The Washington State Cougars haven’t sent a linebacker to the NFL via the draft since … 2002 (Raonall Smith). But that drought ends in the 2023 NFL Draft, with Daiyan Henley’s scouting report highlighting his NFL skill set. The only question is: How high will he go?
Daiyan Henley NFL Draft Profile
- Position: LB
- School: Washington State
- Current Year: Redshirt senior
- Height/Weight: 6’1″, 225 pounds
- Arm Length: 33″
- Hand Size: 9 1/2″
Between his time at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, California, and his six years in collegiate football (first five with the Nevada Wolf Pack), Henley has lined up at QB, WR, EDGE, LB, safety, nickel, and even kick returner.
But his path to the NFL draft stage wasn’t always clear. He left Crenshaw as a two-star QB recruit with only one true offer (Nevada). He played wide receiver and safety early in his career, but following a season-ending injury in 2019, the L.A. native switched to linebacker.
Following a solid 2020 season with its fair share of growing pains, Henley burst onto the scene in 2021. He led Nevada in tackles (103), interceptions (four), fumble recoveries (three), and defensive scores (two), finishing the campaign as a second-team All-Mountain West selection.
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Yet, with head coach Jay Norvell on the move, Henley opted to put his name in the transfer portal. And despite interest from USC, Washington, and Kansas State, he took his talents to Wazzu.
And Henley picked up where he left off, producing 106 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, four sacks, one INT, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. He even caught a pass for 36 yards!
What he was able to accomplish in one year with the Cougars is nothing short of impressive: first-team All-Pac-12 recognition, CFN Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year, Senior Bowl invitee, and the first player in program history to be named a finalist for the Butkus Award (given to the nation’s top linebacker).
Daiyan Henley Scouting Report
Henley’s playmaking ability didn’t go unnoticed against his competition, with Oregon head coach Dan Lanning stating, “Athletic ability, motor, versatility. I think you see all that, and they use him in a lot of unique ways, which obviously that’s a benefit for them.”
And, of course, Washington State HC Jake Dickert had his own praise for his star defender:
“There’s a lot of playmaking, but he’s playing more linebacker. You watch his tape at Nevada; he’s playing old-school football — tackle the ball. Now you’re seeing him play linebacker with technique, his hands — his blitzing ability is off the charts.”
Where Henley Wins
With NFL-level prospects, you expect to see them pop off the tape, and that’s exactly what Henley does. His wide receiver background is plain to see in his short-area dynamism, but outside of his fluidity, suddenness, and explosiveness (35″ vertical and 10’5″ broad at the Combine), you’d never know Henley was an offensive convert.
When he’s confident in what he sees, he moves at another level, shooting gaps and exploding upfield. He’s often the one taking the fight to the ball carrier — and it’s usually not a fair one.
Henley’s as sure as they come as a tackler, using proper technique to wrap up while also having the strength to lay the boom. At a rocked-up 6’1″ and 225 pounds, the Washington State LB has excellent length (33″), and it flashes when used properly.
Against the run, Henley can dip a shoulder, scrape, and close laterally with solid range (4.54 40-yard dash) from the second level. He’s twitchy enough to work sideline to sideline while also being able to traverse gaps quickly between the tackles.
In the open field, the WSU LB has no issue rallying to the football and making a play, whether recovering a fumble (five since 2021) or forcing one (three). He’s also an effective blitzer with a strong lower half, adding value as a pass rusher on third down.
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Henley closes well in space and can play overhang/spot drop in zone effectively. In coverage, Henley’s shown the capacity to sink and flip his hips, locate the football, and make a play (five INTs). Although I wouldn’t ask him to do it every down, he can also carry slot WRs upfield with leverage and understands how and when to pass off routes in zone.
That said, Henley still has plenty of developmental upside at linebacker, considering he’s only played there full-time since 2020. It’s a very instinctual position, and even though he’s already showcased a nose for the football, Henley can learn plenty from more experience.
Adding to his allure, Henley can be a special-teams ace, as he lined up on every unit except the field goal team in his six collegiate seasons. Heck, he even used to return kicks!
Henley’s Areas for Improvement
With Henley’s inexperience at the position is going to come warts in his game. And although he’s young at linebacker, he will be an older rookie at 24. There are reps in games watched where he exhibits inconsistent vision.
When Henley isn’t sure what’s in front of him, his legs look like they’re in quicksand, and he’s reluctant to move off his spot. His play recognition and reaction speed will only improve with more playing time, but it will be on NFL teams to spend the draft capital and time on his development.
There were also plays where it appeared as if Henley was late to communicate, resulting in the play beginning before he got his head back around. That wasn’t just a Washington State issue either, as it showed up at Nevada as well.
Yet, Henley’s biggest concerns stem from his run defense. Even with his impressive trigger and first step, he can get walled off coming downhill with relative ease. He disengages from blocks with little more than effort and athleticism — a block slipper rather than a shedder.
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Additionally, the Washington State LB occasionally lets pullers climb to him and take him out of the play. And when you add in his tweener body style, Henley just isn’t a viable candidate to play stack linebacker at the next level. He will need protection from the defensive front to allow him to roam liberally and maximize his current skill set.
Henley also struggles to read the run scheme cleanly, limiting his ability to get to the strong side quickly. And when he does see a path to the ball carrier, he can overpursue, opening up a cutback lane.
Additionally, the WSU LB owns a bit of a high-cut build, causing him to be leggy in short-area transitions. And while he has the movement skills to match tight ends and running backs in coverage, he’s a work-in-progress as a zone defender. Oftentimes, Henley didn’t reach proper depth or match routes behind his zone, allowing bigger gains than you’d like.
Current Draft Projection for WSU LB Daiyan Henley
Even with all the areas for improvement on Henley’s scouting report, I still view him as Day 2 pick. His vast special-teams repertoire and notable athleticism will ensure he’s drafted, and his early returns at linebacker are promising. However, the holes in his game could quickly turn into craters in the NFL if he doesn’t take to his coaching immediately.
Henley’s playmaking skill set translates best as a WILL linebacker, where he’ll take on blocks less often and have a clearer runway to the backfield. Yet, as with any prospect, his landing spot and how the coaching staff utilizes him will ultimately determine how Henley pans out in the league. He may never be more than an average starting LB and key special teamer, but that’s a mold that’s sustainable and, thus, lucrative.