Perhaps the “best kept secret” in the 2015 draft class, by the time the postseason all-star games conclude, it is certain that the NFL will recognize Lynden Trail as the “second coming” of Jeremiah Trotter – a big, physical linebacker with strong safety-like pass coverage skills and speed trapped in a defensive end’s body. A perfect fit for the scheme used by the New England Patriots, scouts have even started comparing Trail’s range and blitzing skills to those of the Pats’ Jamie Collins.
The former prized recruit of the Florida Gators left that school when Urban Meyer bolted for Ohio State, but in three seasons at Norfolk State, he’s compiled 255 tackles with 19.5 sacks, 30.0 stops-for-loss, seven fumble recoveries and eight forced fumbles. He’s also intercepted two passes, deflected 16 other throws and blocked two kicks.
Feeling he had no opportunity to show his skills after two years of inactivity at Florida, Trail transferred to Norfolk State. Even though he started just three games in 2012, he led the team with 70 tackles that included six sacks, pacing the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with 17.0 stops-for-loss, adding eight QB pressures.
The full-time starter at strong-side outside linebacker in 2013, Trail received All-American honors after he caused five fumbles, recovered two others, blocked two kicks, intercepted a pair of passes and broke up eight other throws. He was second on the team with 94 tackles, posting ten QB pressures, 12.5 stops-for-loss and 8.5 sacks.
A unanimous All-American in 2014, Trail, a Senior Bowl invitee, closed out his career with 91 tackles that included five sacks and 11.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Among his nine QB hurries, two caused fumbles and three others resulted in interceptions.
Trail has a tall frame with a thick build which is ideal for either playing end in the classic 4-3 alignment, but with his closing speed and lateral agility, he has found a home as a strong-side ‘backer in a 3-4 system. He has very good muscle development with a well-defined upper torso, big hands (10 ¼-inches) and impressive arm length (34 inches) and reach, showing the upper body strength to strike with force.
When Trail plays with his hand down, he shows very good quickness off the snap and the suddenness to gain advantage over a lethargic blocker. He competes with good leverage and balance, showing urgency moving down the line and has made good strides in improving his footwork dropping back in pass coverage, making him a nice fit as an outside linebacker candidate in an NFL 3-4 defense.
He uses his long arms with efficiency in defeating reach blocks and has a strong hand thrust to jolt offensive linemen coming out of their stance. His lateral agility allows him to play faster than his timed speed. He shows good flexibility changing direction and his low center of gravity prevents blockers from locking on and dragging him to the ground.
Trail sees the field well and is quick to spot even the slightest of creases in order to shoot the gaps. He is effective with his counter moves working to the inside. His spin moves and quickness lets him easily defeat the slower offensive tackles when working off the edge. He has good hand usage that he combines with his burst to play off blocks and consistently pressure the quarterback. He has the strength to bull rush and push the pocket.
His flexibility has also improved as he does a better job of opening his hips (used to be a little stiff and took false steps when changing direction). Trail has a relentless nature chasing from the backside and the ability to stop, plant and redirect in order to maintain pursuit on the passer. He uses his hand jolt with force to rock the blockers back on their heels and is very effective as a wrap up tackler. His tackle technique lets him generate the power needed to force turnovers in the backfield.
While some might consider Trail’s 40-yard dash performance (4.9) as an obvious lack of speed, he has “football quickness,” which means that he wears the pads well and moves better on the field than the stopwatch indicates. He has good lateral mobility and is fluid changing directions in space.
His size makes him a better fit at defensive end in a four-man front, but is a team can look past his stopwatch time they could unearth a strong-side outside linebacker for a three-man front look. He has average upper body strength and flashes adequate lower body strength, and might need to get stouter to play with his hand down. He flashes a mean streak when rushing the passer and making plays in pursuit, but doesn't play with the same kind of edge when teams run at him.
Trail takes good pursuit angles and generally does a nice job of closing down cutback lanes. He is effective at recognizing down blocks and keeps his hands active to prevent from getting washed down the line by tight ends. He also does a solid job of getting hands up when sees quarterbacks start their throwing motion.
As a pass rusher, Trail has an effective spin move and uses his hands quite well when attempting to club offensive tackles in one direction and then throw a swim move in the opposite direction. He drives his legs on contact and flashes the ability to drive tackles into the quarterback's lap. Even at 4.9-seconds in the 40-yard dash, he’s quick enough to turn the corner and can set tackles up to the outside before redirecting inside.
Lynden Trail NFL Scouting Combine measurables
6-7/269 (4.91 forty)
34 7/8-inch arm length
10 1/2-inch hands
32.5-inch vertical jump
117-inch broad jump
7.32 3 cone drill
4.48 20 yard shuttle
12.56 60 yard shuttle
Dave-Te’ Thomas is a sports writer, talent evaluator and scouting personnel consultant for a majority of teams in the National Football League. Thomas runs a scouting information service called NFL Scouting Services and produces THE NFL Draft Report, a publication provided by league headquarters to the media in preparation for the NFL Draft.
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