2020 NFL Draft Position Review: Outside Linebackers

Charlie lays out an overview at the top players from each position for the 2020 NFL Draft. For further information, check out our in-depth analysis of 2020 NFL Draft Prospects by Position.

By Charlie Campbell.
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This page was last updated April 6, 2020. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

Outside Linebackers
Early-round talent: B+
Mid-round: B
Late-round: B
Overall grade: B+

2020 prospects vs 2019
Josh Allen
Isaiah Simmons
Brian Burns
K’Lavon Chaisson
Kenneth Murray
Patrick Queen
Montez Sweat
Zack Baun
Ben Banogu
Terrell Lewis
Jachai Polite
Germaine Pratt
Chase Winovich
Sione Takitaki
Julian Okwara
Josh Uche

The 2020 NFL Draft features a quality class of outside linebackers when you add in some players who could play defensive end or inside linebacker. It all depends on the scheme they are drafted to and the other players on the roster. For example, K’Lavon Chaisson might play outside linebacker in a 3-4 but defensive end in a 4-3. Kenneth Murray might play outside linebacker in a 4-3 if he lands with a team that has a solid middle linebacker.

There are some early-round talents, a few quality players on Day 2, and some developmental talents for the third day of the 2020 NFL Draft. The outside linebacker class features good run defenders, pass-rushers and some dynamic play-makers. This year’s group is better than last year’s class.

If you were to merge the players together, Josh Allen would be the top linebacker, and I think he was a better prospect than Isaiah Simmons. They are different kinds of outside linebackers. I think Brian Burns is a better prospect than Chaisson and Kenneth Murray, but all three of them are mid first-rounders. Montez Sweat is the anomaly here because he was a top-16 talent who slide to late in the first round because of concerns over a heart condition. Zack Baun is a better second-round prospect than Ben Banogu. Banogu would go slightly ahead of Terrell Lewis. Julian Okwara, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings are third-rounders below Takitaki.

Safest Pick: Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
Previous Picks:
2019: Josh Allen
2018: Tremaine Edmunds
2017: Jarrad Davis
2016: Myles Jack
2015: Eric Kendricks
2014: Khalil Mack
2013: Arthur Brown

My track record here is solid. Kendricks has been a solid player, while Mack is a superstar. Davis had a good rookie season and was okay in his second year before struggling in his third year. Brown is the blemish as he was a bust for Baltimore, but he was in a terrible draft class. Jack was up and down for the Jaguars but has rounded into a solid pro. Edmunds is very good, and Josh Allen had a superb rookie year.

This was an easy choice, as I think Murray is one of the safer players in the 2020 NFL Draft at any position. I think Murray will be an excellent NFL linebacker with Pro Bowl potential and the ability to be one of the top Mike – middle – or Will – weak side – linebackers in the league. He is a tackling machine in the ground game yet has pass-coverage ability and is a dangerous pass-rusher. On top of his skill set of size, speed and instincts, Murray is known to be a great worker and leader. I think he is going to be a really good pro.

Biggest Bust Potential: Terrell Lewis, Alabama
Previous Picks:
2019: Jachai Polite
2018: Lorenzo Carter
2017: Haason Reddick
2016: Kamalei Correa
2015: Randy Gregory
2014: Dee Ford
2013: Chase Thomas

I hit on Polite, as he was a bust for the Jets after being a third-round pick. One can’t make any judgements on Carter, but he has been okay. The jury is also still out on Reddick, but the early returns aren’t good. I was right about Kamalei Correa, who was a bust for Baltimore. Dee Ford had a good 2016 season, but his other three seasons were underwhelming before playing better in his contract year. Still, Ford probably wouldn’t count as a bust given because the Chiefs were able to trade him away and the 49ers gave him a big contract. I was correct on Randy Gregory and Chase Thomas, but Thomas wasn’t an early-round pick, so he really doesn’t count as a bust.

This was a tough decision. I chose Lewis because of injury and durability concerns. He has a first-round skill set with size, length, speed and strength, but he has had a ton of injuries already and I’m not confident he can stay healthy in the NFL. Even this year at the Senior Bowl, it looked at times like he was dragging the leg that cost him the 2018 season. If he stays healthy and heals up, he has the potential to be a good pro, but I think he could be the riskiest pick of the early-round defensive end prospects.

Outside Linebacker Rankings by Attributes

Pass Coverage:
NFL prototype: Lavonte David, Buccaneers
  1. Isaiah Simmons
  2. Patrick Queen
  3. Zack Baun
  4. Kenneth Murray
  5. K’Lavon Chaisson
  6. Josh Uche
  7. Julian Okwara
  8. Terrell Lewis

Recap: The NFL is all about the passing offense, so linebackers must be be an asset at defending the aerial attack. Defensive coordinators want linebackers who function well in space and cover a lot of ground. They have to have good instincts and anticipate the routes that are coming their direction. Linebackers also need to function well in zone and have the ability to quickly get deep in their drops. Those who can play man coverage on running backs and tight ends are in serious demand.

Simmons is the best pass-coverage linebacker in the 2020 NFL Draft. He is a fast defender who covers a lot of ground in zone coverage while also showing the ability to run down the middle seam. During the 2019 season, Simmons showed great speed to run with slot receivers downfield, and it was incredible to see him run stride-for-stride with those wideouts. As a pro, Simmons should be a nice asset to cover tight ends running vertically down the middle of the field, running backs leaking out of the backfield, and he also should be a good defender to help with receivers crossing the middle of the field. He won’t hesitate to get physical and can be a hard-hitting enforcer in the middle of the field. On top of being able to cover up receivers, Simmons has good ball skills for a linebacker with an ability to take the ball away. He is smart and instinctive to get in throwing lanes and disrupt passes. Simmons’ pass coverage is his best trait, and he should be an asset in coverage quickly in his NFL career.

In pass coverage, Queen is well-suited for today’s NFL. He is a smooth mover in the open field with the speed to run vertically down the middle seam. Queen is skilled in zone coverage to flow with the play and cover a lot of ground. With some development, he could be an asset in helping to cover running backs and tight ends in man coverage.

In coverage, Baun shows some ability to play zone and cover the flat. He is instinctive and does a nice job of reading the offense to be assignment sound on which targets he should pick up. Baun could contribute to defending tight ends and running backs in man coverage, given his quickness with quality athleticism. Baun will probably be used more in the pass rush, but he could be a good contributor in coverage as well.

Murray is an asset in pass coverage. Team sources like his athleticism and coverage ability, which is vital to be a three-down starter and difference-maker for a non-pass-rushing linebacker in the modern NFL. He covers a lot of ground in zone coverage, is a smooth mover in space, and does a nice job of disrupting throwing lanes. His size and athleticism allows him to have the potential to play some man coverage on tight ends and backs out of the backfield. On dump-off passes to the flat, Murray explodes into the ball-carrier and is very good at making tackles in space. He has the speed to run down the middle seam as well. Murray’s skill set and instincts make him an excellent spy to help neutralize a mobile quarterback as well.

One of the impressive aspects of Chaisson’s game is his ability to play in coverage. LSU lined him up at a variety of places in 2019, and Chaisson showed rare speed and athleticism to run with receivers in the flat and tight ends off the edge. Chaisson is a fluid athlete in the open field with serious foot speed to stay with offensive players. While he could use some refinement, Chaisson has more pass-coverage skills than typical edge defenders.

Uche, Okawara and Lewis were edge rushers in college who will need development for dropping in coverage in the NFL. However at the Senior Bowl, Uche told me that he did practice as a traditional 4-3 outside linebacker who would drop into coverage all four years at Michigan, but on game day the Wolverines staff always used him as a pass-rusher. Thus, he is further ahead than Okwara and Lewis. Still, these three players will get drafted to be pass-rushers for their NFL team.

Pass Rush:
NFL prototype: Von Miller, Broncos
  1. K’Lavon Chaisson
  2. Zack Baun
  3. Josh Uche
  4. Kenneth Murray
  5. Terrell Lewis
  6. Isaiah Simmons
  7. Patrick Queen
  8. Julian Okwara

Recap: For today’s NFL, Chaisson is a valuable commodity because he is a lightning-fast edge rusher and is a twitchy athlete. Chaisson is quick off the ball with a fast first-step. He has a burst to run around the corner and a second gear to close on the quarterback. On top of being a pure speed rusher, Chaisson has an impressive arsenal of pass-rushing moves. With his wicked spin move, Chaisson is able to get back to the inside, and thanks to his loose hips, he can dip underneath offensive tackles while getting turned to the quarterback. Chaisson has active hands and is able to use them at the same time as his feet. With his combination of a dynamic skill set and rare speed off the edge, Chaisson has the potential to be a double-digit pass-rusher in the NFL.

For the pass rush, Baun has serious speed off the edge to turn the corner around offensive tackles. He can blow by them and hunt down the quarterback quickly. On top of a burst off the edge, Baun has closing speed to eat up ground and get to ball-carriers quickly. Tackles can struggle with Baun’s leverage, as he is able to sink his hips and shoulder to dip underneath. He also is agile and athletic to make it tough for them to get a hold of him. Baun’s good instincts seemingly give him a nose for the quarterback. In coverage, Baun shows some ability to play zone and cover the flat.

Uche is a quick edge rusher who can fly by tackles. He can use speed around the corner and is able to fight through blocks. He had 8.5 sacks last year and could be a dangerous rusher in the NFL.

Some scouts say Murray’s pass-rush ability is better than some players who do it on an every-down basis. He proved to be a dangerous blitzer in 2019, showing speed off the edge with the ability to bend, dip, and turn the corner.

In 2019, Lewis finally stayed healthy to show that he can be a dynamic edge rusher, displaying speed, power, length, and some moves. Lewis is quick off the edge, and his length really gives offensive linemen issues. Lewis could be a very good pass-rusher in the NFL if he can avoid getting hurt while also returning back to pre-injury form.

On top of Simmons being very good in coverage, he also is a dangerous blitzer with closing speed to hunt down quarterbacks. He could even get some consideration as an outside edge rusher in obvious passing situations. Queen also is a dangerous blitzer and eats up space in a hurry to put pressure on the quarterback.

Okwara was a solid pass rusher the past two seasons totaling 11 sacks in that time. He struggled against top competition, but Okwara has size and speed to matchup against NFL offensive tackles.

Run Defense:
NFL prototype: Lavonte David, Buccaneers
  1. Kenneth Murray
  2. Patrick Queen
  3. Zack Baun
  4. Isaiah Simmons
  5. K’Lavon Chaisson
  6. Terrell Lewis
  7. Josh Uche
  8. Julian Okwara

Recap: In the ground game, Murray is a very physical tackler with sideline-to-sideline speed and has some ability to take on blocks at the point of attack. He wraps up ball-carriers and puts them into the turf with force. Murray was a tackling machine throughout his collegiate career, superbly handling the run. He projects to be a force to shut down and limit an offense’s rushing attack.

Queen uses his sideline-to-sideline speed to shut down perimeter runs. He flashes good vision and uses that to weave through trash to get in position to finish plays. For the next level, Queen needs to get stronger to take on and shed blocks. Downhill runs straight at him can give him problems, and he has a hard time shedding blocks when offensive linemen and some tight ends lock onto him.

As a run defender, Baun is tough at the point of attack and battles. He tackles solidly, using good technique to go low for the legs. Baun is active and around the ball, showing a nice ability to read his keys. In the pro ranks, he could struggle with downhill runs coming straight at him, so it would help him to get stronger and more stout for taking on NFL offensive linemen.

Simmons combines instincts with explosive speed to cover sideline-to-sideline as a run defender. He chases down ball-carriers yet has the size and strength to handle big backs. Simmons is an exception to the trend of poor tackling because he is a very good at it, doing an excellent job of going low and wrapping up ball-carriers. While Simmons will dish out some big hits, he does not miss tackles at the expense of pummeling a back. In the ground game, Simmons has excellent speed to close, is able to change direction to redirect, and is bolt of lightning to the flat on perimeter runs. The one real negative for Simmons for the NFL is taking on and shedding blocks. He is going to have problems with that at the next level. Simmons will need to work to get better at taking on and shedding blocks when runs come downhill straight at him.

As a run defender, Chaisson is good in pursuit, and he makes some big plays by working upfield to cause disruption in the backfield. However being below 260 pounds with a chiseled lean frame, Chaisson can struggle with downhill runs coming straight at him. Offensive tackles can tie him up with their upper body strength and push him back. He needs to get stronger for shedding blocks in the NFL and holding his ground. Given his frame, one has to wonder how much weight he can gain and will that take away some of his rare and special speed. At his weight, he could have a hard time holding up for four quarters. Thus, his run defense is a point of improvement for the next level.

Against the run, Lewis is tough at the point of attack. He uses his size to take on blocks and is able to get free of them to chase down ball-carriers. Lewis has the straight-line speed to get to the perimeter and defend runs to the outside.

Uche is much better in pursuit as a run defender, since it allows him to use his speed and athleticism to chase down tacklers. Against pro offensive linemen, he is going to have problems holding up against downhill runs coming straight at him.

Okwara flashed some run defense at times, but generally he was quiet in the ground game while at Notre Dame and he didn’t total 60 tackles over the past two seasons combined. As a pro, Okwara needs to do a better job of getting off blocks and getting in on tackles.

NFL prototype: K.J. Wright, Seahawks
  1. Kenneth Murray
  2. Zack Baun
  3. Isaiah Simmons
  4. Patrick Queen
  5. K’Lavon Chaisson
  6. Terrell Lewis
  7. Josh Uche
  8. Julian Okwara

Recap: Murray is the best tackler in the class, as he is reliable in taking ball-carriers to the ground when he gets a hold of them. He chases down fast runners and holds his ground on power backs with good technique. Murray wraps up ball-carriers and puts them into the turf with violence.

Baun is a good tackler who wraps up and gets ball-carriers to the ground when after he latches on. Simmons was a reliable tackler at Clemson, and you didn’t see him missing tackles over the past few seasons. Queen is a solid tackler when he gets a hold of a back. He does a nice job of tackling ball-carriers.

Chaisson will put ball carriers to the turf hard and rip them to the ground. Lewis was a quality tackler for Alabama. Uche was a drag-down tackler at Michigan in part because he lacked strength and weight. He has added weight, but his drag-down tackling could be problematic in the NFL. Okwara needs to improve his tackling for the next level.

Shedding Blocks:
NFL prototype: K.J. Wright, Seahawks
  1. Kenneth Murray
  2. Zack Baun
  3. Terrell Lewis
  4. K’Lavon Chaisson
  5. Julian Okwara
  6. Josh Uche
  7. Isaiah Simmons
  8. Patrick Queen

Recap: Murray is very adept at shedding blocks. He uses his strength and physicality to absorb the block and has the power to break way. Baun is able to take on and shed blocks as well. Lewis uses his length to disengage as he the strength to keep offensive linemen from sustaining.

Chaisson, Okwara and Uche are better at getting off blocks when it came to rushing the passer. However, they all could stand to get better at shedding blocks in the ground game for the NFL.

Simmons and Queen need to improve their abilities to get off blocks for the NFL. Taking on and shedding blocks is the biggest flaw for both players. The one real negative for Simmons for the NFL is taking on and shedding blocks. He is going to have problems with that at the next level. Simmons will need to work to get better at taking on and shedding blocks when runs come downhill straight at him. For the next level, Queen needs to get stronger to take on and shed blocks. Downhill runs straight at him can give him problems, and he has a hard time shedding blocks when offensive linemen and some tight ends lock onto him.

Splash Plays:
NFL prototype: Von Miller, Broncos
  1. Isaiah Simmons
  2. Zack Baun
  3. Josh Uche
  4. K’Lavon Chaisson
  5. Kenneth Murray
  6. Patrick Queen
  7. Terrell Lewis
  8. Julian Okwara

Recap: NFL coaches love players who can take the ball away. It is a great equalizer against high-powered offenses and can directly lead to victories.

Simmons made a ton of splash plays for his team last year with seven sacks, three interceptions and a forced fumble. In the NFL, I think his interceptions could actually increase because it is a passing-driven league and he won’t be leaving blow-out games early as much as he did in college.

Baun had 12.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception in 2019. I could see him producing a good amount of splash plays as a pro given his pass-rushing prowess, instincts, and ability to cover.

Uche recorded 8.5 sacks and two forced fumbles last year. He has splash-play potential as a designated pass-rusher. Chaisson had 6.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 2019, but I believe that his splash production could improve as he gains experience.

Murray has big-play ability and should be steady at producing some splash plays in each year of his career. Queen had three sacks and interception last year, but his numbers could improve as he plays more. Lewis had six sacks in 2019, but did not record any forced fumbles. Okwara had four sacks and two forced fumbles last year. He did not have a lot of game-changing plays at Notre Dame.

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