Khalil Hodge is one of the most underrated inside linebacker prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft. A senior out of the University of Buffalo, he has built a reputation as a tackling machine, and has the potential to be a surprise early round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft depending on how his senior season pans out. Although there are elements of his game that need work in order for him to play at a Pro Bowl-caliber level in the NFL on a consistent basis, he has the talent to emerge as a starter at the position in many schemes.
What makes Khalil Hodge a legitimate NFL prospect? His production as a player is notable. As a high school senior, Hodge logged 262 tackles. Played for the City College of San Francisco as a freshman and helped the team win a state title in 2015. In 2016, as a Sophomore (his first season at Buffalo), started all 12 games, logging 123 tackles and 7 tackles for loss. Recorded 17 tackles against Nevada, and then recorded 16 tackles against Army the following season. He emerged as a key component of the Buffalo defense in his first season with the team. In his second season with the team, 2017, he also played 12 games, logging 154 total tackles, 3 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions. From a statistical perspective, Hodge's production is certainly noteworthy.
Perhaps more important is Hodge's presence as a leader both on and off of the field. He has a reputation as a hard-working player, both on the field and in the filmroom. His film room work shows up on game day, as he is adept at diagnosing plays as they unfold. Hodge is comfortable leading a defense, and has the skills and football IQ necessary to lead a defense. A bit undersized, but not too small to play in a 4-3 at 6'1 235 pounds. If he can add 5 or 10 pounds of muscle mass, size will not be seen as an issue; has the frame to do it. Recent historical trends showcase a shift towards smaller, faster linebackers in the NFL, so if Hodge can put together a strong senior campaign and perform well on the combine drills that measure player speed (an impressive showing in the 40, for example would be huge for him), he may be able to propel himself into the conversation as a potential early round draft pick, perhaps as early as the second round.
How does Hodge look on film? The highlight reels (here, for example), show that he is a legitimate NFL talent with big-play potential. He flashes the ability to make blockers miss, and makes tackles consistently. Also capable of making plays as a pass defender. As always, complete game tapes give a fuller picture of player talent. Here's an example. One thing that shows up on film when one watches complete games is that Hodge is content to avoid blockers instead of taking them on head-on. Gets around blocks rather than running through them. This, in itself, is not a big issue with Hodge as a player as he keeps his shoulders square to the ball carrier as he sidesteps blockers. Prefers to juke blockers instead of physically engage them. Showcases extreme awareness of blockers as he is capable of avoiding cut blocks en route to the ball carrier. Sheds blockers quickly, but usually using his agility as his main tool. Not the aggressive, rattling hitter that comes to mind when someone mentions a name like Ray Lewis, but is a cerebral, quick player who will likely have a long NFL career, first due to his production as a player and second due to his style of play. He is an extremely athletic player who relies on that athleticism to make plays.
Hodge has the football IQ to consistently be near the ball carrier. Takes good angles of pursuit towards the ball. Rarely misdiagnoses on reverses. Has a solid second gear when it is needed to make a play. Hodge is the type of persistent, consistent player who will constantly sniff out the ball. Will not always be the first player to the ball but will be in the area of the ball carrier more often than not and will also be a key factor in many defensive plays. Has game-changing ability and will come up big in key moments, as evidenced by his game winning interception against Ohio that carried his team towards bowl eligibility. Occasionally has plays where he is stifled by physical offensive linemen (I'm splitting hairs here, but on one play against Northern Illinois he was blown up by a blocker, which led to a Northern Illinois touchdown), leading to a big play by a runner, but the good plays on film outweigh the bad plays. Needs to get more consistent at physically engaging blockers in order to avoid giving up big plays in these instances, but if he can improve on that aspect of his game, he will be solid at the next level. In general, he is extremely talented against the run, and if nothing else will emerge as a run stopper at the next level, but to me there's upside as an every-down starter.
I think that Hodge is ultimately a safe pick at linebacker in the NFL draft. When you look at any player with a microscope on a play-by-play basis it is easy to find mistakes. However, the ultimate picture shows that Hodge has the tools to succeed. He is a leader, he is a diligent student of film, he understands how to read offenses, he flashes the potential to be a tackling machine at the next level, and he has good awareness of the flow of the game. Ultimately, Hodge is a solid prospect in 2019. If he were at a program such as Alabama, we might be talking about a surefire 1st or 2nd round pick. I think he has the potential to work his way into one of those top two rounds this season. One thing is for certain, he will be fun to watch. Khalil Hodge has the potential to emerge as one of the best, if not the best, inside linebacker prospects in the 2019 Draft, and he is a player that needs to be on the radar now. His strengths greatly outweigh his weaknesses and he could be special. --Mike B. Matt and Mike Sports. firstname.lastname@example.org
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