(Image credit: Brett Rojo - USA Today Sports)
Written by: Joseph Yun
Draft Week is upon us after a long and arduous journey for everyone involved! The show begins on Thursday night in The Land. Welcome to the penultimate 2021 edition of the positional big boards!
The linebacker class is loaded with elite talents at the top but some intriguing talents reside in the middle tiers as well. Who are the best of the best linebackers in the draft class? Who will be the first to make the vast sums of money that such luminaries like Von Miller, Bobby Wagner, and Khalil Mack receive? Are there game changing talents to combat the ever increasing spread offenses?
Note: All RAS scores were courtesy of relativeathleticscores.com and @MathBomb
Note 2: All Blitzalytics scores are are courtesy of an internal grading system based on the ten point grading scale
If you missed the previous articles in the series, they are linked below:
- Parsons opted out of the 2020 season fairly early on after the Big Ten’s incredibly inconsistent decision making. He’s a play making athlete that can cover sideline to sideline at an elite clip. Scheme versatile linebacker who also has outstanding blitz awareness and could help off the edge if a creative DC gets a hold of him. Can play both inside and outside in any system. The RAS is a good indicator of his athleticism. He’s LB1 in the class and has been for some time. Parsons showed out at his Pro Day. They hardly make athletes his size these days. He was good enough to earn the right to wear former PSU standout LaVar Arrington’s 11 so that’s saying a lot given the incredible linebacker tradition there. However, there are some concerning hazing allegations that he must address with the team that drafts him. Off field “issues” aside, Parsons should be drafted in the top 20 selections.
Draft Projection: Top 20
Pro Comp: Thomas Howard (UTEP) / Jaylon Smith
Blizalytics Grade: 7.9
- Collins is arguably the most hyped up linebacker prospect in the class with good reason. He’s an athletic freak that can do it all. He is one of the bigger “linebackers”, measuring recently at a whopping 270 pounds. That weight could mean a move down a level to EDGE or even 4-3 defensive end. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain his elite athleticism at the weight or if he needs to slim down a few pounds. Versatile athlete who can rush, drop back, and cover tight ends in the slot if necessary. The former Golden Hurricane can play some ILB as well. He’s the clear cut LB2 on the board. He profiles similarly to “The Freak” Jevon Kearse who had a good career with the Titans and Eagles out of Florida.
Draft Projection: First Round
Pro Comp: Jevon Kearse
Blitzalytics Grade: 7.7
- JOK has been holding steady as the third overall linebacker prospect for a couple of years. He’s a bit lighter than what one would normally want in their linebackers but he has gained a few pounds. Very instinctive in coverage and seemingly always has an idea where the ball will be at all times. A great athlete as well. He is light enough to play safety but will likely play in the middle or be deployed on the perimeter in a 4-3 style defense. Koramoah’s athletic potential floor is former Titans ‘backer Wesley Woodyard and his ceiling could be the Falcons’ great Deion Jones.
Draft Projection: First Round
Pro Comp: Deion Jones / Wesley Woodyard
Blitzalytics Grade: 7.87
- Bolton has been bandied about as a potential first round selection for most of the past couple of seasons. He’s not the greatest of athletes but the instincts going downhill are tremendous. He led the SEC in tackles during the 2019 season and was productive in 2020 again so the experience is a plus. A true blue MIKE type with good speed for the position but not as much on the perimeter (he will make plays but don’t expect home run athleticism). He has the potential to wear the green dot for the defense one day. If you have a gap in the blocking, lo and behold, Bolton will make that TFL more often than not. His athletic and play profile match up to former Texas Longhorn linebacker Emmanual Acho, who’s still active in the league.
Draft Projection: First to Second Round
Pro Comp: Emmanuel Acho
Blitzalytics Grade: 7.42
- Name a linebacker position, you can bet Browning has played it for the Buckeyes. He’s an elite athlete as evidenced by the RAS score. Can go sideline to sideline amongst the best but the instincts aren’t exactly there. This may be due to the constant shuffling around but once he settles, it will get better with more reps. Browning has all the physical tools you want in a guy his size and then some. The question is, can he get better in play recognition? He’s been flying up the boards this offseason and could be drafted as high as the second round. Physically, he’s similar to Cowboys star Leighton Vander Esch but play style could be linked to bigger Ernie Sims.
Draft Projection: Second to Third Round
Pro Comp: Leighton Vander Esch
Blitzalytics Grade: 7.55
- Cox transferred to LSU for the 2020 season after a standout career with perennial FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. He was an instant hit in Baton Rouge for a beleaguered Tigers defense that set records the wrong way. An athlete who can play to all three levels of the field in coverage. A versatile linebacker with a lot of tools in his kit such as rushing the passer and dropping back in different schemes. Ideally, he gets drafted to a team with a stable linebacker situation that can afford him a quasi redshirt year to learn the nuances of the pro game. Future green dot Mike type of prospect. His name has been mentioned in the first round but I think he settles in the Day 2 range. Physically, he compares to former South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore. He will have an individual Pro Day on 4/26 reportedly.
Draft Projection: First to Second Round
Pro Comp: Skai Moore
Blitalytics Grade: 7.09
- Davis has been the hottest and fastest rising prospect in this year’s class regardless of position it seems. He’s excellent in coverage and has great presence of mind to find the ball no matter the field position. An absolute missile that hits hard when he has a chance to square up. Very fluid in coverage and doesn’t look lost or clunky. Speed and lateral quickness is something to behold. Once he sees it, very rarely does he lose in pursuit. As the RAS score indicates, he’s exceptional in that department. He’ll probably get drafted in the second round due to his immense potential. JD has a chance to go in the first round like fellow Kentucky alums Josh Allen and Bud Dupree once did.
Draft Projection: Second Round
Pro Comp: more athletic Darius Leonard / Leonard Floyd
Blitzalytics Grade: 7.44
- The brother of former Wake Forest receiver Sage Surratt converted to linebacker just two years ago so he’s still learning the finer points of playing ‘backer. Surratt is an athlete who’s not quite freelancing out there but is smart enough to know where the assignments are. Slightly undersized so he may be limited to a 4-3 outside role or a hybrid of both in the right system. One thing that benefits him as he knows what the quarterback’s thought processes are at all times since he was one before he converted to defense. Still, the athletic potential and football IQ is projectable to late Day 2 or early Day 3. I agree with the scout’s assessment that Surratt can be a KVN one day with the right coach.
Draft Projection: Third to Fourth Round
Pro Comp: Kyle Van Noy
Blitzalytics Grade: 7.61
- McGrone is a machine that has been on the radar since his redshirt freshman season where he burst onto the scene. He has all the physical tools such as athleticism, mental makeup, and character. A good sideline to sideline cover guy for an inside linebacker (where he was posted for the majority of his career) but he’ll likely end up on the outside if all things shake out. The versatility in his game will likely get him drafted as a priority special teamer early Day 3 with the chance to earn backup reps. He’s always running around so motor isn’t an issue. A tad bit undersized but in the day of smaller linebackers, it isn’t a huge concern. He merits a spot safely in the top ten. Former Alabama standout Mack Wilson is the comp for him. Michigan was primarily a 4-3 team under the tutelage of famed DC Don Brown so scheme versatility may not be a thing for McGrone.
Draft Projection: Fourth Round
Pro Comp: Mack Wilson
Blitzalytics Grade: 7.87
- The much hyped former five star recruit is finally in the draft after a relatively unfulfilled career. Moses has had two devastating knee injuries in the past two seasons so who knows if the athleticism is still present. When healthy, he’s a really good athlete that constantly flies around with mean intentions. A bruiser who loves to intimidate opposing offenses. Toughness isn’t an issue as he played through a torn meniscus in 2020. Very good athlete that covers running backs and tight ends with ease. The reputation of how pro ready previous starting Mikes at Alabama will precede him and get Moses drafted late on Day 2 if not earlier. He compares favorably to Vosean Joseph and Azeem Victor.
Draft Projection: Third Round
Pro Comp: Vosean Joseph / Azeem Victor
Blitzalytics Grade: 6.98
11. Tony Fields II West Virginia
- Fields graduate transferred to West Virginia from Arizona in 2020. He played the MIKE position for the Mountaineers and played well, which is very impressive given the pandemic essentially wiped out spring and summer drills. A new guy taking charge of the defense under such difficult circumstances speaks to how great a leader he is. He’s an athletic prospect with great experience and football IQ that can process things quickly. However, he is a smidge undersized for the position so a transition to outside may be necessary for him. An explosive tackling machine who rarely loses one on one battles in space or in the storm. He should be an eventual starter after some practice and special teams reps. Someone is getting a steal on Day 3.
Draft Projection: Fifth Round
- Werner played all three linebacker spots and some safety reps while in Columbus so versatility is a huge plus. He’s a plus athlete as the RAS scores indicate. Size is above average for the position. The former Buckeyes linebacker doesn’t freelance and has good instincts despite the versatility that had him bouncing from position to position. Lateral quickness is another plus to his game. Experienced as a “starter” over the past three years for a playoff contender so he knows what to do in big games. Teams will draft him early Day 3 and work him on special teams until he’s ready to start. Physically, he profiles to 49ers star Fred Warner.
Draft Projection: Fourth to Fifth Round
Pro Comp: Fred Warner
Blitzalytics Grade: 6.62
- Rice was the on field commander of the talent laden Bulldogs defense during the past couple of seasons. He’s a serviceable athlete while in coverage but great when playing on the edge. Lateral quickness and speed in short bursts is a plus. Scheme-versatile as he has projectable talent to play both 4-3 outside linebacker and 3-4 inside linebacker. However, he’s not physically able to hold up often at the point of attack due to being slightly undersized. The former Georgia linebacker will probably get drafted in the middle of Day 3 and play special teams to start out before slowly getting defensive reps. Size wise, he profiles similar to Bryce Hager.
Draft Projection: Fifth to Sixth Round
Pro Comp: Bryce Hager
Blitzalytics Grade: 6.81
- Barnes is a throwback to the old days of the not quite slow of foot but moderate athletic linebackers. He is what you would call “country strong” and his hands show it. The RAS score surprised me when it came out but it’s in line with the tape for the most part. He’s not the most fluid but is above average in the athleticism department i.e. won’t ruin the defense but won’t improve them either. A role on special teams with further instinctive development reps into a starter could be his calling card. You can find these kinds of guys during the middle to later stages of Day 3 so there’s where he’ll most likely settle.
Draft Projection: Fifth Round
Pro Comp: Jamar Chaney (Temple)
Blitzalytics Grade: 6.41
- All gas no brakes with this dude. Snowden did enough throughout his career to merit an invitation to the Senior Bowl. He’s not the most technically proficient linebacker but has the height / weight / length to be a situational rusher at the next level. Definitely needs some more coaching on using his hands more and how to best utilize his big frame. Chris Long won’t be but there’s still a competent defender in there somewhere if coached right. Special teams might be his ticket before ultimately being developed into a serviceable backup. He compares physically to former Oregon pass rusher Jalen Jelks.
Draft Projection: Sixth Round to Seventh Round
Pro Comp: Jalen Jelks
Blitzalytics Grade: 7.54
- Hilliard is yet another Buckeyes linebacker trying to make his way to the pros. A rare five star recruit who exhausted every bit of his collegiate eligibility at Ohio State. The medical file on him isn’t pretty as he has dealt with numerous injuries so teams will pore over those carefully. A prospect who defines the role of master of none, jack of all trades. When he’s healthy, he can be a swing backer who can fill in on special teams and play both inside and outside. It’s a shame that he has been hurt so frequently but there’s a role for a heady and instinctive backer with limited athleticism on a team somewhere. The legacy of Buckeyes linebackers will help him as well.
Draft Projection: Sixth Round
Pro Comp: Tegray Scales (Indiana)
Blitzalytics Grade: 6.1