May 13, 2021


Hub Arkush’s 2021 NFL draft positional preview: Linebacker

The trend here in recent seasons has been smaller, faster, more athletic guys inside. If you’re not a special edge-bender, bigger guys are usually limited to 4-3 schemes.

This group offers a nice mix of both and one potential special prospect at the top.

DAY 1 PROSPECTS

1.  Micah Parsons, Penn St. (6–3, 246, Junior)

As close as it gets to a sure thing, Parsons has the size, frame and athleticism to play any of the four linebacker spots, and, of course, he’s out of “Linebacker U.” His best comp may be a slightly smaller Brian Urlacher, a special combo of athleticism and speed who loves to play the game but is still learning to play the position with the skills to line up almost anywhere on the field.

2. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (6-1 ½, 221, Redshirt Junior)

This kid looks small but he’s another Roquan Smith, Devin Bush, Patrick Queen, Devin White clone. All undersized inside linebackers who are dominating the NFL today with their speed, athleticism, instincts and play-making ability. Unlike any of them, he might fit better at safety than linebacker, but wherever he ends up he’s going to make plays.

3. Zaven Collins, Tulsa (6-5, 260, Redshirt Junior)

Think Anthony Barr as the comp for body type and athleticism. Collins might actually be a hair quicker if not faster. He didn’t show enough pass rush at Tulsa to be comfortable projecting him as an edge rusher, although he has all the traits you look for, but he’s NFL ready for the SAM linebacker spot in any 4-3 scheme.

4. Baron Browning, Ohio St. (6-3, 245, Redshirt Senior)

Browning played both in the middle and at the strong side linebacker spots at Ohio St., and now will have to answer the age old question at the next level: is he an athlete or a football player. His traits leave scouts drooling, but his production in Columbus never quite caught up with them.

5. Nick Bolton, Missouri (5-11, 237, Junior)

Bolton looks and plays like the Steelers’ Devin Bush, but he doesn’t have Bush’s speed. What he does have is outstanding instincts and football IQ, and he appears to love playing the game and relishes every hit. His physicality will carry him early as he works to catch up to the increased speed of the pro game.

SECOND-ROUND PROSPECTS

6. Jamin Davis, Kentucky (6-3 ½, 234, Redshirt Junior)

Davis is one of those bigger guys we’re not seeing as much inside these days. He didn’t become a full-time starter until this past season, but he appears to be a playmaker with excellent instincts for the game and the position. We just need to see a bigger body of work and there may be some special here.

7. Jabril Cox, LSU (6-3, 232, Redshirt Senior)

Cox is fascinating because he started his college career at that new football factory, North Dakota State, dominated for two seasons and then transferred to LSU. He appeared to fit right in. Tough, explosive and appears willing and able to do what it takes at any level.

8. Cameron McGrone, Michigan (6-1, 234, Redshirt Sophomore)

McGrone is a classic example of a kid who should have spent another year in school. He has excellent athleticism and somewhat typical size for today’s inside guys. He will make splash plays and look special, but at other times looks lost. If you have patience and time he might make you look like a genius, or the light may not go on in time.

9. Pete Werner, Ohio St. (6-3, 238, Senior)

As you might expect Werner’s the opposite of the Wolverine just above him here. A SAM or WILL with an adequate frame but more a big guy than NFL body. He’s a three-year starter with the Buckeyes and what you’ve already seen is probably exactly what you’ll get.

10. Dylan Moses, Alabama (6-1, 225, Senior)

The latest off the Crimson Tide’s assembly line for the position at the next level, Moses looks the part and was productive at Alabama, but there are no special traits, and he’s not stout enough to be a run-stuffer in the middle. Looks like a solid backup, but might struggle to own the position.

THIRD ROUND AND HIGH DAY 3 PROSPECTS

11. Chazz Surratt, North Carolina (6-2, 229, Redshirt Senior)

Surratt was a quarterback his first two seasons at North Carolina. He switched to linebacker in 2019 and was the runner up for ACC Defensive Player of the Year. There’s definitely something here, but he still has a lot to learn.

12. Ernest Jones, South Carolina (6-1 ½, 230, Junior)

This kid’s not a special athlete or physical specimen, but he is a football player. Tough and physical, for an NFL comp and ceiling think Nick Kwiatkoski, but that’s if everything goes right.

13. Isaiah McDuffie, Boston College (6-1, 227, Redshirt Junior)

McDuffie’s a cross between a worker bee and the Energizer Bunny.  He appears to love the game and will play all day, but he has no unique traits or special athleticism. Could have a long career as trusted backup and special teamer.

14. Monty Rice, Georgia (6-0, 233, Senior)

Smallish even for today’s inside guys, Rice has a nose for the ball and appears to have a high football IQ, but he doesn’t have the athleticism to make up for mistakes when they happen.

15. Derrick Barnes, Purdue (6-0, 238, Senior)

He’s played inside and actually lined up outside with a hand on the ground. Barnes was highly productive at Purdue. But he’s always going to be a quarter to a half step behind the elite athletes on the field.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media