The 2023 NFL Draft class features a stacked group of defenders, and Kansas OLB Lonnie Phelps is a name to watch as the draft approaches following a productive collegiate career. While most of the conversation has been focused on the top names in the class, what does Phelps’ scouting report suggest about his NFL Draft stock?
Lonnie Phelps NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Outside Linebacker
- School: Kansas
- Year: Redshirt Junior
Before committing to Miami (Ohio), Phelps was a star at Mt. Healthy High School, where as a team captain, he was named first-team All-Southwest Ohio after recording 100 tackles and 10 sacks with 18 tackles for a loss as a senior.
Phelps’ career with the Redhawks got off to a bit of a slow start. Nevertheless, he was seeing the field. As a true freshman, Phelps played in 13 games while finishing third on the team with 4.5 sacks, 19 tackles, and two forced fumbles on the year.
Phelps played in only three games during the COVID-shortened 2020 season but was named third-team All-MAC as he finished the year with eight tackles and 2.0 sacks. Six of those tackles and both sacks came in the season opener against Ball State.
A redshirt sophomore in 2021, Phelps was named second-team All-MAC after finishing the season with 13.5 TFLs and 9.5 sacks. He was a force coming off the edge, totaling 30 tackles, including 23 solo stops.
However, following the season, Phelps elected to enter the transfer portal. The University of Kansas was the first program to offer the defensive end a scholarship. Ultimately, Phelps picked KU over another offer from Tulane and strong interest from programs like Florida State, Syracuse, and West Virginia.
Phelps’ primary recruiter was KU defensive line coach Taiwo Onatolu, and it clearly played a role in his decision.
“He said he ‘needed’ me, which is the first time a coach has ever used that word for me within the recruiting stage,” Phelps said. “He said he needed a defensive end, and he needed me at that position and was willing to take me at that position and give me the freedom that I need to be effective in the backfield.”
Phelps had a productive season for the Jayhawks, who became bowl eligible for the first time since 2008. All-Big 12 second-team by the coaches and AP, plus a Defensive Player of the Year honorable mention in the conference, Phelps recorded a career-high 55 tackles (45 solo), with 11.5 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, and a forced fumble while appearing in all 13 games (42 for career).
Phelps did measure a touch smaller than some expected at 6’2″ and 244 pounds with 32 3/8″ arms. However, Phelps did test well in the events in which he competed at the NFL Combine, running a 4.55 40-yard dash while putting up 31 reps on the bench press.
At his pro day, Phelps posted a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9’11” broad jump with a 4.52-second 20-yard shuttle and 7.28 seconds in the three-cone. Phelps also wanted to do some defensive line drills he didn’t do at the Combine because he was doing LB drills there.
A player who showed a tremendous motor and willingness to win off the edge, what does the scouting report suggest are Phelps’ strengths and areas for improvement as he heads into the NFL Draft?
Tony Pauline’s Scouting Report for Lonnie Phelps
Strengths: Miami (Ohio) transfer who showed improvement in his game the past three seasons. Athletic, moves well around the field, and can be used out of a three-point stance as well as standing over tackle. Plays with terrific pad level and fires off the snap with a terrific first step at defensive end.
Displays good change-of-direction ability, quickly collapses outside-in to defend the run, and wraps up tackling. Covers a good amount of area on the field, is fast moving laterally, and makes plays in pursuit. Quickly locates the ball handler and remains disciplined with assignments.
Weaknesses: Not a forceful blitzer. Stiff pedaling in reverse and minimally effective making plays in coverage.
Overall: Phelps is a nice-sized linebacker who turned in a terrific Combine workout and comes with a large upside. He needs to refine his techniques and learn to make plays against the pass, yet at the very least, Phelps should offer immediate help for a team that needs a pass-rush specialist.
Lonnie Phelps Combine Measurements and Results
- Height: 6’2″
- Weight: 244 pounds
- Arm Length: 32 3/8″
- Hand Size: 9 1/4″
- Bench Press: 31
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.55
- Vertical Jump: 34″*
- Broad Jump: 9’11″*
- 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.52*
- Three-Cone Drill: 7.28*
Note: Numbers marked with an (*) are from Kansas’ Pro Day.
Kansas OLB Lonnie Phelps Current Draft Projection
You are in luck if you’re an NFL team heading into the draft that needs help on defense. Although Will Anderson Jr., Nolan Smith, and BJ Ojulari are some of the highest-ranked players in the entire class, Phelps will be waiting quite a bit longer to hear his name called.
While he won’t be mentioned in the same category, Phelps will hear his name called during the NFL Draft process. Currently, he’s the 173rd-ranked player on Tony Pauline’s Big Board as the OLB14 with a 3.42 grade and a draft projection that places him in the fifth round.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board
Phelps has the burst coming off the edge. It’s just a question of whether or not he has the length and the power to be consistent in the NFL. While he’s built work as a 3-4 outside linebacker, Phelps will be a demon on special teams, given his relentless nature and athleticism.
That alone will guarantee Phelps a roster spot where the team breaks camp. Plus, it will allow him time to develop his pass-rush skills and become a rotational edge rusher with a ceiling that has room for growth. When you’re a team making a selection at this point in the draft, that’s all we can ask for.
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