Weight: 229 pounds
School: Ohio State Buckeyes
40-yard dash: 4.53 seconds (fourth among linebackers)
Bench press: 22 reps
Vertical jump: 36.5 inches (sixth among linebackers)
Broad jump: 10 feet, 6 inches (third among linebackers)
Jerome Baker 2018 NFL Draft Profile
The prototypical NFL linebacker has been evolving for quite some time now, and that’s not going to slow down any time soon. It used to be that you had to weigh at least 240 pounds to play the “enforcer” role at the linebacker position. That’s not even close to the case anymore. Some of the best do-it-all linebackers aren’t even 230 pounds now. Telvin Smith, Deion Jones, Kwon Alexander, Eric Kendricks, Deone Bucannon, Mark Barron; the list goes on. Could former Ohio State Buckeye Jerome Baker be the next slightly undersized stud NFL linebacker?
It’s possible, but does his skill set truly translate to the NFL?
Well, since the league is continuously shifting towards more passing, it seems speed, agility, and real cover skills seem to be important. However, linebackers still can’t just get washed out against the run. If they fail too miserably at either they’ll be relegated to sub-packages or a backup and special teams role.
Baker’s solid speed and athleticism give him range to both drop into coverage and attack in the run game. He grabbed three and a half sacks and at least eight tackles for loss in each of the past two seasons. And even though he only logged a few passes defended his coverage was clearly respected by opposing quarterbacks. It was clear that defenses did not like forcing any play his way.
Baker also possesses above average awareness. Against Oklahoma (in both 2016 and 2017) he contained extra yardage Baker Mayfield was trying to create with his legs on multiple occasions. Baker used his awareness to diagnose quickly and get to the right spot.
However, Baker’s size does show up as an issue at times. Iowa seemed to figure things out against Baker and the rest of the Buckeyes. Baker was simply moved off his spot on several occasions when asked to make a stop in that game. He was left grasping at air as he was pushed aside. And that even showed on the stat sheet as he barely contributed on five “assists” that were politely awarded to him.
When Baker plays instinctually and strong he has a good game (like against Wisconsin in both 2016 and 2017). That just needs to present itself more consistently if he’s going to find an every-down role in the NFL. The athleticism is similar to the consensus LB1 in this class, Roquan Smith (according to MockDraftable). He just needs to use that confidently. If he does that, Baker could very well be a steal for the right team as a 4-3 outside (WILL) linebacker or inside in a 3-4.
- fantastic pursuit speed against the run and pass;
- solid awareness in short range coverage;
- great bend and agility to avoid aggressive block contact;
- shows discipline in gap defense;
- unbelievable overall athleticism to make up for raw tendencies.
- doesn’t play very strong even by college standards;
- cannot shed solid contact once he’s blocked;
- isn’t a technician in terms of tackling or blitzing;
- doesn’t possess size to clog the middle in the NFL;
- can over-pursue against the run and miss tackle opportunities.
NFL Comparison: Telvin Smith
Projection: Late second to end of the third round
Jerome Baker is far from a perfect linebacker prospect. However, that’s exactly why he could be a value in late second or third round. Smaller linebackers have become the NFL Draft’s new inefficiency to exploit. Several “raw” playmaking athletes have taken the league by storm in recent years. There’s no reason why Baker can’t be the next in line to do the same. If he adds just a little strength and improves his technique shedding blocks Baker will be a solid pro for a long time.