2023 NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Duke ILB Shaka Heyward

From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we will 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 will be profiling Duke inside linebacker, Shaka Heyward.

#42 Shaka Heyward, ILB, Duke (rSR) — 6030, 235 lbs.

Shrine Bowl/Combine/Pro Day


Player Ht/Wt Hand Size Arm Length Wingspan
Shaka Heyward 6’3”/235 9 1/2 34 81 3/8
40-Yard Dash 10-Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
4.53 1.54 4.40 7.32
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press
9’8” 31 22

The Good

— Good size and length
— Multi-year starter and captain
— Experience in zone and man coverage
— Used to spy the quarterback and rush off the edge
— Good tackler; limits yards after contact
— Solid punch with his hands taking on blocks
— Special teams experience

The Bad

— Too much depth and floats out of area in zone
— Sticking with receiver in man coverage after cuts
— Mental processing from run to pass and reading the mesh point
— Long-legged, tight ankles, slows change of direction
— No pass rush plan or hand usage in getting after the QB
— Waits for the play to come to him without clear lane
— Marginal ability to take on O-line blocks
— Angles outside and working through traffic
— Doesn’t look like he plays at full speed


— 2022: 93 tackles, 48 solo, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INT, 6 PBU, 2 FR
— Career: 337 tackles, 173 solo, 31.5 TFL, 11.5 sacks, 4 INT, 7 PBU, 5 FR, 1 TD
— 51 games, 41 starts
— Honorable mention All-ACC 2022
— Shrine Bowl invitee
— Chuck Bednarik Award Watch List
— 2021 Third Team All-ACC
— Majoring in evolutionary anthropology
— Cousin of Connor and Cam Heyward
— Birthday 4/19/2000 (age 22)

Tape Breakdown

A starter for three-and-a-half years at Duke, Shaka Heyward has good size and length. After competing in the Shrine Bowl, he registered good numbers at the Combine. The Steelers love blood lines, and he is the cousin of the Heyward brothers on the roster.

Against the pass, he was used in coverage and to rush off the edge. In coverage, he generally got good depth on his zone drops and played with eyes on the QB. He displays solid acceleration to close on the ball and is a good tackler in space. In man coverage, he showed the speed to run with tight ends and running backs on seam and wheel routes and displayed good agility on routes in the short passing area. He was also used to spy the quarterback as well and as a penetrator on stunts.

Against Boston College, this was the lone sack I saw from him. He is mugging the A gap and will loop outside to the left to chase down the QB.

In coverage, Heyward will chase down the tight end on the out route and make sure he doesn’t make the catch. Spying the quarterback, he will read and react to knock down the throw.

When kept clean against the run, Heyward can make a lot of tackles. He has the athleticism to run and chase and is a good tackler. He has good play strength and uses his length well to limit yards after contact. If he has a free gap, he will fill at the line of scrimmage. He has solid hand placement and play strength, which allows him to take on blockers.

If you keep offensive lineman off Heyward, he will make the tackle.

Against Virginia, he will toss aside the WR trying to block him and make the tackle.

At Boston College, as the right linebacker, Heyward uses his hand and strength to shed the tight end to make the tackle.

His play diagnosis from run to pass is marginal and he doesn’t seem to play at full speed. In zone, Heyward tends to drift off his spot, opening passing lanes. When getting into his drop he is on his heels, slowing his change of direction. His spatial awareness is marginal, running into referees and not seeing blockers from his side. He will get too much depth on his drops, leaving a lot of room on underneath drops. He is long legged affecting his change of direction and struggles to stay with receivers making cuts. When rushing the passer, Heyward has no plan when put on the edge, getting no pressure in the games watched. He doesn’t use his hands well or show bend around the edge.

He is tentative against the run and waits for the play to come to him. On plays to the outside, his angles and ability to work through traffic are adequate, but he will overrun the ball. When taking on blocks, he uses the wrong shoulder, and instead of forcing the play he gets trapped inside. Improvement is needed on reading the mesh point to not lose sight of the ball.

Getting off blocks was a big issue for Heyward. Here against North Carolina, he is the middle linebacker and gets easily handled on each play.


Heyward has good size, athleticism, and very good length. He pursues the ball well and is a good tackler. In the passing game he was used in zone and man coverages and to spy the quarterback. He also has extensive experience on special teams.

Areas to improve include mental processing of plays from run to pass and reading the mesh point as well as cleaning up his zone coverage, working on his spatial awareness, and improving his technique in man coverage. As a pass rusher, working on his hand and developing a pass rush plan would go a long way.

Some teams may be enamored Heyward’s size, length, and solid athleticism but defensively he has lot of work to do. His best fit would be in a 2-gapping scheme where the defensive line can keep him clean and he can be a run-and-chase defender. Initially he should be able to help on special teams covering kicks. For his comp, I’ll go with Tyrell Adams, a player of similar size from West Georgia. He carved out a special-teams career and was able to be a starter for a season down the road.

Projection: Late Day Three

Depot Draft Grade:  6.2 End of Roster/Practice Squad (7th Round)

Games Watched: 2022 – At Kansas, Vs Virginia, Vs North Carolina, At Boston College, Vs Wake Forest

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