A Look At How LSU Linebacker Devin White May fit The Detroit Lions Roster
Devin White’s Fit With The Detroit Lions:
While the Detroit Lions met with many players in Indianapolis at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, there are a few names that stand out as players the team could take with the 8th overall pick in the first round of the NFL Draft. One of them is Devin White, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. White is a linebacker from Louisiana State University (LSU). He is officially listed at 6’0″ flat, 237 lbs, and was one of the stars on the LSU Tigers’ defense last season.
In Detroit, White would play next to Jarrad Davis in the Lions 3-3-5 over/under sets and 4-2-5 sets when the team lines up in nickel. He would also play next to Davis if the team runs 4-3 or 3-4 sets next season. He would be replacing Christian Jones in the starting lineup very early on in his time in Detroit.
One key aspect of a linebacker’s game is his run defense. The linebacker’s main responsibilities are to correctly read and diagnose run plays and tackle the running back as quickly as possible. If he has to shed a block to make the tackle, he should be able to do so as well.
Unfortunately, Devin White is still adjusting some on the field to the linebacker position, which he has only played for two years. While he does seem to understand his assignment based on the design of a play, he still struggles at times reading plays as they progress on the field. This is something he will need to improve at the next level.
Another area that White tends to struggle with is his tackling consistency. He tends to rely on hitting with force a bit too often, and he also gets to the running back a bit late due to his misdiagnosing of plays, which forces him to miss some tackles. Hopefully, if the Lions choose to draft him, Matt Patricia and some of the other Lions coaches would be able to work with him and improve this area of his game.
One thing White does well in this aspect is rush downhill. He does a really nice job of attacking the line of scrimmage and making plays at or behind the line of scrimmage when he diagnoses correctly or shoots a gap. This utilizes his biggest strength overall as a player, which is his straight-line speed and explosive burst.
Another aspect of his game that seems to be a positive for White is his ability to shed a block in the run game to make a play. If he does run into a block, White will shed them and make the tackle at the point of contact. This allows him to limit rushing yards up his gap if he correctly diagnoses a play.
Like other LSU defenders, White gives up a bit too much ground when he plays in trail technique. Ideally, it would be nice to see him stay a little tighter in coverage. This can be a difficult habit to break without proper NFL coaching. On the other hand, he does do a really nice job on underneath routes of not getting exposed, keeping the play in front of him. Overall, he also does a nice job of not letting tight ends and running backs get too far behind him when he’s in man coverage.
When he does successfully translate from zone to man and cover receivers coming through, he does an excellent job of covering those receiving threats. He is able to mirror quite well on routes as well and seems to have an understanding of what routes a receiver might be running, which is a testament to film work and play recognition. This also backs up the idea of him being strong on the whiteboard.
One thing that stands out about Devin White in zone coverage is that he leaves his zones far too often when he’s in the flats to rush a flushed quarterback. This consistently leaves his zones open as the play develops. He also struggles with the “eyes in the back of the head” concept, which can lead to him getting beat down the field. Smaller zones are much better for his game at this stage of where he has developed mentally in terms of his adjustment from running back to linebacker.
He tends to bite on play action when he’s in zone coverage a bit too often, especially in red zone situations. When this happens, it leaves his zone uncovered a bit too frequently. He also struggles to convert to man when someone does enter his zone, which in some ways can be a good thing, however, at times (especially during flood concepts, or if an RB finds a soft spot), it can lead to issues.
As a pass rusher, White is primarily a power/bull rusher who’s able to collapse the pocket well if he wins off the snap. His biggest issue here is he seems like a low motor pass rusher, who struggles with chaining moves and going to a plan B if shooting the gap or bull rushing doesn’t work. He gives up on the play a bit too quickly and resorts to just eating a blocker if the initial pass rush fails. He has pretty good dip for a linebacker when he gets pass rushing in space. Quick first step explosiveness forces offensive lineman to hold him back. If not called, it’s a lost rep though, particularly in times in which he gets pancaked, which happens a lot more than I expected given his anchor in the run game is pretty decent for the most part. Pursuit angles on the QB get ruined with a simple maneuver, as he has such incredible closing speed downhill that it often leads to him running way too quickly at QB’s and momentum taking him beyond/away from the QB and overrunning him often. This also makes it harder to change direction and pursue, giving the QB the feel of pressure, but no finish, which allows him that extra time needed to get the ball out. This is almost worse because the QB knows he’s being pressured and has to get the ball out before White is able to get to him.
Devin White is incredibly explosive and very fast. He has remarkable short burst when moving downhill, and he does a fantastic job of closing distances between him and receiving targets, ball carriers, and QBs depending on his assignment on any given play. However, he is almost equally as poor when changing direction and moving laterally sideline to sideline when in strafe. It was hard to keep track of just how many times he missed a tackle or was out of position because he couldn’t get side to side quickly enough when he wasn’t running straight ahead. This is partially from stiffness, but could also be largely due to being not mentally prepared for the switch to linebacker from running back. This also could be a footwork issue in strafe during his shuffle, as when he runs straight from side to side he has the ideal range you look for in players at the second level. Athleticism is overall a large part of his game, and arguably the biggest upgrade he would provide Detroit over Christian Jones.
After watching three games of Devin White’s tape vs. Auburn, Georgia and Louisiana Tech, I have come to the conclusion that while he isn’t the player I personally would like the Lions to draft with the eighth overall pick in the Draft, I do believe he is a candidate for selection and he could be utilized well in Detroit. Matt Patricia would have to find a way to utilize both him and Jarrad Davis as a unique and athletic pairing. While this is very possible to do, both have similar issues in terms of diagnosing plays and tackling, which makes it easier said than done.
Overall, I have given Devin White a grade of 75/100 on my personal draft board. This was determined from the following categories:
Run Defense: 20/25
Man Coverage: 10/15
Zone Coverage: 15/20
Pass Rushing: 10/15
TOTAL GRADE: 75/100
For my system, I grade in series of fives to make things easier for rounding. For example, a 20/25 run defense grade means there was enough of an issue to take away one series of five points, but not enough to take away 10 points and so on, except for special circumstances in which I go into film with a bias for or against a specific player prior to my grading.
Thank you to everyone for reading! Hopefully you enjoyed this piece. Don’t forget to follow Chris Robbins on Twitter @C_Robbins_ and join the discussion on this and all things Lions in the Detroit Lions subreddit. You can also find my last article here.