Linebacker was one of the least-sexy positional needs for the Chargers entering this year’s draft but it was a necessary selection that many expected to come via the third round or sometime early on day three.
The Chargers decided to pull the trigger on Washington State’s Daiyan Henley, an atheltic and rangy defender who broke out in his lone season at Wazzu after playing the first five seasons of his college career with Nevada. In 2022, Henley totaled 106 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, four sacks and three forced fumbles en route to earning First-Team All-Pac 12 honors at linebacker on top of second-team honors as a special teams contributor.
For the second year in a row, the Chargers watched one of their young linebackers break out before allowing them to walk in the subsequent free agency period. First, it was Kyzir White in 2022. This year, it was Drue Tranquill. Henley fits that exact same mold as a lean, athletic linebacker who may take a year or two to acclimate to the pro game before stepping into a starting role sooner rather than later.
Before the Chargers selected Henley, the linebacker room consisted of only two players with any tangible starting experience (Eric Kendricks, Kenneth Murray) and three others who are either a former undrafted free agent or a late-round pick (Nick Niemann, Amen Ogbongbemiga, Tyreek Maddox-Williams). The Chargers needed to add another body here and they were able to do it with a guy who still holds a ton of value in the third phase of the game, as well.
At 6’1 and 225 pounds, Henley is certainly undersized, but his athleticism allows him to keep himself clean between the tackles with elite twitch and awareness to avoid linemen and sift through trash. He’s got great feel and excellent instincts to diagnose plays in front of him and he definitely needs it right now while he continues to put on mass and develop into a more complete linebacker in the NFL.
Daiyan Henley showcases great ball skills and the hustle to cover up RBs in both passing & rushing situations. When flowing downhill, he's very good at avoiding blocks and getting to the ball, which is good because he struggles to shed when he does get blocked on occasion.— Seahawk Nerd (@SeahawkNerd) April 19, 2023
The biggest worry for a smaller linebacker, of course, is the expectation that he won’t be able to hold up well in run defense. The Chargers were one of the worst run defenses in the NFL a season ago and it’s hard to see Henley being an immediate fix to that issue. The expectation is that he’ll grow into the role and become a stouter competitor, but Chargers fans will have to wait a bit before that happens.
But for now, let’s enjoy the film and get excited about the Chargers’ newest defender.
Daiyan Henley (#1) is not Fred Warner.— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) February 20, 2023
BUT...if there was ever a super athletic, 230lb former receiver turned linebacker prospect that could do some Fred Warner-ish things on a football field as a value pick in the 3rd or maybe 4th round.....it's probably Daiyan Henley! pic.twitter.com/k0bywRkIpD