There were flashes of excellence in 2018 as LSU linebacker Patrick Queen waited his turn behind Devin White, but no one really knew what to expect in his junior season with the purple and gold.
The talent and the athletic ability were givens and his fit with the defense in 2019 seemed eerily similar to how White was used the previous year. To expect Queen to live up to the enormously high standard set by White was foolhardy.
White entered the 2019 draft after capturing the program's first ever Butkus Award for his 123 tackle season that included three sacks, 12 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and six pass breakups.
But alongside Jacob Phillips, Queen anchored the middle of the field in a fashion that maybe not quite at White's stature, came pretty darn close. Queen recorded 85 tackles with 12 tackles for a loss and three sacks in what would be his first and only full year as a starter.
What made it such a special year for the Livonia High School graduate, was that he got better and better as the season went on. Before the season, it would've been hard to find someone to agree that Queen would turn himself into a first round draft pick by season's end but that's exactly what he did.
It wasn't really until the final three games of the year that it started to become evident that Queen wouldn't be sticking around another year. Against Georgia, Oklahoma and Clemson, Queen combined to have 20 tackles, five tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks, earning Defensive Player of the Game for his national champion performance against Clemson.
There are plenty of traits that Queen showed off throughout the season that make him such an intriguing prospect, but first and foremost, you need to start with the insane athletic ability. At 6-foot-1, 227 pounds Queen's blend of speed and power sideline-to-sideline is what left NFL scouts frothing at the mouth.
It's one of the traits that turned White into a top-five draft pick and what helped Queen explode onto the scene by season's end. Just check out this montage of Queen sniffing out plays in the backfield. The first and last running backs of this clip, Travis Etienne and Najee Harris, are two future high draft picks at the running back position.
Queen is able to make the read and blow up both plays as Etienne and Harris are just getting their fingers on the ball. His speed to get through the offensive line as well as cover running backs and tight ends are skills of high value to NFL defenses looking for anchors of their defense.
It's plays like those that lead us into Queen's biggest strength that he showed throughout the 2019 season.
Perhaps the most important development Queen showed in his year three jump with the program was his improvement in play recognition and instincts. When a player is able to combine the physical traits of Queen's stature while also being able to pick up on what the offense is doing, it makes for a lethal combination.
It's because of Queen's ability to read the underneath receiver on this play against Alabama, that he's able to drop back into coverage and make the interception off of Tua Tagovailoa. That play would lead to an LSU touchdown two plays later and a 33-13 lead for the Tigers going into halftime.
That's hours of films study and instincts rolled into one and when you combine those aspects with Queen's athletic measurables, it makes for a Pro Bowl caliber player at the next level.
Most Intriguing Destination: Las Vegas Raiders (No. 19 overall)
The Raiders own two first round picks in this year's draft and could look to go receiver with its first pick. Linebacker has been an area of need for the Raiders for years now and even with the signing of Cory Littleton, one of free agency's best available pass coverage linebackers, the Raiders could use some more athleticism to anchor the middle of the field.
Queen fits the mold of what a defense needs at inside linebacker as his pass coverage is solid but it's his ability to sniff out plays at and behind the line of scrimmage that make him dynamic. He'd be the perfect compliment to Littleton and would also be teaming up with former LSU tight end and teammate Foster Moreau.
Writer’s Note: With the NFL Draft just under six weeks from now, concerns surrounding COVID-19 will likely force the league to make some tough decisions in the coming weeks. For Queen and the other LSU draft prospects, the early rounds in Las Vegas were primed to be dominated by Tigers. Stay tuned for updates as the situation develops.