The linebacker group for the 2020 NFL draft might not be the strongest class overall; however, there are certainly some great players available. The 2019 draft class wasn’t super strong, yet it was top-heavy. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected LSU’s Devin Bush with the 5th pick, and the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Michigan’s Devin Bush with the 12th pick. Both players have been stellar in 2019. This year’s draft class will be similar, as I would suggest there are two elite linebackers in the 2020 NFL draft, but this year’s class offers far more overall depth than that of the 2019 class.
Outside of Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner, the modern-day NFL lacks elite game-changing linebackers. The days of Ray Lewis, Zach Thomas, Junior Seau, and Brian Urlacher are far behind us, leaving us waiting for the next great linebacker. I am not sure anyone in the 2020 NFL draft will be of the caliber of those listed above, but there are some outstanding players that could become the face of the position very soon.
We will be taking a look at the “Sure Things,” a “Question Mark” and a “Sleeper” at the linebacker position. With that said, there are still many good draft-eligible players that we will not be discussing, including Troy Dye (Oregon), Francis Bernard (Utah), Monty Rice (Georgia), Patrick Queen (LSU) and Paddy Fisher (Northwestern).
Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
When you look at almost any draft analyst’s linebacker rankings for the 2020 NFL draft, the name Isaiah Simmons most likely sits at the top of the list. Simmons started his career at Clemson as a safety but transitioned to linebacker in 2019. He might be the best athlete in the entire 2020 draft, as he has a rare blend of size, speed, and length, which leads to insane productivity.
Given that he has played both safety and linebacker under Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, Simmons offers tremendous position versatility. In addition to being a sound tackler and an explosive pass-rusher, Simmons also excels in coverage. To top it off, Simmons possesses off the chart instincts.
Simmons has been extremely productive in 2019, lighting up the box score for 93 tackles, seven sacks, two interceptions, six passes defended, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He has been the best draft-eligible player in the ACC in 2019.
Simmons is an elite talent who should not only be a first-round selection in the 2020 draft but is likely to be a top-10 selection. Teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, and Atlanta Falcons would be logical landing spots for Simmons. He is the type of hybrid defender that will flourish in today’s NFL.
Finding linebackers that can cover is paramount in the modern-day NFL. No linebacker in college football can cover at the level of Isaiah Simmons. Watch the clip below to see Simmons read, react and intercept a Bryce Perkins pass in the ACC championship game.
Isaiah Simmons the best defensive player in the country pic.twitter.com/eZgZPGdsAZ
— ClemsonEditz (@ClemsonEditz_) December 8, 2019
The clip below will highlight Simmons’ elite length and athleticism.
Isaiah Simmons just makes impressive plays look so easy. The athleticism and length are rare. pic.twitter.com/7tyJ9QgGGT
— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) December 12, 2019
There is no doubt that Isaiah Simmons is the best linebacker and one of the best overall players in the 2020 NFL draft. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to hear his name called to the Detroit Lions, who hold the fifth pick in the draft.
Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
I am not sure that any linebacker in the 2020 draft class helped their draft stock more than Oklahoma’s tackling machine Kenneth Murray. Murray entered the 2019 season widely considered a day two selection; however, an outstanding 2020 campaign has him on the radar as a first-round selection.
Murray is a physically imposing player, who is a chiseled 240 pounds. He has tremendous instincts, as well as sideline-to-sideline speed. Murray plays with power, has upper-echelon ability to diagnose plays, and can lay the lumber. He is a tone-setter and a difference-maker. Through the film I’ve watched on Murray, one thing that stands out is his non-stop motor, which is clearly on display when he is in pursuit of the football. Murray runs to the football with reckless abandonment.
Give the video below a glimpse and notice Murray’s speed on display, as he explodes to the football and finishes.
Kenneth Murray is out here on a mission – that is serious LB speed pic.twitter.com/ycvWiUohnN
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) September 2, 2019
Kenneth Murray is a bonafide first-round selection in the 2020 NFL draft, with teams like the Las Vegas Raiders, Green Bay Packers and the Baltimore Ravens making a ton of sense.
Dylan Moses, Alabama
In the opening of this article, I mentioned that there were two elite linebackers in the 2020 NFL draft. One was Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons, and the other is Alabama’s Dylan Moses. You might be asking yourself, “If Dylan Moses is an elite prospect, then why is he under the ‘Question Mark’ category?”. It is a great question, but let me explain. Before the 2019 NCAA football season, Moses suffered a significant knee injury that cost him the entire season. While taking into account modern medicine, Moses will likely return to form; however, that is no sure thing. I know that Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith was able to do so, but that is not always the case.
Heading into the 2019 season, it was widely regarded that Dylan Moses was the best linebacker prospect in the 2020 NFL draft. Yes, even over Isaiah Simmons. Moses plays with elite speed and excels when it comes to fulfilling his responsibility, meaning that he knows his assignments and doesn’t freelance. When it comes to play recognition, you won’t find a better linebacker. He can cover, has excellent technique and is fully dedicated to being the best football player that he can be.
Moses plays with tremendous range, which is evident in the clip below.
Dylan Moses range is true insanity 🤯🤯 pic.twitter.com/Clo6svUybW
— Jared Feinberg (@JrodDraftScout) December 14, 2019
If Moses declares for the 2020 NFL draft, he could still be a first-round selection, with teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens making a lot of sense. With that said, rumors are circulating that Moses might return to Alabama in 2020.
Akeem Davis-Gaither, Appalachian State
In the second round of the 2018 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts selected South Carolina State linebacker, Darius Leonard. Leonard was a small-school prospect who ended up winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year and has become one of the better linebackers in the NFL.
Appalachian State linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither has the type of talent to be that type of player. Davis-Gaither is likely a day three selection in the 2020 NFL draft, yet he offers tools that make me think he could be a day one starter for some lucky NFL team. He has tremendous instincts, is one of the best hitters in college football and has outstanding range. Davis-Gaither is long and athletic and is always around the football. While he is a bit lean, weighing in the range of 215-220 pounds, he will be able to effectively gain weight with a strong NFL offseason program.
In the video below, Davis-Gaithers’ instincts and closing speed are on display.
— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) November 21, 2019
With a strong performance at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, Davis-Gaither has the opportunity to climb up draft boards. Right now, I have him pegged as a fourth-rounder, but a player that is ascending NFL teams draft boards.
Pro Football Network’s draft guru, Tony Pauline, has taken notice of Davis-Gaither, naming him in his Week 15 “College Football Risers.”