The Badgers are a team that is becoming a school that consistently churns out linebackers that produce in the NFL. Since 2014, Wisconsin has had seven linebackers drafted, plus T.J. Edwards as an undrafted free agent. Yet again, the Badgers have two linebackers worthy of being selected in the NFL Draft this year with both Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn. The focus of this scouting report will be on Chenal.
Chenal is similar to recent Badger linebackers such as Zack Baun and Andrew Van Ginkel because of his versatility and pass-rush skills. Chenal had a coming-out party in 2020 when he totaled 46 tackles, including six for losses, three sacks, and an interception. In 2021, he blew away those numbers, totaling 115 tackles, including 18.5 for loss and eight sacks. Many expected the Badger linebacker to return to school, but surprisingly he declared last week. In a linebacker class that has plenty of flavors to choose from, Chenal could look to sneak his way into the day two conversation.
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Name: Leo Chenal
Jersey: No. 5
Weight: 261 lbs
Games Watched: Purdue (2021), Iowa (2021), Notre Dame (2021), Michigan (2021)
Major Injury History: None
The NFL is always looking for players that command a defense. Chenal is a player that can do that. There were plenty of times where he was commanding and talking to his fellow teammates for the Badgers and talking through things as players went in motion. He’s a leader and seems to love football. Chenal is a player that is seemingly always around the football. He is an instinctive player against the run that understands run concepts and can quickly diagnose them.
Chenal rarely misses tackles. He has perfected the little things in the tackling technique and drives low, wraps up around the ball carrier’s legs, and takes them to the ground. There were plenty of times where Chenal saved a chunk gain because he made the tackle. In the four games watched, he only missed one tackle.
Block Shedding (9.25/10)
If you want to see a hard-nosed football player, watch Chenal. He isn’t afraid to do dirty work in the run game. Chenal will take on lead blocks and double-teams and love every minute of it. He is a bruiser and will pound his way through blocks. He also has very active hands that factor in on swim moves and chop away hands and work his way through blocks. He’s an aggressive player that loves to play through contact and has lined up in the A gap on goal-line runs plenty of times and taken big hits from multiple linemen.
Run Defense (9/10)
As stated already, it seems as though Chenal loves contact. He can shake off double-team blocks and is always near the ball. Chenal does very well at reading and reacting to what is occurring in front of him and grasping certain run concepts that the opposing teams run. He was a thumper in the middle of the defense for the Badgers and was consistently their best run stuffer at the second-level and front seven in general.
Pursuit/Closing Speed (8.5/10)
Here is the first trait of the report where Chenal isn’t above-average. While he is a big thumper in the run game, it is in the middle areas of the field. He doesn’t have elite athleticism, and it shows up when he’s trying to catch a runner in space. He trails behind, and the ball carrier eases past him. Chenal does have some short-area burst to his game when he says an opening to get to the quarterback. He did fantastic at the combine, recording a 9.99 RAS, which improved his grade here.
Pass Rush Skills (9/10)
During the 2021 season, Chenal came into his own in this regard with an eight-sack season, including 3.5 against Purdue. Wisconsin Defensive Coordinator Jim Leonhard used Chenal in many different ways throughout the season, which included the linebacker being sent on a delayed blitz through the A gap on multiple occasions. He is quick in short areas, and if he sees a glimpse of the quarterback, he’ll take off like a missile on the way to a sack. Chenal could’ve had more on the year, but he was just a few steps short on multiple occasions.
Man Coverage (7/10)
Another one of Chenal’s downfalls is his coverage skills, which is also a result of his limited athleticism. He is athletic enough to cover running backs and tight ends in the short-intermediate areas, but when the receiver he’s covering is going further down the field, he’s unable to cover him. That wasn’t displayed very often during his time with the Badgers because Leonhard had him in good positions to not have that happen. Chenal will struggle if he goes against receivers one-on-one or more athletic tight ends that can test the deep portions of the field.
Zone Coverage (6.5/10)
Both coverage traits for Chenal are a concern. While he does well covering mesh concepts underneath, that’s about it in zone coverage. He was used as a spy on some passes where his one job is to contain the quarterback. In some other scenario, he is keyed in on the quarterback too much that he lets a receiver go right behind him and into an open zone for a chunk gain.
Ball Skills (1.5/5)
Due to his average coverage skills, we didn’t get to see Chenal’s ball skills tested very often. When we did, he seemed to be a touch too late to break up the pass. He did have an interception in 2020 and another one in 2021, but that one was negated due to a penalty. Chenal is more of a threat in the run game than he is in coverage.
Thankfully, the report ends on a high note. It looks as though Chenal could play SAM or WILL linebacker at the next level or one of the two inside linebacker spots in an odd-front defense. A defensive scheme that puts him at many different spots will fit him best. Chenal was lined up at the second level, in the A gap to drop into coverage, and also blitzed from his linebacker spot, off the edge, and from the A gap.
Chenal is an intriguing study at the linebacker position. He is an old-school thumper that relies on his instincts more than anything. He is a team leader and was the voice of the defense at Wisconsin. His limitations come primarily due to his limited athleticism. A team that can deploy him in multiple positions and spread him around the defense primarily in blitz and early-down situations will be beneficial to his development. A few teams like the Giants, Patriots, and Dolphins are likely primary fits due to their success with using similar players under Bill Belichick and Flores during his time in Miami.
Rookie Projection: Backup Linebacker/Blitz Specialist
Third Year Projection: Starting SAM Linebacker
Final Grade (83.25/100): Mid Second Round
Player Comp: Jamie Collins