14 Aug 2020

Home of the NFL Offseason

Pac-12 Preview: Off-Ball Linebackers (Part II)

Hello again draft lovers. Last week I went over a few of the linebackers within the Pac-12 conference who will be draft-eligible come 2021 in Part I of this primer. Today, we’ll be going over a few more off-ball linebackers who are tested week in and week out against the high-powered offenses in the Pac-12.

The first prospect I will be going over was a bit overshadowed last season due to playing for an extremely talented Utah Utes defense that produced a whomping six players that would hear their names called during the 2020 draft. He will be looking to continue Utah’s recent success in producing NFL talent.

Devin Lloyd, Utah

6’3 | 235 LBS | Chula Vista, California | 4JR

Devin Lloyd is a “roamer” linebacker for the Utes. Lloyd was a safety recruit coming out of high school with a 3-star rating. He only received 6 offers, all from small schools minus Utah and Utah State.

He red-shirted his first year on campus in 2017. In 2018 he saw action in all 14 games but almost exclusively on special teams. Last season he saw his first real action and was named an honorable mention on the All-Pac-12 team. Lloyd lead the team in tackles with 91, was second in sacks with 6.5, and also second in tackles for a loss with 11.

I described Devin Lloyd as a “roamer” linebacker, that is because he lined up at every linebacker spot for the Utah defense. In sub-packages, Lloyd usually lines up as an inside linebacker, but would also follow tight ends to the slot to cover them one on one on occasion as well.

On tape Lloyd is up and down. He is decently athletic and will make splash plays behind the line, but on other plays will bite on a play fake or take a bad pursuit angle. His read and react ability is definitely a work in progress, and may be his biggest weakness.

Lloyd has ideal length and uses it, but he is often unable to disengage despite that as he needs to gain strength to avoid being overpowered by lineman as often as he does.

Meets blocker head-on, cannot disengage and RB gets an open lane as a result

While he can cover backs coming out of the backfield and slower tight ends, his overall coverage ability isn’t there yet, especially in zone.

All in all Devin Lloyd is a raw player at this point, but does have two years left of eligibility and can become a solid player with development.

Palaie Gaoteote IV, USC

6’2 | 250 LBS | Las Vegas, Nevada | 3JR

Palaie Gaoteote went to the prestigious Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, which currently has three alumni active in the NFL (Nick Gates, Xavier Grimble, Ronnie Stanley).

Gaoteote put together a phenomenal high school campaign that garnered interest from programs all across the country. He was not only a 5-star recruit but also the #1 LB recruit in the entire 2018 class, 15th overall out of any position. This earned him offers from 32 different schools, including powerhouses such as Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, and Michigan (not a powerhouse recently but consistently churns out top-level recruiting classes).

Palaie Gaoteote quickly became apart of the Trojans defense starting five games as a true freshman but appearing in 10 of 12. Last year as a sophomore he started in seven games, appeared in eight games, and missed five games due to an ankle injury. His stat-line came out to 30 solo tackles, 28 assisted tackles, 58 total tackles, 3.0 TFL’s, 0 Sacks, 0 interceptions, and 0 deflections.

Gaoteote is a physical linebacker who mostly lines up in the middle. He has excellent upper-body strength and is in turn strong at the point of attack. He has a relentless motor and is always pursuing the ball. Gaoteote is also adept at covering tight ends in man to man coverage. In zone however, he is not very fluid moving around in space. His footwork isn’t there yet and his hip turns are not sharp.

More on the negative aspects of his game, Gaoteote’s read & react, his pursuit angles, and overall discipline are weaknesses. Too often he will over-pursue going downhill, which turns plays where he could have made the tackle into positive plays for the offense.

Takes bad pursuit angle after coming downhill, should of came straight down instead of to the outside shoulder of the lineman

Beyond that, his pursuit angles are also lacking, as you see in the gif to the right. Too many times he is out of position on plays where he could of potentially made the stop. Gaoteote also misses too many tackles in the open field, which is something that can easily be cleaned up.

In terms of coverage ability, his ability in man is there, but he is not yet fluid moving around in zone. He does have some speed but he lacks lateral quickness and flexibility. In 12 starts over two seasons, he has yet to record a single interception or deflection.

Gaoteote still has two seasons left of eligibility and he is a talented player. If he can stay healthy, the majority of his problems are technique/discipline issues that can be taught, so it is still possible he lives up to his expectations as a 5-star recruit.

Curtis Robinson, Stanford

6’2 | 232 LBS | Irvine, California | 5SR

Curtis Robinson is a 5th year senior who plays ILB in the Cardinals’ 3-4 alignment. He was the #4 OLB of the 2016 class receiving offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Georgia, Oklahoma among others including 10 of the12 Pac-12 schools.

Robinson was a depth player as a true freshman and as a sophomore. During his junior season (2018) he missed the first eight games and appeared in two. He was granted an extra year of eligibility due to the redshirting rules despite seeing some action. Last season was his only season where he started. He finished with 37 solo tackles, 27 assisted for 64 total, 3 for a loss, 2 sacks, 3 deflections, and 2 forced fumbles.

Strengths

  • Sideline-to-sideline speed
  • Can cover tight ends and running backs in man
  • Good in the open field
  • Uses length when engaging with lineman

Weaknesses

  • Block destruction
  • Out of position too often
  • Needs to gain strength
  • Needs to be more disciplined in his assignments

If Robinson can get stronger at the point of attack he is capable of playing inside at the next level, but as of now he seems like more of an outside backer even if he plays ILB for Stanford. He has the potential to be a plus in zone coverage, but his understanding of depth and which angle to take when breaking onto the receiver will need to be improved.

As an honorable mention for the All-Pac-12 team Robinson will be looking to get the real honors in conclusion of the 2021 season. He won the Jack Huston Award in 2019, a Stanford specific award “given to the player exemplifying aggressiveness, exceptional performance and unheralded efforts” so I would expect him to be an improved version of himself come later this year.

Merlin Robertson, Arizona State

6’3 | 251 LBS | Gardena, California | 3JR

Like the aforementioned Curtis Robinson and Palaie Gaoteote, Merlin Robertson was also a highly touted recruit with offers from major programs such as LSU, Oklahoma, and Oregon. He was a 4-star recruit and the #8 OLB in the 2018 class.

Robertson made an immediate impact for the Sun Devils during his true freshman season. He led the team in tackles with 77, sacks with 5, and tackles for a loss with 8.5. This performance was good enough for him to be named the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year.

Going into the 2019 season Robertson was on the Bednarik Award watch list. His stat line was not as good as it was as a freshman, but he missed eight tackles on the season which was second fewest among Pac-12 linebackers. Arizona State’s defense was 21st in the nation in rushing yards given up per game that season, and he of course was a apart of that success.

Robertson only has one game of tape available and it is under four minutes, so I cant really evaluate him as a player in any kind of detail as of yet. It was cear in that short amount of time that he is a strong and physical player but lacks speed or quickness. I noticed he also lines up on the edge as a 3-4 OLB just as often as he lines up off ball on the inside.

It’s obvious just based on history and probability that the majority of these linebackers covered in both parts I and II will not be drafted, nor projected to be. With that being said, if I was to suggest only one player of all of them to pay attention to it would be Tony Field II out of Arizona. To me he is the most talented of the bunch and has the highest probability of hearing his name called during the 2021 draft.

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