NFL Draft Linebacker Rankings 2022: From The College Perspective

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Draft Linebacker Rankings 2022: From The College Perspective

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NFL Draft Linebacker Rankings 2022: From The College Perspective

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Who are the linebackers who’ll matter in the 2022 NFL Draft, and what’s the college perspective on all of the top prospects?


2022 NFL Draft Linebacker Rankings

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It’s an interesting group of linebackers.

In the new world of the NFL, several of the normal top outside linebacker prospects have morphed into true edge rushers in a hybrid way. Most of the guys in this group are run stoppers for the inside, but there are a few who can do a little bit of everything.

From the college perspective, here are the best linebacker prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft.

2022 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings, Analysis
QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | OTsOGs & Cs | DEs & Edge | DTs
NFL Draft by college over last 5 years: 1-130 rankings

15
Jesse Luketa, Penn State


Size: 6-3, 247

The Good: Part edge rusher, part outside linebacker, he’s a good-sized all-around defender who might not be the pass rusher some might like, but he moves well enough to get in against the run. Strong, steady, and with a great burst, he made 120 tackles over the last two years and did more to get into the backfield. However …

The Not-So-Good: He’s a true tweener who doesn’t get to the quarterback. He only came up with a half a sack in his four years at Penn State, and he’s just okay against the run as an outside linebacker. More of a tough guy than a speed rusher, he doesn’t check enough boxes.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Versatility will mean everything. He has enough athleticism to potentially turn into a pass rusher at the next level with a little bit of work, but he’ll have to make a roster by doing anything a staff needs for a D in a key reserve role.

NFL Draft Projection: Sixth Round

14
Terrel Bernard, Baylor

Size: 6-1, 222

The Good: Forget the problems for a moment, Bernard can run and run and run, he always gets to the ball, and he’s a proven volume tackler who can instantly be a leader because of the way he’s always working and always moving. He came up with 317 tackles over his great career and turned out to be more of a pass rusher in his final campaign.

The Not-So-Good: Toooooo … small. He’s not bulky enough to hold up on the inside, and he’s not quite NFL athletic enough to be a big-time performer on the outside. He’ll have to be surrounded by bulk, but more than that, he has to be healthy. The guy took a massive beating with various injuries including problems with his knee and shoulder.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: A coaching staff will fall in deep love with him. He’ll always be prepared, he’ll always do anything asked, and he’ll always be around the ball – it’ll be impossible to get him off the field, including on special teams.

NFL Draft Projection: Sixth Round

13
Mike Rose, Iowa State

Size: 6-4, 250

The Good: The guy just makes a ton of plays. Rock steady, he came up with more than 70 tackles and at least nine tackles for loss in each of his four years at Iowa State, picked off five passes as a junior, and was a solid pass rusher, too.

He’s got the size and toughness to get in on every tackle as long as he doesn’t have to move too much in pass coverage. He’s about as hard-nosed as it gets and can take on any tight end, but …

The Not-So-Good: The burst and explosion aren’t there. He’s not going to do much as a pass rusher and he’s not fluid enough to be anything special in pass coverage. There are way too many limitations to his game, but …

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Just get him out there and let him make tackles. Granted you can’t move him too much, and he needs to be surrounded with lots of speed, but he’ll hit everything he can get to.

NFL Draft Projection: Sixth Round

12
Aaron Hansford, Texas A&M

Size: 6-3, 240

The Good: An improved all-around linebacker who turned into more of a force against the run as a senior – coming up with a team-high 89 tackles – there’s experience to go along with terrific speed and the right body type. He’s built like an NFL outside linebacker who could work on the inside and become a volume tackler.

The Not-So-Good: Can he stay in one piece? He got hurt and missed the 2018 season, later had a knee injury to go along with a shoulder problem, and now he has to prove he can hold up to the rigors of the next level after finally getting through a campaign in one piece.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: The former tight end/wide receiver was at Texas A&M for what seemed like 19 years – it was actually six seasons. There’s a whole lot to like as a versatile linebacker who can move, and that includes being able to deliver a thump to his tackles.

NFL Draft Projection: Fourth Round

11
Chad Muma, Wyoming

Size: 6-3, 242

The Good: A volume-tackling tough guy, he went from being a strong defender for a few seasons to a dominant force as a senior – the experience meant something – with 142 tackles with three interceptions and a whole lot of plays behind the line. Bad things are about to happen when he gets to the ball, but …

The Not-So-Good: He has to get to the ball. He doesn’t have a fluid style or the movement to fly around or make a ton of plays in the backfield. It’s going to take the exact right team and style for him – you can only play him inside the box.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: While he’s a volume tackler who could rise up and make a whole lot of stops as your man in the middle, to succeed he’s going to require a team that’s great up front and has edge rushers who can take over. Even with all of the concerns, he still might make 100 tackles a year for several seasons for you.

NFL Draft Projection: Third Round

10
Troy Andersen, Montana State

Size: 6-4, 235

The Good: Yeah, yeah, yeah, he’s Montana State from the FCS world, but Alabama linebackers would love to be 6-4, 235 and run a 4.42.

A crazy talent in so many ways, he’s a beefed up quarterback who thinks the game, has tremendous straight-line speed, and he never, ever stops moving. Still getting better as a linebacker, as is he was good enough to come up with 147 tackles last season.

The Not-So-Good: He’s still more of a project and a prospect than a finished linebacker. It’s going to take some time, a lot more reps, and the patience to live through a whole ton of mistakes as he figures it out. That’s fine for a late round flier, but it might take a top 100 pick to get him.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Oh yeah, he played running back at times, too. There’s way too much upside, want-to, and raw skills to not try to figure it out – he’s one of the most intriguing all-around defenders in the draft – but it’ll take a year or so to get the full payoff.

NFL Draft Projection: Third Round

9
Malcolm Rodriguez, Oklahoma State

Size: 5-11, 225

The Good: A brilliant volume tackler, he came up with 131 stops last season with 15 tackles for loss, made 82 stops in a shortened 2020, and 103 in 2019. Experienced, he plays the game like he’s two moves ahead of what’s coming, and he’s always making sure he’s around the ball. A tough guy’s tough guy, he has no problems mixing it up and handling himself fine, but …

The Not-So-Good: He’s just not big enough. It took a lot of work over his five years at OSU just to get up to 225 pounds, and that’s where he’s going to max out. Not all that fluid for his size, he’s not going to be great in pass coverage at the next level – but …

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: GO GET HIM. He’s not going to be big enough for most teams, but who cares? In the modern NFL, you need guys who can make plays in space and get in on tackle after tackle – and he can do that over and over again. Surround him with a little bit of thump, and he might just lead your team in stops.

NFL Draft Projection: Fifth Round

8
Channing Tindall, Georgia

Size: 6-2, 230

The Good: Compact, fast, and with the athleticism to become a great playmaker whenever he gets on the move, he grew into a role on a team full of stars with 67 tackles last year with 5.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss. He’s was an underutilized pass rusher, but he can do it.

The Not-So-Good: He only really did it for one year. Forget that he had so much talent to work around; he was a stand out on his one for that one big season including eight stops in the national title game and a massive performance against Tennessee. However, he wasn’t needed game-in-and-game-out. Even with as much work as he had over the last four years, he could still use a little more seasoning – again, the reps were mostly there in 2021.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: So here’s the thing. Yeah, he was a good player on a team full of NFL talents, and … now he’s going to play in a league full of NFL talents. It’ll be okay. He’s a smart all-around defender who can be used in a variety of ways as part of a rotation.

NFL Draft Projection: Third Round

7
Leo Chenal, Wisconsin

Size: 6-2, 261

The Good: As football-strong as any linebacker in the draft, he’s a tough guy’s tough guy on the inside of a linebacking corps who won’t miss a tackle. He had to wait his turn, and then he showed glimpses of what he could do with a good 2020 before coming up with a fantastic 2021, making a team-high 115 tackles and cranking up eight sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss – he’s not just a stick in the mud.

The Not-So-Good: He’s more a straight-line-speed hitter without the range and fluid style some might like. He’s rocked up and built like an inside linebacker, but he’s not going to do much in pass coverage and he’s not an NFL outside option. There won’t be the sideline-to-sideline movement of the elite inside options.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Funnel everything his way and he’ll be your team’s leading tackler. He’s faster than he’ll get credit for – give him a gap and he’ll fly through it – but his job will be as a brick wall of a hitter who’ll put up bulk tackle numbers. If he’s not the best pure-tackling player in the draft, he’s in the team photo.

NFL Draft Projection: Second Round

6
Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma (EDGE)

Size: 6-3, 240

The Good: Ultra-versatile, he can fit anywhere in a linebacking corps and could be used as an edge rusher in the right scheme. Very big, explosive, and great at getting into the backfield, he came up with close to 20 sacks with 33 tackles for loss over his last three seasons with a phenomenal burst and great closing ability.

The Not-So-Good: He’s a tweener. He wasn’t used as an inside linebacker all that much at OU, and he’s not big enough to be an every down end and edge rusher at an NFL level. He’s a true hybrid who’ll have to be surrounded by bulk to be his most effective depending on the scheme.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Get him on the field, turn him loose, let him get to the quarterback. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that with a guy this talented. It’s a wee bit of a stretch to put him in the same category as the top edge rushers in this draft – and he’ll likely have to turn into more of a linebacker than a defensive end – but considering where the top pass rushers will go, he’ll be a phenomenal value get.

NFL Draft Projection: Second Round

5
Christian Harris, Alabama

Size: 6-2, 232

The Good: You want range? You want speed? You want a guy who’s going to grow into an ideal NFL weakside linebacker who’ll stick to any short-range receiver and make the play? Here you go. With 4.4 speed and a guided missile style of hitting ability, he’ll chase down everything and could grow into a dangerous playmaker in the backfield. But …

The Not-So-Good: For all the time he spent as a high-end starter for the highest-end program, he makes a lot of mistakes. He’ll have to grow into a role more than some might think, and he’s not really an inside linebacker if he doesn’t rock on the outside. His game is about getting into open spaces and getting to the ball, but he’s not really a thumper.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Harris might be scratching the surface even after a great college career. Fantastic from the start, he was a big-time producer in all three seasons with 220 tackles and ten sacks – you don’t do THAT for THAT coach unless you know what you’re doing. In a perfect world, you have size and toughness across your defense, then you let Harris go after the ball and be a superstar disruptive force.

NFL Draft Projection: Second Round

4
Quay Walker, Georgia

Size: 6-4, 240

The Good: He’s got a special set of tools with NFL prototype size, range, and smarts for an inside linebacker. Don’t worry about him as a pass rusher – he’s not going to work on the outside – and just let him eat everything up on the inside. He won’t be out of position and he’ll make every big stop, but …

The Not-So-Good: Yeah, he’s really not going to be a pass rusher. In a draft full of versatile linebackers and guys who can get into the backfield, that’s not going to be Walker. Explosive and fast, he can fly, but he’s not the smoothest linebacker around and he’s going to struggle in pass coverage.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: He’ll slide because great-tackling inside linebackers who don’t crank up the tackles for loss don’t get as much love, but they’re deserving of more credit. He’s a backbone-of-the-defense guy who won’t make mistakes, will be as reliable as they come, and he could be an NFL team’s leading tackler for a good value in the second round.

NFL Draft Projection: Second Round

3
Damone Clark, LSU

Size: 6-3, 240

The Good: A thumper on the inside, he was a solid producer over the last three seasons with close to 250 tackles. Improved as a pass rusher, he was one of the team’s main positives last season with 5.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss to go along with his 135 stops.

He’s got the size, range, and personality that everyone wants. He’s a first round type of linebacker talent, leader, and defensive face of the franchise, but …

The Not-So-Good: He underwent spinal fusion surgery this offseason and almost certainly going to miss the 2022 season. Everything is expected to be okay and – as scary as it sounds – isn’t career threatening, but that might be just enough to drop him on some boards.

On the field, he’s not going to do much in pass coverage, the pass rushing ability likely won’t be there at the next level, and …

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: As long as you’re confident that all really will be fine after his surgery, take him somewhere just after the top 50, put him in your bank, let him do the work needed to get right and gear him up, and then … boom. There’s a solid chance he turns out to be the most productive linebacker in this draft if you stick him inside and let him lead your defense.

NFL Draft Projection: Second Round

2
Devin Lloyd, Utah

Size: 6-3, 235

The Good: The ultimate leader for a defense, he makes up for his deficiencies by always being in the right spot. As tough a hitter as there is in the draft, he’s an intimidating force with the blast to go along with the range as a hitter inside or out.

Ultra-productive, he closed out a great career with 255 tackles – 110 last season – with 15.5 sacks and 43 tackles for loss. No, he’s not going to be used that much as a pass rusher, but he can do it. His job will be to quarterback a defense and bring the thump against the run.

The Not-So-Good: The wheels and all-around athleticism aren’t quite there compared to the other top linebackers. The 4.66 40 isn’t awful, but it’s not great in this class, and he’s not a fluid athlete who’ll easily grow into more of a playmaker in pass coverage at the NFL level. Some are going to see him as an option on the outside, but he’s really more of an inside player.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Here’s the nitpicky problem – value.

There’s no question that he’s going to be a strong pro, a great tackler, and the one a defense eventually revolves around, but he doesn’t have that otherworldly NFL burst that could make him a MUST-have in the top 20. That’s not dogging him or his game – he’s going to lead a team in tackles, or come close to it – but there are other good-hitting inside linebackers who can be had much later.

However, if you see something in his style that could make him a strongside option – especially if you think he can grow into even more of a pass rusher – then go for it. Even if you want him for the inside, take him high and you’ve got a statistical star and leader for your D.

NFL Draft Projection: First Round

1
Nakobe Dean, Georgia

Size: 6-0, 225

The Good: It’s a good draft for linebackers, but Dean is easily the most complete of the bunch. No other option has the combination of toughness against the run, great quickness, and with a demeanor that made him stand out on a defense full of next-level talents and personalities.

The statistical production was more than fine with close to 170 tackles in his three years – he didn’t need to be a high-stat playmaker on that D – and he improved and adapted into more of a disruptive force into the backfield.

The Not-So-Good: He’s not nearly as big as everyone would like. He might be tough as nails, but he’s going to take a beating with his style and his size. There’s no room on his frame to get a whole lot bigger, and that’s a possible problem in a draft full of bulky blasters on the inside.

He’s also not going to be the pass rusher others might want on the outside. Forget any ideas of turning him into an edge rusher, and there’s a chance he might have to operate on the weakside only to maximize all he can do.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Measurables are always a tad overblown and overrated, but if was just a wee bit bigger – like 6-3ish and 250 – he’d be a sure-thing top ten overall pick, if not top five.

Whatever. He might be a top ten pick anyway.

He’s going to be just fine as is, turning into a disruptive all-around playmaker who gets to EVERYTHING with his quickness and smarts. He’s what you want in a personality for your defense with the heart to go along with the skills.

NFL Draft Projection: First Round

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