The Los Angeles Rams will most definitely be in the conversation to select a linebacker in the NFL Draft. It won’t be a question of if, but when. There is a chance that Les Snead and co. decide not to draft a linebacker until day three. If that is the case, one of the players that they could look at is Utah’s, Francis Bernard.
Bernard is one of the best stories in college football. He got dismissed from BYU before turning his life around. He had a kid and almost lost his son and wife during the pregnancy. However, he didn’t let that get to him. The linebacker played two seasons with the Utes, starting 16 games. Bernard was named first-team All-Pac-12 this season as the Utes defense helped carry the team to the Pac-12 title game.
If a team is looking to draft a player with a chip on his shoulder, Bernard is that guy. This is a player that has gone through a lot. Between being dismissed at BYU and the road he’s taken to becoming a father while preparing to play in the NFL is nothing short of amazing.
Bernard is a smart player that’s quick to diagnose and given the adversity that he’s faced, there are few players in this draft that will have his competitive toughness and motor. He’s not fast, but he plays quick. His active footwork all him to succeed in the short area near the line of scrimmage. In coverage, Bernard is better in zone and shows good instincts and anticipation.
Bernard doesn’t have the length desired by NFL teams and he’s only average while shedding blocks due to his size. He has decent athleticism, but as mentioned, he’s not fast as he ran just a 4.81 at the combine.
Three Plays on Tape
This is more of a ‘right place, right time’ play, but I also think you see some of that inventiveness and anticipation from Bernard. The Utah linebacker cuts back towards the ball long before the ball is even out of the quarterback’s hands. That decision helps turn this play into a pick-6.
Here you see where Bernard’s size could be an issue. He’s immediately taken out of the play an offensive lineman. This is a play that should only go for a couple of yards that turns into a large gain up the middle.
In this last play, you really get to see Bernard’s competitive toughness. This isn’t a special play of Bernard chasing a running back from the other side of the field or making a nice cut on the ball. This is purely winning his battle at the goal line and stopping the runner short. Oregon comes out of the drive only with three points and it’s largely because Bernard made the stop here at the one.
Bernard isn’t a player that’s going to come in and start right away and he may not even find a role on defense in his rookie year. However, this is a player that you plug on special teams and let him show that he can compete and then by year two or three, he’s ready to take on a more prominent role.
Draft Grade: Round 6-7
Bernard is a player that you want on your team. This is a guy that’s going to come in with a chip on his shoulder because of his late draft status paired with the adversity that he’s already gone through and that he has a family to provide for. He’s not going to come in and start right away, but he’s going to be willing to do whatever is asked of him on day one and he’s going to give it his all. That will probably be on special teams to start, but it would not surprise me if in a year or two if Bernard is starting or is a key depth piece on a defense in the NFL.