Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Devin White waited until the deadline, but the LSU linebacker made the expected decision and declared for the 2019 NFL draft on Monday.
Not only are there no other players at the position like him in the class, but White also fits the mold of an elite prospect in today’s NFL.
Any successful linebacker is versatile, but top-flight players contribute in every facet without sacrificing skill. Although he has blazing speed, it shows in more places than sideline-to-sideline tackling. White is a dangerous blitzer and reliable in coverage, offering a spectacular blend of physicality and awareness.
During his last two seasons at LSU, he racked up 256 tackles with 26.5 takedowns for loss and 7.5 sacks. He also broke up nine passes, forced three fumbles and grabbed an interception.
All while playing in the SEC against some of college football’s top competition.
That production, for good reason, led to enormous praise from his head coach. Before the Fiesta Bowl, per Sam Spiegelman of Rivals, Ed Orgeron compared White to a couple of NFL legends.
“I’ve been a part of Ray Lewis,” Orgeron said. “I’ve been a part of Patrick Willis, and he’s right there. He’s one of the best I’ve ever been a part of as far as middle linebackers go. He’s very talented, and I think he’s still getting better.”
You know, Lewis, the No. 2 tackler in NFL history who twice won Defensive Player of the Year. And Willis, who averaged 118.8 takedowns per season over his five-time All-Pro career.
They’re practically the same size, too. White is listed at 6’1″ and 240 pounds, while―according to Pro Football Reference―Lewis was 6’1″, 245 and Willis was 6’1″, 242.
Pro Football Focus‘ tracking best shows White’s versatility.
PFF College @PFF_College
How Devin White stacks up among the FBS linebackers in a few PFF metrics https://t.co/fVAl5IEXON
His first-team AP All-America junior campaign followed a first-team All-SEC sophomore season. That year, White registered 30 pressures on the quarterback in just 86 pass-rush attempts, per PFF.
It’s even more ridiculous when you remember his heart was set on playing running back in college. In high school, he collected more than 5,000 rushing yards and notched a 4.49-second 40-yard dash. Both Lewis and Willis ran 40 times in the 4.5s.
White should be even quicker at the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine.
“He might be the most athletic player in the entire class,” an NFL scout told Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller before the 2018 season.
Miller ranks White as the No. 4 overall prospect in the draft, labeling him the most pro-ready linebacker and one with the most potential. As Orgeron said, White is still getting better.
And he’s already this good.
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Draft history isn’t in White’s favor, though. Despite his sensational talent, linebackers who aren’t edge-rushers are rarely top-10 picks. The only recent exceptions are Roquan Smith (2018), Anthony Barr (2014) and Luke Kuechly (2012).
Looking ahead to April 25, quarterbacks and defensive linemen are expected to own the early portion of the draft. That’s understandable, because elite talents at those spots are roster-shaping players.
However, any first-round drop for White should merely be a reflection of positional value and not a criticism of his skill set.
At one point―seemingly the Nos. 11-15 range―it’d practically be inexcusable to pass on White. The Cincinnati Bengals (No. 11) are a popular mock-draft destination, while the Green Bay Packers (12), Miami Dolphins (13) and Washington (15) aren’t in positions to pass up an elite defender.
But nobody should blink an eye if White adds an outlier to the trend of top inside linebackers falling out of the top 10. It’s rare that someone of his caliber—someone who reasonably compares to Lewis or Willis—is ever in the draft.
White is a superstar. The only question is which NFL uniform he’ll wear.