Ever since Darius Leonard went from small-school standout at South Carolina State to second-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts to the NFL’s leading tackler, Defensive Rookie of the Year and the highest-scoring defensive player in all of fantasy football in 2018, IDP owners far and wide have been searching for something.
The next Darius Leonard.
Now, there’s no guarantee that there’s going to be a Darius Leonard-level surprise in the Class of 2019. Or the class of 2020. Or the class of 2021. But there is a young linebacker from a small school this year with a shot at being a Day 2 pick who shares some of the same qualities that Leonard had at SCSU.
Like Leonard, Terrill Hanks didn’t spend his collegiate career at Power 5 school, instead starring in Las Cruces for the New Mexico State Aggies of the Western Athletic conference. And star Hanks did—in each of the past three years the 6’2″, 242-pound four-year starter topped 100 tackles for the season, including 101 total stops, nine tackles for loss, a sack and an interception in 2018.
Gavino Borquez of Draft Wire came away very impressed with Hanks after watching him work out at this year’s Senior Bowl in Mobile.
“The 6-foot-2, 234-pounder dominated in coverage against running backs and tight ends, using his physicality to bully them at the line,” Borquez said. “On a one-on-one passing route, Hanks bullied running back Bruce Anderson to the ground with full force. He carried his dominance over to run defense during the full scrimmage, making some booming hits around the line of scrimmage. Hanks is the type of versatile, athletic linebacker that any team would love. With how the league has gravitated more towards having the versatility and speed with their linebackers, Hanks perfectly checks off on all boxes, fitting to be an ideal candidate as a 4-3 weakside linebacker.”
Joe Marino of the Draft Network agrees that Hanks has the range and athleticism that NFL teams covet at the linebacker position these days. “Hanks’ ability in coverage, range and urgency makes him an ideal candidate to function as a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 defense,” Marino said. “His shortcomings taking on blocks, playing into the line of scrimmage and processing does limit his versatility but he is still new to playing linebacker after transitioning from safety to linebacker as a senior. Hanks should be a core special teams player while providing value in sub-packages initially in his career but development is needed for him to be a starter. His size and athletic ability does suggest there is upside present but getting stronger, improving his technique and developing the mental side is critical.”
That’s two recommendations that Hanks would be a good fit as a 4-3 WILL—which just so happens to be the same position Leonard plays.
While speaking with Jason Groves of the Las Cruces Sun-News, Hanks said he’s received interest and/or worked out for a number of NFL teams.
“I’m listening to see if they are actually interested in me,” Hanks said. “When they say what they like about me and that I play fast, it lets me know that they have done their homework and they know how they want to use me.”
“I honestly don’t know what to expect,” Hanks said. “I know it’s a business and they are all interested in me, but at the end of the day, it’s all business. When Draft day comes, all I know is that there are a lot of teams who need a linebacker and I won’t be that far off.”
Chris Nichalaou of Steel City Blitz sees Hanks as a possible fit for the LB-needy Pittsburgh Steelers, although he allowed that the converted safety could take some time to develop. “Hanks is a raw prospect with a high ceiling and a decently low floor due to his inexperience at the position,” he said. “The Steelers could use Hanks’ speed and production but should do it with caution. Hanks should be drafted if there is a bridge or stopgap linebacker in place, so Hanks can gain experience and increase his functional strength. The Steelers could really use his speed and coverage ability on third downs. I could see Hanks being the selection in the third round, maybe second.”
Maurice Moton of NFL Spin Zone sees Hanks as a possible fit for the Oakland Raiders. “(Jon) Gruden should pay close attention to the school-school linebacker because his defense needs a player with that skill set,” he wrote. “The Raiders must acquire an asset capable of shadowing tight ends in the intermediate passing lanes and able to exhibit reliable tackling against the run.”
Both Pittsburgh and Oakland would be close to best-case scenarios IDP-wise—teams with a void at linebacker that could afford Hanks a path to significant snaps as a rookie. It was a similar opportunity—the chance to start from the get-go—that got Leonard started last season.
This isn’t to say that Hanks is a talent on par with Leonard. Let’s not get nuts. But to be fair, we didn’t really know that Leonard was going to be Leonard at this point a year ago. After a so-so showing at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine in February, Hanks will likely be selected either in Round 3 or early on the third day of the 2019 draft.
But Hanks’ has the sideline-to-sideline wheels and nose for the football that could portend an every-down role and the sort of history of production that should most assuredly appeal to IDP owners.
Hanks isn’t a can’t-miss, sure-fire IDP star in the offing. But he is a name to keep in mind as the 2019 NFL Draft nears.
Because if there’s an under-the-radar linebacker with a chance to be a massive value this year, then Terrill Hanks is probably the best bet.