In the heart of NFL Draft season, sometimes it’s good to discuss lesser known players such as former Kansas Jayhawk linebacker Ben Heeney. One of my twitter followers asked for my thoughts on him. While draftbreakdown.com only has two of his games against West Virginia and Oklahoma, this shows the young defender competing against formidable offenses with NFL caliber players. It gives me a good starting point to review his skills and abilities in regards to what Heeney brings to the next level. Here are my thoughts:
LB Ben Heeney, Kansas 6’ 231 lbs.
Cons: The linebacker has a bad habit of letting blockers into his body. He doesn’t have much of a punch or power and usually tries to use his quickness or spin moves to create separation from them. This reaction takes him further down the field, which allows the ball carrier more room to maneuver. Heeney runs a bit too high and doesn’t force the offensive player to absorb hits. Instead he prefers to wrap and roll, which can be effective the majority of the time, but hard to do in the open field. The linebacker seems to make a lot of tackles on his back which suggests that his center of gravity isn’t what it should be.
Pros: The former Jayhawk has good vision and sometimes reminded me of Sonic the Hedgehog by bouncing around at an almost blur. He has a good motor and is in constant motion. The defender was most effective on designed run blitzes, where his responsibilities were limited. Heeney played both inside and outside backer with him occasionally lining up across from the slot receiver. The backer has a quick, smooth back pedal and moves almost as quickly laterally as he does north and south. He reads the quarterback’s eyes well and can anticipate where the ball is going in the passing game. As the games went on, his play recognition skills improved dramatically as he made significantly more plays in the second half of games.
Heeney gets good initial pressure of the snap when he is rushing the passer and does a good job getting his arms up to disrupt the passing lanes. The backer continued this trend when he thwarted a field goal attempt by knifing thru the line and blocking the pigskin.
Overall thoughts: His game is definitely more technique than power. Heeney reminds me a bit of current Lion Kyle Van Noy, who I got to see at the Senior Bowl in 2014. If the young back ends up playing the weak side backer in a 3-4 or a middle backer in a 4-3, he could have some NFL success. I would like to see him add some more power to his game though and attack the blockers instead of absorbing their efforts.