Which linebackers will matter in the 2021 NFL Draft, and what’s the college perspective on all of the top prospects?
2021 NFL Draft Linebacker Rankings
It’s an okay year for linebackers, but most of the top pass rushing types are now thrown into the defensive end/edge rusher bucket when they used to be known as outside linebackers.
There’s a whole lot of room for debate with an almost interchangeable 3-through-15, and throw in at least 5-to-10 others that probably should have made the cut.
From the college perspective, the top linebackers in the 2021 NFL Draft are …
15. Pete Werner, Ohio State
Size: 6-3, 238
The Good: A solid part of the Ohio State puzzle over the last three seasons, he’s a run defender who brings decent size, the right frame, and the experience at a high level to be ready right out of the box. He made 176 tackles over the last three years, isn’t bad in pass coverage, and has the versatility to work just about anywhere.
The Not-So-Good: He’s not much of a pass rusher – four sacks and 16 tackles in four years – but to be fair, that wasn’t his job. He’s a good athlete and he’s tough, but he doesn’t have any one NFL tool that’s going to make him stand out. Yeah, he can play just about anywhere in a linebacking corps, but he doesn’t have a set spot.
NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: The upside is there to be a very good, very solid value pick on Day 3. He might not quite have everything the NFL might like, but he was a strong player who made a whole lot of plays for an elite defense.
Projected Round: Fifth
14. Cameron McGrone, Michigan
Size: 6-1, 234
The Good: The range, speed, and pursuit are strong enough to grow into a dangerous NFL linebacker with a little bit of time. He can move, he had a big 2019 with 65 tackles with nine tackles for loss, and he’s got the skill set to do a little bit of everything. He can be a thumper inside or grow into a pass rusher outside. However …
The Not-So-Good: He was never really a pass rusher with just three sacks in two seasons. He didn’t do enough with the Wolverines to suggest that he’s about to blow up at the next level, he’s not a playmaker in pass coverage, and he struggled through last year after getting banged up.
NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: He never quite turned into the superstar he was supposed to be as a big-time get for Michigan, but watch out for him to be a better pro than a collegian. The basics are all there, and he’ll be well worth the flier to see if there’s a massive value with him after the top 100.
Projected Round: Fifth
13. KJ Britt, Auburn
Size: 6-1, 235
The Good: A true inside linebacker, he’s not going to do a whole lot on the move but he’s a tough guy’s tough guy against the run with the leadership and personality to be someone’s quarterback for a defensive front. He had a strong junior season with 68 stops and ten tackles for loss, but …
The Not-So-Good: He couldn’t get past a thumb injury last season. He only had one solid year of production, he’s not going to be a pass rusher at the next level, and he’s way too slow to bring anything in pass coverage, but …
NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: There are some guys you just want on your team. He might be a special teamer early on and a part of the rotation on the inside, but don’t be stunned if he grows into a job in the interior and becomes a volume tackler in a year or so.
Projected Round: Fourth
12. Garret Wallow, TCU
Size: 6-2, 220
The Good: A volume tackler who simply gets the job done. He grew into a job at TCU over the last three seasons with close to 300 tackles while getting into the backfield enough – 27 tackles for loss over the last two seasons – to matter. He’s the quarterback of any defense he’s on, but …
The Not-So-Good: He’s only got one spot, and that’s on the inside. The problem with that is his bulk – he’s going to have to work hard to get up to 230 plus to take the pounding needed. He’s hardly a thumper, he’s not going to do much in pass coverage, and don’t expect a ton of plays in the backfield at the next level.
NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: An undersized run stopper who’ll do what he must to make a team, he’ll be worth a long look in camp as a potential volume tackler if he can hold his own against the bangers on the inside. He can run just well enough find a spot somewhere.
Projected Round: Fourth
11. Baron Browning, Ohio State
Size: 6-3, 245
The Good: A solid part of the defensive puzzle for the last few years, he wasn’t a volume producer, but he was a solid run stopper who thrived as a rotational pass rusher as a junior. He’s got great size, fantastic range, can play inside or out, and …
The Not-So-Good: Something’s missing. He looks exactly like you’d want your NFL linebacker to be, he can show flashes of greatness, and the 2019 version was terrific compared to the 2020 version that was a true outside linebacker. Considering everything he brings, he should’ve done a whole lot more, but …
NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: There’s too much to work with not to take the shot in the top 100. It’s not like he was bad at Ohio State, and he sort of got lost a bit in the crowd of high-end talents, but the stats and big plays weren’t quite there on a consistent basis. Watch out, though, if he finds the right role and niche.
Projected Round: Third