No position has undergone a transformation quite like linebacker. Who were once beefy tackling machines with shoulder pads up around their ears has turned into (mostly) long, lean, powerful do-it-all types. This class is full of the latter and has the potential to see 3 or 4 players go in the 1st Round.
1. Micah Parsons, Penn State
Even without playing in 2020, Parsons is a bona fide top 10 talent. He played 26 games over his freshman and sophomore seasons, so experience is not an issue. The jump he made from year one to year two was astounding and that 2019 tape is a thing of beauty. He flies all over field and gets downhill better than any LB in recent memory.
Agility, play recognition, aggressiveness, all of Parsons’ best attributes are on display here. He is going to blow his 3 cone drill out of the water at Penn State’s pro day (if he even decides to run it). A lack of coverage snaps is a mild concern, but there is little doubt he can take on any assignment due to these athletic traits. Heck, Parsons could be the best edge in this draft if he felt like it changing positions. He is a future defensive building block.
2. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
Another athletic specimen (albeit not on quite the same level as Parsons), Owusu-Koramoah is ridiculously explosive. He packed on almost 25 lbs while at ND and has his play weight up around 220. That is not hefty enough to handle the middle of the field in the NFL and is 20 lbs lighter than Clemson’s Isiah Simmons weighed in at last year, but he shows no reservations about making plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Notice he came into this play from the slot, not the will-LB spot. In fact, Owusu-Koramoah was used almost exclusively as a coverage player in South Bend, even being trusted in man against some WRs.
Again Owusu-Koramoah was lined up in the slot here, this time outside of the safety. You would be hard-pressed to find any reps on tape of linebackers outside their safety, but Owusu-Koramoah is not really a linebacker. His coverage skills are unmatched and he can be super effective as a swiss-army-knife for any team willing to be creative on defense.
3. Zaven Collins, Tulsa
Old-school size (6’4″, 260 lbs) with new school athleticism, Collins has all the traits to fit right in middle of any scheme. Widely linked to Brian Urlacher (both are from small schools, have identical heights and weights), the comparison is not as crazy as it sounds. Like the Hall of Famer, Collins showed exceptional play recognition on tape and gets downhill like a freight train.
The guard had no chance against Collins here. There was never a moment where it looked like he was even going to get a hand on him. Any defensive coordinator who loves to blitz their LBs will watch this clip and beg their front office to go get this man.
Collins also made massive strides in coverage last year, intercepting 4 passes in just 8 games. Tulsa often left him in man to man vs athletic tight ends and he never looked out of sorts. With his size and speed, there is reason to believe this could continue at the next level.
4. Nick Bolton, Missouri
Bolton is far from the most physically impressive LB on this list. He is not a plodder, but he isn’t turning any heads with blazing speed either. Instead, Bolton relies on his superior instincts to seek out ball carriers and stop pass catchers. This being the case, he is a much better fit in a zone scheme opposed to man, which is not a huge problem.
Often sitting back in zone at Mizzou, Bolton led all Power Five off-ball LBs in coverage grade over the past 2 years (per PFF). Lacking length and the necessary agility to mirror offensive players, Bolton is not great in space and would look silly if on an island with a more skilled RB. There is a lot to like here though and someone is going to great value from Bolton if he were to drop out of the first round.
5. Justin Hilliard, Ohio State
For reasons I cannot figure out, Hilliard was never trusted by OSU’s coaching staff to play consistently. The former 5 star recruit never amassed 231 snaps in a season and totaled just 494 during his five year stint in Columbus. Despite inconsistent reps, he never played poorly and earned an 82.3 overall grade from PFF for his collegiate career.
Hilliard represents a pretty substantial question mark for this reason, but has all the size, speed, and instincts one could want from a modern LB. He was impressive at the Senior Bowl in both 1-on-1s and in coverage drills, showcasing what he can do at the next level. There is a decent amount of projection here, but Hilliard is a good bet.
Jabrill Cox Jr, LSU
Cameron McGrone, Michigan
Chazz Surratt, UNC