This is how the linebackers drafted in the first 3 rounds of the 2023 draft have performed as rookies:
Jack Campbell (Lions, 18th overall selection) 48.6 PFF grade, 74th out of 79 linebackers. He's started 7 games, played a majority of Detroit's defensive snaps, with 51 tackles and 2 TFLs. Someday, Campbell might be a great player. For now, Brad Holmes used a mid-1st round pick on one of the worst LBs in the NFL. Alex Anzalone got injured in their last game, so Campbell presumably will get more snaps, though if you look at the metrics for the other LBs, I wonder if the Lions are willing to take one step back in order to take 2 forward, hoping that the playing experince will result in Campbell developing long term, because if it was purely about right now, Derrick Barnes and Malcolm Rodriguez, both Day 3 picks, are probably better options than Campbell.
Drew Sanders (Broncos, top of 3rd round) 34.5 PFF grade. He's played a little more than 2 games worth of snaps. He has 11 tackles. SIS credits him with 12 tackles, but with 8 broken or missed tackles, for an insanely high 40% missed tackle rate. His strength was supposed to be his pass rushing ability, but he only has one pressure the entire season. Sanders was the 10th highest ranked prospect on Lance Zierlein's draft board.
Daiyan Henley (Chargers, 3rd rd) has only played 27 defensive snaps. He plays primarily on special teams.
Marte Mapu (Patriots, 3rd rd) 41.8 PFF grade, has only been a subpackage defender and ST player. Drafted to be a hybrid S/LB, I was surprised he was taken so early.
Trenton Simpson (Ravens, 3rd rd) has only played 15 defensive snaps.
DeMarvion Overshown (Cowboys, 3rd rd) tore his ACL in the preseason.
Dorian Williams (Bils, 3rd rd) 54.5 PFF grade, was taken 2 slots after Kobie Turner. He's started 2 games. The Bills lost Matt Milano to a major injury.
Henry To'o To'o (Texans, 5th rd) 43.1 PFF grade, wasn't taken in the first 3 rounds, but he's played more snaps than any of the other LBs. He has 57 tackles and 2 TFLs. In a comment elsewhere, I mentioned how Blake Cashman has emerged as a surprising star this year, with the 2nd highest PFF grade among LBs. To'o To'o on the same team is all the way on the opposite end of the spectrum, ranking 77th out of 79 LBs. So, the Texans have both one of the best LBs in the NFL and one of the worst.
As a group, the 2023 rookie LBs have performed at a level that you'd expect from a random group of UDFAs. No, that's not an exaggeration, it is literally true, because if we throw Christian Rozeboom, with his 54.0 grade and 56 tackles in with this group of players, Rozeboom is arguably the best performing LB in the bunch. Prior to the 2023 draft, would you have predicted that result? Keep this in mind as we take a look at Ohio State linebacker, Tommy Eichenberg.
I found Eichenberg to be a challenging prospect to evaluate. In 2022, he was a PFF 1st team All American and made several 2nd team All American teams. In 2023, he was named 1st team Big Ten and won the conference's linebacker of the year award. So, he's piled up many accolades in a decorated career.
This season, however, Eichenberg only has a 60.7 PFF grade, ranking 596th out of 819 LBs. He has the lowest PFF grade among any of the LBs ranked in the top 200 on PFF's draft board. I hardly put any stock at all in PFF grades for college players, so I'm not saying that Eichenberg was literally only about the 600th best LB in the country. I mention his PFF grade, because I didn't find his 2023 tape to be very impressive and apparently, neither did the PFF analysts.
In 2023, Eichenberg only had 2.5 TFLs and one of those was a sack. For a power conference LB on a great team to only have 1.5 non-sack TFLs over a season, this is extremely strange. Last year, I discussed how Jack Campbell had an abnormally low TFL rate for a highly rated LB prospect. He had a total of 7 TFLs that weren't on sacks over his final 2 seasons at Iowa. For Eichenberg's stats to dip so dramatically vs his 2022 production, at first I thought that maybe he was playing with injuries. So, I watched several of his 2022 games, too. Even after that, I'm not sure what to make of Eichenberg. I wonder what NFL scouts think of him.
Name: Tommy Eichenberg. Turns 23 years old in January of 2024. 5th year redshirt senior.
School: Ohio State. Grad student, has degree in real estate. Two time Academic All Conference.
Position: Starting MLB in a 4-3 scheme.
Size: Listed 6'2'' 239 pounds.
4 star recruit from Cleveland, OH. Younger brother of Liam Eichenberg, an OL from Notre Dame who was a 2nd round pick in 2021 by the Miami Dolphins. Threw shot put on track team in HS.
Redshirted in 2019. One of 6 team captains in 2022. One of 3 team captains in 2023. Played 761 defensive snaps in 2022, the most on the team.
2021 (13 games, 4 starts): 64 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, INT, 3 PD
2022 (12 games): 112 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, INT, 3 PD
2023 (10 games): 80 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, sack, FF
Notice the huge drop in his TFLs this season. Also notice that he doesn't have a single pass defended in 2023. He also only has one career FF.
Left arm injury in 2023, missed the following 2 games (Michigan State and Minnesota.) Wore an elbow brace in the Michigan game. Played with 2 broken hands in latter part of 2022 season, with his hands wrapped up like a boxer.
Eichenberg might be the most boring interview of any 2024 prospect. He's "all business" with a very matter of fact and understated personality. Doesn't sound like he has many interests outside of football. He's probably one of those guys who eats, drinks and sleeps the game.
Josh Edwards (CBSSports) 105th (4th rd)
PFN board 99th (late 3rd, their analysts rank him 87th, 126th and 113th)
PFF board 125th, 7th LB
NFLMDD 83rd, 3rd LB
Steve Shoup 29th overall (late 1st rd)
Brian Bosarge 34th overall, top LB
PFN mock draft 138th (5th round)
Shane Hallam 56th, 2nd LB
Decent spread among draft experts, from potential 1st round selection to 5th round.
Muscular, has thick arms.
Shed blocks better before he had 2 broken hands (I know, surprising, right?). Can spin off of blocks.
Seemed to have better closing speed in 2022.
Smart player. Aware to pre-snap motion and communicates quickly to alert his teammates. Very fast recognition of trick play and immediately alerted the DBs to the danger of a double pass. Force multiplier, if he notices something, barks out directions to other players so that they are in the proper position. Very nice recognition of screen pass developing, zooms past OL and makes tackle to minimize gain.
Disciplined in his positioning and his pursuit angles. Takes on blocks with proper leverage.
Moves his body in such a way that as he drops into coverage he can see the QB and look into the backfield. Sorts through his coverage assignments. Quick to trigger on green dog blitzes. Reads the eyes of the QB.
Very good understanding of his gap responsibility and assignment in the run fit. Highlight play where he displays outstanding play recognition, races to the POA, defeats fullback's block and tackles the RB. Great read, then drags down RB in hole. Shot gap behind pull blocks to penetrate into backfield. Had some very instinctive TFLs where he instantly read the play.
High effort level and motor. Dives over the top in short yardage and GL situations.
Solid balance in stance in coverage, decent ability to mirror. Enough speed to turn and run to carry seam route downfield. Not great in coverage, but not a big liability either.
Sound fundamentals. Plays with shoulders square to LB as he moves.
Has special teams experience.
Two time captain, on a team that had few captains, which for a school like OSU that has so many great players, speaks volumes about his football character and leadership.
Lacks length and play strength to shed and counter off of blocks. Gets engulfed by longer OL. Doesn't have effective length. Doesn't maximize the full length of his arms. Gets stuck on blocks, not quick to shed. Not enough mass for GL skirmishes. Can be shocked by power on blocks or run over by bigger RBs. Stuck on solo TE block, not able to get to RB going by him.
Late punching vs climbers. Hands are not heavy. Doesn't punch with any authority. Doesn't fill effectively, comes up small at the POA. Unable to effectively create roadblocks at POA. Being weak at POA was critical in giving up long TD run. Sometimes hesitates to fill, missing opportunities to disrupt the run.
Insufficient striking power to drive OL back and constrict running lanes. Gets bullied by bigger OL. Can get shoved and pushed backwards or washed laterally, moved to the inside or outside to open up running lanes. RT climbs to him, puts him on skates and drives him several yards backwards.
Average short area burst to close in on runners. Not fast, not a sideline to sideline LB. Gets beaten in races to the corner. A step slow getting to SL pursuing fast runners. Not fast pursuing downfield from behind. Stressed trying to run out to the flat in pass coverage to stay with fast RBs.
Screen pass, I'm yelling at the screen "Dude, you need to jump on your horse and get out there", but LB is so slow running, he's late arriving to the action, with his shoulders not in good position to tackle, then goes flying by, barely making contact with the runner with one hand.
Doesn't have desired striking and stopping power as a tackler for NFL level. Especially in 2023, sometimes he'd back down from challenges and catch blockers or RBs in the hole instead of attacking and striking them. Gets dragged forward for extra yardage after contact.
Has an average tackle radius. Misses many arm tackles or when he dives and can't quite grab the runner. Vulnerable to RB cutting back and beating his tackle attempt. Outstanding play recognition, LB races by blocker, penetrates into backfield, but doesn't break down properly, so when runner jump cuts, LB whiffs and goes flying by, missing tackle.
Tight game in 4th qtr, 4th down at GL, LB has clear lane and penetrates into backfield, has both arms around RB, but RB slips out of tackle as if LB's hands are covered in butter and scores TD.
Lacks lower body strength. His legs appear to be slightly long relative to his torso, giving him a higher COG and hindering his ability to change directions fluidly and quickly.
While he's generally a smart player and organizes the defense, he makes quite a few mental mistakes. Late shift by offense, he shifts into the wrong gap, duplicating assignment with another defender. Made mistake in his gap vs a power run. Sometimes impatient vs zone runs, commits too early and attacks the wrong hole, misreading play and block development. Too eager vs zone, resulting in LB jumping into the wrong gap, being in same gap as the S behind him, not anticipating RB cutback. Gap run, LB takes poor angle and runs himself directly into OT's seal block. Another gap run, the LB should immediately attack and shoot the gap, but hesitates, allowing WR to seal him. Near GL, feet stopped to take on climbing TE, out of position to pursue run. Poor decision vs jet sweep to dive under TE's block, had zero chance of making play. Ran himself out of position vs option. Runs himself out of position vs tunnel screens. Way too aggressive on zone run, opening up a gigantic cutback lane for RB. Duo run, LB charges forward, directly into OL and gets blocked, opening up a huge gaping void at the LOS for the RB, who gashes the defense for an enormous gain.
Sometimes slow to find the ball and goes the wrong way vs option plays. I wonder if he's too short and can't clearly see the ball if there are other players in his line of view.
Doesn't add much as a pass rusher. Small as a blitzer. No juice as a pass rusher. Doesn't have any good pass rush moves. Average when used as a looper.
Rarely used in man coverage. Beaten badly by RB angle route. In zone, way too deep, falls asleep vs TE releasing late from LOS. RB juke on route caused him to slip and fall.
Poor instincts for attacking underneath receivers when in zone. Doesn't hug tight to targets close by. Upright in pedal, didn't get enough depth on long 3rd down. Can get caught flat footed in coverage. Doesn't contest the catch point, often gets caught just floating around in the general vicinity, but not where he can make a play on the ball for a PBU. Doesn't squeeze in breaking routes both behind him and in front of him, his recognition and reaction to the route pattern isn't on point. Sometimes he appears to be unsure of which direction to move in coverage (backwards, forwards or to the side) and makes the wrong choice, allowing a receiver to get open. In "no man's land" in zone coverage, gets caught between 2 assignments, not effectively covering either receiver. Bad error in zone vs crossing routes, taking bait and staying on TE, when he should pass it off, ends up out of position. RB circles out of the backfield, LB gives him a full 5 yard cushion.
His eyes focus too much on the QB, sometimes resulting in him covering empty space, not paying attention to route combinations or movement of receivers near him. Play action, QB flushed from pocket scrambles to side, LB literally runs right by WR, not scanning or being aware that QB might throw the ball to him. When QB throw it, LB actually reaches out and deflects the ball with one hand, but if he had been more aware, this is a potential INT. Instead, deflected ball is caught by the WR, so instead of game changing turnover it is a positive gain for the offense. When he's looking at the QB, it is like a RB or TE next to him becomes invisible, so they can run right by him and LB reaches out with one hand, as if weakly grabbing them is going to keep them from getting open.
Not enough height or length to threaten passing windows or be dangerous in zone.
Mechanical flipping his hips when dropping into coverage. Not sudden in transitions. If LB jumps forward vs play action, but sees it is a fake, he's clunky in transition to backpedal, not able to quickly regain depth to get into position to defend pass.
Played on talented defense, DL helped to keep him clean to make plays.
I think he only has an average ceiling. He's not a plus athlete. I don't think he's the type of LB who will be a regular Pro Bowler. Maybe he can be an average starter, but I don't think he's a difference maker in the NFL.
About a year older than an average draft prospect.
Draft Grade and Pro Comp
4th round grade. (Jake Ryan, 4th round 2015, Packers, Michigan)
Eichenberg isn't one of my favorite prospects. His injuries possibly have held him back and contributed to a less impressive 2023 season. I wish he had more speed, better play strength and size. I wish he defended the pass better or was more dangerous rushing the passer.
He has very good football IQ and character, so he might play many years in the NFL, but I don't know if he'll be more than a solid backup or just a serviceable starter. I don't see him as an impact difference maker. With more coaching and development, I think he could become a very reliable player and sometimes that's all you need at LB, you want someone who doesn't keep messing up. Make the tackles that are there, communicate the defensive call to the rest of the unit, line everyone up correctly. That has value in the NFL. So, I still have a mid-round grade on Eichenberg, even though I think he has limitations in his game.
I think that Eichenberg is overrated by some of the draft experts, but look at the very low bar set by the LBs in the 2023 draft. If we put Eichenberg in that draft, I think he has a very good argument for being at least a 3rd round pick.
Not every NFL draft pick has to be a potential home run. It can be okay to swing for singles, especially at a position like middle linebacker, which I don't consider to be of high importance in the modern NFL.