As he prepares for the 2022 NFL Draft, Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Leo Chenal has a résumé littered with accolades. He’s been a dominant enforcer in the Wisconsin area since his high school career as the local kid who has overcome traditional regional obstacles to earn national attention. As his scouting report reveals, the attention on Chenal is only going to increase as an NFL Draft prospect with starting potential at the next level.
Leo Chenal NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Linebacker
- School: Wisconsin
- Current Year: Junior
- Height: 6’2″
- Weight: 261 pounds
Leo Chenal Scouting Report
Considered one of the weaker position groups in the 2022 NFL Draft class, the linebacker group has actually developed into one that possesses a deal of talent across all three days. Multiple prospects have significantly improved their game during this last season. Headline names like Nakobe Dean and Devin Lloyd have been joined by a plethora of prospects.
Wisconsin linebacker Chenal is one of the ascending prospects in this 2022 NFL Draft class. There have been several improvements in his game that have helped this ascension. Furthermore, he has an impressive base to his scouting report that has allowed these developments.
Chenal has the build of a traditional LB. At 6’2″ and 260 pounds, he’s a stout, physical playmaker. This is particularly apparent against the run. Yet, Chenal’s also shown improvement and ability both in coverage and as a pass rusher. As a result, he’s been a three-down player who rarely leaves the field. There’s no reason to think that he can’t translate this to the NFL level as an eventual starting MIKE linebacker.
For his size, Chenal is an explosive gap penetrator. He routinely appears in the backfield as if shot out of a cannon. There’s a combination of factors that allow this success. Chenal’s an above-average athlete for his size. The Wisconsin LB also plays with a hot motor, routinely fighting to the ball in all play situations. Furthermore, he’s an intelligent player whose play diagnosis gives him a competitive advantage.
A physical, technically refined linebacker with leadership qualities
Chenal also showcases some excellent technical ability. He routinely showcases the handwork to be able to shed blocks with relative ease. Those hands pack a significant punch, with multiple examples of the Wisconsin linebacker being able to shock bigger offensive linemen. As a pass rusher, Chenal’s showcased refined swim and swipe moves that allow him to pose a pass-rush threat.
In addition to being technically impressive in combat, his size and strength allow him to be impactful at the point of attack. There are multiple examples of him aligning on the line of scrimmage as a defensive tackle. He’s tough and powerful while also showcasing some ability to be elusive with his ability to contort his body to penetrate gaps.
One of the most impressive elements of Chenal’s scouting report is his tackling ability. His production in this regard, especially this last season, is outstanding. However, behind the numbers lies a reliable tackler who routinely takes good angles, wraps up with regularity, and has the power to bring any opponent — regardless of size — to the ground.
Finally, Chenal is a leader on the field. He can be routinely found directing teammates, both pre and post-snap. His high motor and relentless play style make him a natural on-field leader. With football intelligence, physicality, and the ability to impact the game in multiple facets, Chenal is an alluring NFL Draft prospect with starting potential.
Areas for improvement
While Chenal has been a highly productive college player whose scouting report possesses NFL-caliber potential, there are some limitations that could impact his NFL Draft stock come April. This could cause a halt to the Wisconsin linebacker challenging the very top of the linebacker class.
The main areas for concern with Chenal’s scouting report relate to his athletic profile. While he possesses above-average athleticism for his size, there are some issues here. There’s no escaping that at 260+ pounds, the Wisconsin LB doesn’t possess elite speed. He can fly downhill, and his motor allows him to chase down some slower offensive players. However, he lacks the speed to be a sideline-to-sideline threat.
Additionally, Chenal doesn’t possess elite or excellent change-of-direction skills. It wouldn’t be fair to compare Chenal to an oil tanker, but he doesn’t change direction fluidly or quickly. This will cause particular issues as a coverage linebacker, potentially diminishing his value to play all three downs.
Finally, while Chenal has made great strides in diagnosing plays this season, there are some improvements still to be made here. Sometimes he can be slow to diagnose on play-action passes, keying in on the running back while the quarterback rolls out, making it difficult to impact the play.
Chenal Player Profile
Wisconsin-born, bred, and developed, Chenal has been putting up eye-watering statistics since he was a young kid playing for Grantsburg High School. In high school, Chenal tallied 385 tackles, 55 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, and 3 interceptions. Coming off the most successful season of his college career, establishing himself as a defensive dominator, that might not surprise people.
What people perhaps don’t know, however, is that Chenal was also a potent offensive player prior to progressing to the college level. While brother John Chenal has developed into one of the top fullback prospects in the NFL Draft, Leo was an impactful running back. With 3,706 career rushing yards and 68 touchdowns, he also flashed receiving ability with 1,300 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns.
Alongside exceptional statistics came an array of accolades. In 2018, Chenal was named the Wisconsin Gatorade Player of the Year. He was also named Wisconsin small-school Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year. Furthermore, Chenal earned first-team All-American (small school) honors and received the John Anderson Award as the state’s top senior linebacker.
Being successful on both sides of the ball isn’t always a good thing. Chenal earned the “athlete” moniker in the 2019 recruiting class. As a smaller-school player, he didn’t earn the attention that his statistical profile might suggest. Unranked by some sites, he held interest from Iowa and Minnesota, but only Wisconsin and South Dakota State extended an offer.
Chenal’s career at Wisconsin
Three years later, Wisconsin has reaped the rewards of taking a chance on a linebacker who was viewed as the 639th player in that class. However, even in 2018, the Badgers’ were enamored with Chenal, his skill set, and his potential. One coach, Chris Hoering, spoke to the media about how the young linebacker was stymied by his small-school stature.
“If Leo was playing at Arrowhead or anywhere else, he would have 40 D1 offers. There is no doubt in our mind that he is one of the best players — if not the best player — in the state.”
Chenal quickly set about repaying that faith. On his debut against USF in the season opener, the true freshman linebacker tallied 5 tackles for loss. A first career sack came against Kent State. Showcasing that he could mix it with the best in the nation, the Wisconsin LB registered 4 tackles in the Big Ten Championship Game.
He continued to develop in his sophomore season. Chenal made 7 starts, tallying the second-highest tackles on the team (46). Furthermore, he logged 6 tackles for loss, 5 of which came in a 13-tackle, 2-sack, and 1-forced fumble performance against Minnesota that earned the Wisconsin linebacker the Bednarik Award National Player of the Week. In turn, he earned an honorable mention for the All-Big Ten team.
Chenal’s NFL Draft ascension
Chenal’s previous two seasons were just a precursor for his NFL Draft ascension in the 2021 college football season. After opening the season with a sack and 8 tackles against Notre Dame, the Wisconsin LB went on to tally double-digit tackle games in five of his 11 appearances. A career-high 17 tackles against Army was followed by an exceptional performance against Purdue, which consisted of 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Not for the first time on his path to the NFL Draft, Chenal tallied sensational statistics that earned an array of accolades. The Wisconsin linebacker ended 2021 with 115 tackles, 18.5 TFL, 8 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. As a result, he was named the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year. He also earned first-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-American honors.
Following the season, the Wisconsin linebacker opted to enter the 2022 NFL Draft. He does so as an ascending prospect. As discussed earlier in his scouting report, Chenal made significant improvements to certain areas of his game.
Rather than being an under-appreciated prospect as he was during his high school recruitment, he should be considered as one of the top linebacker prospects in this 2022 NFL Draft class and a potential long-term NFL starter.
Tony Pauline’s Scouting Report on Leo Chenal
Positives: Explosive up-the-field linebacker coming off a career campaign. Breaks down well, uses his hands to protect himself, and rarely gets knocked off his feet. Fluid dropping off the line into coverage, gets depth on pass drops, and possesses a closing burst.
Forceful on the blitz and sells out to make plays. Moves well laterally and works to get out into space to make the tackle. Possesses solid instincts and quickly recognizes and diagnoses plays.
Negatives: Gets washed from the action by opposing linemen. Does not stand out making plays in pursuit.
Analysis: Chenal displayed consistent progress on the football field at Wisconsin and turned in a tremendous junior campaign. He’s a terrific run stuffer who is forceful on the blitz, but he has size and scheme limitations.