1 – Isaiah Simmons – Arizona Cardinals – Pick 1.08 – 6’4 238 pounds
2019 – 104 Total Tackles, 8 Sacks, 16.5 TFL, 3 INt, 8 PD, 2 FF
Isaiah Simmons is one of the best defensive prospects I’ve ever seen. He’s a generational talent that will be moved all over the field to create mismatch nightmares for opposing offenses. He’s got the rare size/speed combination that allows him to bully would-be blockers to make plays in the backfield one play, and then seamlessly drop back into coverage and stick with pass catchers the next. While he will mostly be utilized as an OLB, he’s truly a positionless football player that will be also used as an interior linebacker, edge rusher, nickel corner, and maybe even at safety down the road. He is a plus defender in both man and zone coverage and I’m incredibly excited to see all of the crazy ways they use him to disguise coverages and blitzes. He’s relentless when pursuing the ball and has true sideline-to-sideline range when running down ball carriers. He is going to be a rare game-changer on the defensive side of the ball that fills up the stat-sheet on a weekly basis. His skill set will allow him to thrive in tackle-heavy and big-play scoring settings. I’m looking to draft Simmons near the top of the 2nd round in rookie drafts.
2 – Kenneth Murray – Los Angeles Chargers – Pick 1.23 – 6’2 241 pounds
2019 – 102 Tackles, 4 sacks, 17 TFL, 0 INT, 4 PD, 0 FF
Kenneth Murray’s outlook seems to have dimmed some after being drafted to the Chargers, based on their history of rotating their linebackers freely throughout the game. However, I’m using this as a window to buy at a slight discount. I believe that Murray’s talent ultimately wins out, and by the end of this season, he’s near the top of the Chargers linebackers in total snaps per game. He’s one of the most powerful and explosive players on the defensive side of the ball in this draft. He has the speed to cover sideline to sideline, and the strength to absolutely rock ballcarriers when he chases them down. One of the things that will help him get on the field more is his underrated skill when rushing the quarterback. He’s able to use that same speed and power that allows him to patrol the entire field when he’s attacking gaps to pressure the quarterback. He had 4 sacks in his final year, and if used correctly could challenge for 6-8 sacks per season in his prime. This ability should allow him to rotate between the middle and outside linebacker positions. He will be a solid backend LB1 in leagues that reward tackle production. I think there is still some untapped potential as a pass rusher. He needs to improve defending the pass as it could take him off the field on third downs early in his career. I’m looking to draft Murray with a mid-to-late 2nd round pick in rookie drafts.
3 – Patrick Queen – Baltimore Ravens – Pick 1.28 – 6’0 229 pounds
2019 – 85 Total Tackles, 3 Sacks, 12 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PD, 0 FF
Patrick Queen could not have landed in a better spot to maximize his talents in the NFL, as the Ravens employ some of the most creative blitzing schemes in the league, and I can’t wait to see all of the different ways they use him. He’s a freak athlete who’s upside is as high as Kenneth Murray’s but there are a few things that give me a little bit of pause when evaluating Queen. He’s a little bit undersized for a true interior linebacker and he was only a full-time starter for one season at LSU. However, he did start and see more playing time down the stretch in 2018 and he was extremely solid when called upon, so he did what he was supposed to do and built on that success when he received more playing time. The lack of big playing time has led to a few areas that need to be refined, as he sometimes relied on his athleticism a bit too much and took a bad angle or was knocked off track by blockers he should have powered through at the college level. While he’s not a lockdown defender in the passing game, he has shown that he can hold his own there and should be able to stay on the field for all three downs. Queen got better as the season went on and really showed up in the big-time games. He lands in a situation similar to the one at LSU, as he will benefit from a talented roster around him and a creative scheme that will open up attacking opportunities to showcase his skill set. I’m looking to draft Queen with a mid-to-late 2nd round pick in rookie drafts.
4 – Logan Wilson – Cincinnati Bengals – 6’2 241 lbs
2019 – 105 Total Tackles, 1 Sack, 8.5 TFL, 4 INT, 7 PD, 1 FF
While Simmons, Murray, and Queen are the consensus top-3 rookie linebackers across most sites, there are a few different names you will see pop into the mix here and there for the 4th spot or higher, my favorite of which is Logan Wilson. I truly believe that he would have been a second-round selection if he played at a bigger school in college. He’s not as explosive as the other guys on this list, but his instincts and fundamentals are top-notch and more than cover up for the lack of explosion. He has picture-perfect tackling form and is almost always able to square up the ball carrier for a clean tackle. He can drop back into coverage and has shown a knack for making big plays in the passing game. He has true three-down potential as a rookie and has a versatile enough skill set to play any of the linebacker positions. He arguably has the best opportunity to make an impact from week one, and could very easily be the most productive rookie linebacker in year one. He’s going to be a tackle-machine with yearly upside of 100+ total tackles. The biggest knock on Wilson is his age, as he enters the draft as a redshirt senior, but that doesn’t scare me as much on the defensive side of the ball. While his upside is certainly not as high as the top 3 guys on my list, he should provide value as a steady LB2 for years to come. I’m looking to draft Wilson with a mid-to-late 3rd round pick, and you may see him slide into the fourth round or later in some drafts.