In any other recruiting class, Texas Longhorns linebacker Anthony Wheeler would have been the belle of the ball, but he just so happened to be in the same incoming crop as Malik Jefferson, who went on to become a third-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The No. 77 player in the nation and the No. 12 player in the state of Texas was considered an Oklahoma Sooners lean before Charlie Strong and company sealed the deal. Wheeler may not have become a household name like Jefferson, but the man in the middle made an impact during his time on the Forty Acres.
Wheeler managed to start two games as a freshman and when it was all said and done, he ended his career with 29 starts and 50 appearances. He led the team in tackles his sophomore season in just seven starts, but saw a dip in production his junior year which could be credited to a 110-tackle performance by Jefferson who he shared the field with.
In his final season, Wheeler started all but two games, a suspension against Maryland and a missed series against West Virginia. He finished his final campaign ranking second on the team with 87 tackles, 57 of which solo, and 8.5 tackles for loss.
As he developed over the last four seasons, Wheeler showed an ability to read and react to plays, managing to put himself in the right spots to make a play in the middle of the defense en route to 235 total tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, and seven sacks
When looking at his film, Wheeler has the tools to be a playmaker, but often finds himself getting caught up with blockers in the middle of the defense. Thankfully for Wheeler, he played behind block eaters for the last few years in Poona Ford and Chris Nelson. When Wheeler was able to stay clean, whether due to his instincts or the skills of the big bodies up front, he flashed good instincts and the ability to close space with ball-carriers.
At 6’3, 235 pounds, Wheeler is a physical specimen and will flash his abilities to make flashy plays; think of the fumble return in the 2018 Texas Bowl and the blocked field goal return against USC last season. He claims to have just six-percent body fat, crediting Texas strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight with the superhero physique. He also showed explosiveness, as evidenced by his vertical jump at the Texas Pro Day.
Wheeler shows good ability to run downhill at ballcarriers in the open field and makes sure tackles when he makes contact. He lacks the elite speed of teammate Gary Johnson, and the Dallas Morning News noted that his skills don’t provide the upside of his teammate.
Wheeler may benefit from a linebacker class that is top-heavy, but he seems to be outside of most expert draft projections at inside linebacker. Nevertheless, should Wheeler go undrafted he should find a home shortly thereafter as a free agent.