The former Hawkeyes standout put on a show at the NFL combine, showcasing outstanding explosiveness (37.5-inch vertical, 10-foot-8 broad jump) and good speed (4.65 40-yard dash) for his impressive size. Campbell is one of this class’s strongest linebackers in zone coverage, easily dropping to appropriate depths and making plays on the ball. The 22-year-old is also a reliable man-coverage player, particularly against larger opponents who rely on size and struggle to create separation. He finishes tackles and demonstrates outstanding patience to avoid over-pursuing ball carriers or giving up big plays. Campbell’s patience occasionally sees him make a play a few yards downfield rather than in the backfield, but his size, athletic profile, consistency, and ability to defend both the run and the pass will be invaluable to the team that selects him.
The first of many undersized linebackers on this list, Henley offers excellent athleticism and a mentality that translates to the NFL. He’s seemingly always around the ball, but he could improve in zone coverage as he’s prone to falling a half-step behind receivers. Aggressive in attacking his assignment, the Washington State product figures to start his pro career playing the run downhill and erasing tight ends and running backs in man coverage, but he has the movement skills to develop into a bona fide star. His collegiate path was unconventional, with five years at Nevada before a transfer to Washington State ahead of last season. Should his progression continue, however, he’ll be one of the league’s most exciting linebackers for years to come.
Finding a comparison for Sanders was difficult because nobody plays quite like him. The best comparison might simply be the Tasmanian Devil of “Looney Tunes” fame. Sanders flies to the ball, lining up all across the defensive front to find advantageous matchups. The Arkansas product is confident engaging with offensive linemen as a former edge defender, and he showcases pass-rushing and block-shedding techniques many linebackers in this class could only dream of deploying. The further Sanders gets from the line of scrimmage, though, the less comfortable he looks. Zone coverage is his most glaring weakness, as he’s less effective playing in space, but a smart defensive coordinator will lean into his strengths and find him mismatches to exploit up and down the offensive line. If a team is willing to use him creatively rather than line him up at weakside linebacker every down, Sanders has the potential to be an impact player.
Williams was rarely caught out of position or removed from plays last year thanks to excellent instincts and a good understanding of leverage. The 21-year-old would do well, however, to add more muscle to his frame to become a more reliable open-field tackler. That would also help him engage with blockers in the run game, though he already has an effective dip move that protects his chest against offensive linemen. While he’s solid against the run, Williams truly shines in coverage. His movement skills and understanding of passing-game leverage reliably keep him in phase with receivers in both man and zone defenses. He’ll be at his best matching up with intermediate passing targets, but he has the skill set to become a reliable three-down player.
Pace is an intriguing prospect. He’ll be one of the smallest linebackers in NFL history, but his aggressive mentality and non-stop motor should allow him to reliably contribute despite his size. The Cincinnati product plays within his limits, taking on blockers with a dip-and-duck move to avoid being steamrolled before flying to the ball carrier and finishing tackles violently. If an offensive lineman does manage to get into his chest, though, Pace struggles to reset and shed. Although he’s a solid cover linebacker who gets into his zone drops with efficient movement, he tends to peek at receivers more often than necessary and loses a step on quicker pass-catchers. That said, his aggressiveness also translates to blitzing, as he consistently gets off or around blockers to get after the quarterback. Pace’s size will likely limit his snaps, but he should be a high-end rotational piece in the NFL.
Simpson has all the physical tools a team could want in a linebacker, but the mental processing isn’t there yet. Thankfully, the Clemson product will only be 22 in June and has plenty of development ahead of him. A good positional coach will give him a defined role that leverages his athleticism and man-coverage skills while honing his ability to diagnose the run and get to depth in zone. An improved ability to analyze plays will allow Simpson to make his tackling a strength by providing better angles for chasing down ball carriers with the speed he showcased in his 4.43 40-yard dash. While he comes in a bit high, his mentality and willingness to engage are on full display, and he also offers some flexibility in the blitz. If he can slow the game down and develop the instincts to match his athletic traits, Simpson could end up being the best linebacker in this class.
Like his older brother, Detroit Lions offensive tackle Penei Sewell, Noah Sewell enters the draft as a physically gifted youngster. Turning 21 on April 26, he showcased outstanding power last year and projects as one of this class’s best block-shedding and blitzing players by engaging offensive linemen with power and good leverage. His 2022 season wasn’t as strong as his 2021 campaign, but Sewell still looked like an NFL player who was simply too powerful for many opponents. Unfortunately, he’ll float into empty spaces as a zone defender, effectively removing himself from the play until there’s a ball-carrying receiver to pursue. He also struggles to change direction without slowing down drastically, a weakness that sometimes leaves him out of position. Sewell will be best suited to an early-down role to begin his pro career.
A former safety, Overshown has the length, range, and hip fluidity to be an excellent passing-down linebacker, but his lack of play strength often makes him a liability as a run defender. The Texas product must increase his strength, both to improve his tackling consistency and become more efficient when engaging with blockers. Overshown currently shines in coverage, staying glued to the receiver he’s covering in man and leveraging his safety background to get to depth in zone. He could stand to be more aggressive with receivers, using his length to knock them off course and disrupt opposing offenses’ timing. A creative defensive coordinator will find ways to get Overshown snaps on passing downs as he continues to develop.
Jones’ strengths are, unfortunately, largely overshadowed by his slow feet, though he has the vision to diagnose plays and delivers solid tackles once he gets moving. Those heavy feet are likely to hinder Jones on probable passing downs early in his career, but he can still be a solid rotational or backup linebacker on early downs. More aggression when engaging blockers will generate more playmaking opportunities for him, and increased speed in diagnosing plays will get his feet moving earlier. That said, he sees the field well and doesn’t take himself out of plays with poor pursuit angles. While he profiles as an early-down backup on defense, he has a compact build and enough tackling prowess to earn snaps on special teams.
Pappoe is one of the most athletic linebackers the NFL combine has ever seen, putting up a 4.39 40-yard dash, a 35.5-inch vertical, a 10-foot-6 broad jump, and 29 reps on the bench. Despite the ridiculous athleticism, the Auburn product will likely be limited almost exclusively to passing situations due to his size and propensity to give up his chest to blockers in the run game; once an offensive lineman engages with Pappoe, he’s effectively deleted from the play. He did showcase enough patience to flow to the ball and not be immediately blocked, but he gave up too much ground too often. His athletic profile allows him to stick with route-runners, but he’ll need to refine his technique to keep bigger tight ends and shiftier running backs from taking advantage of him in the NFL.
Other notable prospects
Mohamoud Diabate, Utah
Henry To’oTo’o, Alabama
Aubrey Miller Jr., Jacksonville State
Ventrell Miller, Florida
Troy Brown, Ole Miss
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