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2024 NFL Draft: 12 Linebacker Prospects to Watch

With the college football season approaching, it’s time to take a deeper look at some of the top NFL Draft-eligible players at each position. This will help us assemble an early list of prospects to watch this fall.

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2024 NFL Draft: Linebackers to Watch

Below are 12 Draft-eligible linebackers who I’ll be keeping an eye on this coming season.

Barrett Carter (Clemson)

Built for the modern game, the 6’1”, 225-pound former five-star recruit stepped into a starting role for one of college football’s best defensive fronts last year, playing alongside the likes of Trenton Simpson and Jeremiah Trotter Jr. He’s been a passing-game weapon so far, often lining up in shaded over opposing slot receivers, where he shows clean footwork and advanced route-processing which allows him to anticipate throws. In 2023, he posted 5.5 sacks and intercepted two passes, breaking up another eight.

Junior Colson (Michigan)

Colston started seven games and totaled over 500 defensive snaps in 2021, then took over a full-time role last year, playing with more efficiency and racking up 101 tackles. As it currently stands, the Wolverines’ Mike is at his most comfortable when flowing toward the play direction in the run game, doing a good job of playing with patience, keeping his shoulders square, and getting extension to lock out blockers. In 2023, I’d like to see the 6’2”, 235-pounder play with more anticipation, particularly when working in coverage.

Jamon Dumas-Johnson (Georgia)

With Quay Walker, Nakobe Dean, and Channing Tindall leaving Georgia for the NFL last year, Dumas-Johnson took over a starting role and enjoyed a promising first season with 70-9.0-4.0. At 245 pounds, he’s more thickly-built than many modern linebackers, and that carries over into his play strength. He brings an aggressive, relentless demeanor with a quick trigger when reading keys between the tackles, and is athletic enough to play in space as well. Taking the next step forward will involve playing under control more consistently, as balance issues crop up more frequently than you’d like on tape.

Tommy Eichenberg (Ohio State)

It’s surprising that Eichenberg opted not to declare for the draft this past year, in what was considered a weak class. He’s a tough, physical player who can keep his shoulders square, locate the ball quickly, and take solid angles in pursuit, some of the skills younger linebackers often struggle with. A reliable tackler who shows good contact balance when defending inside runs, he may not be the most flexible or fluid linebacker in the class, but his overall consistency is among the most impressive in the class, making him a relatively pro-ready prospect.

Jaylan Ford (Texas)

Last season was Ford’s first as a full-time starter, and he racked up 119 tackles and four interceptions in a solid campaign. He’s a lanky, relatively thick middle linebacker at 6’2”, 238 pounds, and has above-average flexibility and pretty smooth movement skills. For a player entering his fourth year and with nearly 1,300 snaps under his belt, he takes a few more false steps than you’d like, so playing with more consistent patience should be a priority in 2023, especially because his range is not quite that of a sideline-to-sideline guy.

Cedric Gray (North Carolina)

I gave Cedric Gray a second-day grade last year, when he posted 145 tackles after racking up 99 in 2021, but he opted to return to school. He reads keys quickly, has better functional strength than anticipated when working through blockers, and has impressive range and athleticism, traits which allow him to play sideline-to-sideline and execute different coverage responsibilities. Thus far, he’s probably more comfortable playing downhill, but should be regarded as one of the more polished linebackers in the class as he enters his third season as a starter for the Tar Heels.

Ty’ron Hopper (Missouri)

Hopper spent three seasons at Florida, playing nearly 500 snaps in 2021, before transferring to Missouri and becoming a full-time starter. Speed and aggression are the hallmarks of Hopper’s game; he racked up 13.5 tackles for loss last year with an attacking, downhill style of play that could appeal to teams with a swarming philosophy. His athleticism allows him to rush the passer or work in coverage, but he might be a sub package player early on as he learns to play with more patience, discipline, and technique and adds more functional strength.

Jestin Jacobs (Oregon)

In 2021, Jacobs started at Iowa (53 tackles), but missed nearly all of last year with an injury and has transferred to Oregon. He’s a well-built linebacker at 6’4”, 238 pounds, and was often shaded over opposing receivers with the Hawkeyes, showing smooth movement skills and good technique. He plays with discipline in run fits, can use his hands to feel routes and stay connected in coverage, and is fast enough to carry some slot receivers down the seams and into deeper zones. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s used at Oregon.

Deontae Lawson (Alabama)

After beginning last season as a rotational linebacker, Lawson saw his role expand and ultimately finished with four starts and nearly 450 defensive snaps. He stands 6’2” and 225 pounds, but looks bigger because of his length. On tape, you can immediately see why he was a four-star recruit, as he has impressive quickness, flexibility, and pursuit speed. He’s already proven adept at slipping past blockers, in part because of his consistent extension and quick hands, but can occasionally be lured out of position, so showing more patience when diagnosing in the run game should be a priority in 2023.

Smael Mondon Jr. (Georgia)

One of the rangiest and most athletic linebackers in the class, Mondon has solid size for a modern Will at 6’3”, 220 and totaled 76 tackles in his first year starting. He’s got sideline-to-sideline speed and is relatively advanced at using his hands to sift through blockers and find his way to the ball when working between the tackles. In coverage, he was asked to execute various different assignments, but currently looks more comfortable working in man; at times, he can look panicky when playing zone. This year, as he gains more experience, he should relax and begin to play with more patience.

Maema Njongmeta (Wisconsin)

There are plenty of more physically gifted linebackers in the class, but the 6’0’, 229-pound Njongmeta was arguably one of the most consistent college ‘backers who’s returning in 2023. He plays on the inside behind Wisconsin’s three-man lines, and is at his best as a downhill, between-the-tackles thumper, playing with decisiveness, enough lateral/hand quickness to slip past blockers, and reliable wrap tackling. Wisconsin frequently used him as a blitzer, and that’s probably where his primary value is on passing downs.

Jeremiah Trotter Jr. (Clemson)

The son of the pro legend bearing the same name, Trotter is built considerably lighter than his father, but appears poised to man a pro team’s middle linebacker position for years to come. Last year was his first as a starter (89-13.5-6.5), but he plays with patience and discipline beyond his years. He’s rarely out of position, reads keys quickly when defending the run, processes well in coverage, and looks just as comfortable working through traffic as he does playing in space. As it currently stands, Trotter is widely considered 2024’s top linebacker prospect, and would be a likely first-rounder if the draft were held today.

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Notice any prospects I missed? Feel free to let me know on Twitter @draftexaminer!

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