The Defense Captains

By: Robert Craft news services

There has been somewhat of a de-emphasized value on linebackers in recent years but the NFL Draft class of 2021 features some of the most prominent under the radar prospects in this year’s draft.

Linebackers are always one of the most important pieces for a defense in the NFL. They hold the group together and many wear the “green dot” that has them become the voice of that eleven-man defensive squad.

They are the defensive quarterbacks that lead the team onto the field. They are asked to cover, blitz and attack the run game each and every down.

What is the prototype NFL linebacker? The answers depend on the scheme, but it all comes down to versatility. Each linebacker prospect offers something a little different with wildly different body types and plenty of intrigue.

1.Micah Parsons, Penn State, 6-3, 244: Parsons was a one-year starter at Penn State and played the off-ball spot or weak side linebacker.

He is a physical freak with impressive size, speed and athletic strength. Parsons has great vision and agility to hunt running backs from sideline to sideline.

He shows to be an NFL three down linebacker that has yet to scratch the surface on his talents. He is projected as the best linebacker in the class, but there is major concern about his character and immaturity. Grade: 1st Round.

  1. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame, 6-2, 215: Owusu-Koramoah is the most versatile linebacker in the draft. He can play both linebacker and nickel defender.

He has remarkable speed and closing burst to blitz, cover and mirror both tight ends or wide receivers across the field.

Owusu-Koramoah’s first step explosion, playmaking range, and intelligence gives his coach flexibility to play him at linebacker, safety, or nickel.

Major concern is what position fits his new team’s skill set, as well as his discipline at times.  Grade: 1st Round

  1. Jamin Davis, Kentucky, 6-4, 234: Davis is a rising prospect and some teams have him as their top linebacker in the 2021 Draft.

He had a phenomenal pro day workout that displayed incredible speed in the 40 and excellent explosion in the jumps.

Davis is a rangy player with a nose for the football, stretching out his stride to close against the run or drop coverage. Major concern is tackling technique, shedding blockers, and trusting his eyes.  Grade: late 1st-2nd Round

  1. Zaven Collins, Tulsa, 6-4, 256: Collins is a big, quick and versatile athlete who displays the ability to drop into coverage, make tackles in the run game, and rush the passer.

He is an ultra smooth mover in coverage with the awareness that leads him to football.

Collins has the hand power to dispose of blockers in the hole and find the ball carrier.  He has flashed untapped pass rush skills that have NFL defensive coordinators drooling.

Concerns are that he is not very physical and the scheme fitted to his playstyle are likely 3-4 systems.  Grade Late 1st-2nd Round

  1. Nick Bolton, Missouri, 6-0, 235: Bolton has terrific range and play personality as a run defender, trusting his read and vision to blow up plays at the line of scrimmage.

He lacks size, which reduces his margin for error taking on blocks and with his tackle radius. He is explosive through contact and is a reliable finisher. Concerns are lack of speed, size and athleticism. Grade 2nd Round

  1. Jabril Cox, LSU, 6-3, 233; 7. Baron Browning, Ohio State, 6-3, 241; 8. Chazz Surratt, North Carolina, 6-2, 277; 9. Dylan Moses, Alabama, 6-3, 235; 10. Pete Werner, Ohio State, 6-1, 235.

Once a highly regarded position, linebackers are seeing their stock take a bit of a hit over recent years, as coverage players or pass rushers tend to be more valued in today’s NFL, where passing is king.