Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles Draft watch: Ranking the top 5 linebackers in the 2021 class

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We’re in February, which means Draft season is in full flow and it’s the time of year I love the most. After spending over 5 months scouting as many prospects as I could, I’m going to be bringing you all the draft coverage you’ll ever need, right here on PSN. We’re going to kick this weeks’ coverage off with a look at a position that the Eagles may finally invest in – linebacker. Here are my top 5 players from the position in this years’ class.

Micah Parsons – LB – Penn State 

For me, Micah Parsons is the best linebacker in the draft, and here’s why. Parsons was a great pass rusher coming out of high school but he’s come a long way in terms of pass-coverage prowess and has rounded out his skillset.

At 6’2, 245 lbs, he moves with such speed and explosiveness that it makes shooting gaps an art-form. You can argue the Eagles have enough potential with pass-rushing outside linebackers, but they really lack a quality linebacker who can cover the middle of the field, and that’s exactly what Parsons will be at the next level.

The Penn State linebacker has great tackling ability and understands where he should be in both man and zonal coverage. The only real negative I have for Parsons is his play recognition could use some work.

There are reports of character issues with Parsons, which mainly stem from a lawsuit from a former Penn State player who got into a fight with him and a knife being pulled on the prospect. There are talks of him being immature and that may be an issue for NFL teams but we don’t know, 100%, if that’s true, so he’s still my top linebacker in this class.  

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah – LB – Notre Dame 

Notre Dame just keeps on producing first-round talent across the board, with Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah becoming one of their latest stars. He is arguably the most versatile linebacker in this draft class, having played in almost every position possible. From running down the middle, to playing safety and covering wide receivers in the slot, Jeremiah will have NFL teams in the palms of his hands for this reason.

The thing that separates ‘JOK from other versatile linebackers is the fact that he’s really mastered a lot of the roles he was asked to play. Sometimes being played all over the field stops you from being a standout in them, but that’s not the case for Jeremiah. At 6’2, 216 lbs, he has the size and frame to be dominant at the next level. His nose for big plays, especially in 2020, was brilliant and really stands out when you watch the tape. 

The only real issue is that his frame and versatility mean he’ll often play on the outside and not in the middle, where the Eagles are hurting.

Zaven Collins – LB – Tulsa 

The gap between Owusu-Koramoah and Zaven Collins is a lot closer than you think, and on another day, I’d have put Collins above him, but here we are.

Collins really gave Owusu-Koramoah a run for his money for the title of the class’s most versatile linebacker. In high school, Collins played both linebacker and quarterback, and when he arrived in Tulsa, they played him at linebacker, a decision that turned out to be great. 

Collins is as dynamic as they come, constantly making big plays on the ball from a variety of methods. At 6’4 and 260 lbs, he has the perfect size and frame to do whatever he wants to do, whether it’s pass-rushing, covering in the middle of the field, or even dropping back and defending the run. He’s got everything you want at the position, size, power, football IQ, length, and there’s hardly anything wrong with what Collins does on the field. His 2020 season ended up winning him the Bronko Nagurski trophy, which is given to the best defensive player in the nation. 

However, he’s not as quick off the mark as Owusu-Koramoah and that’s what makes them such an interesting comparison. Collins can easily play middle linebacker, but, Owusu-Koramoah has that extra speed and burst. I would absolutely love Collins for the Eagles, but he’ll be gone way before the Eagles’ second-round pick. 

Nick Bolton – LB – Missouri 

If you love old-fashioned, physical football then Nick Bolton is the prospect for you. Nick caught the eyes of scouts during his college career thanks to his hard-hitting tackles that would constantly force turnovers and set a tone. He isn’t as big as the other prospects that I’ve mentioned so far, coming in at 6’0 and 232 lbs, but he doesn’t let that affect him and his playstyle. 

He’s one of those players that everyone else feeds off and looks to when they need extra motivation or energy. Bolton ran Missouri’s defense. Given he’s a little smaller than the others, he has a lot more twitch and overall athleticism when covering shallow routes.  

His overall pass defending ability needs more time and experience to develop. He is an impressive run-defender, but sometimes that tackling aggression can lead to bad angles or bad decisions.

Cameron McGrone – LB – Michigan 

Cameron McGrone is one of my favorite prospects in the draft this year. I watched his game against Minnesota in 2020 and instantly fell in love with his play. Probably the most athletic linebacker prospect in the draft, NFL teams will love how explosive McGrone is and how he came out of Dom Brown’s blitz-heavy defense.  

McGrone is a great pass rusher who brings size, speed, burst, and a lot of power. As soon as you tell McGrone to run forward and attack the QB, you know he’ll make a play and his third-down value is as high as anyone in this regard.

Given he was in a blitz-heavy scheme, McGrone is a great pass defender who manages to cover receivers in both man and zone coverage. The Michigan prospect, once again, uses his athletic prowess to stick to receivers with ease and make plays on the ball. Whilst his 2020 season wasn’t as impressive as his 2019 breakout year, he still showed everything you want to see for an NFL middle linebacker. 

The main concern Cameron has is experience. He only started 15 games for Michigan and only got the starting middle linebacker job due to a list of injuries in 2019. NFL teams will definitely need to be impressed in private workouts with McGrone to have a better understanding of where he’s at, but McGrone would be the perfect pick for the Eagles in the second round. 

Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire

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