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2023 NFL Draft: Linebacker Big Board

(Mandatory Image Credit: University of Texas Athletics)

Written by: Joseph Yun

Twitter: @2Yoon2ZeroBlitz

While the linebacker class isn’t as deep as in years past, there still are diamonds in the rough to be found early and often in the upcoming draft. Can a prospect make their way into the latter stages of Day 1? Who are the next generation of linebackers to make a name for themselves, ala Micah Parsons, Von Miller, Fred Warner, and Bobby Wagner have done, to name a few? Which players can become the next late-round steal that turns into a superstar general of the defense? How many sack artists will make an impact at the next level, making offenses cower in fear?

If you missed any previous big board articles, they can be found below:


Running Back

Wide Receiver

Defensive Line

Note: All statistics courtesy of college football reference and RAS courtesy of Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb)

1. Trenton Simpson | 6’2 235 | Junior | Clemson

Despite all the talent surrounding him, Simpson was the key to Clemson’s defensive power. He was deployed both as an inside and outside linebacker throughout his career. He was really productive in 2021, notching 65 total tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks. 2022 was a slight dropoff in production due to a change in defensive coaching staff. However, he was seemingly everywhere in Clemson’s defense, making plays all over the field. A physical freak who can cover and run nearly unlimited distances, it seems. The athletic traits are among the best in the class overall. He’s a consistent talent with good size, length, and speed that has potential. It will be interesting to see where he’s deployed by the team that drafts him. He will be an early Day 2 selection, given his unlimited potential. A position and scheme versatile linebacker that can run? Sign me up. Athletically and play style-wise, he resembles former Steelers great Ryan Shazier.

Round Projection: Second

Player / RAS Comp: Ryan Shazier

2. Drew Sanders | 6’4 235 | Junior | Arkansas

- Sanders transferred to Arkansas from SEC West rival Alabama and blossomed in 2022. He was a role player for the Tide during his two seasons in Tuscaloosa. He’s a freak athlete with the size and speed to play a scheme versatile inside linebacker or slide down to EDGE. His football IQ and motor are top-tier, as he can quickly diagnose and attack with relentless effort. It can be argued that he’s the best overall linebacker in the class and should be drafted as such. Teams with a creative defensive mind/scheme can utilize him in various ways, similar to what the Cowboys have done with Micah Parsons. However, he only has one year of productivity, so teams must be wary of that. Athletically and stylistically, he resembles 49ers superstar Fred Warner.

Round Projection: Second to Third

Player / RAS Comp: Fred Warner

3. DeMarvion Overshown | 6’2 229 | Senior | Texas

- Overshown is another defensive back to linebacker convert, and the athleticism and ball skills are undeniable. He was a defensive back for the first two seasons of his career before finishing the last three as a linebacker. He can cover sideline to sideline with aplomb. He has the size and speed to do well as an outside linebacker in any scheme but can stick inside at the next level. However, as impressive as the athleticism is, he’s a little undersized when trying to stop the run. Bigger blockers will overwhelm him if he doesn’t attack first. The former Longhorn was another Senior Bowl participant that stood out at the event. Production increased every season. He’s likely a middle to late Day 2 selection. As a player, he compares to standout Packers linebacker DeVondre Campbell. Athletically, he is similar to former LSU talent Damone Clark.

Round Projection: Third

Player / RAS Comp: DeVondre Campbell / Damone Clark

4. Daiyan Henley | 6’0 225 | Redshirt Senior | Washington State

- Henley is another Senior Bowl standout who impressed there after a great 2022 season. He transferred to Washington State after a five-year career at Nevada. The former Wazzu product converted to linebacker as a junior at Nevada after playing receiver, then switching to defensive back. He has three seasons of linebacker experience, including two high-end productive ones to finish his collegiate eligibility. He’s an all-around linebacker with outstanding athleticism in coverage. He can turn and run with running backs and even some tight ends. However, he is undersized like many contemporaries, and blockers can take advantage. He’s one of the best linebackers in the class as a whole. The athleticism and ball skills are evident in the tape. He’s projected as a late Day 2 to early Day 3 selection. DH profiles similarly in play style and athletic traits to current Baltimore Raven Patrick Queen.

Round Projection: Third to Fourth

Player / RAS Comp: Patrick Queen

5. Jack Campbell | 6’4 249 | Senior | Iowa

- Campbell was the unquestioned leader and do-everything type for the vaunted Hawkeyes defense. He has an exciting story as he signed with Iowa, transferred to Cincinnati and converted to TE, and transferred back to Iowa after one season and converted back to linebacker. He’s not the greatest athlete on the field, but he makes up for it with the know-how and motor to stay in the picture. Football IQ is impressive. He has the size and speed to move down to EDGE and be productive if the linebacker thing doesn’t progress. He’s a tackle machine that produced consecutive triple-digit campaigns for the Hawkeyes. The prospect is likely a Day 2 selection. His profile is similar to Cowboys star linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.

Round Projection: Third

Player / RAS Comp: Leighton Vander Esch

2022 Stats: 125 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, one sack, two interceptions, one pass defended, one forced fumble

6. Henry To’oTo’o | 6’1 227 | Senior | Alabama

- The former five-star recruit’s story is well known at this point. He transferred to Alabama after two years at Tennessee. To’oTo’o led Alabama in tackles during the 2021 season and was second in 2022. He presents an intriguing conundrum as he’s athletic enough to play on the outside but will likely stay as an ILB. HT is an above-average athlete with lateral agility to make most plays and is very fluid to the ball. He’s also seen a lot of football after four years of starting at both programs. The football IQ is excellent. He has more than lived up to the lofty billing that his status represents. However, he has a lean build that bigger blockers can take advantage of when he goes downhill. The physical traits are impressive, and he’s an impactful defensive general in the middle. Scheme versatile linebacker. He’ll likely get drafted in the early stages of Day 3. As a player, he resembles former Iowa State star A.J. Klein while physically; he profiles similarly to former Florida State standout Telvin Smith.

Round Projection: Fourth to Fifth

Player / RAS Comp: A.J. Klein / Telvin Smith

2022 Stats: 94 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks

7. Mohamoud Diabate | 6’3 225 | Senior | Utah

- Diabate transferred to Utah for the 2022 season after three seasons at Florida. He’s a twitchy and quick-burst athlete who can run for days. Florida and Utah used him in various roles, including off the edge as a pass rusher and outside linebacker. He’s a prime athlete with the range to cover unlimited amounts of grass and is built more like a safety with great length. Utah’s program is legendary for its development prowess, and Diabate is just the latest example. He’s a bendy pass rusher who can blow by blockers instantly. He has the athleticism to make up for coverage mistakes when they occur. This prospect's potential is limitless as he can add about 10 pounds to his frame and become a top-tier pass rusher. He’ll likely be selected in the early portion of Day 3. Physically and stylistically, he resembles Mykal Walker, who is rising in the league as one of the young guns at linebacker.

Round Projection: Fourth

Player / RAS Comp: Mykal Walker

2022 Stats: 58 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, one pass defended, one interception

8. Noah Sewell | 6’1 246 | Junior | Oregon

- Sewell is a polarizing prospect as he fell off dramatically from the high production of 2021 to the lows of 2022. He comes from football royalty who played Division 1, with brothers Penei, Gabriel, and Nephi playing at Oregon, Nevada, and Utah, respectively. He’s a throwback type of linebacker with limited athleticism, impacting his coverage abilities. Injuries hampered the former five-star recruit in his career as he seemingly picked up knocks every game but returned to play after a brief respite. He’s a physical hitter but doesn’t have the athleticism to cover up his lack of range. 2022 was an onerous disaster for the entirety of the Ducks' defense as they fell off dramatically under a new staff. Perhaps given his athletic circumstances, he could be utilized better as a converted EDGE in the pros. As a player, he compares to current Patriots DC Jerod Mayo, who had a nice career. Athletically, he compares to veteran Napoleon Harris.

Round Projection: Third to Fourth

Player / RAS Comp: Jerod Mayo / Napoleon Harris

2022 Stats: 56 tackles, four passes defended, one interception

9. Dorian Williams | 6’1 228 | Senior | Tulane

- Williams was a three-year starter for the surging Green Wave and was a consistently productive linebacker. 2022 was his most well-rounded season statistically, where he excelled in all categories. He’s a touch undersized for the position and has the athleticism to play all three downs. A coverage linebacker with instincts that need refining some. A physical tackler who hits like a truck with a defensive back frame. He was a Senior Bowl invitee with a great week to get on the radar even further. The most recent bowl game against USC got him national attention as he led the team in tackles containing the powerful Trojans offense. He could be a dime linebacker type at the next level. The prospect should be an early Day 3 selection based on physical traits. He profiles similarly to former Southern Miss linebacker Gerald McRath.

Round Projection: Fourth

Player / RAS Comp: Gerald McRath

2022 Stats: 132 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, seven passes defended, two interceptions, two forced fumbles

10. Owen Pappoe | 6’0 225 | Senior | Auburn

- Pappoe was the defensive mastermind in the middle for the Tigers' defense. He’s an impressive athlete who can move well laterally down the in-the-wash when disengaged from blockers. A linear athlete who’s better rushing the passer than turning and burning with outlet assets in space. He’s undersized for the middle linebacker position, so a move to outside linebacker, where he would be free to pursue the ball, might be better. Unfortunately, the medical issue is a yellow flag for teams as he missed large chunks of 2021 and the Senior Bowl. 2020, he posted 93 tackles, four sacks, and one interception in his most productive season. 2022 was similar in production, so teams will have two years of productivity to evaluate. The athleticism should get him drafted in the early stages of Day 3, where a team can mold his athleticism and teach the IQ part while he plays special teams. He has a similar profile to former Alabama linebacker Christian Harris who just completed an inconsistent rookie season with the Texans.

Round Projection: Fourth to Fifth

Player / RAS Comp: Christian Harris

2022 Stats: 91 tackles, three tackles for loss, three passes defended, two sacks, two forced fumbles, and one interception

11. Dee Winters | 5’11 227 | Senior | TCU

- Winters was a three-year starter for the Horned Frogs' defense and was a consistent producer. He exploded for 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks as a senior. He’s a converted safety (which explains the size), and it shows his spatial awareness as a result. The former TCU defender is a quick-twitched athlete who can turn and run with smaller backs and is a very physical tackler. While he can drop back into coverage, the best way to use him is downhill, chasing the ball and the passer, attesting to his high tackle-for-loss numbers. He’s a quick trigger flowing to the ball when he can diagnose (not always the case). The size will hurt his stock some, but the athleticism is evident. The prospect could be a specialized utility box safety/linebacker for certain teams that need those due to his athleticism, size, and physicality. He performed well at the Senior Bowl and the Combine, boosting his stock. As it stands, he will likely be selected in the middle of Day 3 as a core special team type turned into a part-time starter. Former Georgia linebacker Monty Rice is his physical and style comparison.

Round Projection: Fifth

Player / RAS Comp: Monty Rice

2022 Stats: 79 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, two passes defended, one interception

12. SirVocea Dennis | 6’0 226 | Senior | Pittsburgh

- Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Dennis is yet another former Pitt Panther defender making his way to the pro ranks. He’s not the quickest linebacker by any means but makes up for it with plus instincts and sound tackling. While he isn’t going to beat anyone notably fast in a long race, he wins in short area bursts. A very fundamentally sound tackler who wraps up and doesn’t let go often. Lateral agility may sometimes be an issue against backs that are smaller and shifty but is serviceable. Three-year starter with two excellent production seasons. An intelligent defender who just knows how to play ball, simply put. He performed well above average at the Senior Bowl. The linebacker prospect projects to be a middle Day 3 selection with special teams' ability to start before taking over the reins as an ILB later. His athletic and stylistic profile resembles former Saints star turned broadcaster Jonathan Vilma.

Round Projection: Fifth to Sixth

Player / RAS Comp: Jonathan Vilma

2022 Stats: 94 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, seven sacks, one interception, three passes defended, two forced fumbles

13. Cam Jones | 6’1 226 | Senior | Indiana

- Jones returned to school for an extra season as the NCAA’s COVID policy allowed in 2022. Unfortunately, he was injured for most of the season but was well on his way to getting close to 100 tackles. He was averaging close to 11 tackles a game in just five games played. As a prospect, he can move well enough laterally and quickly track running backs out of the backfield. He’s a fluid athlete with above-average closing speed when ball-tracking and rushing the passer. The prospect isn’t undersized and has a frame that could add about five to ten more pounds. He was invited to the Senior Bowl. The former Hoosier linebacker is likely projected as a late Day 3 selection and will start by playing special teams.

Round Projection: Sixth to Seventh

Player / RAS Comp: Christian Kirksey / Nick Moody

2022 Stats: 54 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, one pass defended, one forced fumble

14. Ivan Pace, Jr | 5’10 231 | Senior | Cincinnati

- Pace transferred to Cincinnati after three seasons at Miami (OH), where he posted a beastly 125 tackles and four sacks in 2021. He didn’t skip a beat in 2022 as a tackling machine, either for the Bearcats. He has all the physical tools like sideline-to-sideline range and ball tracking, but rushing the passer is where he dominates. Athleticism is quite good in short area bursts and accelerates quickly. However, the size does limit him against bigger blockers. He’ll have to be protected by his defensive linemen. The former Bearcats linebacker dominated at the Senior Bowl, nearly unstoppable rushing the passer. The prospect will likely start his career on special teams due to his size and athleticism before jumping to becoming a starter. He projects to be a middle Day 3 selection. Physically and stylistically, he compares to veteran utility linebacker Elandon Roberts.

Round Projection: Fifth to Sixth

Player / RAS Comp: Elandon Roberts

2022 Stats: 136 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks, four passes defended, two forced fumbles

15. Aubrey Miller, Jr | 5’11 229 | Senior | Jackson State

- Miller showed out at the Senior Bowl as a small school prospect after transferring to JSU from Missouri. He was a tackle monster with consecutive 100+ tackle campaigns under his belt. He’s a serviceable athlete when in the box, but in coverage, it’s a little shaky at times. Like some of his compatriots at the position, he’s somewhat undersized at just 5’11 229, but he makes it work. Shockingly, he didn’t get an invite to the Combine, considering his Mobile efforts. He is a physical force to be reckoned with at the LOS, so it’s entirely possible that he will end up as a specialized sub-package pass rusher. As a player-to-player comparison, he’s similar to Bills star Matt Milano. Athletically, he’s comparable to Stephen Hodge. He will likely get drafted as a developmental type of linebacker prospect in the latter stages of Day 3.

Round Projection: Sixth to Seventh

Player / RAS Comp: Matt Milano / Stephen Hodge

2022 Stats: 117 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, six passes defended, five forced fumbles, two sacks

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