The 2023 NFL Draft linebacker class is full of premier defensive talent, and one of the players expected to hear his name called on Day 3 is Duke LB Shaka Heyward. While most of the conversation has been focused on the top names in the class, what does Heyward’s scouting report suggest about his NFL Draft stock as he becomes the next in a long line of Heywards to reach the sport’s highest level?
Shaka Heyward NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Linebacker
- School: Duke
- Year: Redshirt Senior
A consensus top-60 outside linebacker, Heyward was a three-star prospect from Mill Creek High School and accounted for 168 tackles in his final two seasons.
Heyward comes from a football family. If the name sounds familiar, it should, as he is the cousin of Connor and Cam Heyward of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Additionally, Corey played basketball at Georgia Tech while cousin Craig Jr. played for Middle Tennessee State, and Craig Sr. played for the University of Pittsburgh and was a first-round selection in 1988 (New Orleans Saints).
Committed to Duke, Shaka Heyward played in four games (18 snaps) and was redshirted, but he made six starts and played in all 12 games in 2019, where he ranked third among ACC freshmen in tackles (68) and sixth and tackles for loss (6.5).
On the field for over 850 snaps, Heyward was the recipient of the team’s Vincent Rey Award, an honor presented to the team’s top linebacker, and the Sonny Falcone Award, given annually to offensive, defensive, and developmental members for their year-round commitment to strength and conditioning.
Heyward started in all 11 games and led Duke with 80 tackles while adding 8.5 for a loss and three sacks, sitting 12th in the conference in tackles per game.
2021 was more of the same, as Heyward was selected to the All-ACC third team and took home the K.D. Kennedy Iron Devil Award for most season snaps played with a team-high 1,019. Starting all 12 games, he led the program and ranked fifth in the ACC with 98 tackles while accounting for a team-high 11.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
Throw in his 94 tackles in 2020 as a team captain and defensive MVP award recipient, and Heyward finished his career at Duke as a two-time All-ACC selection with 41 starts in his 51 career games while compiling 340 tackles, 32.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, four interceptions, and five fumble recoveries. That résumé could hang with many of the best prospects in this class.
Invited to the 2023 NFL Combine, Heyward put up solid numbers — given some of the questions about his ability to cover space — with a 4.53 40-yard dash (1.51 10-yard split). Additionally, Heyward jumped 31″ in the vert, 9’8″ in the broad, and ran the 20-yard shuttle in 4.4 seconds.
Given the lengthy résumé and solid testing numbers while also being one of the more durable players in this draft class (3,400 snaps), what can the scouting report tell us about some of Heyward’s overall strengths and weaknesses as the 2023 NFL Draft approaches?
Shaka Heyward Scouting Report
Strengths: Instinctive defender who has been a top linebacker at Duke the past four years. Smooth and fluid, flows laterally to the action, and keeps plays in front of him. Remains disciplined with assignments, doesn’t bite on ball fakes, and quickly locates the ball handler. Breaks down well and uses his hands to protect himself. Gets depth on pass drops, immediately diagnoses plays, and takes proper angles to the action. Wraps up tackling.
Weaknesses: Doesn’t play to his 40 time, nor does he seem very fast on the field. Struggles getting off blocks. Shows stiffness.
Overall: Heyward was a tough run-defending LB with a terrific head for the ball. He was also effective in zone coverage and offers possibilities as a middle or perhaps strongside linebacker in a 4-3.
Shaka Heyward Combine Measurements and Results
- Height: 6’3″
- Weight: 235″
- Arm Length: 34″
- Hand Size: 9 1/2″
- Bench Press: 22
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.53
- Vertical Jump: 31″
- Broad Jump: 9’8″
- 3-Cone Drill: 7.32
- 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.4
Duke LB Shaka Heyward Current Draft Projection
Linebackers in the NFL need to be Swiss Army knives. Whether it’s coming down in run support, coming off the edge in some type of exotic blitz, picking up a running back out of the backfield, or dealing with one of the numerous matchup nightmare TEs, length, speed, and power are all top-tier traits.
While he is not currently in the upper tier of the position, Heyward is the No. 20 ranked outside linebacker on Tony Pauline’s Big Board. The No. 231 overall player, Heyward’s 3.32 grade gives him a draft projection in the sixth round.
Heyward certainly has length on his side with 34-inch arms, and his speed tested well. However, there are questions about his consistency in recognizing play development and getting in the proper positioning both against the run and while in coverage. He can learn those things, but Heyward will have to do so on the fly, given his projected draft capital.
Yet, because of his body type and physical traits, Heyward’s previous experience on special teams will likely significantly help his case to be on the 53-man roster. Whether or not he becomes a starter remains to be seen, but if there’s one thing we should know by now, it’s that you can’t bet against a Heyward in the NFL.
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