The Cowboys linebacker made replacing an NFL talent look easy. Now he takes aim at the pro ranks himself.
A rising star who could anchor a defense.
Sometimes, college football programs develop a knack for sending certain kinds of players to the National Football League. At Wyoming, the name of the game has been defense: Marcus Epps, Andrew Wingard, Logan Wilson, and now Chad Muma.
A native of Lone Tree, Colorado, was actually very close to accepting a scholarship offer at Colorado State before heading north to Laramie, where his father also played in the early 1990s. After cutting his teeth on special teams in 2018, he stepped into a part-time role the following year and made two starts before inheriting a bigger role at linebacker from Wilson and breaking out in 2020, leading Wyoming with 71 tackles and eight tackles for loss .
That would be a taste of things to come. In 2021, Muma finished second among all FBS defenders with 142 total tackles while collecting another eight tackles for loss and three interceptions (including two pick-sixes). That put him in the position where he is now as potentially the first player from the Mountain West to be selected in this year’s NFL Draft.
Measurables (taken from Mockdraftable)
In a recent conversation on The Athletic Football Show podcast, Robert Mays and Diante Lee discussed how the role of a linebacker has changed in the modern NFL to involve more responsibility in coverage, which demands more length and athleticism in the middle of the field than ever before. As a prospect, Muma checks many of the boxes that defensive coaches surely have in mind.
To start, he knows how to put himself and his teammates in a position to succeed before the ball is snapped, earning high marks from analysts for his football intelligence and instincts. As Natalie Miller of Draft Wire noted, Muma was responsible for handling the play call on the field in his two years as a starter.
Once the play is live, Muma also has the speed to get himself where he needs to be from sideline to sideline. This is especially true if he gets to play downhill and defend the run or attack quarterbacks: The Athletic’s Dane Brugler calls it”[mashing] the accelerator” while Oliver Hodgkinson of Pro Football Network likens Muma to “[firing] out of a cannon” in pass rushing situations.
It comes as no surprise, then, that he finished 2021 with the second-most run stops in the country (50), according to Draft Wire’s Mark Schofield, and only Wisconsin’s Leo Chenal earned a higher run defense grade among FBS linebackers in 2021 ( 91.1). Once he closes, Muma does so quickly and with force.
Add to that his experience as a team captain and a special teams contributor, and NFL teams probably won’t want to wait too long to put him on their roster.
Playing in Wyoming’s 4-2-5 defense makes for a question of whether Muma is more likely to play as an inside or outside linebacker at the pro level. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on what that answer will be, either: The Draft Network’s Drae Harris believes Muma will be better served playing at the edges of a front seven, while Hodgkinson and NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein see him as a better fit inside.
Whatever role he takes on, two big things that he’ll need to polish are refining his instincts to avoid being fooled by misdirection and play action and reaction time in turning into coverage. One particular wrinkle that could come down to is something which Miller, Tony Pauline and Bleacher Report all point out: Improvement in flipping his hips to more cleanly stay with tight ends and running backs down the field. That will help make up for what is probably below-average length for the linebacker position these days.
Linebacker doesn’t have the same kind of depth in this year’s class as other positions, so while it’s likely teams will dip into those wells first to satisfy other priorities, I expect that he’ll be selected in the middle of the second round.