Two years ago, the Indianapolis Colts used the 36th overall pick in the NFL draft on an athletic young linebacker from South Carolina State named Darius Leonard. Leonard wasn’t the first off-ball linebacker drafted that year — that was Georgia’s Roquan Smith (eighth to Chicago). He wasn’t the third linebacker drafted, either — that was Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch (19th to Dallas). But by the time the dust settled at the end of the season, it was Leonard who not only reigned supreme as the No. 1 rookie linebacker but also as the top linebacker overall.
It’s not reasonable to expect the top rookie linebacker in 2020 to pile up a league-leading 111 solo stops and 163 total tackles with seven sacks, two interceptions and four forced fumbles. Nor is it reasonable to expect the Class of 2020 to have the Individual Defensive Player (IDP) league impact of that historic group from two seasons ago.
But like Leonard in 2018, there’s a Day 2 draft pick in 2020 with a puncher’s chance of outperforming bigger names like LSU’s Patrick Queen and Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons to finish his first NFL campaign as the No. 1 first-year linebacker.
And like Leonard, he came from a small school.
Over his career at the University of Wyoming, Logan Wilson became one of the most productive linebackers in school history. After piling up 94 total tackles on the way to Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year honors in 2016, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Wilson racked up three straight seasons of over 100 stops, culminating in 105 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, a sack and four interceptions as a senior.
That productivity got Wilson on the radar of NFL scouts, but as Kyle Crabbs wrote for the Draft Network, Wilson also brings a high football IQ to the table.
“Wilson projects as a viable NFL starting linebacker at the pro level,” he said. “His football intelligence shines through as a plus quality, often allowing him to pick and choose his spots to shoot gaps or buzz in coverage in front of receivers while playing in underneath zone. His mobility may ultimately hinder his ceiling but there’s no reason why Wilson cannot be an early down starter at the NFL level — he’s got the mental sharpness, tackling skills and physicality to provide value.”
Colleague Benjamin Solak agreed, adding that Wilson also has the range and coverage skills to play in subpackages at the professional level.
“Wilson projects as a starting base package linebacker who can stay on the field for nickel downs in the NFL,” he said. “Wilson can play across the linebacker room, which is a big-time boon to his stock, as he has a quality blend of zone cover ability, play strength and play recognition. Wilson’s best impact plays come when he dials in quickly to quarterback action and adjusts his zone drops to nullify passing lanes, which is an important role for NFL linebackers to fill. With that said, Wilson does spend a bit too much time processing, and doesn’t have elite recovery ability or explosiveness to get back into plays he’s taken himself out of. His ceiling is modest, but he can start in Year 1 and make impact passing-play games, which matters a good deal in the league.”