cameron stops plays. Out of the top 99 players in 2018 for tackles per game Cameron had the second highest solo tackles to assisted tackles ratio (2.52). Only Joe Dineen had a higher ratio.  Smith’s 46 defensive stops this season compares favorably to Pro Football Focus’s All American David Woodward who had 49. Smith can also drop back in coverage. Over Smith’s four year college career he is one of only four players that had 200+ solo tackles, 2+ interceptions and 10+ passes defended. Smith could have declared for the draft last season when four other USC underclassmen declared. However Smith decided he wanted to remain and finish his fourth year at USC.

“It’s my last go-around, I’ve got one more shot to leave my legacy here. I strive for greatness. I’ve dreamed of being great since I first started playing. I like the sound of someone saying, ‘Hey, this is Cameron Smith, All-American.’ – Cameron Smith

Deshaun Davis, Auburn

Sr, 5’11” and 233 lbs

Deshaun  Davis made the 2018 All-Sec First Team. Pro Football Focus reported that Deshaun Davis made the most tackles for a loss or no gain in run defense among all Power-5 linebackers.  Davis is a three year starter at middle linebacker.  In their 63-14 victory over Purdue in the 2018 Music City Bowl Davis logged a team best nine stops and a sack. He is a leader of the defense and watches a lot of film to help himself and the team.

“I wouldn’t trade him, Right now, today, I would recruit Deshaun Davis every day of the week. He’s a football player. He loves football. He’s a leader on and off the field. I’m very happy to be his coach. I’m glad he’s at Auburn. He’s graduated. He’s an Auburn man. If I’m looking for a linebacker, I’m looking for a football player like Deshaun Davis.”- Auburn linebacker coach Travis Williams

“He’ll play in the NFL, because he’s so smart. His freaking football IQ is just off the charts.” – Williams

Bryton Barr, Massachusetts

Sr, 6’0″ and 225 lbs

Bryton  Barr is finishing his final and seventh year of collegiate eligibility. Barr missed the majority of 2013 and all of 2014 and 2015 due to injury. He is a graduate transfer to Massachusetts. In 2018 Barr was ninth in the nation in total tackles with 140. He has made Phil Steele’s All-Independent First Team each pf the last two seasons. In 2018 he had double digit tackles in eight of his twelve games. Barr had 17 stops including 10 solo tackles against Boston College. In tow other games in 2018 Barr recorded 11 and 14 stops.

“Bryton Barr is probably going to go down in the history of my life as one of my favorite college football players ever. How he sees the game, how he plays the game, how he practices the game, how he represents it, … I find it very hard to find anyone who sees the game — and it means so much to him — and represents the game as well as he does.” – Towson head coach Rob Ambrose

“He’s got unbridled passion for the game of football. It doesn’t take over who he is in his personality, but it’s clear it’s ingrained in every aspect of his cells that he lives his life like a strong football player. He wants to excel at everything he does all the time and he does it in a way that makes people around him better.” – Rob Ambrose

In addition to their solo tackle market share production all of these ten linebackers show a strong intangible such as a strong work ethic, love of the game, unselfish teamwork, toughness or an intensity on every play.  This from reports and articles on the player.

See The Players

The following backers of the ten listed have accepted invites to play in the Reese Senior Bowl on January 26th and shown on the NFL Network.

Deshaun Davis

Germaine Pratt

Cameron Smith

The following have accepted to play in the East west Shrine Game on January 19th shown on the NFL Network

Joe Dineen

Ryan Connelly

Ben Burr-Kirven

The following players have accepted invites to the NFLPA Game on January 19th.

Jordan Kunaszyk

The Data

I have attached the spreadsheet that contains the draft eligible off-ball or middle linebackers that meet 11% or better solo tackle market share. There are more than picked for the ten here. However I picked the ten that had either higher market share numbers or better intangibles.

MLBs and Market Share

 

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