INDIANAPOLIS -- Nakobe Dean or Devin Lloyd: Who's the top off-ball linebacker in the 2022 NFL Draft?
While this prospect pool stirs plenty of discussion on the pecking order for passers, pass catchers and pass rushers, the top two LBs might actually offer the best mano-a-mano debate. What's your flavor? Is it Dean, the explosive, heady alpha-dog leader of Georgia's stacked defense? Or Lloyd, the lengthy, versatile stat-stuffer out of Utah? It's a house divided among NFL Network draft analysts: Daniel Jeremiah and Lance Zierlein rank Dean just above Lloyd, while Bucky Brooks has Lloyd nipping Dean.
So, what do the players themselves think? Asked at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine on Friday if he's the best off-ball linebacker in this class, Dean didn't hesitate.
"I believe so, yes," the 2021 Butkus Award winner said, before answering a follow-up question about what makes him stand out from the pack. "My mindset and my mentality that goes into things separate me from everyone else."
Lloyd directly followed Dean at Podium 3 in the Indiana Convention Center. Told of Dean's opinion on the positional hierarchy, the 2021 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year provided a more diplomatic response.
"I feel like everyone out here feels they're the best, as they should," Lloyd said. "These are some of the top athletes in the country, and so everyone has every right to feel that way."
Both AP first-team All-Americans in 2021, Dean and Lloyd helped lift their respective teams to new heights: Georgia won its first national championship in 41 years, while Utah played in its first Rose Bowl in program history. And while off-ball linebacker isn't exactly a marquee position in draft world, both players are consistently mocked in Round 1. But when it comes to playing style, these two vaunted prospects are cut from a different mold. Dean's a compact, instinctive playmaker who's most comfortable playing traffic cop in the middle of the defense. Meanwhile, Lloyd's lean and long, with the ability to excel inside or hunt quarterbacks off the edge.
Another difference: Their approach to this week in Indianapolis. While Dean says he's waiting until Georgia's pro day on March 16 to perform drills for scouts, Lloyd plans to fully participate in Saturday evening's on-field workout at Lucas Oil Stadium (4 p.m. ET on NFL Network).
However, Dean and Lloyd are in unison when it comes their appreciation of the most impactful rookie linebacker in recent memory: Micah Parsons. Both prospects showered praise on the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, citing him as motivation to hit the ground running in 2022.
"He had a great year and that definitely is inspiring for a lot of players, just seeing what he did," Lloyd said. "Definitely plan on coming in and doing great things as well."