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2024 NFL Draft: Linebacker Big Board

2024 NFL Draft: Linebacker Big Board
2024 NFL Draft: Linebacker Big Board

The NFL Draft drums can be heard in the distance as it is just two weeks away. Teams have long since finalized their big boards, finishing up their Top 30 visits and checking their cap space for any veterans left in free agency. Who are the best off-ball linebackers in the 2024 NFL draft class? Are there any projected to go in the first round? Which ones will become the next generation of stars like Fred Warner, Roquan Smith, etc? This preview was brought to you by Joseph Yun.

Note: All RAS scores are courtesy of @MathBomb

In case you missed the other positional rankings, they can be found below

Quarterback

Running Back

Wide Receiver

Offensive Line

Defensive Line

2024 Linebacker Rankings

“The Leader of the Pack”

1. Payton Wilson | 6’3 237 | NC State

Wilson is the top-ranked linebacker in the class, and he has all the traits teams desire for the position. His medical history gives pause. When healthy, he was extremely productive for the Wolfpack. He posted three double-digit TFL campaigns. 2023 was his finest overall statistical year. He’s an impressive athlete that tested well during the offseason process. The former Wolfpack leader was invited to the Senior Bowl, where he shined and launched his stock. He’s a fluid athlete who can turn and burn with faster backs and tight ends. PFF gave him an overall score of 89.9, which was good for sixth-best in the country. His athletic and play style profile is an almost exact match of Packers legend Clay Matthews. His medical file will knock him into Day 2 when the film makes him a first-round prospect.

2023 Statistics: 138 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, three interceptions, six PBUs

RAS: 9.89

Player Comparison: Clay Matthews

Round Projection: Second

“Yelling into the early rounds before Midnight”

2. Edgerrin Cooper | 6’2 230 | Texas A&M

Cooper is an outstanding athlete with three seasons of increasing production on his burgeoning CV. The former Aggie tested well, matching the tape that was full of speed and lateral agility. He plays with an aggressive demeanor and hits just as hard. His instincts are a work in progress, but they can be coached. The athletic traits are what teams will love about him. He’s an impressive athlete who can turn and run with nearly everyone. He is a solid open-space tackler with a knack for exploiting the holes in the offense. His athletic and stylistic traits are similar to longtime veteran DeVondre Campbell. PFF graded him as the second-best linebacker in the country, with an overall score of 90.8. He should be a locked-in Day 2 selection at this point in the offseason.

2023 Statistics: 84 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, eight sacks, two PBUs, and two forced fumbles

RAS: 9.13

Player Comparison: DeVondre Campbell

Round Projection: Second to Third

“Sunny Skies for This Heel”

3. Cedric Gray | 6’1 234 | North Carolina

Gray was very productive for the Tar Heels’ defense. He posted three consecutive monstrous seasons, including back-to-back triple-digit tackle campaigns. He was invited to the Senior Bowl, where he shined. He’s constantly around the ball making plays and has enough athleticism to cover sideline to sideline. The athletic traits are solid, with size and speed not being any concerns. His instincts make him one of the best linebackers in the class. He can quickly diagnose the play before him and accelerate to the ball rapidly. The former Tar Heel aligned at inside linebacker for his career in Chapel Hill. His athletic and play style resembles former LSU linebacker Duke Riley. It’s very likely that he will end up drafted on Day 2.

2023 Statistics: 121 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, five sacks, four PBUs, and two forced fumbles

RAS: 7.26

Player Comparison: Duke Riley

Round Projection: Third

“A Match in the Chamber of Steele”

4. Steele Chambers | 6’0 226 | Ohio State

Chambers is the owner of possibly the best name-to-position match in sports. He’s a converted running back who switched to linebacker before the 2021 season. The former running back knows all the cheat codes that come with the position, and he uses it well to quickly diagnose in run defense. Laterally fluid and has an explosive first step. He’s a fundamentally sound tackler. He earned an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game because of his play in 2023. Tackle production increased every year so that’s a good omen. The former Buckeye compares favorably to former Maryland star inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. Chambers should be a third-round selection.

2023 Statistics: 83 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one interception, and one PBU

RAS: 4.63

Player Comparison: D’Qwell Jackson

Round Projection: Third

“Ann Arbor’s Ardor for a Linebacker”

5. Junior Colson | 6’2 238 | Michigan

Colson elected not to work out at the Combine nor at Michigan’s Pro Day, so he has no testing numbers. What he does have is three seasons of solid to great production for the reigning national champions. He also has above-average athleticism to cover the ranges. The football IQ and instincts in coverage are also great and are his calling cards. He’s an inside linebacker by trade but has enough athletic traits to play outside on certain occasions. The former Wolverine has the size and speed to be used as a subpackage pass rusher if teams also want to get creative. He projects as a Day 2 selection. His athletic and play style resembles former Alabama linebacker Mack Wilson.

2023 Statistics: 95 tackles, two tackles for loss, and two PBUs

Player Comparison: Mack Wilson

Round Projection: Second to Third

“A Tiger Trotting in from Clemson”

6. Jeremiah Trotter, Jr | 6’0 228 | Clemson

The son of a longtime veteran linebacker has arrived to make his own mark on the league. Trotter doesn’t have the ideal athletic traits for today’s linebackers but makes up for it with immense football IQ and instincts. He aligned in the inside linebacker role for Clemson and shined there with two years of consistent production. His instincts will always have him in the picture despite some physical trait limitations. He has a relentless motor and work ethic that was instilled in him by knowing what it takes to get to this level. PFF graded him as the 21st best linebacker in the country with an overall score of 85.7. Trotter is one of the best linebackers in the class, bar none, and will likely get drafted on Day 2. Standout Vikings rising sophomore Ivan Pace, Jr is his athletic and stylistic comparison.

2023 Statistics: 88 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, two interceptions, five PBUs, and two forced fumbles

Player Comparison: Ivan Pace, Jr

Round Projection: Second to Third

“Hopping to Columbia”

7. Ty’Ron Hopper | 6’1 231 | Missouri

Hopper transferred to Missouri from Florida before the 2022 season. He was productive for three seasons for both the Gators and Tigers. He’s a phenomenal athlete with all the traits a team desires in a linebacker. He’s a laterally explosive athlete who can turn and run with any of the quicker running backs and tight ends. His agility allows him to cover sideline to sideline effectively. His sack production was consistent. He has a very good first step when rushing the passer. His athletic and stylistic comparison is similar to former Texas linebacker DeMarvion Overshown. Hopper should be selected in the fourth round.

2023 Statistics: 55 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks, and three PBUs

RAS: 7.42

Player Comparison: DeMarvion Overshown

Round Projection: Fourth

“Green Dot the I”

8. Tommy Eichenberg | 6’2 233 | Ohio State

Eichenberg was the leader of the Buckeyes’ front seven during his time in Columbus. He has three productive seasons under his belt, peaking in 2022 but posting an evenly split 82-tackle season in 2023. He was injured for some of 2023, so the falloff from his 2022 high can be measured in that sense. The former Buckeye star elected not to run any speed drills during the offseason. He’s not the best quick twitch athlete in the class by any measure, so teams will be wary. Instinctual linebacker who is a solid tackler once he gets his hands on the ball carrier. A limited athlete who projects as a throwback two-down specialist. His athletic and stylistic profile resembles former Iowa standout Chad Greenway. Ohio State’s general could have a chance at a late Day 2 selection but will have to settle for an early Day 3 phone call.

2023 Statistics: 82 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack, and one forced fumble

RAS: 7.88

Player Comparison: Chad Greenway

Round Projection: Third to Fourth

“Another Penn Stater!”

9. Curtis Jacobs | 6’1 241 | Penn State

Jacobs was an underrated prospect for Penn State, while Chop Robinson and Adisa Isaac got the headlines. Interestingly, his production declined every season as his reps increased. He was invited to the East-West Shrine Game after the season. His athleticism is above average, and he could be best utilized as a pass-rushing specialist to start his pro career. He was a solid performer at the Combine, thus the good RAS. He’s a solid run defender with above-average instincts in that regard. Jacobs is undersized for the position but has the traits to make it in the league as a rotational linebacker. His athletic and play style profile resembles former Stanford linebacker, Bobby Okereke. He may be selected on late Day 2 but will likely settle on Day 3.

2023 Statistics: 49 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks

RAS: 8.47

Player Comparison: Bobby Okereke

Round Projection: Third to Fourth

“The Tackling Machine on the 40”

10. Jaylan Ford | 6’2 240 | Texas

The former Texas linebacker led the team in tackles and tackles for loss by a glaringly large margin. He tested better than expected at the Combine, thus the RAS score. Ford wins with plus instincts and power. He’s almost always in the picture despite his limited athleticism. His football IQ is his major strength, and he has just enough athleticism to cover sideline to sideline. Due to his 2023 play, he earned an invite to the Senior Bowl. He’s likely ticketed for the inside linebacker position at the next level with some EDGE play. Former Wisconsin linebacker Jack Cichy is his athletic and play style comparison. He’ll likely get drafted in the middle of Day 3.

2023 Statistics: 101 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, one sack, two interceptions, two PBUs, one forced fumble

RAS: 8.30

Player Comparison: Jack Cichy

Round Projection: Fifth

“Going Wild in StarkVegas”

11. Nathaniel Watson | 6’2 233 | Mississippi State

Watson was a productive three-year starter for the Bulldogs, mustering an awe-inspiring 333 total tackles, 31 tackles for loss, and 21 sacks in that time. He’s not the best athlete in the class, but he gets by with his plus instincts and lateral agility. Simply put, he has a nose for the football. The former Miss State star had a solid Senior Bowl performance where he showed that he could hang with the quicker backs and tight ends. Football IQ is top-notch. A throwback to the old-school era of hulking inside linebackers that provide sheer terror for opposing offenses. He profiles similarly to former Alabama linebacker Henry To’oto’o. Watson projects to be an early Day 3 selection.

2023 Statistics: 137 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, two forced fumbles, two PBUs, and one interception

RAS: 5.03

Player Comparison: Henry To’oto’o

Round Projection: Fourth to Fifth

“A Stoopsian Candidate”

12. Trevin Wallace | 6’1 237 | Kentucky

Wallace had a good Senior Bowl process, getting both inside and outside linebacker reps to prove his versatility to teams. He followed it up with an outstanding testing process, resulting in a sky-high 9.34 RAS. He’s a very good athlete who can go sideline to sideline and rush the passer, and the Wildcats deployed him on occasion as a pass rusher. It’s likely he’ll end up as an inside linebacker in the pros, but the chance is there to play a hybrid role. Production increased every season so that’s a positive sign. He was second on the team in tackles last season. If teams can harness his athleticism and ball skills, he can become a productive starter. His athletic and play-style profile resembles Jordan Hicks, who’s had a solid nine-year career to date. The ceiling for him is probably in the early stages of Day 3.

2023 Statistics: 80 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, one interception, and one forced fumble

RAS: 9.34

Player Comparison: Jordan Hicks

Round Projection: Fourth to Fifth

“The Owl of Dover”

13. Jordan Magee | 6’1 228 | Temple

Magee has three years of production for the Owls, including two seasons of 80+ tackles, eight sacks, and 23 tackles for loss. He’s a tremendous athlete that the testing bore out at the Combine. A laterally fluid athlete who can cover a decent amount of territory. Temple used him occasionally as a pass rusher in certain packages. Football IQ is a solid trait, as he’s usually in the picture of the ball on most occasions. His instincts are a major plus, as he can find the right angles to take on most occasions. The former Owl star’s athletic and play style profile resembles a highly paid star in Foye Oluokun, who has blossomed into a top ten ILB. He should be an early Day 3 selection.

2023 Statistics: 80 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 3.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and four PBUs

RAS: 9.60

Player Comparison: Foyesade Oluokun

Round Projection: Fourth

“The Irish Star”

14. Marist Liufau | 6’2 234 | Notre Dame

The former Notre Dame linebacker has the traits to succeed in the league but needs some work in the technical areas of the position. Liufau was productive in his two seasons as a starter for the Irish. He was frequently used as a pass rusher, generating 3.5 sacks and 37 QB pressures in those intervening seasons. However, the offseason hasn’t been up to par, with his Senior Bowl performance not being the best. He’s a better athlete than the RAS gives credit for. Athletically, he profiles similarly to former Virginia Tech star Xavier Adibi. A team willing to overlook his technique and size shortcomings can use him as a utility type of linebacker. An early Day 3 selection is in the cards for him.

2023 Statistics: 44 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks, two PBUs, and one forced fumble

RAS: 5.64

Player Comparison: Xavier Adibi

Round Projection: Fourth to Fifth

“The Seminole General”

15. Tatum Bethune | 5’11 229 | Florida State

Bethune transferred from UCF to Florida State before the 2022 season. While the testing numbers aren’t the best, he’s a solid athlete for the inside linebacker position. He’s provided steady play for the Seminoles’ defense over the past two seasons, including a highlight hit on the Heisman winner. He’s a good coverage linebacker due to his plus instincts that have him in the picture. He can also turn and run with the fastest running backs and tight ends. The size is a question, even by modern linebacker standards, however. Speed is an issue as well. Another concern is the declining production as he transferred to a higher echelon team. If a team wants to draft a solid, staid inside linebacker, Bethune is the guy. His athletic and play style profiles similar to longtime standout veteran inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard.

2023 Statistics: 70 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, one interception, and three PBUs

RAS: 4.10

Player Comparison: Wesley Woodyard

Round Projection: Fifth

“Sacked in Seattle”

16. Edefuan Ulofoshio | 6’0 234 | Washington

The former Husky linebacker was invited to the Senior Bowl, where he was good after a standout super senior season. Teams will be wary of his medical file as he missed significant chunks of the 2021 and 2022 seasons due to injury. He was second on the team with 94 tackles and eight tackles for loss. One year of production will dampen his prospects for an early Day 3 selection. He’s a great athlete with a very good first step that can defeat any unaware blockers. Ulofoshio was deployed as an off-ball outside linebacker for Washington. He possesses the speed and lateral athleticism to cover sideline to sideline. Instinctive defender. His athletic and play-style profile compares to Mychal Kendricks. He’s likely to get selected in the middle of Day 3.

2023 Statistics: 94 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three sacks, one interception, three PBUs, and one forced fumble

RAS: 9.67

Player Comparison: Mychal Kendricks

Round Projection: Fifth to Sixth

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