NFL Draft News & Analysis

2024 NFL Draft: Highest-graded linebacker in every category

2T9PC07 November 25, 2023: NC State senior Payton Wilson (11) directing traffic. NCAA football game, between University of North Carolina and NC State University, at Carter Finley Stadium, Raleigh, North Carolina. David Beach/CSM (Credit Image: © David Beach/Cal Sport Media)

NC State’s Payton Wilson is a playmaker: The Wolfpack’s defensive captain has good length and a quick trigger, which allows him to make plays in all facets.

Texas A&M’s Edgerrin Cooper brings top-tier athleticism to the position:    The All-American linebacker possesses phenomenal burst. He stands atop the class in various metrics, including run-defense grade.

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The 2024 NFL Draft season is well underway, with the NFL scouting combine and individual pro days in the rearview.

Every player brings a unique skill set to the table. We’re breaking down the draft class’ best players in every facet for every position to get a more informed view of the NFL hopefuls.

Here are PFF’s highest-graded linebacker prospects at each key grading facet. Click below for other positions.

Box Coverage Grade: Edefuan Ulofoshio, Washington (88.2)

Significant experience at the position allows Ulofoshio to read and react well in coverage. He surrendered just 0.38 yards per coverage snap and a 58.7 passer rating on throws into his coverage while lined up as a box defender. 

Slot Coverage Grade: Jordan Magee, Temple (77.5)

The former Owl allowed just 0.26 yards per coverage snap in the slot, and his average depth of tackle was 0.3 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Coverage Grade on passing plays with pressure: Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Clemson (90.1)

The All-ACC linebacker pairs incredible instincts with high football IQ to win in coverage. Trotter’s awareness and feel in zone coverage allowed him to excel when pressure came into play by either flushing a quarterback from the pocket or filling in zones behind blitz packages. His range helped him to secure a pair of interceptions on these plays, including a pick-six against Notre Dame in Week 10.

Coverage Grade on passing plays that took longer than 3 seconds: Payton Wilson, NC State & Marist Liufau, Notre Dame: 82.0

Wilson and Liufau both accumulated at least five coverage stops on such throws, with the former piling up eight stops. 

Click here to see Payton Wilson's 2024 NFL Draft profile!

Coverage Grade in Single Coverage: Edefuan Ulofoshio, Washington (90.4)

In direct relation to his incredible coverage grade from the box, Ulofoshio recognizes route concepts and excels in matching those in single coverage. The former Husky recorded a 20% forced incompletion rate while allowing just 3 total yards on passes into his coverage in one-on-one situations. 

Pass-Rushing Grade: Michael Barrett, Michigan (92.1)

Barrett flourished when he was allowed to press the A-gap and convert his speed to power against backs. His 24.2% pass-rush win rate was the highest among linebacker prospects in this year’s class. 

Run-Defense Grade: Edgerrin Cooper, Texas A&M (87.6)

Of all the linebacker prospects in this year’s class, just five totaled a sub-10% negatively graded play rate on run snaps. Cooper was the only one to exceed a 20% positively graded play rate.

Overall Grade vs. RPOs: Junior Colson, Michigan (80.8)

The former Wolverine is a sound, disciplined defender who combines his pre-snap communication and play recognition skills to always stay around the play, a particularly beneficial trait against RPO concepts. Colson earned a fantastic 81.2 coverage grade and 75.5 run-defense grade on RPO plays. He was the only prospect at the position to exceed a 75.0 grade in both.

Overall Grade in the red zone: Darius Muasau, UCLA (82.6)

The redshirt senior used his quickness to jump gaps in the run game, earning an 81.2 run-defense grade in the red zone. He also tallied five red-zone pressures, pushing his pass-rush grade to 80.2 in that area.

Overall Grade on early downs: Payton Wilson, NC State (86.7)

The Butkus Award winner showcased the ability to make an impact in coverage (88.6 grade), as a pass-rusher (75.7) and against the run (80.8) on early downs.

Wilson’s coverage grade on first and second down paced the class, having piled up 12 coverage stops and a trio of interceptions, amounting to an impressive 37.2 passer rating allowed on throws into his coverage on those key downs. 

Overall grade on late downs: Edgerrin Cooper, Texas A&M (87.5)

On late downs, Cooper earned a 78.0-plus grade in all three major defensive grading facets: coverage (78.9), run defense (79.5) and pass-rushing (81.3). The former Aggie totaled 17 stops on third and fourth down, including four sacks and four tackles for loss or no gain on runs.

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