Top 10 linebackers in the 2021 NFL draft

Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons (11) tackles Rutgers tight end Johnathan Lewis (11) in the first quarter Nov. 30, 2019, in State College, Pa. Penn State All-American Micah Parsons is opting out of the 2020 season because of concerns about COVID-19. The junior linebacker made his announcement with a social media post Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. (Barry Reeger/AP)
Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons (11) tackles Rutgers tight end Johnathan Lewis (11) in the first quarter Nov. 30, 2019, in State College, Pa. Penn State All-American Micah Parsons is opting out of the 2020 season because of concerns about COVID-19. The junior linebacker made his announcement with a social media post Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. (Barry Reeger/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Here are the top 10 linebacker prospects (with projected round) for the 2021 NFL draft, which is set for April 29-May 1:

1. Micah Parsons, Penn State, 6 feet 3, 246 pounds (first round): Parsons has potential to be a top-10 selection. At his pro day, Parsons tested exceptionally well with a 4.39-second 40-yard dash and a 34-inch vertical jump. Parsons opted out of the 2020 season, which came after a 2019 campaign that saw him named a consensus All-American. He also became the first sophomore to win the Big Ten’s linebacker of the year in 2019. Thought of as one of the best overall athletes in this year’s draft, Parsons has the potential to be a three-down linebacker for years to come.

ExploreMicah Parsons’ versatility suits the Falcons’ need

2. Zaven Collins, Tulsa, 6-4, 257 pounds (first round): Collins came from small town Hominy, Oklahoma, and found it difficult to attract much attention from bigger FBS programs. In the end, his only two offers were from Tulsa and Central Oklahoma. After redshirting in 2017, Collins became a disruptive force at Tulsa, tallying 7.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and five interceptions over the past three seasons. One of his best plays came against Tulane, when he returned an interception 96 yards for a walk-off touchdown. Collins won the 2020 Bronko Nagurski Trophy.

3. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame, 6-1, 221 pounds (first round): A younger player, Owusu-Koramoah enrolled at Notre Dame when he was only 17 years old. As a redshirt junior in 2020, Owusu-Koramoah recorded 62 tackles and was named a first-team All-American on a team that reached the College Football Playoffs. Owusu-Koramoah fits the mold of a sideline-to-sideline linebacker in the NFL with his size and speed.

ExploreSmall, but with range to be three-down linebacker

4. Jamin Davis, Kentucky, 6-3, 234 pounds (first/second round): Davis excelled as a high school prospect at Long County. A rotational linebacker in 2018 and 2019, Davis had a breakout year in 2020 with 102 tackles, four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Davis had a pick-six and blocked a field goal during the season too. Picking off three passes this past year, Davis has great awareness and possesses a knack for making plays on the football.

5. Jabril Cox, LSU, 6-3, 232 pounds (second round): A graduate transfer from North Dakota State, Cox became an immediate starter and team captain. He totaled 58 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, a sack and three interceptions. Although he got a year of SEC experience, he’s still considered a raw prospect, albeit with a lot of potential.

6. Nick Bolton, Missouri, 5-11, 237 pounds (second/third round): Bolton has good instincts that allow him to excel in coverage. He was named a second-team All-American and a first-team All-SEC selection after the 2020 season. Bolton led the Tigers with 95 tackles and was named a team captain.

7. Chazz Surratt, North Carolina, 6-2, 229 pounds (third round): Surratt has one of the better stories of anyone in the NFL draft. He arrived to North Carolina as a quarterback but told head coach Mack Brown that he wanted to switch to linebacker in the interest of his NFL future. In total, Surratt recorded 207 tackles, 12.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and eight pass breakups over the past two seasons. Given the fact he spent his first couple of years at quarterback, Surratt still has a lot of growing to do at linebacker, although he has the athleticism and smarts to be successful at the next level.

8. Pete Werner, Ohio State, 6-2, 238 pounds (fourth round): Werner was a first-team All-Big Ten selection as a senior, leading the Buckeyes in tackles with 54. A fundamental linebacker, Werner showed a tendency to quickly find and pursue the football. He’s also a willing special teams contributor, playing this unit during his three years as a starter.

Georgia inside linebacker Monty Rice (32) watches for the snap against Missouri Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (Cassie Florido/Missouri Athletics)
Georgia inside linebacker Monty Rice (32) watches for the snap against Missouri Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (Cassie Florido/Missouri Athletics)

Credit: Cassie Florido

Credit: Cassie Florido

9. Monty Rice, Georgia, 6-0, 233 pounds (fourth round): A team captain during his senior season, Rice recorded 49 tackles, four tackles for loss and a sack in 2020. He also had a fumble return for a touchdown. A fast and instinctive linebacker, Rice plays the game at a breakneck speed.

ExploreMonty Rice perseveres to become Butkus Award finalist

10. Baron Browning, Ohio State, 6-2, 245 pounds (fourth round): A former five-star prospect, Browning earned third-team All-Big Ten honors in 2020. He recorded 30 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, two forced fumbles and two pass breakups this past season. Given his standing as a recruit, Browning didn’t live up to the expectations he entered the program with. However, he still possesses NFL potential due to his size and athleticism.

Teams in need: Broncos, Patriots, Raiders, Saints, Washington.

Need area for Falcons: No. Deion Jones and Mykal Walker are under contract past 2021, although Foye Oluokun will be someone the Falcons should look to re-sign.

Top 5 LBs for 2022 draft: Auburn’s Owen Pappoe, Alabama’s Christian Harris, LSU’s Mike Jones, Wisconsin’s Jack Sanborn, Colorado’s Nate Landman.

AJC’S POSITION-BY-POSITION SERIES

QUARTERBACKS: How far will Justin Fields drop in draft? Top 10 QBs

RUNNING BACKS: Plenty of prospects to pick from | Top 10 RBs

WIDE RECEIVERS: Draft deep with talent | Top 10 WRs

TIGHT ENDS: Ability to create mismatches is key | Top 10 TEs

OFFENSIVE TACKLES: A ‘nasty’ bunch | Top 10 OTs

OFFENSIVE GUARDS/CENTERS: The men in the middle | Top 10 C/OGs

END RUSHERS: Pass on this draft stock | Top 10 DEs

DEFENSIVE TACKLES: One star among lackluster block | Top 10 DTs

LINEBACKERS: Deep class for position | Top 10 LBs

In Other News