From now until the 2019 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#11 David Long/LB/5’11 230 lbs
- High motor
- Downhill speed, gets to the ballcarrier quickly
- Uses his athleticism to shed blockers
- Comfortable in space, dropping into zone
- Can move well laterally
- Short area quickness
- Effective Blitzer
- Instincts not where they need to be
- Needs to square up on his targets, lots of whiffs when dropping a shoulder
- Tackling technique needs work
- Lacks functional strength
- Undersized at 5’11
- 2018: 108 tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, 7 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
- Career: 246 tackles, 39.5 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks
- 2018 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year
- 2018 First Team All Big-12
- 2018 Second Team AP All-American
- Finished with 10 or more tackles in six games during the 2018 season
- 2017 WVU Defensive Player of the Year
West Virginia linebacker David Long put up an impressive 2018 campaign finishing with over 100 tackles, almost 20 tackles for a loss and seven sacks. His performance earned him Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All Big-12 honors. The next stop for the WVU linebacker is the NFL Draft and Long certainly checkmarks all the boxes for athleticism required in a linebacker.
If there is one part of his game that stands out, it is Long’s fluidity in space. The WVU linebacker has little to any clunk in his motion and he is a very smooth mover in space. Watch as he diagnoses the run and quickly closes in to make a tackle in the backfield. Long has great short area quickness as he comes downhill very quickly, a large reason why he has almost 40 career tackles for a loss.
Long is a very good processor in pass defense as well, as all the additional space in coverage helps him find the quickest route to the ball carrier. The WVU linebacker is at his best when he has space to operate in as he quickly diagnoses the play at hand and uses his athleticism to get around or through blockers. Watch above as he uses his short area speed and athleticism to sniff out a screen pass for a minimal gain while bypassing a Texas Tech blocker.
It has been determined that the WVU linebacker plays exceptionally well in space and has a high level of athleticism which means the final question to answer is can he hold his own in coverage? The answer to that is yes, as he puts it all together on the play above. Long sees the play action fake and notices the Oklahoma tight end slip from the formation and head up field. The Big 12 defensive player diagnoses this quickly and with his athleticism, he carries the tight end up the field which leads to a throw away by Kyler Murray. Probably my favorite play while watching Long’s film.
Now, not everything is perfect in Long’s game. While he has the athleticism, coverage abilities and fluid motion in space to be a key part of any defense, his mental processing against the run is not as consistent as other linebackers in this draft class. His instincts against the run is more tier B than tier A as he does routinely struggle to pick the right angle or direction of the play. The option handoff above is one of the uglier portions of Long’s film but there are more like these sprinkled in throughout his film.
Another huge concern with Long’s game is his tackling technique which severely lacks at times. Long’s poor tackling technique rears its ugly head too often on his tape as he has a tendency to drop a shoulder or use his body on a moving target instead of just wrapping up the ball carrier. Above, he whiffs completely on his target, opting for the big hit rather than a clean tackle. That will not slide at the next level as Long will need to seriously polish his ability to square up and wrap up ball carriers.
Athletically, there is a lot to like about Long’s transition to the NFL. Fundamentally though, there is a lot to dislike. Long is one of the more polarizing prospects in this year’s linebacker class as there is a significant gap between him and the first tier of linebackers. Should he at least find a way to clean up his tackling technique, he could be a serviceable starter in the NFL but until then he may just be a mid-round project piece.
Projection: Early to Mid Day Three
Games Watched: vs Tennessee, vs Texas Tech, vs Oklahoma