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Khalil Hodge is a playmaking LB in the MAC, but will he shine against NFL-level competition?

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Hogs Haven takes a look at 2019 NFL Draft prospects that could contribute to the Redskins

Khalil Hodge, ILB
School: Buffalo | Conference: MAC
Experience: Senior | Age: 21
Height / Weight: 6-1 / 235 lbs
Projected Draft Status: Round 3 - 5
NFL Comparison: Mason Foster

College Statistics

Player Overview

Khalil Hodge has had tremendous production in his early career and many view him as a mid to late round gem who is being overlooked because of the level of competition in the Mid-American Conference (MAC). He had an astounding 262 tackles his senior season at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton, CA. As a sophomore at Buffalo, he had a team-high 123 tackles on the year to rank eighth in school history and second in UB’s FBS era for a single season and was named All-MAC Second Team. As a Junior, he set the school FBS-era record for tackles in a season with 154, led the Mid-American Conference ranking second in the nation in tackles, and was named All-MAC First Team. He again posted excellent numbers as a senior with 138 tackles (7.5 for loss).

But there’s more to Khalil Hodge than his college production, and a look at his background shows what drives him to excel on the football field. Khalil grew up the older of two brothers. His younger brother Kadeem was considered the more gifted athlete and was on his way to becoming a track star. Khalil wasn’t as fast as Kadeem, but was extremely hard working and physical, and found a natural fit in football. It sounds like competition with Kadeem constantly reminded Khalil how hard he’d have to work to succeed as an athlete. There’s a very informative article here that offers a deeper look into his life. Below are some especially revealing quotes about Khalil from that article.

“[Khalil] was the older brother, but his little brother didn’t have to work at it as much. It came natural to him,” Howard Hodge (Khalil’s father) said. “Khalil would have to out-work him. They really pushed each other.”

“What you’re seeing now has come from his hard work,” Howard Hodge said. “Growing up, when his peers were in the house playing PlayStation, Khalil would be outside running hills or playing pickup football in the park. His favorite video game was film study... When we started watching film together, I’d teach him gaps and assignments. As he developed, he started really having a passion for the Xs and Os.”

“He’s the quarterback of the defense,” said Tyree Jackson, quarterback of the offense and Hodge’s sophomore year roommate. “That guy loves football. He’s competitive and he does everything right, the little things. He’s setting guys up, getting them lined up right.”

“He’s a perfectionist,” senior linebacker Jordan Collier said. “He’s very keyed on the minute details. He really wants to be the best player he can be. He’s a hard, hard worker.”

Sadly, Khalil’s younger brother Kadeem was shot and killed in December of 2017. The death really shook Khalil, but he responded by throwing himself into football. It seems that Khalil used the tragedy as motivation to continue to perfect his game, playing for his brother as well as himself. Khalil Hodge is an obsessively hard worker who has lived football since early childhood, brought up by a father who seems equally obsessive about football. Khalil may not have elite speed, but he has just about every other trait you’d want from an ILB and he is constantly improving his game.

Strengths

  • Tremendous college production.
  • High football IQ, ability to diagnose plays early and is rarely wrong.
  • QB of the defense. Gets other players into position and calls the defense.
  • Takes good angles as a tackler.
  • High motor, doesn’t wear down at the end of games.
  • High effort, never quits on a play.
  • Good awareness in coverage. Will not give up passes on busted coverage and is a good fit for a zone coverage scheme.
  • Very gap sound in run defense. There were several examples in his tape where he did an excellent job correctly reading the gap the RB would hit, and Hodge got there first for a TFL.
  • Excellent character. Leader on and off the field.
  • Quick to shed blockers and pursue the ball.
  • A very healthy player, not much of an injury history.

Weaknesses

  • Lacks elite speed and athleticism.
  • Gets pushed back if his base isn’t set (which is true for a lot of players).
  • Sticky tackler, but not a thumper. Not much gets by him, but he’s not going to drive people into the ground like Reuben Foster or Darius Leonard. This could be seen as a positive as it will keep him healthy, but I like having at least one thumper who sets a tone for the defense.
  • Played in the MAC against lesser competition.

Let’s see his work:

Comparing the videos above, there’s a noticeable improvement in his play recognition and decisiveness from 2017 to 2018. A lot of the little details, like angles of pursuit and tackling technique, seem improved too. Even though statistically he had a better year in 2017, I think he played better in 2018 in the videos above.

More about Khalil Hodge:

How He Would Fit On The Redskins

It’s tough to assess a player like Khalil Hodge without Combine measurements because he played against lesser competition in college. From what I see on tape, Hodge is a good NFL backup with the potential to grow into a starting role over time. He doesn’t have the physical tools to be a 1st round pick, but he has the intelligence and work ethic to get better with practice and eventually earn a starting role. I’ve seen draft projections for him anywhere from the 2nd to 7th round, and it reminds me a bit of Quinn Blanding, who some projected to be a mid round pick, but ended up undrafted due to lack of athleticism. I think Hodge would be a worthwhile investment for the Redskins due to our need of ILB depth. Right now, it seems likely that the Redskins will be releasing Zach Brown in the offseason, possibly Mason Foster as well. Either of those moves will leave a gaping hole at the ILB position, with only young and unproven NFL players (Shaun Dion Hamilton, Josh Harvey-Clemons, maybe Reuben Foster) to fill it. In addition, many of these players have injury histories. Acquiring more ILB depth (and possibly starters) in the upcoming draft will be important.

I haven’t watched enough college film to rank all the top prospects for the upcoming draft, but a 4th round pick feels right for Hodge. We don’t have a 4th round pick right now, but if he tests reasonably well at the Combine, our 3rd round Comp pick might be well spent on him. Otherwise, he’d be a bargain in the 5th round. I compared him to Mason Foster earlier and a lot of people may want to pass based on that comparison, but Mason Foster has been a reasonably solid starter over much of his career (only really seeming to slow down this year). I don’t see ILB as our biggest need anymore; EDGE, LG, CB, QB, and Safety are all probably bigger needs, and it’s unlikely we get a super athletic ILB outside of the top rounds. As such, a player like Hodge who is hard working and well-rounded would be a quality add in the later rounds.