Henley is one of my favorite off-ball linebackers in this draft….actually I can’t back that up, he’s probably my favorite and an easy pick at where he’s likely to get drafted.
Henley had quite a collegiate journey. He spent four seasons at Nevada, seeing time at wide receiver, kick returner, both safety spots and as a slot defender. He became a linebacker in 2020, and in 2021 he had 94 tackles and four interceptions for the Wolfpack. Then he moved on to Washington State in 2022, finishing with 106 tackles (12 tackles for loss), four sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception.
Henley drew particular praise for his work in coverage during Senior Bowl practice week against higher level competition. That’s an area the Lions can certainly still use help in, all-around and at the linebacker level. And it’s not like Henley is a slouch or a liability defending the run. If there’s a knock on him it’s that he’s small-ish(6-foot-1, 225 pounds), which stands to drop him further in the draft than his production and talent (i.e. “the tape”) would suggest.
Alex Anzalone was brought back on a multi-year deal, and he’ll keep the starting spot alongside Malcolm Rodriguez barring injury. But the Lions could still turn to the draft to make an addition at linebacker, and this is where I struck with one of “my guys” in this year’s draft.
Many Lions’ fans seem to be Brock Wright/Shane Zylstra/James Mitchell truthers, leaning into the proficiency of the Lions’ offense even after T.J. Hockenson was traded last season. But those of with a wider view of the situation see a need to upgrade the talent level at tight end, and LaPorta fits that bill.
LaPorta is the latest member of the “Tight End U” that Iowa is, topping 50 receptions and 11 yards per catch in each of last two seasons as a Hawkeye. He had a nice showing at the Combine, including a memorable meeting with the Lions, and according to Pro Football Focus his 20 broken tackles last season were the fifth-most they’ve ever charted for a tight end in nine years of grading.
The Lions are in line to draft a quarterback, perhaps now more than ever after circling back to re-sign Nate Sudfeld. McKee gets knocked for taking too many sacks, and he’s not especially mobile. But he had an awful supporting cast at Stanford, which impacted his numbers and his effectiveness, and he has NFL size (6-foot-6, 231 pounds).
It’s fair to wonder how that dismal talent around him in Palo Alto may have turned McKee into a more conservative quarterback, and kept him from unleashing all he can do. An NFL team will take a shot at finding out if he can be a better pro than college quarterback, likely on Day 2 of the draft, and it may very well be the Lions.