Here are the top five inside and outside linebacker prospects (with projected round) for the NFL draft, which is set for April 27-29 in Kansas City, Missouri:
1. Jack Campbell, Jr., ILB, Iowa, 6-4, 246, Round 2: Winner of the Dick Butkus award which goes to the nation’s top linebacker. He was an consensus All-American selection in 2022.
2. Noah Sewell, R-So., ILB, Oregon, 6-2, 253, 2: Started Oregon’s first 12 games before opting out of the Holiday Bowl. Finished his three-year career with 215 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, two interceptions and three forced fumbles.
3.Henry To’oTo’o, Sr., ILB, Alabama, 6-1, 228, 2-3: Started his career at Tennessee. Finished second on the team with 94 tackles last season, including eight tackles for loss. He was a semifinalist for the Butkus Award.
4.Owen Pappoe, Sr., ILB, Auburn, 6-0, 225, 3: Graduate of Grayson High in Gwinnett County. Butkus award semifinalist. Finished career with 256 tackles.
5.Daiyan Henley, Sr., ILB, Washington State, 6-1, 230, 3-4: Played at Nevada before becoming a graduate transfer for the Cougars. He finished last season second in the Pac-12 with 106 tackles.
Best of the rest: Inside linebackers – TCU’s Dee Winters, Florida’s Ventrell Miller, Cincinnati’s Ivan Pace, Vanderbilt’s Anfernee Orji and Pittsburgh’s SirVocea Dennis.
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter
1. Will Anderson Jr., Jr, OLB, Alabama, 6-4, 243, 1: Anderson is the consensus top edge rusher in this class. Had a dominant sophomore season in 2021, earning an FBS-high 34.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks. His numbers dropped in 2022, but he still impressed, with 10 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. He won consecutive SEC defensive player of the year honors.
2. Nolan Smith, Sr., OLB, Georgia, 6-3, 235, 1: Played in 38 games and made 110 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. His final season was cut short by a torn pectoral muscle. His ability to shed blockers is impressive. “I’m just country strong,” Smith said.
3. Trenton Simpson, Jr., OLB, Clemson, 6-3, 240, 1: Credited with 187 tackles, including 22.5 tackles for losses, 12.4 sacks over 1,443 snaps over 37 games, including 27 starts. The tackle stats are from coaches’ film review.
4. Drew Sanders, Jr., OLB, Arkansas, 6-4, 233, 1-2: Started his career at Alabama. Finished second in the SEC with 9.5 sacks, the most by a Razorback since 2012. He started 12 games and made a team-leading 103 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss.
5. BJ Ojulari, Jr., OLB, LSU, 6-2, 250, 1-2: Ojulari, who played at Marietta High, finished with 16.5 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss over his three seasons at LSU. He’s a finesse pass rusher with good length. Ojulari is the younger brother of former Bulldogs edge rusher Azeez Ojulari, who’s with the Giants.
Best of the rest: Outside linebackers – Auburn’s Derick Hall, Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig, Texas’ DeMarvion Overshown, Appalachian State’s Nick Hampton and Tulane’s Dorian Williams.
Local prospects: Shaka Heyward, 6-3, 240, Duke (Mill Creek High School): He played in 51 games and made 41 starts for the Blue Devils. He made 337 tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. He was a two-time All-ACC pick and was the team’s defensive MVP in 2022.
Charlie Thomas, 6-2, 207, Georgia Tech (Thomasville HS): Thomas graduated from high school early and enrolled at Georgia Tech in 2018. He benefited from the COVID-19 season and played five seasons.
Teams in need: Eagles, Giants, Browns, Lions and Colts.
Need area for Falcons. Yes. The Falcons have not re-signed linebacker Rashaad Evans, who led the team in tackles last season with 159. They have signed a couple of linebackers in Kaden Elliss and Tae Davis who have never been full-time starters.
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.