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2024 NFL Draft Rankings: Linebackers collegiate performance analysis

Edgerrin Cooper, Texas A&M

Cooper (6’021/230) arrived in College Station as a four-star recruit during the tumultuous 2020 pandemic campaign and took a redshirt before assuming a more prominent role the following year. His redshirt freshman year started slowly with Cooper recording just six stops and seven missed tackles through the first five games. He flipped the switch down the stretch though, posting 22 stops and just two missed tackles in his last seven contests to garner SEC All-Freshman Team recognition.

He slid into a starting role in 2022 and was productive enough to accrue 61 tackles, 8.0 RFL and five PBU for a decent 66th% PFF defensive grade. However that was just a warmup act for his terrific 2023 with Cooper accumulating 17.0 TFL, 56 stops (5th in P5) and 27 pressures (7th in P5) while earning First Team All-American accolades for his accomplishments. His 91st percentile PFF defensive grade was the highest mark of any linebacker in the nation, with Cooper emphatically staking his claim as the top linebacker in the SEC.

The Covington, LA product dazzled Combine onlookers with a blazing 1.54s 10-yard split (95th%) and 4.51s 40-yard dash (97th%). Cooper’s 34” arms are unnaturally long for off-ball duty, but his 7.20s 3-Cone is a middling 58th% time and he chose not to bench.

Cooper Led LBs in sacks thanks to advanced quickness and get off which helps to offset his height. Despite verified elite athleticism, he could use another 5-10 pounds to handle the rigors of the NFL game. Very crafty when diagnosing run concepts and works around blocks efficiently, but isn’t going to stun blockers with his power. Born hitter with sideline-to-sideline speed and range who wants to deliver a crushing blow every play. Cooper is one of the premier linebackers in the 2024 group and is well equipped to be a key cog in the middle of an NFL defense.

Junior Colson, Michigan

A native of Haiti who emigrated to the US at nine years old when he was adopted by an American aid worker who met him at the orphanage he was raised in, Colson (6’037/238) instantly gravitated toward football as soon as he stepped on the gridiron. The 2021 four-star early enrollee became an immediate fixture on the Wolverines’ defense, starting seven games while accumulating 60 tackles and achieving Freshman All-American status as a true.

He charted 196 tackles over the last two seasons with a gaudy 18% tackle rate and rarely allowed ball carriers to escape his grasp, leading all Power Five linebackers with a spectacular 4.7% missed tackle percentage in 2023. Colson’s coverage chops are sound as well, allowing a solid 69% completion rate for 185 receiving yards and a laudable 83rd percentile PFF cover grade (7th in P5). With a National Championship and a pair of Second Team All-Big Ten campaigns in his back pocket, Michigan’s defensive captain opted to enter the NFL Draft after just three years in college. Unfortunately he sustained a right hamstring injury and was unable to perform any Combine or pro day testing in the leadup to the draft.

Colson is well proportioned head-to-toe and isn’t bashful about taking on offensive linemen in order to make a play. Clean with his run fits and is a naturally fluid mover in space. Exceptionally durable, having played in every one of Michigan’s 43 games during his three years on campus despite numerous maladies. He triggers in an instant and uses his length to dig his claws into ball carriers and drag them down with ruthless efficiency. Colson possesses all the archetypal traits teams covet in a middle linebacker and will be one of the first LBs off the board come Draft day.

Payton Wilson, NC State

Wilson (6’037/233) was considered the fourth-best outside linebacker from the 2018 prep class, making him one of the older prospects in the draft. He suffered a right ACL tear as a senior in HS that cost him his freshman season, slowing down the beginning of his college career. He hit his stride in 2020, leading the Wolfpack with 57 tackles, 45 stops and 11.5 TFL in just 10 games en route to receiving First Team All-ACC recognition. Injuries reared up again costing Wilson the last ten games of the 2021 season after a dislocation that required surgery on both shoulders to fully clear up.

He recovered well enough to start 11 games in 2022 with 12.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks and a 70th percentile PFF defensive grade. The decision to come back for his sixth-year proved prescient as Wilson lit the ACC ablaze for 138 tackles, 17.5 TFL and 67 stops to go with a scorching 4.4% sack rate. The consensus First Team All-American became the first player in NC State history to win either the Butkus Award, given to the best linebacker in the FBS, or the prestigious Bednarik Trophy awarded to the nation’s top overall defensive player.

Wilson put forth a sensational performance on the Combine track, running a 4.43s 40-yard dash (99.5th%) and 1.53s 10-yard split (98.6th%) to go with a 6.85s 3-Cone (96th%) and 4.20s shuttle (90th%). His phenomenal testing performance confirms the 23.7 MPH he hit in-game during the season for a bona fide freaky 9.89 Relative Athletic Score. About the only negative aspect of his testing was his arm length measuring in at a stubby 30.5”, which could present issues when engaging with gigantic NFL offensive linemen.

Noticeably long for a MLB, but a little slight at 6’4/234 and can get stuck on blocks when blockers get their hands on him. Quick first step with enough juice to line up on the edge and will smoke most tight ends around the edge if you single them up in pass protection. Keys on his opponents hands off the snap and immediately tries to remove them from the equation. Scrapes down the line well and has the flexibility to dip around blockers and make plays, but doesn’t have the lower body strength to muscle up to larger offensive linemen. Instinctive in coverage and Crafty when disguising his intentions in zone, adept at tracking the QBs eyes and breaking on the ball. There are major, glaring injury concerns

Trevin Wallace, Kentucky

Wallace (6’011/237) was considered the 17th-best linebacker in the nation from the 2021 recruiting cycle, chose Kentucky over several notable offers from blue blood schools seeking his verbal. Wildcats HC Mark Stoops wasted little time trusting Wallace in high leverage snaps as a true freshman, logging 241 snaps with 32 tackles, 4.0 TFL and a 47.2 defensive grade, receiving All-Sec Freshman Team recognition for his contributions.

His play crested this year with 80 tackles, 5.5 sacks and a 93% tackle efficiency rate. The team captain got better as the year went on and is one of the rare high-end prospects to play a full complement of 72 snaps in their school’s bowl game against Clemson, racking up seven stops and a sack against the Tigers overwhelmed offensive line. Despite making an indelible impact on the UK defense, Wallace allowed a 90% completion rate in coverage and received a middling 61.1 PFF overall grade in 2023.

When it was time to show the NFL what he can do, Wallace delivered a 97th percentile 4.51s 40-yard dash, 37.5” vert (91st%) and 10’07” broad jump (96th%). He also tossed up 20 reps of 225-pounds at his pro day workout, which was the second-most from the 2024 LB group, for a scintillating 9.34 RAS.

A twitchy accelerator who flies to the ball with bad intentions and bolts to the sideline in a moment, Wallace has the dimensions and profile of a 6’011/238 thumper, but the speed of a smaller coverage-oriented rover. He throws his hat into the ring on run plays quickly and with malice. However, he can be manipulated by misdirections and counters a little too easily and is a liability in coverage having allowed a career 84% completion rate. A third-year early declare with verifiable physical gifts, Wallace is raw but has legitimate starter upside with proper coaching.

Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Clemson

The son of 11-year NFL veteran and Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Famer, Jeremiah Sr, Trotter (6’0/228) was rated as the fifth-best linebacker from the 2021 recruiting class. The early enrollee only saw 58 snaps as a true freshman, but he was more than up to the task as a sophomore leading the Tigers with 89 tackles, 13.5 TFL and 6.5 sacks to go with an 87th percentile overall grade. He once again led Clemson in tackles, TFL and sacks for a second consecutive season, earning First Team All-ACC recognition for his exemplary play and leadership.

He battled a hamstring injury throughout the season and opted to not perform running or jumping drills at the Combine. Trotter Jr. posted a 4.40s shuttle (50th%) and 7.13s 3-Cone (71st%) to go with 21 bench reps that tied for the most among 2024 linebackers. His arms are a bit on the stubby side at 31.5”, which hampers his ability to keep blockers at bay and disengage to make plays on the ball.

Trotter Jr. received a first-rate football upbringing from his legendary father who coached him as Jeremiah advanced through the gridiron ranks. His rocked up frame is ready for the pros despite being a third-year declaration, as Trotter Jr. is a terror who chews up running backs that try to stop him when bringing heat up the middle on blitzes. Loads up and shocks ball carriers with physicality on contact and is always around the ball, but can get overzealous running headlong into gaps leaving him open to cutbacks. Earned 82nd+ percentile coverage grades in his last two seasons thanks to his high football IQ, but is not an elite athlete which could limit his professional ceiling. Trotter Jr. has been raised from birth to further his family’s NFL legacy and has worked tirelessly to achieve his lofty potential. He will be given the opportunity to earn a starting job and has a high-floor as a shot-calling middle linebacker.

Cedric Gray, North Carolina

Gray (6’014/234) was named his High School’s Offensive Player of the Year as a sophomore before making his mark as a defensive player. The former AAU and three-year letterman basketball player, Gray was recruited as an Athlete by mostly lower-division schools until UNC HC Mack Brown made him an offer that he gleefully accepted, and the rest is history.

While the Charlotte, NC product only played six defensive snaps during the tumultuous 2020 campaign, he became an indispensable leader of the defense as a sophomore by accruing 100 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 30 stops and two interceptions in his first taste of extended reps. Gray would go on to post three-consecutive seasons of 100+ tackles, while being named First Team All-ACC in each of his last two campaigns. He proved his chops in coverage with 72nd percentile PFF cover grades in each year as a starter while allowing a sub-70% completion rate when targeted in all three seasons.

His 1.58s 10-yard split (90th%) and 4.64s 40-yard dash (81st%) were both commendable times, while his strong 35.5” vert (80th%) and 10’00” broad (78th%) helped solidify his above average 7.26 RAS. 17 bench reps (30th%) and 4.54s shuttle run (22%) didn’t do him any favors on the athleticism front, dragging down his athletic profile.

Gray’s burst is on display when read/reacting and crashing downhill, which along with his high football IQ helps to keep him in the play on most downs. A wildly productive player, UNC plugged him right in the middle of the defense where his textbook form tackling and nose for the ball could be utilized to devastating effect. Gray doesn’t have the upper body strength to absorb heavy contact from NFL-sized blockers, but is crafty in how feints and dips around them. His ability to cover at an above average level completes a well-rounded, battle-tested, starting middle linebacker-caliber profile.

Tommy Eichenberg, Ohio State

The brother of Miami Dolphins OT Liam Eichenberg, and Ohio State HC Ryan Day’s first official commit as the Buckeyes’ head coach, Eichenberg (6’023/233) grew up in the Cleveland area and got to realize a childhood dream by playing for his home-state team. The four-star recruit barely sent a ripple through the defensive depth chart during his first two years on campus, charting just two tackles in that span. He started the first three games, but was relegated to rotational work after charting a ghastly 29.7 game grade against Oregon. Eichenberg still managed to log 431 snaps and finished strong by making 17 tackles in their bowl game against Utah.

In 2022 new Ohio State DC Jim Knowles took over the defense and in turn Eichenberg led the team with 120 tackles and 12.0 TFL while being named First Team All-Big Ten. The two-time team captain recorded a 91st percentile PFF run grade (5th in FBS) and an 86th% overall grade that ranked 8th in the Power Five. He somehow eclipsed that by earning Second Team All America accolades while recording 31 stops and 82 tackles before dislocating his elbow late in the season. He somehow returned after missing three contests to play the final game of his career against Michigan. A true linebacker mentality that would make Jack Lambert proud.

A hamstring injury caused him to opt out of the 40-yard dash, but between his pro day and Combine, Eichenberg ran a 4.24s shuttle (85th%) and 7.02 3-Cone (83rd%) that checked the athleticism boxes, while his 20 bench reps were tied for second-most from the 2024 linebacker group.

A downhill enforcer who has pop in his hands and a laser guided radar when locking onto his ball carrier target. His coverage ability projects as average, as he doesn’t have the same intrinsic feel for that passing game as he does around the line of scrimmage. A no-nonsense defensive leader and captain, Eichenberg lives the football life on and off the field and is considered a known commodity in terms of his ability to assimilate into an NFL lineup.

Jaylan Ford, Texas

A rank-and-file three-star recruit who was the lowest rated of then-HC Tom Herman’s 20 person, 2020 recruiting class, Ford (6’023/240) enrolled in June 2020 with no spring practices under his belt and sustained an injury in Week 2 before returning to start and record 50 snaps in Texas’ bowl game against Colorado. The Frisco, TX native shuttled back to the bench for the first nine games of the year before permanently wresting hold of the starting job for the final three games and leading the team with 6.0 TFL.

His college play reached its zenith in 2022 when Ford recorded 119 tackles, 10.0 TFL, six PBU and four interceptions en route to receiving Third Team All-American acknowledgement. Ford would surpass all expectations by being named First Team All-ACC while leading the Longhorns in tackles in each of the last two years. A team captain and iron man who suited up in all 49 of his games for UT, Ford bowed out of the Senior Bowl due to injury and only performed jumps at the Combine. He would go on to perform the full complement of movement tests at his pro day with a 4.71s 40-yard dash (66th%), 7.09s j3-Cone (74th%) and 4.24s shuttle (85th%) for a strong 8.30 RAS.

One of the heavier LBs in this class at 240 pounds, Ford is a physical tone-setter in run support who is diligent about his gap responsibilities. His ability to read offensive concepts led to six interceptions the last two years, which is special ball production for a linebacker. Ford is a decent athlete, but doesn’t show sideline-to-sideline pursuit range and frequently gets beat to the edge on outside run plays. He profiles as a two-down run-stuffing rotational linebacker with upside to be more.

Ty’Ron Hopper, Missouri

Hopper (6’016/231) initially committed to Florida back in 2019 and failed to make much of an impact until he rang up 65 tackles, 10.0 TFL and 3.5 sacks while starting the last four games for the Gators in 2021. Unfortunately HC Dan Mullen was fired after the season, leaving Hopper in a tough situation having to start from scratch again after finally earning a starting gig with a completely new staff coming in. He made the decision to transfer within the SEC East to Missouri where he slotted right into the starting WLB role tallying 78 tackles while leading the Tigers with 14.0 TFL and earning a very respectable 77.5 PFF overall defensive grade. He stood out in blitz situations with a team-leading 19% pressure rate that helped account for his 85th percentile pass rush grade.

Hopper was named a captain leading into this season and was reasonably productive over his first 10 games until sustaining a shoulder injury that cost him the remainder of the year. He managed to record 55 tackles, 6.0 TFL and 3.0 sacks in that time frame while receiving Second Team All-SEC honors for his play. However peeling back the layers we see Hopper struggled with poor tackle angles and finishing, as his 17 missed tackles resulted in an unsightly 23% missed tackle rate and troubling 52nd percentile overall grade.

Hopper opted to do only position drills at the Combine, but at his pro day ran a 4.68s 40-yard dash (73rd%) while jumping a 36” vert (84th%) and 10’04” broad jump (92nd%). His agility scores were woeful at 4.46s in the shuttle run (38th%) and 7.29s for his 3-Cone (43rd%), which contributed mightily to his decent 7.42 RAS.

He’s most comfortable bringing heat up the middle and breaking forward in run support, but his fills can be inconsistent and he’s lacking the upper body mass to stand up to pulling linemen. While Hopper has the juice to run with both running backs and tight ends, he can sometimes abandon his coverage area in zone. A weakside linebacker with ample special teams experience, Hopper has the athleticism to carve out a role in the NFL and possibly challenge for regular playing time if he can take to NFL coaching.

Edefuan Ulofoshio, Washington

Ulofoshio (6’004/236) hails from Anchorage, Alaska and didn’t have any national recruiting profile until he played his senior year at Bishop Gorman HS in Las Vegas. As a result, he wasn’t offered a single FBS scholarship and eschewed FCS overtures to accept a preferred walk-on opportunity at Washington back in 2018. He redshirted as a true freshman but was named Defensive Scout Team MVP before receiving 217 snaps of playing time in 2019 with a surprising 82nd percentile PFF defensive grade.

He dominated the shortened 2020 season by accumulating 47 tackles in only four games while earning Second Team All-Pac-12 recognition. An all-around contributor, Ulofoshio received 80th percentile performance grades for his tackling, run and pass defense skills and seemed ready for stardom in 2021. However, after a strong first half of the season he suffered a biceps injury that cost him the remainder of the campaign. To compound matters, an ACL tear soon followed which limited his 2022 season to five part-time games where he recorded 10 tackles.

He took advantage of the extra year of eligibility and opted to come back for one more year in 2023, and he promptly put up his best season with 94 tackles, 8.0 TFL and 3.0 sacks while earning First Team All-Pac-12 status for the CFP National Champion runners up. The 24 year-old put on a track meet at the Combine, blazing a 1.53s 10-yard split (98th%) and 4.56s 40-yard dash (93rd%) to go with a ridiculous 39.5” vert (98th%) and 10’08” broad jump (97th%).

A long, twitchy athlete who dealt who worked his way up from walk-on status to 2024 NFL Draft selection, few players have raised their profile more in the last year than Ulofoshio. He was a constant presence in the middle for the Huskies during their magical Pac-12 Championship run. A true overachiever, Ulofoshio should be a plus special teamer with the freaky traits and length to eventually land in a defensive rotation.

J.D. Bertrand, Notre Dame

Curtis Jacobs, Penn State

Michael Barrett, Michigan

Tatum Bethune, Florida State

Marist Liufau, Notre Dame

Nathaniel Watson, Miss State

Tyrice Knight, UTEP

Steele Chambers, Ohio State

Jordan Magee, Temple

Aaron Casey, Indiana

Easton Gibbs, Wyoming

Darius Muasau, UCLA

Maema Ngongmeta, Wisconsin

Kalen DeLoach, FSU

Zion Tupouola-Fetui, Washington