Top 10 Linebacker Draft Prospects – 2020
1. Isaiah Simmons – Clemson
I’ll start of with Simmons’ weakness as his strengths are through the roof and jumps off the screen if you ever watched him play. If I was an offensive coordinator, I would run right at him as he struggles a bit in the run game due to his lack of functional strength. However, if you are his defensive coordinator it’s your job to put Simmons in position do what he does best. Using him as a chess piece due to his versatility will be key. Simmons can line up at safety, linebacker, nickel defender, edge rusher and play all those positions at a high level. To me he is Derwin James all over again without that physical mindset. Simmons is just too athletic, covers too much ground, and plays extremely well in space not to be a dominant player at the next level. He can do it all but what really stands out is his ability to play coverage, blitz the quarterback, and run sideline-to-sideline in this new age passing league. Simmons is a blue chip talent that should get drafted in the Top 10.
2. Kenneth Murray – Oklahoma
The next two prospects Murray and Patrick Queen have been discussed together by draft evaluators on who’s the next best linebacker in the class. Well, I am a Murray over Queen guy and here are the reasons why. I believe Murray is more of a finished product that can play all 3 linebacker positions and step in immediately and be a leader for a defense. His leadership and awareness on the football field trumps Queen, and although Queen has a nice ceiling, Murray’s floor is a lot higher. Murray is a stout tackler with terrific closing speed and takes the correct angles to the ball carrier. His IQ at the second level stands out as his instincts, aggressiveness, and understanding of offensive concepts puts him in a position to always be around the ball. Murray also gives you an additional blitzer that can win from the inside or the edge.
3. Patrick Queen – LSU
Queen is not far behind Murray and offers a high ceiling and a bright future only being 20-years-old. I like his competitiveness and nastiness on the football field. He is also a sideline-to-sideline linebacker that can cause major havoc if he is free to roam at the second level. Queen struggles a bit getting off blocks and can be attacked using his speed against him with counters and mis-direction, but the instincts and awareness he has in the run game helps make up for his deficiencies. He’s also an excellent A/B gap blitzer that can help a team get after the quarterback. I see him as a starting weak side linebacker from day 1 that has the potential to be an All-Pro.
4. Cameron Brown – Penn State
Here is the player I’ve been waiting to discuss. I know I am extremely high on Cam Brown versus the consensus, but I have a draft crush on the former Nittany Lion. At first glance, Brown looks like a created Madden player standing at 6’5 230 pounds with long arms. Not only is his physical physique something to awe at, but his movement ability is easy and fast. After Isaiah Simmons, Brown is the most versatile linebacker in the class as he can play in the box, on the edges, slot corner, all at a high level. Brown is what the new NFL looks like as he is one of those hybrid players that is comfortable in coverage, doesn’t shy away from contact, and closes quickly to the ball carrier. He is one my draft sleepers that has a high ceiling if he cleans up some miss tackling, and can get stronger and grow into his 6’5 frame some more.
5. Francis Bernard – Utah
Another sleeper linebacker in my Top 5 is Utah’s Francis Bernard. Sure the floor is higher with Logan Wilson and Malik Harrison, but I am enticed with Bernard’s traits. The former running back transfer, Bernard can excel if he’s in the right system. He’s more of an attacking, put your head down player that can fight through the traffic and make a play on the ball carrier. He’ll fit perfectly in a downhill cover 3 scheme where he doesn’t have to read/react and can flow free to bring hats to the party. If he has to process too much you’re not getting the best out of Bernard. He is a scheme specific prospect that can thrive in the right defense.
6. Logan Wilson – Wyoming
Here is one of those linebackers I seem to root for in every class. Wilson’s lack of athleticism will drop him down the draft board, but his pre/post snap recognition and instincts results in always making plays around the football. The hand placement he utilizes to disengage from blockers is a plus in the run game, while his feet and awareness in the pass game allows him to play all three downs. I can see him as a starting inside linebacker in a 3-4 system.
7. Malik Harrison – Ohio State
Here’s another one of those linebackers that can be more effective in the right system. An aggressive downhill system like in Seattle or Atlanta can benefit Harrison’s skill-set. Harrison is a physical thumper that can get to the ball carrier and do damage. I think he needs to improve his awareness and anticipation in pass coverage, but his hip flexibility and footwork leave me hopeful he can improve with coaching. If you want to leave him on the field in passing situations, Harrison is an effective blitzer that closes to the quarterback quickly.
8. Jacob Phillips – LSU
The second LSU linebacker to make the list, Phillips is one of three LSU linebackers in this draft class. Having a good defensive line in front of Phillips will benefit him as I like him when he can roam free away from blockers at the second level. He moves around the field well and can get to the edges quickly to cut off ball-carriers. Phillips can not only get downhill, but he also has the understanding of staying home with a plan of attack to get to the ball carrier. He has good instincts in the passing game and can get after the quarterback as a blitzer. I believe Phillips can carve out an early special teams role before entering the defensive lineup.
9. Troy Dye – Oregon
The last two linebackers in my Top 10, Dye and Evan Weaver have similar traits as productive tacklers that operate best in a phone booth. If it’s in front of them and in their area, then they will more than likely be leading the charge to the ball carrier. Dye is a head on a swivel linebacker that led the Ducks in tackles 4 straight seasons. His arm length stands out as he is able to use his hands and make contact with lineman to disengage in the run game. An although he has good pre-snap awareness, an issue I had when watching him was that he’s not going to get to many ball carriers in space and will not chase down players on the edges or from behind. Dye will need to fill out a bit more to play consistently at the next level.
10. Evan Weaver – California
As mentioned above, Weaver is a phone booth player that was a tackle machine at California. He is very patient in the run game as he allows things develop in front of him before sticking the running back in the hole. A sure tackler in the middle of a defense, Weaver has athleticism question marks and change of direction tightness that might relegate him to a two down role. If a team covets a two down linebacker that is strong against the run, then Weaver is a good late round selection.