Before getting into today’s piece on Leo Chenal, if you missed it earlier — check out my conversation with the brilliant Rob ‘Stats’ Guerrera, discussing plenty of Seahawks, 49ers and NFL topics. It’s well worth a listen…
Trying to determine fit, potential and value is challenging with some players.
Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal is a classic example.
He wasn’t asked to do much more in college than chase downfield and attack. He was a force of nature as a blitzer. Equally, he works through traffic with ease and explodes to the ball carrier.
Listed at 6-2 and 261lbs — Chenal is one of the most aggressive, physical and impactful players in this class. He is surprisingly elusive considering his size, enabling him to avoid blocks and keep himself clean. From there, he’s always thinking ‘attack, attack, attack’.
Punishing hits. TFL’s galore. Sacks. Any team wishing to play downfield and moving forwards on defense (ahem) is going to love Chenal.
How does this translate, though, outside of the more blitz-happy schemes?
According to PFF, Chenal had just one interception and one pass break-up in three years at Wisconsin. Compare that to the 18.5 TFL’s and eight sacks he had in 2021 alone and you get a good idea of the type of player he is.
Is it a scheme thing? Wisconsin seemed to just ask him to read and react. Watch the QB. Watch the runners. There was a lot of freedom for Chenal to play what he sees. On tape, you just see him attacking the LOS time and time again. I can’t recall seeing a linebacker used this aggressively before. He rarely dropped and sat in coverage. It was always forward motion — attacking a gap or absorbing a block as he blitzed away.
The thing is, he’s really good at it. He’s a forceful, physical player. He delivered jolting hits to running backs. He would blow up plays in the backfield and shut-down short yardage situations. Opponents surely knew what to expect and yet he still made plays.
At the next level I’m not sure he can do this. He’s not Micah Parsons, moving to the edge and taking some rush snaps. He’s a pure blitzing linebacker. I sense most teams will attack his area of the field if he plays this aggressively in the NFL. I wouldn’t want to see a team isolate him with, say, George Kittle and force him into coverage.
I also think, though, that a creative defense that keeps an extra defensive back on the field can cover for his aggression — enabling him to be an extra rusher more often than not. It would be interesting to see, for example, Seattle use him and Jamal Adams to disguise which blitzer attacks. If the Seahawks really want to be ‘moving forward’ on defense this year — taking some more risks with players like Chenal and Adams would be a way to do it.
When he attacks linemen he shoves them backwards and impacts plays. He is a tone-setter and physical phenom. Personally I just love the idea of a bigger linebacker with his attitude and aggressive nature who still has the athleticism to avoid contact and work well in space.
And this is why I think the Seahawks might have some interest.
When I publish my combine preview next week, we’ll run through in detail what the Seahawks look for at every position. At linebacker, they’ve often sought high-end athleticism and agility.
It’s said that Chenal has been timed running a 4.00 short shuttle.
The Seahawks made a point of drafting Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven due to their agility testing. Barton ran a 4.03 and BBK a 4.09. They were both among the top-15 combine testers at linebacker since 2010.
Jordan Tapp, who ran a 3.96 (the fastest time) also landed in Seattle. As did Kevin Pierre-Louis (4.03), Bruce Irvin (4.03) and Nick Bellore (4.00).
Linebackers who run freaky short shuttle times often are targeted by Seattle.
Regardless of what he shows on tape, it’s possible the Seahawks see major potential and fit within Chenal due to this agility testing. Reportedly he’s also capable of a 10-1 broad jump and he’s been recorded running at 20.95mph on the GPS. He benches 420 and cleans 385. This is the kind of profile Seattle typically drafts.
It’s unusual for Wisconsin players to declare early with minimal buzz, yet that is the decision Chenal came to after careful consideration. That suggests the league views him differently compared to the media.
Frankly I’d be completely happy with the Seahawks drafting him. I’ve given him a second round grade going into the combine. The idea of having an impactful, TFL machine at linebacker who plays downfield and offers aggression, intensity and bad intentions is what this team needs. I think the Seahawks have become too soft and easy to play against on defense. They need to be more physical and aggressive.
If that means taking a few more risks, so be it.
Chenal, for me, can be a Demario Davis type impact player. Davis had 13 TFL’s in 16 games in 2021, among the league leaders. Matt Milano in Buffalo had 15. Roquan Smith had 12 playing in Sean Desai’s defense. Nick Bolton had 11 for the Chiefs.
Jordyn Brooks had 10 for Seattle in 2021. Pretty good.
Do you know how many Bobby Wagner had?
This is why there’s no room for sentimentality. As mentioned in the stream with Rob Guerrera, you need to be prepared to move on when the time comes. That time has come with Bobby Wagner.
There are some excellent linebackers in this draft who can create a potentially devastating, aggressive dup paired next to Jordyn Brooks at a fraction of the cost of Wagner.
When I think of Darrell Taylor in a front seven with Brooks, Chenal and potentially Chandler Jones — that, to me, is a scary prospect for opponents in 2022.
Retaining the increasingly hesitant (and expensive) Wagner and not having someone like Jones is a recipe for the same passive defense, struggling to impact quarterbacks.
Chenal, if he tests as expected, could and should be a day two consideration for the Seahawks.
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