While it is still early and therefore projections are mostly guesses at this point — some of these players may end up being early-round picks — as of right now, they could still be considered “sleepers” since they are not being talked about much in draft circles.
Chris Orr is a fifth-year senior who is the lesser-known of the two Wisconsin linebackers. Orr plays inside linebacker in Wisconsin’s 3-4 defense, but projects more as a weakside linebacker at the next level.
While Orr is not by any means an athletic freak, he does have decent speed for the linebacker position and could potentially become a positive pass defender in coverage with a couple of years of coaching despite being raw in that regard as of now.
While Orr lacks height, he does not lack upper-body strength, though it doesn’t translate to him being great at the point of attack when taking on blockers, especially at the second level. This goes into his biggest weakness, which is block shedding.
Orr lacks length and it causes him to struggle at keeping blockers at bey and disengaging.
Back to the positives, Orr is an amazing blitzer. He put up three sacks against Illinois this year and had around four more QB hits in that same game. The reason he excels at blitzing is not due to any pass rush moves or explosion off the snap, but because he always takes the right path to the quarterback.
He seems to have a better rush plan than most defensive ends and with 11.5 sacks on the year, he has more production rushing the passer than even some highly projected edge rushers.
Orr is not the most instinctive linebacker, as he often bites on play fakes and is at times undisciplined with his assignments. He also takes inconsistent pursuit angles. This is why he is more suited as a backside run-and-chase linebacker.
Orr does have an injury history, which may be a concern. He missed his full sophomore season, and also missed four games in 2017. Though he has started every game so far during his senior season.
Orr is likely a mid to late-round prospect and has an interesting set of skills. Expect to hear his name more often as we get closer to the 2020 NFL Draft.
Kamal Martin is a four-year senior who has had significant playing time since his sophomore year, starting since his junior season.
At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Martin has the size you want, and along with that size, he has some intriguing athleticism.
While nothing special in coverage and not the athletic freak that a guy like Isaiah Simmons is, Martin shows potential there, with the speed to keep up with running backs and tight ends in man-to-man, and with adequate eye discipline and awareness in zone coverage.
On the flip side, Martin’s footwork in coverage leaves a lot to be desired, and his size mentioned previously may be a factor in why he is not the quickest in terms of change of direction, as well as why he lacks flexibility which in turn can lead him to struggle in space at times.
If that doesn’t get cleaned up, is athleticism won’t mean much in terms of coverage potential, as we see currently in Nicholas Morrow, a player with above-average athleticism who still struggles mightily in coverage.
When it comes to playing the run, Martin is up and down. Martin shows strength, but too often will be overpowered by a lineman, especially at the second level.
His block shedding is also hit or miss. One play he will look strong at the point of attack and use his length to keep his blocker at bey and disengage, while others he will be manhandled and unable to break off of his man.
The biggest problem I noticed with Martin is how slow he comes off the snap. It may be due to him playing the middle and so he has to process the play first, but regardless, coming off the ball even one second too slow can hurt you badly in the NFL.
In eight games this year, Martin accumulated 36 solo tackles, 2.5 TFL, one sack, one pass deflection, and two forced fumbles. He had 6.5 tackles for a loss in 2017, but that number went down to 3.5 in his junior year in 2018 and down to the 2.5 this year.
As a middle linebacker tackle for loss numbers aren’t the most important, but it does show that he isn’t the most explosive player.
At the end of the day, Martin is likely a late-round prospect, and with his blend of size and athletic potential, his flaws do not make him unworthy of at least a look on Day 3 of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Last but certainly not least, Wake Forest inside linebacker Justin Strnad, who is one of my favorite players in the entire 2020 NFL Draft. Strnad has a lot of experience as a fifth-year senior who saw significant playing time in all of his eligible seasons.
While Strnad played as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 this past season, Wake Forest ran a 4-3 in seasons prior where Strnad manned the middle. That being said, I believe he can play any of the three linebacker spots (in a 4-3) at the next level.
Strnad is a really good athlete. His straight-line speed is high-level for the position and gives him the ability to chase guys down from behind when he gets into his second gear.
This athleticism contributes to his excellent coverage abilities. Through the first six weeks of the 2019 season, Strnad posted a 90.2 coverage grade per Pro Football Focus. In 2018 where he played a full 13 game season, he earned an 80.7 coverage grade.
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While those grades show he is proficient in coverage, he does need to clean up some things. His overall feel in zone is not the greatest but his closing speed and ability to break on the ball mostly covered that up.
In man-to-man coverage, on the other hand, Strnad is rock-solid and was even tasked as playing in the nickel to cover receivers a lot of times.
Strnad is good in most areas when it comes to playing the run, but does need more work here than he does in coverage. His read-and-react is not the greatest and he too often overcommits.
He is however capable of plugging lanes and shooting gaps on the inside which is why he is still a two-way, three-down linebacker.
Despite being a physical hitter, Strnad definitely needs to work on his tackling as well. He tends to go for the big hit and make sloppy attempts in the open field. This is nothing that coaching cannot fix, however.
While Strnad is a sleeper now, I wouldn’t be surprised if he shoots up draft boards if he gets a Combine invite where I expect he will do well.
As of now he is projected to go in the mid-to-late rounds and would be an excellent selection for the Raiders in as high as the third round, in my personal opinion.