Bierria came to UW as a mid-level three-star recruit (whose point person was, incidentally, Jacob Sirmon’s uncle Peter) from Narbonne High School in LA. After redshirting in 2013, he was a part of the youth movement of Chris Petersen’s first season, playing in all 14 games and starting four of them. His sophomore year was widely regarded as his (and linebacking partner Azeem Victor’s) breakout year, where he started all but one game and began showing his knack for both fumble recoveries and forcing fumbles. If there’s one performance that stands out from his sophomore year — and, indeed as the turning point of Chris Petersen’s program — it would arguably be in the upset win against USC, where he had eight tackles, two of which were for a loss and one of which was a sack of Cody Kessler.
The 2016 season was another step up for Bierria, where he started every game and led the FBS in fumble recoveries, with 2017 seeing him continue to be a leader of the defense.
While Bierria didn’t hit like Azeem Victor or have the innate athleticism of some past Husky linebackers, he was, during his four years on the field, a clear leader and a consistent presence in the Washington defense and a two-year Second Team All-Pac 12 selection.
Comparing his combine results with other linebackers confirms a lot of what we already know; his 40 time is on the slower end of average, his bench press on the better end of average, and the other drills he partook in were typically a similar result.
Of course, for Washington fans none of those metrics are really news. His college career was defined by consistent play but with a somewhat limited ceiling based on his physical attributes, especially where straight-line speed was concerned. He’ll lose a footrace against the more athletic offensive skill players, something which is exacerbated by his tendency to underestimate the speed of an opponent in space, take a poor angle, and get burned with no hope of catching up. Furthermore, it can make him a vulnerable target in man coverage passing plays if his target out of the backfield utilizes a change of speed or gets some pre-throw space on wheel routes, etc. While I haven’t been able to find a gif, there was one play in 2017 that stands out (I believe against Utah, maybe Stanford? If you remember, enlighten us in the comments) of him covering a running back, taking way too shallow of an angle on the wheel, and promptly getting passed by with no hope of catching up, allowing the quarterback to float an easy blooper over his head with the pass-catcher then getting approximately one billion yards before being shoved out by a DB.
There are other moments of him reacting similarly after a catch, as well, that were similarly frustrating. A quintessential example was Southern Mississippi’s first TD in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in 2015 — a simple Michael Thomas curl route about seven yards out where Bierria took a horrific angle, allowing Thomas 50 more yards and the score — although, in Keishawn’s defense, there were like five other dudes who also took mind-numbingly terrible angles, including Darren Gardenhire, Travis Feeney, and, the most incriminatingly awful angle in this instance (in my worthless opinion), Brian Clay.
Hopefully that doesn’t sound like I’m bashing Bierria too hard; in reality, that’s by far the primary weakness for a player that otherwise has a lot of strengths. Plus, it’s a common weakness for linebackers in space anyway — the most athletic ones just have the means to sometimes mask it.
Otherwise, he’s kind of the prototypical Chris Petersen player — which includes a mentality and intelligence that adjusts well to the NFL.
If his glaring weakness was that he didn’t have the athleticism to make up for mistakes common to many linebackers, then he still has the beneficial attributes to be a net positive to a team.
Bierria diagnoses plays quickly and is generally a smart player on (and off) the field. Furthermore, in his three years as a starter, there weren’t really any moments of him taking a step back, something Washington fans were reminded is all too common when Azeem Victor had a rough 2017. And while he has had trouble with weird angles in pass coverage, he’s an excellent run-stopper, especially on interior runs. Complementing that is his ability to recognize screens and/or misdirection, where, when he’s at his best, he’ll often get ahead of the play before it develops.
What also shouldn’t be forgotten is Bierria’s weird, probably supernatural relationship with The Fumble™. During his final three years, he forced more fumbles than any other Washington linebacker and also seemed to recover every fumble in the world. If you’re like me, you thought fumble recoveries were more or less random until Keishawn Bierria came around, and now you’re just confused by how someone can be so magnetic to the ball.
Regardless of how he managed to recover all them, the fact that he was even in that position is indicative of his ability to anticipate plays and close in. Sure, getting the right bounce on a loose football is luck, but being in the right place in the right time isn’t.
Because of his physical ceiling, Bierria’s draft position probably won’t be too high. Realistically, he’ll almost certainly be a third day pick in the sixth or seventh rounds. If there’s any consolation to that reality, however, it’s that his work ethic, consistency, and high football IQ give him as good a shot as any late-rounders at advancing his position within the team post-draft.
Bierria will likely be a late addition to a team looking to build backup depth that already has their core linebackers established. In addition, he’ll more than likely be looked at as a special teams contributor while he builds up his case as somebody who can feature in the linebacker rotation.
Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.