National Football League
2024 NFL Draft LB rankings: Analyzing an unpredictable top 10
National Football League

2024 NFL Draft LB rankings: Analyzing an unpredictable top 10

Published Apr. 4, 2024 11:39 a.m. ET

Since the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars joined the NFL in 1993 and the league expanded to its current 32 teams, at least one traditional off-ball linebacker has been selected in the first round of every NFL draft but one — way back in 2011.

Fast-forward 13 years and we may be on the verge of another first-round linebacker goose egg. The 2024 NFL Draft class is ripe with potential but offers few "sure things" at the position, and given the exceptional talent at quarterback, wide receiver and offensive tackle, one can hardly blame NFL teams for waiting until Day Two to nab their favorite linebacker, especially given how the modern game has shifted to a more pass-oriented attack.

There are future starters available — a few, in fact — who warrant consideration in the opening frame. But the "sweet spot" for off-ball linebackers this year appears to be the middle rounds.

Keep in mind that this list does not account for edge-rushing linebackers like Alabama's Dallas Turner or Colorado State's Mohamed Kamara


2024 NFL Draft prospect rankings | Top 10 QB prospects | Top 10 RB prospects | Top 10 WR prospects | Top 10 TE prospects | Top 10 OT prospects | Top 10 IOL prospects | Top 10 Edge prospects | Top 10 DT prospects | Joel Klatt's mock draft

1. Edgerrin Cooper, Texas A&M — 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Redshirt Junior

Overview: Cooper signed with Texas A&M as a consensus four-star recruit out of the talent-rich state of Louisiana in 2020. He only cracked the starting lineup once in 2021 but saw the field a lot, finishing fourth on the team with 58 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss and earning the Aggies' Most Improved Defender award. Cooper appeared in 11 of A&M's 12 games in 2022, starting eight times and registering a solid 61 tackles, including eight for loss. After flashing the previous two seasons, Cooper exploded in 2023, earning All-American honors with a team-best 84 tackles and leading the SEC with 17 tackles for loss, including eight sacks.


  • Speed shown at the Combine (4.51) is just as obvious on tape with Cooper beating running backs down the sideline and carrying pass-catchers deep downfield in coverage.
  • Shows excellent awareness and closing speed while spying QBs.
  • Cat-quick and pliable, eluding would-be blockers to wreak havoc at and behind the line of scrimmage.
  • Turns speed into power, generating impressive collisions that routinely knock ballcarriers backward.
  • Starred in high-profile matchups against Alabama and LSU.
  • Good awareness in coverage with eight passes broken up, including two interceptions.
  • Disproportionately long arms (34") which help cloud passing lanes and allow him to lasso ballcarriers.


  • Undersized for the position with relatively narrow shoulders and hips as well as slim limbs, raising concerns about his ability to gain and maintain muscle.
  • Highly aggressive and will attack the line of scrimmage only to watch patient ballcarriers slip by him.
  • More powerful than he looks (in part due to his flexibility and arm length) but still struggles to anchor and rip himself free when blockers latch on.
  • Only one season as a fulltime starter.

Summary: As the NFL increasingly shifts to an up-tempo passing league played in space, linebackers are asked to fill different roles. Speed is more important than ever and Cooper certainly has that. Cooper's highly aggressive playing style will lead to some frustrating missed tackles but the impact plays will more than make up for them, warranting an early pick and perhaps future Pro Bowl votes.

Grade: First round

2. Junior Colson, Michigan — 6-2, 238, Junior

Overview: It is a long way to Ann Arbor from Haiti (where Colson was born) or even Brentwood, Ten. (where Colson played his prep ball) but that just goes to show the far-reaching recruiting of then-Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines. Once on the roster, however, it took Colson less than half a season to prove himself a standout, even among all the future pros on the roster, starting seven of 14 games as a true freshman (61) and leading Michigan in tackles each of the past two seasons, including their national title run in 2023. Colson left the Wolverines with 256 total stops, including 8.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, but these numbers don't fully illustrate his value, as he was named the team's Co-Defensive MVP this past season and earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors after each of his two full starting seasons.


  • Prototypical size for the position with a rock-solid frame and long arms (32 ½") that leave room for additional muscle mass.
  • Heavy-handed and stout at the point of attack, standing up blockers and discarding them in the hole to make tackles without sacrificing yardage.
  • Quicker than he looks, showing good lateral agility to "play the keys" and string backs out wide, meeting them on the perimeter.
  • Capable in coverage, showing awareness, agility and acceleration to carry backs and tight ends downfield.
  • A classic ‘thumper as a tackler, overpowering ballcarriers by driving his legs through contact and showing good hand-eye coordination to swipe their feet in pursuit, if necessary.


  • Played with a stout defensive line in front of him that often cleaned up blockers, allowing him room to feast.
  • Perhaps related to the talent in front of him, Colson was a touch slow to trigger downhill, instead reading and reacting to make the safe play rather than attack gaps.
  • A heavy hitter but never forced a fumble at Michigan.
  • Opted not to compete at the Combine nor the Michigan Pro Day, raising concerns for some.

Summary: Colson doesn't own the same flashy statistics as most of the others on this list, but he is the tone-setter of the 2024 linebacker class, boasting the bulk and knockdown power of an old-school Mike linebacker. He's a good player now whose concerns are coachable, suggesting that his best football still lies ahead of him.

Grade: Top 50

Star Michigan linebacker, Junior Colson, has an incredible journey from his home in Haiti to Ann Arbor

3. Payton Wilson, North Carolina State — 6-4, 233, Redshirt Senior

Overview: Wilson was the most impactful player at the position in 2023. After recording 138 tackles, including a conference-leading 17 tackles for loss, six sacks and three interceptions, Wilson became the first player in NC State history to win the prestigious Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker. He also took home the Bednarik Award as the nation's best defender, both of which came after he was named the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year. 

Wilson has long been a standout at NC State — at least when healthy. He led the Wolfpack in tackles back in 2019 despite starting just one game and had three seasons of at least 11.5 tackles for loss. His career totals (402 tackles, 48 tackles for loss, 15 sacks and seven interceptions) are the kind of stats that make scouts drool and could justifiably make him the first linebacker off the board.


  • Terrific all-around athlete who put up very impressive Combine numbers — including running a position-best 4.43 time in the 40-yard dash. He was a multi-sport standout as a prep, starring in lacrosse and winning a state championship as a wrestler.
  • Highly instinctive defender with a knack for being in the right place at the right time, including in coverage.
  • Physical, aggressive and looks to intimidate opponents.
  • Good core flexibility and spatial awareness to duck and slip by would-be blockers when rushing.
  • Accelerates to and through ballcarriers, arriving with a thud.


  • Comes with all sorts of medical red flags, missing all of 2018 (knee) and all but two games of the 2020 season (both shoulders) due to serious injuries that required surgery.
  • At his best in space with his lanky frame catching a lot of blocks in tight quarters and struggling to break free of them quickly due to below-average arm length (30.5") and small hands (9").
  • A relatively old prospect who will turn 24 on draft day.

Summary: Wilson may be the premier boom-or-bust prospect of this draft, regardless of position. The durability red flags couldn't be any brighter, but when's been on the field, he's been an undeniable difference-maker. If teams are satisfied with his medical grade, Wilson won't get out of the top 50 picks.

Grade: Second round

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4. Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Clemson — 6-0, 228, Junior

Overview: Few programs can recruit like the Clemson Tigers, and they pulled off a coup by signing Trotter, a consensus five-star recruit out of Pennsylvania. He only hinted at his future playmaking ability as a true freshman, recording 15 tackles (including a sack) in 2021 before exploding for a team-high 92 stops in Year Two, with 13.5 tackles for loss and tying for the team lead with 6.5 sacks, earning First Team All-ACC honors. Trotter would ascend to All-American honors a year later — his final campaign at the college level — in 2023, putting up nearly identical numbers. He started all 26 games the past two seasons for Clemson, leaving school with 202 tackles, 29.5 for loss, 13 sacks, 13 pass breakups and seven turnovers forced (four INTs, three forced fumbles), returning two of the picks for scores.


  • The most instinctive linebacker in this class, sniffing out misdirection and screens like a bloodhound.
  • Quality pass-defender, showing impressive spatial awareness in coverage, as well as vision and closing speed as a rusher.
  • Compact, well-built frame that helps him win the leverage battle and create explosive collisions.
  • Emotional, enthusiastic player who plays with passion, riling up teammates.
  • NFL bloodlines, with his father of the same name earning four Pro Bowl nods over 12 seasons in Philadelphia, Washington and Tampa Bay.


  • Stubby frame that can leave him mauled in the running game and too easily targeted in coverage.
  • Reliant on his ability to beat blockers to the action, struggling to break free if they latch on.
  • Too willing to leave his feet as a tackler, leading to some eye-popping collisions but some whiffs as well.

Summary: Trotter plays with his father's instincts and physicality but he's approximately 30 pounds lighter, leading some to question how effective he'll be among the behemoths of the NFL. If protected up front and allowed to roam (as he was at Clemson), he has the look of a longtime starter whose ability to remain on the field on passing downs could make Junior just as valuable in his era as his father was against the more run-heavy schemes of 20 years ago.

Grade: Second-to-third round

NFL Mock Draft 2.0: QB predictions ft. Michael Penix Jr, Drake Maye & J.J. McCarthy

5. Cedric Gray, North Carolina — 6-2, 234, Senior

Overview: A two-way player who starred at linebacker and pass-catcher out of Raleigh, Gray enrolled early at North Carolina and ascended to the starting lineup during his second year on campus. Once on the field for the Tar Heels he seemingly never left it, earning All-ACC accolades in each of the past three seasons, including First-Team honors in 2022 and 2023. The most productive linebacker on this list over that time, Gray recorded 365 tackles, including 29 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and an astounding 15 turnovers (5 interceptions, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries).


  • Ultra-productive three-year starter against quality competition.
  • Accelerates nicely when he has a runway, surprising opponents with his closing speed.
  • Good agility and length (32 ½" arms) for coverage duties and as an open-field tackler, showing the hand-eye coordination to lasso ballcarriers and poke the ball free (five forced fumbles) and disrupt passing lanes (13 PBUs).
  • Excellent intangibles, including durability and leadership skills, being named a captain twice at UNC and three times in high school.


  • More of a grabber than a hitter, too often leaving his feet and lunging at ballcarriers with flailing arm tackle attempts.
  • A bit light in his lower body, struggling to stack and shed blockers efficiently.
  • Lacks ideal spatial awareness, getting caught up in the trash and failing to see cuts and crackbacks coming.
  • Didn't run as fast as expected (4.64) during workouts

Summary: Gray's production and intangibles are certainly appealing, but he plays with more of a finesse style than some might prefer. Optimists will point out that he's already a proven playmaker who, with a little fine-tuning, could develop into an NFL standout.

Grade: Second-to-third round

6. Tommy Eichenberg, Ohio State — 6-2, 233, Redshirt Senior

Overview: A star at Cleveland powerhouse prep program St. Ignatius, Eichenberg signed with the Buckeyes amid great fanfare as a four-star recruit. He emerged as a starter in his second season on campus and earned the first of two consecutive First Team All-Big Ten honors in 2022, recording career-highs in tackles (120), tackles for loss (12.5), sacks (2.5) and returning an interception for a touchdown against Iowa. Eichenberg's play in 2022 was all the more impressive given that he played the end of the season with two broken hands. Unfortunately, the injury bug continued in 2023 with Eichenberg missing three more games due to a dislocated elbow. Still, he finished three behind the team lead in stops (80), earning the Big Ten's Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year award.


  • Reads play designs like a coach on the field, sniffing out misdirection quickly and rarely taking a false step.
  • Quick to step up to oncoming blockers, meeting and greeting them with physicality and showing proper hand placement and use of leverage to slip blocks efficiently and make tackles in the hole.
  • Arguably this draft's cleanest-tackling linebacker, barreling through ballcarriers with real collision power while also wrapping securely.
  • Showed great toughness in battling through injuries each of the past two seasons, playing through broken hands in two games (2022) and a dislocated elbow in the rivalry game vs. Michigan (2023).
  • NFL bloodlines, with older brother Liam a starting offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins.


  • Very average athleticism from an NFL perspective, opting not to run the 40-yard dash at the combine or his March 20 Pro Day and recording a 32.5" vertical jump and 9'8" broad jump in Indianapolis that ranked among the worst of the linebackers testing there.
  • Quick to close in zone coverage but lacks agility and acceleration to handle man-to-man duties.
  • Disproportionately short arms (31 5/8") which show up on tape with the vast majority of Eichenberg's missed tackles swipes at the legs of ballcarriers just out of his grasp.
  • Has struggled with durability the past two seasons, missing five combined games.

Summary: A better football player than he is an athlete, Eichenberg won't wow anyone with his Combine tests, but he is tough, smart and physical. In a class lacking relative sure things at linebacker, he is the kind of low-floor linebacker who could wind up "surprising" as a rookie contributor, even if he isn't selected until the middle rounds.

Grade: Third-to-fourth round

7. Edefuan Ulofoshio, Washington — 6-1, 236, Redshirt Senior

Overview: A native of Anchorage, Alaska who walked on at Washington, Ulofoshio epitomized a Husky program that surprised many with its run to the national title game in 2023, enjoying his finest season at the college level. Ulofoshio earned a starting role for the Huskies back in 2019 but didn't emerge as a stats-monster until his super-senior campaign, setting career-highs in tackles (94) and tackles for loss (eight), while tying his previous best with three sacks, earning First Team All-PAC-12 honors and being named one of five finalists for the Butkus Award.


  • Well-built inside linebacker with a power-packed frame and long arms.
  • Terrific athlete for the position with excellent speed, lateral agility and explosiveness, as shown in testing, including a 4.59 second time in the 40-yard dash and leading all LBs in the vertical (39.5") and broad jump (10'8") at the Combine.
  • Athleticism and awareness of passing lanes show in his coverage ability.
  • Showed resiliency in battling through significant injuries to become a team captain and Butkus Award finalist in 2023.
  • Generally a steady tackler who shows physicality while facing up ballcarriers, as well as good length and strength for pulldown tackles in pursuit.
  • Quality special-teamer, excelling on kick- and punt-return units.


  • More athletic than instinctive, showing just average key and diagnosis skills
  • Missed significant time in 2021 (torn bicep) and 2022 (torn ACL), each of which required surgery and extensive medical evaluation from each NFL team.
  • Prematurely leaves his feet, at times, lunging at ballcarriers with arm tackles rather than driving through them and wrapping securely.

Summary: Ulofoshio's ultimate NFL grade will depend largely on his medical evaluation. When healthy, he's among the more gifted linebackers in this class whose flaws should be ironed out with more playing time.

Grade: Fourth round

8. Curtis Jacobs, Penn State — 6-1, 241, Redshirt Junior

Overview: Jacobs signed with Penn State as a four-star recruit and one of the top prospects overall from the state of Maryland in 2020, excelling at both linebacker and tight end. He earned playing time as a true freshman and emerged as a full-time starter a year later, racking up 61 tackles, including seven for loss and three sacks in 2021, earning Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors. Jacobs would post similar numbers (and earn the same post-season honors) each of the next seasons for the Nittany Lions, entering the NFL with 171 career stops, including 24 for loss, nine quarterback sacks and two interceptions, the first of which he returned 47 yards for a touchdown against eventual conference champion Michigan in 2022.


  • Well-built linebacker with a stout base.
  • Good initial quickness downhill and to the flanks to meet backs on the edge and carry receivers downfield.
  • Quality athlete with good speed (4.58) and overall explosiveness for the position (35" vertical jump, 18 repetitions on the bench press).
  • Battle-tested three-year starter with good durability (missing just one game due to injury over his career).
  • Hustles to the ball in pursuit and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time (four fumble recoveries).


  • Runs hot and cold in defeating blocks, reacting rather than dictating the action and too often failing to slip them until after the ballcarrier has passed them.
  • Similarly inconsistent as an open-field tackler with ballcarriers able to wiggle through his arm tackles, perhaps due to short arms (31.5") and belying his weight-room strength.
  • Limited experience on special teams, spending most of his time on punt coverage and field-goal-blocking units.

Summary: Penn State was once affectionally known as Linebacker U, but if that is the case now, Jacobs is more of an undergraduate, offering a feast-or-famine style of play that can be a bit maddening. He possesses the agility and high-running motor to handle coverage duties but must tighten up his run defense to earn consistent playing time in the NFL.

Grade: Fourth round

9. Trevin Wallace, Kentucky, 6-1, 237, Junior

Overview: A Georgia native who signed with Kentucky as a celebrated four-star recruit, Wallace quickly earned playing time as a true freshman in 2021, emerging as a full-time starter midway through his second season on campus. Reports of his rare athleticism lured scouts to Lexington in 2023, when the third-year junior enjoyed his finest season to date, recording 80 tackles, including 8.5 for loss, 5.5 sacks and the third interception of his career before giving up his remaining eligibility to jump into the 2024 NFL draft.


  • Looks the part of an NFL linebacker, with a well-developed frame that powers his explosiveness.
  • An exceptional athlete whose 40-yard-dash time (4.52), vertical jump (37.5") and broad jump (10'7) were all among the top three linebackers tested at the combine.
  • · Free-flowing speed to beat backs to the perimeter and shows good balance and change of direction for coverage duties, as well as strong hands to pluck outside of his frame.
  • Powerful tackler who closes quickly when he has a lane.
  • Legitimate playmaking chops, with five turnovers forced (three interceptions, two forced fumbles) in just 19 career starts.


  • Below-average key and diagnostic skills, too often being fooled by misdirection.
  • Highly inconsistent angles to the football, alternating between too aggressive and winding loops to avoid blockers.
  • Doesn't always see the forest through the trees, losing track of ballcarriers while battling with blockers.

Summary: Wallace was awfully productive at Kentucky and enjoyed one of the better Combine workouts among linebackers, but the flaws in his film are frightening. He has the size and athletic traits scouts are looking for but Wallace currently lacks the diagnostic skills expected of an NFL starter.

Grade: Fourth-to-fifth round

10. Nathaniel Watson, Mississippi State — 6-2, 233, Redshirt Senior

Overview: Perhaps more than at any other position, statistics matter at linebacker, where the proof is in the pudding. No one on this list — or in SEC history – was more productive than Watson in 2023, when he became the first player to ever lead the mighty conference in both tackles (137) and sacks (10), earning him nearly consensus All-American honors. The back of Watson's football card reads like something out of a Hall of Fame biography. He started 39 of 57 total games for the Bulldogs, registering 377 total tackles, including 35 tackles for loss, 21 sacks and five forced fumbles.


  • Battle-tested brawler with broad shoulders, long arms and a well-developed musculature.
  • Quick to attack blockers, showing the strength and length to create a wall that forces runners to go elsewhere.
  • Quick to trigger upfield as a pass rusher, showing vision and good closing speed.
  • Heavy hitter who leaves opponents bruised.
  • NFL bloodlines with his uncle, Harold Morrow, spending a decade in the league at fullback with the Vikings, Ravens and Cardinals (1996-2005).


  • Just average range for a modern-day linebacker, being beaten to the sideline by speedier backs.
  • Some core stiffness and a lack of awareness in coverage, struggling to re-direct quickly enough to handle man duties.
  • Isn't the reliable wrap-up tackler his statistics suggest, too often relying on powerful hits to knock down ballcarriers, attacking high and failing to wrap consistently.

Summary: Watson is a fun prospect to evaluate because his strengths and weaknesses are very clear. Teams asking their linebackers to stack blockers at the point of attack and rush quarterbacks will appreciate his size and physicality. However, Watson lacks the agility and awareness for coverage duties, projecting as a two-down run-stuffer who isn't likely to come off the board until well into Day Three, despite his eye-popping production.

Grade: Fourth-to-fifth round

Rob Rang is an NFL Draft analyst for FOX Sports. He has been covering the NFL Draft for more than 20 years, with work at FOX, Sports Illustrated,, USA Today, Yahoo, and, among others. He also works as a scout with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. Follow him on Twitter @RobRang.


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