Breakdowns

Top 15 Linebacker Prospects for the 2021 NFL Draft

The first round of the 2021 NFL Draft is top-heavy with offensive players. The first linebacker to hear his name called might be Penn State’s Micah Parsons, and there might be a couple more first-rounders to follow. Overall, here are the 33rd Team’s top 15 linebacker prospects:

1. Micah Parsons, Penn State, 6-3, 246

Parsons is a plug-and-play linebacker immediately in the NFL. He has the ability to play mike, will or sam at the next level. He will be able to be an impact player in the run game right away with his good tackling and block-shedding ability. Only played 26 games at the college level, though, and is a true junior. His outstanding size and frame paired with his above-the-line athleticism makes him a prospect with high potential. His blitzing ability is also a plus and will be utilized early. Overall, Parsons is deserving of the top linebacker rank in this class. He will be an immediate starter at the next level, preferably at OLB, with sideline-to-sideline playmaking ability. Parsons may struggle early in his career in coverage but can be utilized on blitzes on third down as he learns. His biggest concerns are character (which will be harder to assess due to the pandemic) and his instincts/play recognbition/processing ability. Mentally, he can have lapses in the run game by taking the wrong holes, being fooled by read options and over-pursuing plays. He is an early/mid first-round pick.

  • Best Game – Memphis (12/28/2019)

  • Worst Game – Iowa (10/12/2019)

  • Best Trait – Size + Athleticism combination

  • Key Stats – Sixth in the nation in 2019 for forced fumbles per game (0.31)

  • Starts/Games – 13/26

  • Pro Comparison – Demario Davis

2. Nick Bolton, Missouri, 5-11, 237

Bolton has the ability to step in as a day one starter. His upside is limited due to his size and speed, though he plays bigger than his size. Play recognition and awareness are above the line and borderline outstanding. Can play a three-down linebacker role at the next level but would recommend he starts as a two-down backer because of his coverage limitations. Where Bolton lacks physically he makes up mentally. His mind moves faster than his body and shows on tape. Sniffs out screens but sometimes fails to blow them up because he cannot get there. Does a good job shooting gaps in the run game and doesn’t have problems initiating contact with blockers but can get washed because he has trouble getting off blocks. Bolton is an above-the-line blitzer. He processes well and can correct misdiagnosed plays at the college level but may struggle to do so in the NFL because of speed questions. Fits best as a Mike or a Will. Overall Bolton is an early/mid second-round draft pick and positional value could push him into the end of the first round.

  • Best Game – South Carolina (11/21/2020)

  • Worst Game – Georgia (12/12/2020)

  • Best Trait – Play rec / Instincts

  • Key Stats – Made first contact 73 times this season (T-11th among LBs) = 12.5% of plays (5th of guys with 70+ first contacts), ALSO 5 PBUs (T-3rd among LBs) (PFF)

  • Starts/Games – 22/35

  • Pro Comparison – Eric Kendricks

3. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame, 6-1¼, 221

Owusu-Koramoah is the new-age linebacker in the NFL. His athleticism is above the line across the board. His speed and explosion allow him to be a true sideline-to-sideline linebacker. His coverage gives him instant value as he will be able to play immediately on third downs. Athleticism will also allow him to play special teams immediately at the next level. He is a Will at the next level. He played the “rover” position at Notre Dame, which was a hybrid position that combined linebacker and safety responsibilities. His biggest concerns are his size, length and block-shedding ability. Size and length are things that cannot be taught. Block shedding will need to improve significantly for him to succeed at the point of attack and in the run game overall. Tackling will also need significant improvement. Currently, he can get away with suspect tackling at the college level but when competition improves in the NFL, his tackling could become very concerning. Overall, Owusu-Koramoah is someone who can make an impact immediately in the NFL and is the type of linebacker the league is trending toward – one that can cover the field sideline to sideline and also be exceptional in coverage. He is a mid-second, early-third-round pick.

  • Best Game – Clemson (11/07/2020)

  • Worst Game – USF (9/19/2020)

  • Best Trait – Coverage Ability

  • Key Stats – 3 FFs this season (T-2nd among LBs)

  • Starts/Games – 24/26

  • Pro Comparison – Shawn Williams

4. Zaven Collins, Tulsa, 6-4, 259

Zaven Collins is a projection in my opinion. He has outstanding size, length and weight. He’s a large linebacker. A north-south player who will struggle sideline to sideline. He plays at his best when he is running downhill on plays. When gaps open, he shows the athleticism needed to get through them and can make plays in the backfield. He has poor lateral quickness and that will hurt his coverage ability at the next level, but he will be serviceable in zone coverage. His lack of aggression and poor hand technique will hurt his production in the run game. He has tools that could make him into a plus starter at the next level but is a somewhat raw prospect. Should be limited to a rotational player to start defensively. Played special teams at Tulsa and could find a way onto the field because of it. Overall, Collins is a projection and should be treated as a plus backup/rotational player to start his career. Fits best as a Sam. Second-round grade but his combination of size and athletic ability could push him into the end of the first round.

Best Game – UCF (10/3/2020)

Worst Game – Cincinnati (12/19/2020)

Best Trait – Pursuit Angles / Closing Speed

Key Stats – Totaled 53 stops in 8 games (PFF)

Starts/Games – 30/32

Pro Comparison – Quentin Groves / Kyle Van Noy

5. Chazz Surratt, North Carolina, 6-1, 227

Surratt projects as a linebacker who will bring immediate third down and special teams value to a team. He was recruited as a QB out of high school and made the change to linebacker before the start of his fourth season at UNC. He is also the brother of Wake Forest wide receiver prospect Sage Surratt. His lack of experience shows in his block shedding, specifically in his understanding of leverage. His exceptional tackling will allow teams to trust him early in his career. He has high intelligence and awareness that pairs well with above-the-line athletic traits. His ability to cover TEs, RBs and some slot WRs will only add to his value and playing time. Surratt has a high motor and effort which should only help him learn the linebacker position faster. He is at least an instant special teams contributor in the NFL with plus upside as an off ball linebacker. He needs to improve in the run game to become a true three-down linebacker. Fits best as a Will. Surratt grades as an early/mid second-round pick.

  • Best Game – Wake Forest (11/14/2020)

  • Worst Game – Virginia Tech (10/10/2020)

  • Best Trait – Coverage Ability

  • Key Stats – Totaled 22.5 TFLs in 24 games

  • Starts/Games – 24/24

  • Pro Comparison – Kwon Alexander

6. Jabril Cox, LSU, 6-2⅞, 233

Cox should enter the NFL and be a winning backup. He has immediate third-down value because of the way he was used at LSU. He lined up over tight ends when they were split out and he showed above-the-line coverage in those situations but his lack of explosiveness and overall athleticism will limit his ability to cover high-caliber tight ends and any other position. His history of exceptional ball skills throughout his career is also encouraging to see, as he was consistent with passes defended and interceptions for his entire career. He won’t be a standout linebacker in the run game immediately but has enough length to improve when he reaches the next level. Same goes with his ability to shed blocks. Needs improvement but is adequate enough for the time being and has the length to improve. He will need to improve his consistency when tackling, specifically learning to tackle lower. Overall he grades as a late second/early third-rounder who should start his career as a backup but has enough potential to eventually grow into a starting caliber Will linebacker at the next level.

  • Best Game – Missouri (10/10/2020)

  • Worst Game – Auburn (10/31/2020)

  • Best Trait – Versatility / Coverage Ability

  • Key Stats – 3 INTs this season (T-5th among LBs)

  • Starts/Games – 48/55

  • Pro Comparison – Lavonte David

7. Jamin Davis, Kentucky, 6-4, 234

Jamin Davis is a serviceable backup immediately in the NFL but arguably has the most potential of any linebacker in this class. He is a physical specimen. He has adequate athleticism with some above-the-line traits. He needs to significantly improve his ability to take on blockers and pursue plays. Needs to start with his footwork and work from there. Overpursuit is a concern, because he was able to backtrack in college when he overpursued but in the NFL it could lead to chunk plays for opposing offenses. When chasing plays he also goes over the top of blockers and allows cut-back lanes to open up. Coverage ability is encouraging and could allow him to see time on third downs right away. Optimistic about his ability at the POA because of his length but will need to be coached up. He only started 11 games in college and is a very raw player. More play time and coaching should allow him to grow. Needs to be more decisive! He has a high ceiling and can play any linebacker position. He gets a late second/early third-round grade.

  • Best Game – NC State (1/2/2021) / Georgia (10/21/2020)

  • Worst Game – Florida (11/28/2020)

  • Best Trait – Speed / Effort/Motor

  • Key Stats – Eight career double digit tackles games, all in 2020

  • Starts/Games – 11/36

  • Pro Comparison – Fred Warner

8. Baron Browning, Ohio State, 6-3, 245

Browning has ideal size, length and build for the position. Where he lacks athletically, he makes up for with above-the-line speed and a refined skillset that should help him see the field in specific situations and on special teams. His ability to pick up RBs and TEs in the pass game and identify delayed routes will be valuable in the NFL, too. Exceptional tackling will also be appealing as he was a consistent tackler in all parts of the field. Average/adequate blitzer who showed ability to blitz both inside and out. Flexibility/bend and balance will prove troublesome for him in the NFL. Due to stiffness, possible concerns about how his tackling will translate against shifty players in the open field. If blockers can get a hand on him or move him off balance at the NFL level, he will likely end up on the ground in some of these situations. But when facing blockers head on, he has good length and block-shedding to dispose of them in a timely manner. Can play any linebacker position at the next level. Overall Browning is an adequate prospect across the board and grades as a third-round pick.

  • Best Game – Indiana (11/21/2020)

  • Worst Game – Penn State (10/31/2020)

  • Best Trait – Tackling + Effort/Motor

  • Starts/Games – 15/43 (true number of starts not noted on Ohio State website)

  • Pro Comparison – Barkevious Mingo

9. Dylan Moses, Alabama, 6-3, 240

Moses is a winning backup at the next level. Limited athleticism which seems to stem from his torn ACL in 2019. He looked much quicker in 2018 games, and looked noticeably more athletic. He is a two-down player to start his career but if he can regain some of his previous athleticism from before his ACL tear, then he has the ability to be very good in coverage. However, where he stands currently, he’s a liability in coverage. Awareness in zone is lacking and doesn’t have enough athleticism to make up for his mental lapses. He grabs too much in man coverage, especially when he knows he is going to get beat. His physicality and above-average tackling ability will benefit him in the run game. His block-shedding is above the line and his ability to keep blockers away from his chest will be beneficial. One of the only linebackers in this year’s class that understands how to stay on a runner’s hip while working downhill, down the LOS. Play recognition will need to improve as well. His projection, if he can regain athleticism from his ACL tear, is higher than where it currently is. Projects as a Mike or Sam role. Where he currently is he, grades as a late third/early fourth-round player.

  • Best Game – Missouri (9/26/2020)

  • Worst Game – Kentucky (11/21/2020)

  • Best Trait – Block Shedding / POA

  • Key Stats – Targeted 45 times this season (T-6th among LBs), allowing 62.2% completion (39th among LBs) (PFF)

  • Starts/Games – 30/39

  • Pro Comparison – Nigel Bradham

10. Tony Fields II, West Virginia, 6-1 , 222

Tony Fields is a winning backup immediately at the next level, with the ability to become a solid starter in the NFL. He was a fun player to watch on tape. Punishing tackler who needs to work on breaking down before he tackles. Gets reckless at times when he tackles and just overruns the player. Sideline to sideline ability. Closing speed plus pursuit angles only make him more intriguing. Zone coverage ability was adequate. Man coverage is a question mark. Didn’t see much of it on film. Has the athletic ability to play it but length may limit his effectiveness against tight ends. Block-shedding will remain a concern. When he used his hands, he used them well. Showed glimpses of being able to use his hands correctly at the POA but not consistently enough to feel comfortable he can do it in the NFL. His blitzing ability should allow him to find time on the field early in his career. Used in a bunch of different ways as a blitzer. Stunted and came off the edge, showed promise at times coming off the edge. Size is not as big a concern as his length. He projects as a Will linebacker. What the NFL looks for in a modern-day linebacker. He can move quickly around the field and has the tools to be great in coverage. Late third-round grade.

  • Best Game – TCU (11/14/2020)

  • Worst Game – Texas (11/7/2020)

  • Best Trait – Closing Speed

  • Key Stats – Led the BIG 12 in tackles per game (9.8)

  • Starts/Games – 46/46

  • Pro Comparison – Shaq Thompson

11. Cameron McGrone, Michigan, 6-1, 236

Cameron McGrone is a project linebacker in the NFL. A winning/average backup to begin his career at the next level, with the tools to grow. He will contribute on special teams like he did at Michigan. He is a raw prospect, started less than 20 games in college and didn’t really have standout production. He flashed potential throughout his tape as an athlete and in pursuit. When he used his length to shed blockers and keep them away from his chest, he flashed — but used his length only a handful of times. Strong throughout. When he blitzed, he was able to knock blockers off-balance and backwards. Wasn’t really driven back by blockers either and was good at holding his ground. Has a solid foundation with his combination of length and his athleticism. Shouldn’t be expected to start immediately in the NFL but the more reps he gets, the better he will be. Overall, the biggest questions are regarding his coverage and instincts. How much better he can improve at both will ultimately decide if he is a career backup or a serviceable starter. An early fourth-round pick or later.

  • Best Game – Minnesota (10/24/2020)

  • Worst Game – Michigan State (10/31/2020)

  • Best Trait – Explosiveness / Hip Explosiveness

  • Key Stats – One of only 2 LBs this season with 200+ snaps to not have a missed tackle (PFF)

  • Starts/Games – 15/19

  • Pro Comparison – Drue Tranquill

12. Monty Rice, Georgia, 6-0¼, 238

Rice is a serviceable backup at the NFL level with special teams upside. His athleticism and body will not benefit him in the NFL. His speed was inconsistent on film but his pro day 40 showed he has adequate speed for the position (4.57). He’s a liability in coverage, in my opinion. He tackles best when in between the tackles; when he gets into space, he cannot be trusted to make the tackle. His lack of length and already limited block-shedding ability cap his upside in the run game, but he should enter the league with decent run-game ability due to his above-the-line instincts and processing ability. He needs to understand leverage better or he will just get washed on every play at the next level. He does have special teams experience and upside because of his toughness and effort/motor, which could lead to him finding the field early in his career. Would fit best as a 4-3 ILB. Overall, Rice grades as a fourth-round pick or later.

  • Best Game – Tennessee (10/10/2020)

  • Worst Game – Missouri (12/12/2020)

  • Best Trait – Instincts / Play Rec

  • Key Stats – Since 2017 (his entire career), he’s only faced 8 drops & off-target throws (Fewest among LBs over that span with 75+ targets) (PFF)

  • Starts/Games – 28/47

  • Pro Comparison – Jon Bostic

13. Pete Werner, Ohio State, 6-3, 242

Werner is a winning starter at the next level with immediate value in first and second downs. He’s a classic run-stuffing linebacker who brings little to no value on third downs. He is an average athlete across the board. His coverage is limited and he gets touchy when in coverage. He got away with it in college, but it will lead to penalties in the NFL. His limited athleticism also caps his potential across the board. His physicality will be coveted in the run game and he brings outstanding toughness and effort as well. His effort and toughness should also give him value in special teams. His block shedding might be the best in the class and has the skills in the run game to find his way onto the field early in his career. He’s a violent, run-stuffing linebacker whose play style is the opposite of where the NFL is trending. Linebackers like him are becoming a rarity and for that reason his grade suffers. He fits best as a below-average Sam/Stack ILB. Werner is a fourth- to fifth-round player due to his capped upside and dying playstyle.

  • Best Game – Indiana (11/21/2020)

  • Worst Game – Rutgers (11/07/2020)

  • Best Trait – Violent Playstyle

  • Key Stats – 33.3% pressure rate this season (T-5th among LBs with 25+ pass rush snaps) (PFF)

  • Starts/Games – 35/47

  • Pro Comparison – Gerald McRath

14. Merlin Robertson, Arizona State, 6-3, 250

Robertson is a serviceable backup at the next level. He lacks the athleticism to play any linebacker position exceptionally well. Struggles sideline to sideline because of this as well. His stiff hips paired with his limited speed will make him a liability against receivers in the pass game. Inconsistency at the POA is confusing, because he has a great combination of size and length. Looks for contact and is aggressive when engaging blockers and ball carriers. Tackling was adequate overall. His zone coverage and his awareness while in zone was encouraging as well. He wasn’t hesitant to knock receivers off their routes if they came across his face. Average blitzing ability when he blitzed both inside and out. Would be interesting to see what he plays like at his freshman weight of 235. Had his most productive season at that weight. He projects to be a downhill Mike in a 4-3 defense or a 3-4 OLB type player. Mid fourth-round player.

  • Best Game – USC (11/07/2020)

  • Worst Game – Arizona (12/11/2020)

  • Best Trait – Physicality / Aggression

  • Key Stats – Missed just 8 tackles in 2019 (2nd lowest in PAC 12)

  • Starts/Games – 29/29

  • Pro Comparison – Brandon Spikes

15. Paddy Fisher, Northwestern, 6-3½, 239

Fisher is a serviceable backup with the potential to become a winning backup or low-end starter. His physical abilities limit his potential as a three-down player because he is a liability in man coverage. Should be fine in zone coverage but athletic limitations may prove too hindering, specifically his lack of speed. His adequate block-shedding and above-the-line physicality and toughness will make him a nice asset in run situations. Strong at the POA when he keeps blockers’ hands away from his chest. He flashed explosiveness and some decent speed at times but not consistently. His pro day will be one to look out for, specifically how he tests in 40, three-cone and explosion drills. He is a 4-3 ILB. He is the type of linebacker the NFL is moving away from, a two down player who has a nose for the football in the run game. Between the tackles is where he is most comfortable. He is an early fifth-round or later pick.

  • Best Game – Wisconsin (11/21/2020)

  • Worst Game – Ohio State (12/19/2020)

  • Best Trait – Effort + Motor

  • Key Stats – 404 TOT in his college career

  • Starts/Games – 48/48

  • Pro Comparison – Cameron Smith

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