Like a linebacker’s ability to close space in the open field, the 2022 NFL Draft will be here before we know it. With a stacked class at the top, how does this group of inside linebackers group look halfway through the 2021 college football season?
Top 10 Inside Linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft | 6-10
The consensus PFN Big Board gives four inside linebackers a shot at being drafted inside the first round and grades another handful as potential Day 2 selections. Sorting through the data based on our draft analysts’ Big Boards, here are the top 10 inside linebackers for the 2022 NFL Draft.
10) Chad Muma, Wyoming
A classic three-down linebacker, Chad Muma has exploded onto the national scene in a similar vein to his former teammate Logan Wilson. Like Wilson, Muma has had two great seasons at Wyoming before his draft-eligible year. Also like Wilson, Muma is a large man in the middle at 6’3″, 242 pounds.
Muma closes gaps in short-area coverage just as he stuffs rushing lanes with ease. A traditional middle linebacker, Muma could increase his pass-rushing ability but possesses elite traits. Wilson’s success with the Cincinnati Bengals will certainly give Muma more, much-deserved visibility as the season winds down. Muma may be the safest Day 2-3 player in this class.
9) Jalen Graham, Purdue
Jalen Graham has some of the best ball skills among the top linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft. He has recorded multiple plays on the ball in coverage with great instincts and closing speed. While he excels in coverage, he would benefit from some improvement against the run. Yet, the NFL is a pass-happy league now anyway. Linebackers must be able to cover like safeties, and that’s what Graham can do.
He certainly is physical enough with great explosiveness against the run. But Graham needs to flesh out his transitions when tracking ball carriers. Much like the rest of this class of linebackers, Graham owns huge upside if he can find the right system.
8) Owen Pappoe, Auburn
Owen Pappoe hasn’t played since sustaining an injury in the Penn State game in Week 3. His play down the stretch, if he were to return, will be crucial for his future. He may even opt to return to Auburn for another year given his injury forced him to miss significant time.
On the field, Pappoe was solid through the first three weeks of the season. He was playing his best football in all facets. He can cover and stop the run while possessing stellar change-of-direction ability. Pappoe is an intriguing prospect with great potential upside, but he needs to return from the injury healthy.
7) Henry To’o To’o, Alabama
Elevating his game in his first season at Alabama, Henry To’o To’o’s closing speed is brilliant. He tracks ball carriers with ease and has a great sense of the offense’s play-calling. He may miss tackles at a higher clip than some on this top-10 list, but his high-level play is too good to ignore.
Increasing his coverage ability will be crucial for his next-level success. Still, To’o To’o’s tape is littered with big hits and highlight-reel tackles that witness him track ball carriers from yards away.
6) Brian Asamoah, Oklahoma
Brian Asamoah has physical tools in spades. His strength and speed combination is among the best in the class. He’s also elevated himself to new standards in 2021. His path of linear growth is a great sign for Asamoah and any potential NFL teams who are interested.
He’s missed fewer tackles this season and taken sharper angles in the run game. Asamoah may never be a great man-to-man coverage defender, but he certainly has an excellent feel for zone schemes at the next level. He’s firmly entrenched in the discussion for Day 2 at this rate.
Top 10 Inside Linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft | 1-5
Which linebackers fill out the rest of the list, and who comes in at the top?
5) Brandon Smith, Penn State
Brandon Smith possesses a great skill set for today’s NFL. He excels in coverage and has excellent size to clog up rushing lanes. He’ll need to tighten up his tackling ability as he adjusts to the next level, but he certainly has more than enough talent to get by.
While he has been positive in coverage, he’s added a new wrinkle to his game in 2021. Smith has proven to be a dominant blitzer and has forced errant throws with quick pressures more often than not. He’s got impressive vision and instincts that will go a long way at the next level.
4) DeMarvion Overshown, Texas
A large man who packs a punch, DeMarvion Overshown has had a solid season for Texas as the Longhorns fight to get “back” to the national stage. Overshown’s strength is his coverage underneath, but he has shown more than enough in the run game to be in the top five among this class of linebackers.
Despite his 6’4″ frame, Overshown knows how to bend around blockers to get to ball carriers with ease. He also understands how to use his frame to interrupt passing lanes, even if he isn’t the targeted defender. There is upside with Overshown, namely because he can play a variety of positions at the second or even third levels.
3) Christian Harris, Alabama
A massive man in the middle, Christian Harris has long since been penciled in as a potential first-round pick. With the storied success of Alabama linebackers in the NFL aiding his draft stock, Harris has more than enough tools to back up lofty expectations. At 6’2″, 232 pounds, he owns the size you’d expect but backs it up with great speed.
He can hone his instincts in coverage to increase his down-to-down efficiency, but Harris certainly has done enough with sharp tackling skills to warrant a high draft pick. He is solid in the run game and adds an element with his ability to get after passers on blitzes or designed rushes.
2) Nakobe Dean, Georgia
With the strength of an ox compacted into his 6’0″, 225-pound frame, Nakobe Dean has burst onto the scene as part of Georgia’s top defense in 2021. With incredible instincts and sure-tackling, Dean has provided an unstoppable force to the Bulldogs’ second level this season. His presumably final season in Athens has proved to be his best yet.
Dean’s run fits and speed to close space are among the best not just among linebackers, but among any defender this year. He’ll routinely challenge bigger receivers in coverage while stopping running backs dead in their tracks. Dean is the only challenger to Devin Lloyd’s spot at No. 1 on the linebacker board.
1) Devin Lloyd, Utah
The cream of the linebacker crop, Devin Lloyd has been dominant for the Utes since a 2019 campaign that likely should have earned him the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Lloyd opted to return in 2021 and has since stepped up his game. With a terrific sideline-to-sideline ability, Lloyd has excelled in coverage this season.
He has recorded 2 interceptions and been integral to Utah’s defensive success in 2021 as they break in a new youthful core on defense. Lloyd doesn’t miss many tackles and can cover a variety of receivers across the middle of the field. With a terrific set of pass-rush moves and great instincts for when to time his blitzes, Lloyd is perhaps the draft class’ most underrated pass-rushing linebacker. He’s a can’t-miss, three-down linebacker at the NFL level.
- Terrel Bernard, Baylor
- Amari Gainer, Florida State
- Quay Walker, Georgia
- Edefuan Ulofoshio, Washington
- Ellis Brooks, Penn State
- Zakoby McClain, Auburn