Washington State’s Daiyan Henley has one of the most interesting paths to the Draft of all the prospects in this 2023 class. He started his career as a wide receiver and has developed into one of the best linebackers in college football. Here is how a two-star receiver from Crenshaw in Los Angeles evolved into a fearsome defender and IDP asset.
- College: Washington State
- Height: 6’1”
- Weight: 225 lbs.
- Age: 23 yrs. (November 18, 1999)
- Year: Senior
- Hands: 9.5”
- Arms: 33”
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.54
- Vertical Jump: 35”
- Broad Jump: 10’5”
- Draft Projection: Second – Third Round
As mentioned in the opening, Henley’s path to Washington State and the Draft is pretty nuts. He originally attended Nevada as a receiver and caught 17 passes for 232 yards and three TDs over his first few seasons. Henley also returned 19 kicks as a freshman for 439 yards.
The Wolfpack wisely moved him to defense in 2019 as a defensive back; then Henley settled in as a linebacker in 2020. After a few solid seasons, he transferred to Washington State in 2022.
He tallied 49 tackles in his first year at linebacker, where he received significant playing time, but 2021 at Nevada was the breakout year. Henley raked in 94 tackles and four interceptions that season, and one returned for a touchdown.
Henley started 12 games for the Cougars in 2022, gathering in 106 total tackles, an interception, and forced three fumbles. As a leader on defense, he flourished and took a massive leap in his ability to read offenses. Henley played like a well-seasoned linebacker, despite playing less than 40 games at the position.
Henley explodes when the ball is snapped and can quickly cover ground. He has a decent change of direction, and his time at receiver shows in how he plays defense. Henley recognizes tendencies and can flow quickly as plays develop. He reacts and can run with receivers, then makes a play on the ball like a defensive back.
You won’t find many defenders in the class with his hustle, either. Henley plays hard and fast and is never out of a play. He can patrol the field from sideline to sideline, and when he needs to get downhill, he gets downhill quickly.
The size will be a question, and Henley is a bit of a tweener; he’s got better size for a safety than a linebacker. But he compensates for his size with a nasty propensity to smack a ball carrier, causing disruptive plays like fumbles and interceptions. Henley has strong instincts despite being raw and doesn’t mess around when it comes to ending the play.
Here are a couple of great examples of the closing speed and finishing ability. Henley can get to a play quickly and loves to blow them up.
Time at the Position
I love his instincts overall, but more work must be done, and it has to come with experience. The advanced zone read defenses will give him some trouble, and he plays “rushed” more than I would like to see. I could see a team not wanting to give him one role and possibly moving him all over to highlight strengths and mask weaknesses until he fully develops.
If Henley comes up in run defense, there are too many instances of him getting lost in the wash of a stacked box. He doesn’t sift through traffic and disengage from blocks cleanly. The tweener size shows most in this area. Henley isn’t going to step up and plug a gap effectively and consistently.
The Wrap Up
With all the strengths and weaknesses, I still like Henley as a player in the NFL and a viable IDP fantasy asset. He’s projected to go on the second day, third round, as he is still growing and is an older prospect. Henley will need to find a team with a plan to continue to develop him while giving him a role to get snaps.
I have Henley in my second tier of linebackers for IDP, and I could see him being a solid LB2 for many years. He’s eager to cover ground and get tackles while giving you a big play, often by laying the lumber. Henley’s floor is lower than some prospects, yet I see a pretty safe ceiling too. An NFL defense will love how he plays and his range and work ethic.
I see him as a third-round NFL player and a late second to early third-round pick in IDP rookie drafts. He should be the fourth or fifth linebacker off your board. Henley is a player who could make a difference and a player easy to root for; he plays hard and has a great story.
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