NFL Draft: Yawin Smallwood Offers Versatility at Inside Linebacker


Connecticut Huskies linebacker Yawin Smallwood (33) forces the fumble as he sacks Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner (98). David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports photograph

The Green Bay Packers have plenty of needs going into the 2014 NFL Draft, and as you begin reading about potential prospects the Packers could select come May, here is a player you should put on your radar at inside linebacker.

Most people who follow college football and search the internet for first-round mock drafts already know about Alabama’s C.J. Mosley. Stanford’s Shayne Skov is another big name at inside linebacker that gets thrown around.

Both Mosley and Skov get a lot of recognition when it comes to this year’s linebacker class, and deservedly so, but another player you might want to learn more about is Conneticut’s Yawin Smallwood.

Smallwood is still a bit of an unknown among the casual fan at this point in the draft process. Many analysts have him as a second or third-round pick, and in many mock drafts that go well into the third or fourth round you’ll rarely see the Conneticut linebacker even mentioned.

Despite lacking national recognition, when you watch Smallwood on film a lot of great things jump out at you. I get the feeling this is a guy that will really shoot up draft boards after the NFL Combine and pro day workouts.

Scouts love his athleticism. He’s a 6-2, 240-pound linebacker that is projected to run the 40 in the 4.65 range. When you see him on film, he plays fast. He can run sideline-to-sideline and make plays on the field against the run and in pass coverage. In 2013, he recorded nine pass deflections and an interception, but he also showed outstanding cover skills for a linebacker, sticking with halfbacks and tight ends crossing over the middle of the field or shadowing them in the flat.

He plays fluid. He makes playing inside linebacker look easy. His vision on the field is perhaps his most underrated skill. He’s patient against the run, and once he reads the play, he reacts and closes in on the ball carrier.

He’s had 24.5 tackles for loss the past two seasons, and he’s a player that is great at getting into the backfield and making plays behind the line of scrimmage. He’s what you want at inside linebacker.

In his three years as a starter, he’s led his team in tackles, notching 118 in 2013, 120 in 2012, and 94 in 2011. He also had 9.5 sacks in his three years at Connecticut and five forced fumbles, showing his ability to not only make plays but also rush the passer as a blitzing linebacker.

Smallwood is a versatile, yet balanced inside linebacker prospect. He can do a bit of everything. He offers more size than Mosley and more athleticism and speed than maulers Skov or Wisconsin’s Chris Borland.

Smallwood may not have the highlight-reel hits Skov or Mosley deliver or have the bulk of Borland at the point of attack, but when it comes to shortcomings at the position, there is very little to find in Smallwood’s game.

He is reliable, versatile, athletic, and has a ton of potential at the next level. He’s going to be a great find for a team, like the Packers, who may be looking for linebacker help in rounds two through four.

So even though Mosley appears to be the only inside linebacker worthy of a first-round grade in this year’s draft class, don’t be surprised if teams wait until rounds two or three to address the position with a player like Smallwood.