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NFL Draft 2021: The top 10 linebacker rankings

2021 NFL Draft: The top 10 linebacker rankings
Photo Credit: Inquirer.com

Linebacker is one of my favorite positional groups, and the 2021 linebacker class could be really special. Currently, my two highest-rated defenders are both linebackers. This class has variety as well. Whether a team needs a linebacker-safety hybrid or a 250-pound thumper, the 2021 class has it. They’re fast, aggressive, and could be a rare unit. So who are the top 2021 linebackers, and why do they make this class so incredible?

Top 10 2021 linebacker rankings

10) Jabril Cox, LSU

Senior Bowl director and former NFL Scout Jim Nagy called Jabril Cox a “fast and athletic matchup ‘backer with day two tools and upside.” I might take it a step further and say that Cox has day one tools. He has an elite frame at 6’4, 230 pounds, and true sideline to sideline speed.

However, in order for Cox to reach that potential, he must improve his play in the trenches. Cox is a natural athlete making him a strong coverage linebacker, but he still has work to do in his play against the run. He is rarely used in the box, and a thin frame makes him easily washed in traffic. If Cox can add a bit more weight, and improve his ability making plays in between the tackle, he’ll be a very strong linebacker prospect.

9) Monty Rice, Georgia

With quality size and athletic ability, Monty Rice was a tackling machine for Georgia last season. He has the requisite strength to make plays at the line of scrimmage, and the speed to make plays around the sidelines. More of a read and react player, Rice still has work to do on the mental side of the game. He must improve his play pre-snap, but he profiles as a very productive NFL linebacker.

8) Charles Snowden, Virginia

This ranking is a bit of a projection, as Charles Snowden is an incomplete prospect. Snowden is a bit of tweener, playing as both an edge rusher and an off-ball linebacker at Virginia. However, I think he best projects as an off-ball linebacker in the NFL. He possesses elite length at 6’7″, and is impressively fluid for his size. Snowden has the versatility to play as both a strong or weakside backer in the NFL and has upside as a blitzer, run defender, and coverage linebacker.

Related | DiCecco’s 2-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft

7) Carlton Martial, Troy

As the most productive defensive player in the FBS, Carlton Martial isn’t just one of the best stories in the country, he’s one of the best players. PFN’s Andrew DiCecco wrote an in-depth piece on Martial’s rise to dominance. Standing at only 5’10” and 216 pounds, Martial is obviously an undersized linebacker.

However, he has a great blend of athletic ability, instincts, and intelligence. He is elite in coverage and constantly near the ball. Martial has shown to be a great player despite his size limitations. I expect Martial to fall in the draft due to his size and the competition he faced, but I have no doubts that he will find a place in the NFL.

6) Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

The next great hybrid player, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah blurs the line between linebacker and safety. Notre Dame was as comfortably lining him up in the slot as they were rushing him off the edge. A Swiss-army-knife, his blend of length at 6’1″ and speed make his floor tremendous.

However, weighing in at only 216 pounds, I do have some concerns about whether or not he can be an impact between the tackles in the NFL. How Notre Dame uses Owusu-Koramoah this year will likely dictate whether or not the NFL views him more as a safety or a linebacker.

5) Erroll Thompson, Mississippi State

Erroll Thompson was one of my favorite film studies this summer. He’s a hard hitter who plays with strong instincts and attacks the line of scrimmage. Thompson is one of the heaviest backers in the class, weighing in at 250 pounds. Unfortunately, with that heavy frame, Thompson is also a poor athlete. He lacks sideline to sideline speed. Despite playing with a high football IQ he’d likely be a liability in man coverage. Thompson has a very high floor and projects as an elite two-down SAM linebacker but lacks the athletic ability to be a presence on obvious passing downs.

4) Chazz Surratt, UNC

Chazz Surratt is one of the most polarizing stories in the 2021 Draft class. Surratt went from National Player of the Year in high school to UNC’s starting quarterback, to a positional change to linebacker all in the span of a few years. Now, he’s one of the best linebackers in the nation.

Surratt possesses elite athletic ability and his football IQ is already at a high level from playing quarterback. However, Surratt still lacks to refinement of playing the position and it can show at times. It takes time to learn how to play a position, years of practice and game reps help make things second nature. It will take time, but Surratt will master the position one day and be a truly fearsome prospect.

2021 NFL Draft: Meet Tar Heels linebacker Chazz Surratt

3) Nick Bolton, Missouri

One of the most productive players in all the SEC, Mizzou’s Nick Bolton is fresh off a 100 tackle campaign and will look to be a force for the Tigers defense in his third season. Bolton measures in at six feet and just a hair over 230 pounds and will receive some negative reviews for a lack of size.

However, he’s a dominant athlete and willing to mix it up in the trenches. He possesses elite sideline to sideline speed and functions as a positive against both the run and the pass. Bolton should already be in the conversation for a first-round selection and makes a very nice consolation prize for any team that missed out on the top two linebackers.

2) Dylan Moses, Alabama

The most NFL ready player on this list, Dylan Moses is a blend of truly special athletic ability and an exceptional football IQ. His understanding of route combinations, run fits, leveraging, and angles is unparalleled for the class.

However, a major knee injury lost him for the season last year, and he must play a full season this year to quiet any doubts. Moses projects best as a WILL backer due to his elite coverage ability, but he could function as a MIKE in the NFL as well. I’d like to see some improvement from Moses in the trenches, as he occasionally gets washed in traffic, but most of all I’d just like to see him return to full form.

Related | 2021 NFL Draft: Linebacker Dylan Moses back as a potential Top-10 pick

1) Micah Parsons, Penn State

Here is my highest-rated defensive player in the 2021 NFL Draft as it stands now. Micah Parsons was initially recruited to Penn State to be an edge rusher, but the Lions quickly moved him to linebacker where he’s been on of the best players in the country. Dominant size at 6’3 245 pounds, Parsons’ blend of size and athletic ability make him the best blitzing and pass-rushing off-ball linebacker I’ve ever evaluated.

Due to his recent shift to linebacker, Parsons is still adjusting to the nuances of the position. Once he’s sanded out a few of the rough edges, he will be contending for Defensive Player of the Year every season.

The 2021 linebacker class might have the best top-end talent we’ve seen in over a decade. Parsons, Moses, and Bolton are all first-round talents who can transform a defense. How good the class truly is will depend on those taken after them. Can players like Surratt and Cox maximize their potential? We’ll have to wait and see, but I’m truly excited about what this class can be.

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