Former Cal football player Evan Weaver was one of the most dominant linebackers in the nation in 2019. That’s hardly up for debate — he was a consensus first-team All-American and racked up a plethora of other national recognitions during his senior year. But college football is not the NFL. In the professionals, Weaver will be competing against the best of the best every single Sunday, meaning some of the most-skilled offensive players he guarded in college might be merely average in the NFL.
Weaver, for football fans unfamiliar with the name, can be summarized with two words: tackling machine. The inside linebacker notched an absurd 182 tackles last season, the fifth most in NCAA history. Whenever there is a mass of bodies jumbled on the turf, you will find Weaver at the bottom of the pile more often than not.
His draft stock, however, does not match up to his collegiate production. All of the intangibles are there — Weaver is a proven leader, his football IQ is off the charts and his ability to diagnose plays and command his defense were second to none in college football. The primary reason for him being projected as a midround pick (fourth to sixth round) is his athletic shortcomings.
Although Weaver is as sure of a tackler as anyone in this draft, there were often times when Cal’s defense would get exploited by opposing teams attacking the middle of the field on short passing routes. Even though he consistently brought the receiver down after the catch, his zone was regularly exploited due to his coverage deficiencies.
Weaver tested quite well in the agility categories of the NFL combine, but on the field, he struggled with dropping back into coverage and manning up against quick running backs in space. Speed and acceleration were the primary knocks against Weaver’s physical abilities, though he was able to clock a 4.76 40-yard dash at the combine, outperforming most critics, who expected closer to a 4.9.
While most analysts project him as a strong special teams player for his first few years in the league, don’t be surprised if he starts seeing significant defensive snaps early on due to his motor and run-stopping ability alone. In order for him to become a three-down linebacker in the NFL as he was with the Bears, however, he’ll need to show he can hang with elite playmakers against the pass.
Anyone who has followed Weaver throughout his tenure at Cal would know that he doesn’t care what others think. He is one of the most competitive, confident players to have ever walked through the tunnels of California Memorial Stadium, and there’s no way that’s going to change at the next level. He makes plays and wins football games, so it’s hard not to see him eventually becoming a starting linebacker in the NFL.