NFL Draft News & Analysis

2023 NFL Draft: Ranking the top 10 linebacker prospects

Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA; Clemson Tigers linebacker Trenton Simpson (22) smiles after a sack against the Boston College Eagles during the second half at Alumni Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

• Clemson's Trenton Simpson takes top spot: The linebacker position has evolved into a coverage-first position — a role Simpson can thrive in.

• Iowa's Jack Campbell as the highest floor: Even though he isn't blessed with otherworldly athleticism, Campbell excels in the other areas that will enable him to be an effective NFL linebacker.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

This is no linebacker class. After initial evaluations, there’s a good chance that there’s only one off the board (or possibly none) by the end of the first round. And you don’t even have to get 10 linebackers deep before the Day 2 grades are exhausted. There’s still talent, but many are still projects.

  1. Payton Wilson, N.C. State (RS Senior | 6-4, 229 pounds)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 69.5
  • Play Style: Tone Setter
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 3

Wilson has the most health “what-ifs” of any linebacker in this class. He tore his right ACL twice before even taking a snap at North Carolina State, dislocated both shoulders against Georgia Tech in the regular season finale of 2020 and then re-injured his left shoulder two games into 2021, forcing him to miss the rest of the season. Back healthy in 2022, Wilson showed he can still be a difference maker when given the opportunity. He racked up 29 pressures as a blitzer and missed only six tackles on 72 attempts. He has tremendous range for a 6-foot-4, 230-pounder, making him the kind of athletic ability that would have been graded much higher if he had a clean bill of health.

 


  1. Cam Jones, Indiana (RS Senior | 6-3, 227)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 77.6
  • Play Style: Violent Downhill Linebacker
  • Initial Round Projection: Late Day 2

Jones was in the midst of a massive breakout season five games into 2022 when a foot injury struck him down for the season. Over that span, he had already racked up 24 defensive stops and eight pressures from 28 pass-rushing snaps. He plays so much bigger than his listed 227 pounds that it’s almost hard to believe. Thankfully, we’ll get to see Jones pick up where he left off at the Senior Bowl at the end of January.

 


  1. Dorian Williams, Tulane (Senior | 6-2, 230)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 82.2
  • Play Style: All-Around LB
  • Initial Round Projection: Late Day 2

Williams has the kind of athleticism you’d expect from a 230-pound linebacker combined with the physicality you’d expect from a heavier one. He wants to take on blocks head-on even if that’s not always the smartest at his size. 

Williams adds the most value in coverage, where he’s earned a 92.4 career grade. In three seasons as a starter, Williams has allowed only 503 yards in coverage. That’s the kind of guy I’d take a chance on in the mid-rounds.


  1. Nick Herbig, Wisconsin (Junior | 6-2, 227)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 87.4
  • Play Style: Tweener
  • Initial Round Projection: Late Day 2

Herbig’s projection is a little bit different from everyone else on this list, as he’s the only one who’s never played a true off-ball role. He’s been a 3-4 outside linebacker in Jim Leonhard’s scheme with only 248 snaps in coverage over the past two seasons as a starter. Herbig is on this list, though, because at 6-foot-2, 228 pounds, very few are going to ask him to rush the passer at the next level.

On tape, he’s shown a skillset that looks more than capable of moving off the ball. His bend and hand usage are tremendous when taking on blocks. Those traits will enable him to still be a problem in that regard when he moves off the ball. Herbig earned 91.1 and 91.4 pass-rushing grades the past two seasons as one of the most refined pass-rushers in the country. He could easily follow Joe Schobert in terms of transitioning from on to off-ball.

 


  1. Noah Sewell, Oregon (Junior | 6-2, 253)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 71.4
  • Play Style: Thumper
  • Initial Round Projection: Late Day 2

Sewell is the definition of a downhill linebacker. At over 250 pounds, he is the last person any running back wants to see in the hole. The younger brother of Detroit Lions right tackle Penei Sewell, Noah exudes the same raw physicality as his older brother, which is shown in his 86.5 pass-rushing grade over the past two seasons. 

Whatever role Sewell plays to at the next level has to take advantage of that downhill ability as much as possible because he is decidedly not a space player. He has the speed to chase ball carriers to the flat, but he is not the guy you want mirroring them in space. 


  1. DeMarvion Overshown, Texas (RS Senior | 6-4, 220)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 71.5
  • Play Style: Pterodactyl
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

Overshown has the length profile every team is looking for, as he’s a super high-cut 6-foot-4 linebacker who has the wingspan to shut down throwing lanes over the middle of the field. And as a former safety who has smooth hips and range, Overshown has allowed just 214 yards on 332 coverage snaps last season.

Even after three years of starting at linebacker, though, Overshown still looks too often like that former safety. He has a tendency to get out of control, causing his balance to suffer — although that improved considerably this past fall. That’s borne out as a tackler over the course of his career with a 19.2% missed tackle rate. If a team is looking for a moldable ball of clay with all the tools to succeed in the class, Overshown is a great option.

 


  1. Daiyan Henley, Washington State (Sixth-Year Senior | 6-2, 232)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 73.3
  • Play Style: Twitchy Will (weak-side linebacker)
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

Henley is a former quarterback who started at wide receiver for Nevada before switching to linebacker in 2020. The strides he’s made since then have been outstanding and should get teams excited about where his ceiling can go. His receiver athleticism shows in how easily he mirrors ball carriers or tight ends in space, which is why he’s such a quality tackler despite trending toward the smaller side for the position. He missed only five of his 97 tackle attempts on the season.

Henley’s biggest weaknesses come in the run game, which is to be expected. He’s not going to be the take-on guy in your defense, as he can get locked on blocks at the second level. Still, there’s far more to get excited about, as most of his weaknesses are fixable with time.

 


  1. Jack Campbell, Iowa (Senior | 6-5, 246)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 91.5
  • Play Style: True Mike (middle linebacker)
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

Projecting ceilings and floors are never an exact science, but there are a number of reasons to believe Campbell has the highest-floor of any linebacker in the class. He has prototype size for the position at 6-foot-5, 246 pounds in addition to extensive experience taking on blocks. On tape in 2022, Campbell was the most assignment-sure middle linebacker in the class, earning an 85.6 grade against the run and 92.9 in coverage.

The only real knock on Campbell is the lack of high-end physical tools. He’s more than an adequate athlete to start at the next level, and he doesn’t possess the kind of range or pop on contact that the elite at the position does.


  1. Drew Sanders, Arkansas (RS Sophomore | 6-5, 233)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 77.9
  • Play Style: Off-Ball/On-Ball Hybrid
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 2

Sanders is a former edge rusher who blossomed as an off-ball linebacker in his first year with Arkansas after transferring from Alabama. So many schemes around the league are looking for off-ball linebackers that are mismatch nightmares as blitzers and can run like gazelles — Sanders ticks those boxes. He racked up a ridiculous 11 sacks this season as a blitzer. 

Now, there were some growing pains to the position switch that kept him from being a sure-fire first-rounder. He overran ball carriers a lot and whiffed on way more tackles than you’d like (19.6% missed tackle rate on the season). Although to his credit, he was much better down the stretch with only four missed tackles in his final five games. 


  1. Trenton Simpson, Clemson (Junior | 6-3, 240)

  • 2022 PFF Grade: 68.3
  • Play Style: Uber-Athlete
  • Initial Round Projection: 1-2

Simpson is the single best athlete at the linebacker position in the draft class. Even his frame is impressive, as it’s almost difficult to believe he’s 240 pounds given how little fat he carries. In his first season as a starter, Simpson was primarily the overhang/slot player in Clemson’s defense before switching to a between-the-tackles role this past season. 

Over the past two seasons, Simpson has allowed only 353 yards on 66 targets (5.3 yards per target). His coverage versatility is the sole reason he’s LB1 on this list. That’s because the rest is a bit of a work in progress, which is to be expected with only one season as a true linebacker. But in today’s NFL, linebacker is a coverage-first position, and Simpson could be special in that regard.

Safety worth way more than 2 points. Help protext your family with fast, affordable life insurance. You could be covered in 10 minutes! Get a Free Quote.
Sponsor

NFL Draft Featured Tools

  • Live picks, grades and reaction to the 2023 NFL Draft.

  • 250+ three-page scouting profiles - advanced stats, 3-year grades, player comps, combine data and Senior Bowl grades - for the 2022 draft class.

    Available with

  • PFF's Big Board for the 2023 NFL Draft offers three-year player grades, combine measurables, position rankings, and in-depth player analysis for all of the top draft prospects.

    Available with

  • Our exclusive database, featuring the most in-depth collection of NCAA player performance data.

    Available with

Subscriptions

Unlock all tools and content including Player Grades, Fantasy, NFL Draft, Premium Stats, Greenline and DFS.

$9.99 / mo
$79.99 / yr