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Raiders’ Rob Leonard to coach linebackers at Senior Bowl: What to know about each of his players

Don’t be surprised if the Raiders end up drafting one of these guys in April

Las Vegas Raiders v Los Angeles Chargers
Rob Leonard
Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Las Vegas Raiders defensive line coach Rob Leonard will be coaching the American Team’s linebackers at the Senior Bowl this week in Mobile, Alabama. While the Raiders don’t have a pressing need at linebacker, they could address the position in the NFL Draft as the unit could use some extra talent.

Leonard will spend the week getting to know his crop of players, meaning a future Raider could be listed below. Here, we’ll go through a quick rundown of what you need to know about each prospect, focusing on the off-ball linebackers since Las Vegas already has plenty of depth at edge.

Jaylan Ford, Texas

As a Butkus Award semifinalist, two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection and two-time third-team/honorable mention All-American (AP, Phil Steele), Jaylan Ford is certainly a well-decorated linebacker. That’s due to his impressive production with 220 total tackles and six interceptions over the last two seasons. However, his tape isn’t as impressive as his numbers are, in my opinion, as he looked slow and not very strong at the point of attack. So, the Senior Bowl will be a big factor in his evaluation to see if his production is sustainable when the level of competition rises.

Ty’Ron Hopper, Missouri

Smaller linebackers who can run have become more popular in the NFL lately and Ty’Ron Hopper fits that description to a ‘T’. At 6’2” and 232 pounds, he has a wiry frame and needs to add some size to be a better run defender, but he has plenty of speed and movement skills to be an asset in coverage. The latter also helps him have impressive sideline-to-sideline range against stretch runs and close on the quarterback when rushing the passer. However, the Missouri product’s goal for the week should be to show improvement when taking on blocks in the ground game.

Tyrice Knight, UTEP

The Senior Bowl is perfect for a prospect like Tyrice Knight. He was extremely productive at UTEP with 390 total tackles in four seasons, including 140 this past fall which was tied for the fourth-most in the country. But, Knight is battling the small school stigma during the NFL Draft process, so performing against Power 5 competition this week will be a great opportunity for him to boost his stock. On tape, the former Miner shows a high football IQ with good instincts versus the run and pass, but he might have sub-par athletic traits that could make finding a home in the league difficult.

Trevin Wallace, Kentucky

Trevin Wallace is another linebacker who could see his stock rise in Mobile. He has decent movement skills that are more impressive at his weight (241 pounds), and he was a highly-rated high school recruit as a 4-star prospect and No. 141 player overall, per 247Sports. However, Wallace didn’t start until about the end of the 2022 season. He struggles to hold ground versus offensive linemen as a run defender and has bad awareness in zone coverage. So, the combination of a smaller sample size and issues against the run and pass are holding his draft stock back, but a strong performance this week could help him rise in a rather underwhelming linebacker class overall.

Nathaniel Watson, Mississippi State

Nathaniel Watson is in a similar category as Ford. Watson was extremely productive this past season with 137 total tackles, earning him All-American honors and recognition as a Butkus Award finalist. However, he doesn’t appear to have many traits that will transfer over to the NFL and a lot of the tackles he made were several yards down the field, somewhat inflating his impact on games. That being said, continuing to make plays during the team periods of practice this week will help him kill those narratives.