With the NFL Draft process well underway, there is a much clearer picture of the 2023 class than there was even a month ago. With exhibition games and the Combine now in the past, it is easier to build a full profile of this year’s prospects. This linebacker class might be one of the least deep of this draft in terms of top tier talent, but it is not without some players who can contribute early in their careers.
1) Jack Campbell, Iowa
Jack Campbell wins with athleticism, size and instincts. Jack Campbell is one of the easier evaluations in this class. He has prototypical size for an NFL linebacker and athleticism to play in today’s speed-oriented league. He is a physical player, unafraid of scrap in traffic, sifting through blockers to find a ball carrier. He moves well in space and can hold up as a coverage player.
Jack Campbell can take a leap by playing with a bit more decisiveness and aggression. There is a disconnect between Campbell’s tape and the athleticism he showed at the combine. Whenever that happens, that means there is either a schematic factor mitigating a player’s aggression, or they are just not playing fast enough. Giving Campbell some credit, it could be Iowa wanting less mistakes from their linebackers in exchange for less big plays from them. Campbell was asked to “catch” ball carriers more often than he was told to attack. In a defense that maximizes his rare athleticism for the position, Jack Campbell could be a special player.
Pro Comparison: Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas Cowboys
2) Trenton Simpson, Clemson
Trenton Simpson wins with speed and aggression. Lots of it. Trenton Simpson is a blast to watch on the field. He flies around with 4.4 speed in pads, unafraid of contact and always looking for a big pay. His speed translates constantly into big plays as a run defender, as a blitzer and in coverage.
Trenton Simpson can take a leap by getting into a scheme that maximizes his speed and keeps him clean. Simpson is lighter as a sub 240 pounder and struggles with bigger, more physical linemen. Obviously strength can be gained, but Simpson will do his best work in the NFL as a weakside linebacker who can run and chase and blitz from all over the place.
Pro Comparison: Mychal Kendricks, Philadelphia Eagles
3) Daiyan Henley, Washington State
Daiyan Henley wins with great playing speed, surprising physicality and a lot of pop. Henley dominated at Wassu despite playing smaller than a lot of linebackers with similar responsibilities. He is a fearless defender who can knife through traffic to make stops and he packs a lot of punch for a smaller player.
Daiyan Henley can take a leap by overcoming outlying size factors. Henley is built more like a safety than a linebacker, regardless of his play. He might struggle with NFL size. Hardly a knock, but Daiyan Henley might thrive best as a Big Nickel defender in the NFL that gives teams a run defending advantage in sub packages.
Pro Comparison: Matt Milano, Buffalo Bills
4) Drew Sanders, Arkansas
Drew Sanders wins with raw size and athleticism. Drew Sanders is the biggest boom/bust player in this linebacker. Sanders only started one full season at Arkansas but showed a ton of potential as a versatile defensive weapon that lined up all over the place. Sanders flashed as an inside linebacker and a stand up rusher on the edge. Teams will fall in love with his upside.
Drew Sanders can take a leap by getting more comfortable playing one role. Sanders is a jack of all trades, ace of none right now and a more defined role will help him adjust to the NFL. Sanders is raw from an instincts standpoint and will need to land with a patient coaching staff.
Pro Comparison: Tremaine Edmunds, Chicago Bears
5) Noah Sewell, Oregon
Noah Sewell wins with good instincts, strong tackling and great physicality. Noah Sewell followed his older brother Penei to Oregon and was able to make a name for himself after Penei left for the NFL. Sewell is well built at 6’1” and 245 pounds with long arms, bringing an old school physicality to the position. Sewell is unafraid of contact and playing through traffic and was a great tackler in 2022. Sewell is a very solid athlete who can hold his own in coverage and attack the line of scrimmage as a blitzer.
Noah Sewell can take a leap by landing in a defense that is happy with an all-around solid player who doesn’t have any outstanding traits. Sewell is as solid as they come, but he lacks the elite athleticism that some teams want to build around at linebacker.
Pro Comparison: James Laurinaitis, Los Angeles Rams
6) Dorian Williams, Tulane
7) Mike Jones Jr, LSU
8) Ivan Pace Jr, Cincinnati
9) Henry To’oTo’o, Alabama
10) Dee Winters, TCU
11) Owen Pappoe, Auburn