• Another top Clemson draft prospect: Barrett Carter, a former five-star recruit, stands out as a pass rusher, run defender and coverage defender.
• Jeremiah Trotter Jr. is taking after his father: Senior was an All-Pro linebacker, and Junior earned an 89.2 coverage grade in 2022.
• Omar Speights starts fresh at LSU: After four years at Oregon State, Speights brings plenty of experience and speed to the Tigers' defense.
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
We only have a few positions left to rank in our summer scouting series for the 2024 NFL Draft, and today we’re talking off-ball linebackers. With the evolution of the position being so diverse over the past half-decade, off-ball linebackers come in many different shapes and sizes.
Here are our pre-season top eight 2024 NFL Draft prospects at the position.
More Early 2024 Draft Rankings
1. BARRETT CARTER, CLEMSON
Carter is the next super athlete linebacker to come from Clemson, but unlike some before him, he's a linebacker first and an athlete second. He’s a former five-star recruit, and the athletic pillars of that rating show up immediately. His potential as a run defender, pass rusher and coverage player is high, as he did not record a grade below 75.0 in any of those three categories.
Carter forced five incompletions in coverage and notched 24 total pressures in 2022 (10.3% pass-rush win percentage). When he's been able to anticipate, his impact is high with forced incompletions and key stops. He has first-round ability.
2. JEREMIAH TROTTER JR., CLEMSON
Trotter, the son of former Eagles All-Pro linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Sr., is a smart player whose football bloodlines show up quickly on his tape. He is patient and comfortable keeping his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage in run defense, and he rarely misses tackles because of it.
He also has a good feel for coverage, spacing and reading a quarterback's eyes, earning an 89.2 coverage grade in 2022. His anticipation for where the ball is going and how to position himself correctly creates a very high floor for him as a future pro. His main detractors come from his smaller size at just 6-foot and 230 pounds. But as for the things he can control, he’s excellent already.
3. JUNIOR COLSON, MICHIGAN
Colson was born in Haiti, and after his father passed away when he was seven years old, he was adopted and moved to Tennessee at age 9. He tells the story that a Michigan hat was the first thing he saw when he came to the United States, and now he’s a starting linebacker for the Wolverines.
The junior linebacker has a ton of potential. 2022 was his first year as a full-time starter, and while he showed some inexperience, he more importantly displayed really nice coverage instincts. He didn’t get his hands on any interceptions but forced three completions and caused many more no-throws his way due to good positioning. He also has one of the lowest missed tackles percentages in the class (6%), whiffing just seven times all season.
He is one of the few with a shot to be the best linebacker in the class, given his athletic ceiling and coverage ability.
4. TOMMY EICHENBERG, OHIO STATE
Eichenberg is a solid linebacker prospect who understands the position well. In 2022, he earned an 89.3 run-defense grade and a 77.2 coverage grade. The biggest reason for those high marks is that Eichenberg has some of the best recognition and anticipation in the class. There are times when he’ll run to where the ball carrier is going before his blockers do.
Athleticism will be his biggest question mark, but it shouldn't stop him from starting in the NFL. What we’re looking for from Eichenberg in 2023 is to turn that anticipation into takeaways, as he finished 2022 with only one forced fumble and one interception.
5. TY’RON HOPPER, MISSOURI
After spending three years at Florida, Hopper transferred to Missouri, where he became a starting linebacker from the jump. He is a sparkplug in the middle of the Tigers' defense, bringing high speed and high effort on every play. He is an excellent blitzer, and you can see that in his 28 total pressures in 2022 (15.4% pass-rush win percentage).
The way Hopper goes about attacking the pocket also comes with some artistry, as he has a knack for slipping blocks off players much bigger than him. The strength profile of his game is lacking when he attacks the line of scrimmage and when tackling (16 missed tackles in 2022). But if you want to bet on athleticism at the position, he's a fun one.
6. CEDRIC GRAY, NORTH CAROLINA
At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Gray is a good athlete for the position. His burst and build (long arms) give him some higher potential than other off-ball linebackers, especially when attacking the pocket or trying to beat ball carriers to the sideline.
His recognition and anticipation for takeaways and coverage need work, but he still recorded two interceptions and four forced incompletions in 2022. He did miss 17 tackles in 2022, but playing 985 snaps meant that rate was just 10%, one of the lower numbers in the class.
7. JAMON DUMAS-JOHNSON, GEORGIA
Jamon Dumas-Johnson looks like a throwback type of linebacker on tape. He measures in at 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, so you’re not worried at all about him holding up against offensive linemen climbing to the second level.
He’s a bit limited athletically, with his lack of both twitch and experience as just a sophomore in 2022 not allowing him to make as many plays in coverage as he could (just a 58.1 coverage grade). But he’s already a visible pre-snap communicator, and with more anticipation he should be able to make even more plays on the ball.
8. OMAR SPEIGHTS, LSU
Speights spent his first four seasons at Oregon State before transferring to LSU this past offseason. He started 39 games during his time in Corvallis, meaning he’ll be one of the most experienced players in the entire draft.
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, Speights brings a lot of speed and quickness to the second level of the defense. Speed and change of direction are his calling cards; he can go sideline to sideline and drop into coverage with ease. With that standout finesse, he does lose some of the matchups that demand more power. He really just needs to get stronger to keep those missed tackles down. His speed will take care of the rest.