2023 NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Washington State LB Daiyan Henley

From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents Today, I’ll be profiling Washington State LB Daiyan Henley.

#1 Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington St. (R-Senior) – 6007, 230lb

Senior Bowl Invite

Measurements

Player Ht/Wt Hand Size Arm Length Wingspan
Daiyan Henley 6’0, 230lb 9 1/4 33 78 3/8
40-Yard Dash 10-Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
N/A N/A N/A N/A
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press
N/A N/A

The Good

— Has good size and an athletic, muscular frame
— Possesses great open field speed and explosiveness
— Can pursue ballcarriers sideline-to-sideline as well as rush the QB
— Closes ground quickly in pursuit thanks to speed and closing burst
— Does a good job shooting gaps to blow up plays in the backfield
— Can come off the edge with speed as a pass rusher
— Will overwhelm backs tasked with pass protection as a rusher
— Has a WR and DB background, making him comfortable playing in space
— Played in the box, overhang, in the slot, and on the edge for the Washington St. defense
— Comfortable moving in a backpedal as well as laterally in coverage
— Has good instincts in zone coverage, being able to quickly react to the pass
— Naturally goes through his transitions in coverage, being able to turn and run with receivers and get his hands into passing lanes
— Has proven production in pass coverage as well as a pass rusher
— Still new to the position, only playing LB for three seasons
— Proven special teams production while being an impact starter

The Bad

— Is a little shorter than what you’d like to see at the position
— Play strength is sporadic when it comes to taking on blocks and tackling
— Throws his body into blocks rather than getting in position to stack and shed
— Needs to do better at keeping his shoulders square to the LOS
— Will be overwhelmed by blockers when in close quarters, getting taken out of the play
— Will get out-muscled by TEs in the running game
— Over pursues the ball on numerous occasions
— Lacks aggressiveness as a tackler, often watching his teammates make tackle when he can get in on the action
— Tackles too high at times, attempting to wrestle guys to the ground rather than take out motors
— Effort in pursuit is inconsistent as he pulls up on plays he can make
— Doesn’t have a pass rush plan and wins with more athleticism than technique
— Will turn 24-years old as a rookie, still needing that “LB mindset”

Bio

— Redshirt Senior Prospect from Los Angeles, CA
— Born November 18, 1999 (age 23)
— Was the City MVP and Los Angeles Coliseum League Champion as a HS senior
— Committed to Nevada as a WR recruit
— Caught eight balls for 103 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman in 2017 in 12 games
—  Caught nine passes for 129 yards, playing in all 12 games in 2018
— Moved to safety and played in four games this year before enduring a season-ending injury, made five total tackles
— Moved to linebacker in 2020 and played in nine games, making 49 total tackles (28 solo) and 0.5 TFL
— Played in all 12 games in 2021 led team with 103 tackles, three TFLs, four interceptions, three fumbles recovered, and four PBUs
— Graduate transferred from Nevada to Washington State for his final year of eligibility
— Recorded 106 tackles, 12 TFL, four sacks, one interception, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries
— Led team with six special teams tackles and five double-digit tackle games in 2022
—  2022 All-Pac-12 Conference First Team, 2022 All-Pac-12 Second Team all-purpose/special teams, 2021 All-Mountain West Conference Second Team
— Social Science Major

Tape Breakdown

Daiyan Henley has had himself quite the football life prior to entering the NFL. A state champion in California, he originally committed to Nevada as a WR back in 2017. After playing in a reserve role his first two seasons, he moved to defense, playing safety in 2019. However, he suffered a season-ending injury after just four games. Henley returned and moved to LB which proved to be his way onto the football field. He became a second team All-Mountain West selection in 2021 before transferring to Washington State where he put together an impressive 2022 campaign, recording over 100 tackles, four sacks, and 12 TFLs as a first team All-Pac-12 pick.

When you watch the film on Henley you see that athleticism pop off the screen. The former WR and S can run like a deer in the open field, accelerating well in pursuit of the ball. Watch Henley get on his horse on this screen pass to the sideline, making the tackle near the LOS for a minimal gain. In the second clip, Henley runs past the OL as a pass rusher, hitting Caleb Williams as he releases the football, resulting in an incomplete pass.

Henley’s background as a DB also comes out in his coverage ability as he was asked to cove backs, TEs, and slot receivers from a variety of positions in the defense. He has the fluidity and movement skills to quickly break on the ball once thrown and contest the pass like we see on this rep from the Senior Bowl against RB Evan Hull.

Henley’s Speed and explosiveness makes him an effective blitzer, being able to shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield. In the first clip, watch Henley get into the backfield and make the stop on 4th-and-1. In the second clip, watch Henley come up the middle on the blitz and evade the RB in pass protection, wrapping up the QB and dragging him down for the sack.

Despite being relatively new to the position, Henley has shown he can pursue the football sideline to sideline and work through trash near the LOS. Watch these two plays of Henley working around and through blocks to find the RB and get him down on the ground for the tackle.

Still, you can see Henley’s rawness as a linebacker on tape as well. There are several key components of Henley’s game he needs to clean up to be considered a reliable off-ball linebacker at the next level. He struggles to get off blocks when OL have their hands on him, lacking the ability to stack and shed like we see on this rep against USC where Henley is completely neutralized against the OL, getting yanked back and forth by his right arm.

Henley also over pursues the football often on tape, running himself out of the play, or creating a big cut back lane that the ballcarrier can exploit. Watch this first clip of Henley running hard downhill to the B gap, failing to stay square as he gets engulfed by Jarrett Patterson, creating a big hole for the back to run through for the first down. In the second clip, we see Henley spy QB Caleb Williams from the pocket. He closes distance on Williams as he runs up the sideline, but overruns him as Williams cuts back inside, attempting to wrap him up high and wrestle him down to the ground.

The big knocking point for me against Henley is his overall lack of physicality. There are several instances in Henley’s tape of him fitting the mantra “looks like Tarzan but plays like Jane.” He will often run with ballcarriers but will see if someone else will bring them down rather than getting down and dirty. You see the same issues as a tackler as well as taking on blocks as well, lacking that “want to” you look for in a gritty off-ball linebacker. Watch this rep against USC where Henley closes ground on RB Travis Dye but pulls up near the goal line with Dye going in for the score, stopping his pursuit for a split second before continuing to run to the football, hitting Dye as he crosses the plane.

Conclusion

Overall, Daiyan Henley is an athletic linebacker that excels in coverage and has speed to make plays in the open field. He has a great frame that is chiseled, making him look the part of an off-ball linebacker. However, Henley is still learning the nuances of the position when it comes to consistently playing in the box, making his read, and triggering to the football. He must get better at stacking and shedding blocks, consistency tackling, and showing more physicality in his overall game to be relied upon as a heavy snap contributor on defense.

When watching Henley, I see similarities to current 49ers LB Dre Greenlaw. Greenlaw is nearly the same size as Henley (6’0, 227lb) with similar athletic traits when it comes to speed, explosiveness, and ability to play in coverage. However, Greenlaw is more physical on a consistent basis that Henley at this stage, making Greenlaw a physical comp that Henley can work towards one day as he continues to develop.

The Pittsburgh Steelers need to add youth and talent to their LB core with several upcoming free agents this offseason. Henley would add youth and athleticism to a LB core that desperately needs to create splash plays. However, Henley’s need for more development and to be more consistently physical makes him less of a starting option from the jump and more of a developmental guy that can be a special teams ace to start as he attempts to capitalize on his physical traits.

Projection: Late Day Two/Day Three
Depot Draft Grade: 7.4 – Rotational Player (4th Round)
Games Watched: at USC (2022), at Wisconsin (2022), vs Idaho (2022), Senior Bowl (2023)

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