When the 2021 NFL Draft kicks off on April 29 at 8 p.m. ET, much of the focus at the top will be on offensive players. While defensive players may not be particularly popular debates over the top 5 picks of the 2021 draft, linebackers will make up a significant portion of the players selected once the three-day event has concluded.
Here are some of the key questions surrounding the linebacker class in the 2021 NFL Draft along with the top players at the position:
Who is the top rated linebacker in the 2021 NFL Draft?
Former Penn State All-American Micah Parsons is highly ranked and slated to go in the first round of the draft. His explosion, pure speed and great size make him a surefire candidate to be a top rated linebacker in the NFL. Although he opted out of his 2020 season after a dynamic 2019 campaign, a phenomenal pro day performance helped to separate him from the pack.
How many linebackers are expected to go in the first round?
Four linebackers were selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, with Isaiah Simmons going to the Cardinals at No. 8 overall. The 2021 NFL Draft class looks likely to produce four linebackers in the first as well with Micah Parsons, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Zaven Collins and Jamin Davis in the top 32, according to PointsBet.
How do the top 10 linebackers in the 2021 class rank?
1. Micah Parsons, Penn State
Micah Parsons shined at his Penn State pro day, running the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds and reaching a 34-inch vertical jump. For a linebacker, Parson's speed is a major attribute that continues to put him at the top of his position. His athleticism will allow him to play at any linebacker spot in the NFL, making him one of the most versatile and coveted players in his class.
2. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is a bit smaller than most NFL linebackers. One of his draft concerns is that he won't be able to play the position full time, but what Owusu-Koramoah lacks in size, he makes up for in explosive speed. In his 2020 year at Notre Dame, he tallied 62 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 1.5 sacks. He looks to be the first Notre Dame linebacker selected in the first round since Bob Crable in 1982.
3. Zaven Collins, Tulsa
As a three-year starter for Tulsa, Zaven Collins has proven his worth as a game-changer. In 2020, his explosive campaign pushed him towards first-round contention. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound prospect earned first-team All-American honors and was an instrumental part of helping the Hurricanes to their first winning season since 2017. Although Collins isn’t the fastest linebacker in the bunch, his well-rounded skill set projects him to be a versatile addition on defense.
4. Jamin Davis, Kentucky
Unlike some of the other linebackers in his class, Jamin Davis has only had one year of real production at Kentucky. Leading up to 2020, Davis was seen as a role player, but with hard work and dedication he has catapulted himself into becoming a real factor in the draft. He has developed the skill set to be a big-time player in the NFL. Davis put up some really impressive tape in 2020, finishing the year with 102 tackles and three INTs. What Davis was able to accomplish as a one-year starter at Kentucky shows that his future in the NFL is bright.
5. Jabril Cox, LSU
Jabril Cox started his career at North Dakota but transferred to LSU as a graduate student and became one of the best players on the team in his lone season. In ten games in 2020, Cox picked up 58 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions. He finished the season as the Tigers' third-leading tackler. As one of the few bright spots in LSU’s defense, Cox has the talent to become one of the better coverage linebackers in the league.
6. Nick Bolton, Missouri
Named First Team All-Conference in his second season with Missouri, Nick Bolton put everyone on notice as he entered his junior season as one of the 2021 NFL Draft’s best linebackers. He continued his success in 2020 by getting second-team All-American honors after leading his defense with 95 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss in Missouri’s 10 games. Bolton is projected to be a valuable linebacker with strong athletic ability and an elite football IQ.
7. Justin Hilliard, Ohio State
Justin Hilliard has proven to be one of the best players for Ohio State, but multiple injuries have prevented him from securing that starting role for the Buckeyes. Hilliard managed fewer than 500 snaps in his entire career but was able to stay healthy for his 2020 campaign. He tallied four tackles in his Senior Bowl and recorded 40-yard dash times of 4.84 and 4.81 seconds with a 9-foot-6 broad jump at Ohio State’s pro day.
Hilliard has shown that with hard work and dedication you can overcome some tough circumstances, and that makes him a strong first-round pick of the future.
8. Monty Rice, Georgia
As a three-year starter for the Georgia Bulldogs, Monty Rice has had some memorable moments in his college career. Though injuries have plagued his career, in 2019 he had one of the most dominant performances in Georgia football history. Rice had 89 total tackles, with 50 of them being solo, and three for a loss. While the vocal, 6-foot-1 prospect is seen as undersized, his speed is an undeniable trait.
9. Pete Werner, Ohio State
Pete Werner’s production over the course of his tenure with Ohio State is a true testament to his dedication to the sport. Werner’s gradual transition into a high-impact role on the Buckeyes defense has proven that he is a formidable talent in this year’s class. In 2018, after the departure of Jerome Baker, Werner took on a starting role and tallied 58 tackles that year. He finished his last two seasons with 118 tackles and added eight tackles for loss. Werner stands at 6-foot-3, 242 pounds, and his athletic ability puts him in a great place to have a successful future in the NFL.
10. Chazz Surratt, North Carolina
Chazz Surratt’s time at the University of North Carolina started off with promise, but after he was sidelined for the first two seasons due to injuries and a suspension, his NFL dreams appeared to be slipping away. Surratt made a rare move that would alter his career for the better: switching from quarterback to linebacker.
Surratt’s 2019 and 2020 campaign placed him on every scout’s radar. Tallying 206 combined tackles (22.5 of those for loss), 12.5 sacks and two INTs, Surratt showed that he was a force.
Surratt is still a work in progress, but he is projected to be a solid developmental piece for any team.
Marsha Green contributed to this story.