Devin Lloyd came to Utah back in 2017 as a skinny wide receiver who was also a safety and his team’s punter in high school. He was born in Kansas City, but the family moved around since his father was a career military man serving 26 years defending America. Devin eventually ended up in the southern most part of California right near the Mexican border. As a senior he had a punt that traveled 60 yards and had 12 punts inside the 20.
Lloyd also played 28 games on his high school varsity team where he had 956 receiving yards with 9 TDs. On defense he had 8 INTs with two becoming pick sixes. The fact that he was a receiver aided his ability to read route formations on defense.
Devin redshirted the 2017 season when the coaches convinced him to switch from offense to the linebacker position. He spent the year working on learning his new position while gaining 20 lbs to aid him in fighting off blocks and making tackles. In 2018 he spent the year on the special teams unit while appearing three times on defense.
In 2019 he showed enough in the spring to earn the starting gig as the rover linebacker because of his speed. He may have gained 20 lbs, but he retained the speed he had as a wide receiver. That year was a learning experience, but he still made 91 tackles with 11 TFL and 6 1⁄2 sacks. He had a single INT that he ran back for a TD on a 64 yard return.
The 2020 season was to be his breakout season, and it was to a point. He became a strong team leader, but the pandemic limited the Utes to a mere 5 games. Still Lloyd made 48 tackles with 2 sacks and 10 TFL in only the 5 games. At that point he could have left for the NFL and was told he could have been a 2nd round draft choice, but Lloyd felt he had unfinished business in Salt Lake City.
“More than anything, I want to leave with a championship, with a nice little ring on my finger. Hopefully a couple of rings, I want to bring everyone along with me, too. I know this team wants to be great. I’m not the only one on this team that wants to be great. My passion for the game as well — the NFL isn’t going anywhere, I just want to cement a legacy here at the university and do a lot of great things here. I knew I had an opportunity to leave but it wouldn’t have been up to my expectations as far as the draft. I just felt like it was all around the best decision to come back and invest another year,” Lloyd said
Lloyd took that extra year to work on his coverage skills which have transformed into a strength of his game from a weakness. The Jets have a problem with the coverage from the linebacker position. They get targeted by opposing QBs which keeps drives moving and the Jets defense being left on the field. C J Mosley made a lot of tackles in 2021 but he gets he gets eviscerated in pass coverage.
Here Lloyd is in zone coverage against a strong Oregon team. Lloyd is in the middle of the field as he drops back into coverage. What is nice here is the fact he keeps an eye on any player who may cross the field. He has perfect leverage on the slot man carrying him into the end zone so any pass would have to go right by or over his head.
Lloyd is watching his man while maintaining his position in the middle of the field. He doesn’t drift so when the slot man comes free on a double move he is there to take over the coverage so there is no window for the QB to fit the ball into. Lloyd plays this defense exactly as it was drawn up.
This next play Lloyd is over the slot man in a matchup zone coverage. He has the center of the field so he has to protect against any player running the seam or entering the deep zone in the middle of the field.
Lloyd is patient in his coverage. He knows he has the speed to run with the slot player, but he wants to maintain great leverage on his man. As he runs with him he does so without allowing the man to cross his face. He wants to keep himself between the QB and the receiver so he doesn’t allow a pathway for the QB to fit the ball into. He keeps his man within an arm’s distance so he can look back to see the play behind him. What he doesn’t want is for the QB to whistle a ball past his earhole and into the arms of the receiver.
By keeping an eye on what is going on behind him, he can react to any play being made between him and the line of scrimmage. The receiver could be just running him downfield allowing space for a screen pass or a draw play or a QB scramble.
Lloyd has also made great strides as a run defender, deciphering plays then hitting the right hole to make the play. He is not perfect and remains a work in progress, but he has the quickness needed plus the strength to take on then shed blocks on his way to the tackle. Here he uses his quickness to knife through the line then make a shoestring tackle that keeps the play to a single yard gain.
This is a read option so Lloyd has to maintain his position. He doesn’t know if this is going to be a handoff or a pass right through when he is stationed. It’s not a pass, but Lloyd has no way of knowing that so he waits until he can see the ball in the stomach of the RB before he leaves his position. This is nicely done.
On this next play Lloyd is playing over the TE in the SAM position; it’s where I think he can be most effective. Watch as he again waits for the handoff then easily slips the block of the TE, keeps sound leverage on the play, then makes the tackle.
Lloyd keeps great leverage on the play by not chasing the ball carrier when he tries to go off tackle before he bounces the play outside. By doing so, Lloyd keeps a hard edge. He slips by the block by the TE easily then makes the tackle. Lloyd has excellent length which helps keeping blockers off his chest. He can then disengage from blockers to make a play on the ball barrier. It helps keeps Lloyd in proper position to make plays.
Too often you see players leaving their assigned areas then get caught inside by the traffic allowing a ball carrier to bounce the play outside for a huge gain. By staying in his lane then squaring up to the ball carrier Lloyd is able to make a TFL on the play.
You often see in the NFL teams bring their inside linebackers up to the line to attempt an “A” gap blitz. It could one or both inside linebackers. The reason they do this is because it will overwhelm the offensive line who already have the defensive tackles to deal with. There are simply not enough blockers to hold up against the onslaught. The “A” gap blitz is the way to get to the QB the quickest since you have less distance to travel than say the defensive ends. It also makes the QB move from the center of the pocket where he is most comfortable taking him off his spot.
Here is a single “A” gap blitz by Lloyd on a 3rd & 13 play. This is a gamble by the defense since they rush 5 players. They are playing a two deep safety look, but all the receivers have man coverage. If one receiver breaks the coverage he could have a huge play.
Lloyd does a nice job of using his speed to quickly attack the right guard in a half man approach. He doesn’t hit the guard square. He just powers though then around one side of the guard. He gets through very efficiently. He speeds through the line so rapidly that the RB (who had stepped up to protect for his QB) isn’t able to get over to make a play on Lloyd as he rushes by. He then makes short work of the QB with the sure tackle/sack.
In the same game watch here as Lloyd follows the play from the 2nd level of the defense flowing with the blockers. The fullback is a good indication as to where the play is headed as he lays a hit on the defensive end. He has no idea that the ball carrier is not behind him.
The corner blitz stops the RB from making it to the right edge so the RB reverses field with the path to the right totally blocked. Lloyd is reading all of this while staying outside the trash which would get him caught up inside. He doesn’t overcommit on the play which leaves him free to chase the play down from the 2nd level. Notice the speed once he knows where he needs to attack. He easily runs down the RB behind the line.
This next play is indicative of the type of skills and inside linebacker needs to be effective in the NFL. Granted that need has changed over the years. It used to be you needed an inside linebacker to be a tough, burly sort who was basically another defensive lineman but more agile with the ability to tackle in a wide area on the move. Much of that is still true but added to that are the needs flow with speed to either sideline and coverage skills. Today’s tasks include covering tight ends down the seam, running backs out into the flat or on wheel routes, and crossing slot receivers who are quick as a cat.
That is a varied skill set. You have already seen Lloyd in coverage (with more to follow), blitz for a sack, hold the edge and make a TFL, play the run without getting stuck in traffic, and shoot a gap. Now can he handle the power lead play off tackle? The answer is yes.
The right side of the defensive line is handled pretty easily by the guard and tackle. This leaves the center free to make it to the 2nd level and make a combo block.The center wants to clip Lloyd away from the hole, setting up the lead blocker to take Lloyd out while the center handles the other inside linebacker. Lloyd brushes aside the efforts of the center then quickly pushes the lead blocker away and makes the tackle. You can see against the lead blocker the advantage Lloyd has with his quality length. His reach is much longer than his opponent so he is able to get to his pad then pushes him away immediately.
Watch Lloyd’s head. He handles two attempted blocks but never takes his eyes off the runner. He knows exactly where he is so after he sheds the lead blocker he is in position to make the tackle on a runner who just cut off of the backside of that block. Also watch the great tackle. It’s an ankle tackle but Lloyd has strong hands. He grabs hold then as he goes to the ground he rolls his body (which essentially cork screws himself) which ensures the running back is going down. On this play (in about 4 seconds) Lloyd read the play, flows with the play action, sheds two blocks, then makes a sure tackle. Nice job.
Okay that is a synopsis of all the skills a tough inside linebacker needs to have. I promised more coverage skills clips which are also needed in todays NFL. This first one is real quick.
Lloyd is the right side inside linebacker. This is a play action pass so he first must make sure of his run fit first before anything else. Once he sees the QB keep the ball he works back into his matchup zone area. He is able to get into perfect position on the slot receiver who is crossing the middle of the field. Lloyd stays in between the receiver and the QB so there is no chance of a completion.
On this next play Lloyd is the right side inside linebacker. This is a pistol formation so when the running back escapes into the flat at the snap Lloyd knows the play is a pass so he drops into his zone. Lloyd is playing alongside Nephi Sewell who was an AP 1st team Pac-12 All-Conference performer in 2021. Yet Lloyd is a team captain who is the undisputed leader of the defense. He is motioning for Nephi to get to the outside of the slot receiver who is running the 5 yard drag route to the offense’s left.
This is called “leveraging the play” as Lloyd wants Nephi to be outside the receiver, which is where he ends up being. This stops the receiver from catching the ball with a head of steam then continuing across the field with speed. You can see the receiver has to stop with Nephi right there which forces him back inside with zero momentum. Lloyd plus a host of others are there to make the play against the speedy receiver.
You also can see that Lloyd has the intermediate middle of the field in his zone coverage. He motions to Nephi to get leverage but stays in his zone, not allowing the QB a window to the deep crosser directly behind Lloyd. Once the ball is thrown Lloyd then moves up to corral the ball carrier. Lloyd is very solid in his zone coverages. He doesn’t get antsy or ahead of himself by committing forward too soon. If he did it would show on tape then in future games teams would feign the same play then throw right behind Lloyd for a big play.
This next play is a matchup zone concept where Lloyd not only has to get depth but also run with any player who comes into his zone. He can only do his after the running back steps up in front of the QB so he knows it is not a running play.
This is not some burly tight end he is picking up but a wide receiver who has serious momentum as he fakes like he is going outside or down the seam but instead curls across the middle in a deep crossing pattern. Lloyd is able to get underneath the receiver then run step for step with him across the middle. There is no window for the QB to throw into, but he attempts to anyway with the result being a near interception. From the end zone view the size, speed, and length of Lloyd completely cover up the receiver.
This next clip will give you an idea of why you have to completely understand the concepts of the matchup zone system. Lloyd not only knows the system but keeps everyone aware of their responsibilities on every play. Here everyone does their jobs on this jailbreak type offensive play with 5 receivers out on the play.
There are multiple players crossing the field. The running back is on a wheel route. The two short crossers switch sides of the field. The only player open is the right wide receiver on a 8 yard out, but that is by design as you don’t want the safety stepping up for that route then allowing someone to get deep. Even so the QB would have to throw over the other receiver (who is guarded) 5 yards in front of him. In the end the QB sacks himself trying to escape the rush, but you have to admire how every player did his job. Lloyd is the defensive captain. He has to get his players in position with an idea of knowing what do do under all circumstances. There is a calmness defensively on a play designed to make the defense frantic. Lloyd calmly does his job, head up all the way so he sees everything as it happens.
This last clip is again with Lloyd in coverage with only a single receiver in his entire area. That receiver never threatens Lloyd. He stops short of the area where Lloyd is protecting. Then the receiver sits down in that area drifting ever so slightly to his right. Lloyd of course sees this. He has an eye on him but also on the QB. When the QB raises his hand as if to throw Lloyd moves closer to the receiver.
This is like a gift. When the QB actually throws the ball Lloyd is nearly in front of the receiver already. This play is made because Lloyd knows his zone, knows who is in his zone, and keeps an eye on both the QB and receiver. Being aware of everything going on around you with great physical skill allows you to make plays. Add the fact that Lloyd is a very intelligent player. Great mental acuity for his defensive scheme allows an inside linebacker to have 3 pick sixes in a 36 game career.
His head coach Kyle Whittingham has been at Utah since 1994. Ge was the defensive coordinator then became the head coach in 2004. His praise for Lloyd couldn’t be higher “Devin is a special football player. He’s the best defender that’s ever come through the University of Utah, at least in the modern era,” he said.
“He’s a self-made guy. He came to us as a safety and a wide receiver out of high school and we projected him as a linebacker. He became, through sheer hard work and determination one of the top linebackers in the country. His versatility allows us to use him as an inside ’backer spot, where he’s most comfortable. We can also bring him off the edge. He’s a pass rush force,” Whittingham said.
“He’s a guy that can really do it all. He’s got the size, the strength, the speed and the agility that all the big-time players have. He’s meant the world to us. He won the MVP in the Pac-12 championship game. Very well deserving of that. “I see exactly what the NFL looks for in linebackers. He’s got the size, the speed, the explosion, the athleticism, the intelligence — everything you see in those elite linebackers in the NFL, Devin possesses them.”
“His impact and value cannot be overstated. He is such a great leader, such a pure talent. He could have come out last year and been a first- or second-round draft choice,” Whittingham said. “He came back and he was a man on a mission. He wanted to win the championship, he wanted to be an All-American. He had these goals. We sat down and he told me all of his goals about a year ago when he was making that decision. He said, ‘I’m coming back and here’s why and here’s what I want to accomplish.’ And he’s checked every box so far.”
Devin Lloyd is my top rated linebacker on my board. He has great character and was a team captain. He is everything you want in a linebacker. He can play anywhere on the 2nd level of the defense, and the Jets are in need of a couple of linebackers like Lloyd. The good news is that the Jets will be able to see him up close and personal as he is on the squad the Jets’ coaches are overseeing at the Senior Bowl. They will have nearly a week to find out all they want about Mr. Lloyd. To be honest I can’t see how the Jets pass up a chance at drafting Devin Lloyd come April.
The bad news is I don’t see how Lloyd makes it past pick #15 as the Eagles are also in need of just such a linebacker.
Lloyd could play alongside C. J. Mosley or take over for him if the Jets could find a trade partner. Either way I think Saleh and Joe Douglas will be smitten with Mr. Lloyd.
That’s what I think...
What do you think....?