2023 NFL Draft Position Review: Linebackers

Charlie lays out an overview at the top players from each position for the 2023 NFL Draft. For further information, check out our in-depth analysis of 2023 NFL Draft Prospects by Position.

By Charlie Campbell.
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This page was last updated April 18, 2023. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

Linebacker Class
Early-round talent: B
Mid-round: B-
Late-round: B-
Overall grade: B-

Merging the 2023 and 2022 prospects
Jack Campbell
Quay Walker
Devin Lloyd
Henry To’oTo’o
Daiyan Henley
Demarvion Overshown
Troy Andersen
Brian Asamoah
Chad Muma
Trenton Simpson
Noah Sewell
Christian Harris
DeAngelo Malone
Nakobe Dean
Owen Pappoe
Micah Baskerville

Just to be clear, this article and series is all my opinion based off my own study and information I’ve gotten from general managers, directors of college scouting, national scouts, area scouts, and NFL coaches who know way more than I do.

The 2023 NFL Draft has a decent class of linebackers, but it may have only one first-round pick while last year had a pair. This year’s draft has better second-round talent than 2022 did.

If you were to merge the two classes together, Jack Campbell would be ahead of the top two linebackers from last year, in my opinion. To’oTo’o, Henley and Overshown are better prospects than Troy Andersen. Trenton Simpson and Noah Sewell are comparable to Chad Muma, who went in the third round last year. Nakobe Dean was a late first-rounder prior to medical concerns causing him to slide.

Safest Pick: Jack Campbell, Iowa
Previous Picks:
2022: Devin Lloyd
2021: Jamin Davis
2020: Kenneth Murray
2019: Devin White, Josh Allen
2018: Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds
2017: Jarrad Davis
2016: Reggie Ragland, Myles Jack
2015: Denzel Perryman, Eric Kendricks
2014: C.J. Mosley, Khalil Mack
2013: Kevin Minter, Arthur Brown

Campbell is one of the safer picks in the 2023 NFL Draft because he has big size at 6-foot-5, 249 pounds to go along with speed and athleticism. He was superb for the Hawkeyes in 2021 and 2022, amassing over 260 tackles in that time and making a lot of splash plays. With his skill set and instincts, Campbell looks like a very safe pick to turn into a quality starter.

Biggest Bust Potential: Trenton Simpson, Clemson
Previous Picks:
2021: Brandon Smith
2021: Dylan Moses
2020: Jacob Phillips, Terrell Lewis
2019: Cameron Smith, Jachai Polite
2018: Malik Jefferson, Lorenzo Carter
2017: Raekwon McMillan, Haason Reddick
2016: Tyler Matakevich, Kamalei Correa
2015: Bernardrick McKinney, Randy Gregory
2014: Chris Borland, Dee Ford
2013: Kevin Reddick, Chase Thomas

There is no doubt that Simpson has a great skill set with size, speed and athleticism. However, Simpson has a scary lack of instincts, which is why he never played up to his potential at Clemson. Simpson might be best being converted to an undersized edge rusher like Micah Parsons, but if Simpson is kept as an off-the-ball linebacker, he has bust potential from his lack of instincts.

Linebacker Rankings by Attributes

Pass Coverage:
NFL prototype: Matt Milano, Bills
  1. Henry To’oTo’o
  2. Demarvion Overshown
  3. Daiyan Henley
  4. Jack Campbell
  5. Trenton Simpson
  6. Micah Baskerville
  7. Owen Pappoe
  8. Noah Sewell

Recap: The ability for a linebacker to be effective in pass coverage is mandatory in the passing-driven NFL. Defensive coordinators need linebackers who cover a lot of ground and can drop quickly downfield. Along with playing zone, linebackers who can effectively match up against the versatile pass-receiving tight ends and running backs out of the backfield are difficult to find. This is a talented group in pass coverage, with only Sewell sticking out as having potential problems to cover.

In my opinion, To’oTo’o is the top pass-coverage linebacker in the 2023 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. To’oTo’o 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. On top of being able to cover up receivers, To’oTo’o is smart and uses his instincts to get in throwing lanes and disrupt passes. To’oTo’o’s pass coverage is well-suited to the modern game, and he should quickly become an asset in coverage in his NFL career.

In the passing-driven NFL, a linebacker with Overshown’s coverage potential is going to be in demand and have plenty of teams hoping to land him. Overshown is a talented zone-coverage linebacker with good instincts who lead him to glide around the field. He does an excellent job of reading routes while spying the eyes of the quarterback to disrupt passing lanes. Overshown’s background as a safety can be seen with his natural ability to cover in the middle of the field. There is no doubt that he is extremely fast and has sideline-to-sideline speed.

Henley is a skilled defender against the pass. He is very fast as a blitzer with excellent diagnosis skills. Henley reads plays quickly and covers a lot of ground in zone. He has the speed to run down the middle seam. On dumpoff passes to the flat, Henley flies into the ball-carrier and is good at making tackles in space. His size and athleticism allows him to have the potential to play some man coverage on tight ends and backs out of the backfield.

In pass coverage, Campbell is a solid defender. He reads plays quickly and covers a lot of ground in zone. His height and length make him valuable to interrupt passing lanes, and that could be seen in his interception off of C.J. Stroud last year. With Campbell’s length and quickness, he can run down the middle seam and function well as a Tampa 2 coverage linebacker. On dumpoff passes to the flat, Campbell is quick enough to get to the running back and is good at making tackles in space. His size and athleticism allow him to have the potential to handle some man duties on tight ends and running backs out of the backfield.

With the NFL a passing-driven league, defenses need linebackers who are capable of contributing to pass coverage. Simpson the kind of linebacker who can defend passing attacks thanks to being able to cover a lot of ground in the middle of the field in zone. With his rare speed, athleticism and agility, Simpson has the potential to contribute in man coverage on tight ends and running backs. Simpson also showed some ability as a blitzer with explosive speed to hunt down the quarterback.

Baskerville is a mixed bag in pass coverage. He is fast and covers a lot of ground, but he can struggle in man coverage on running backs. Baskerville is better in zone coverage in that he shows an ability to read routes and follow the eyes of the quarterback. After some development, Baskerville could be a solid coverage linebacker in the NFL.

Pappoe is a skilled zone-coverage linebacker. He covers a lot of ground, using his speed to close space in a hurry. Aided by his quickness and athleticism, Pappoe is able to drop well with speed in his backpedal. He also does a nice job of recognizing routes.

Sewell is a difficult evaluation because his 2022 and 2021 seasons were so different. Team sources said Sewell got way too heavy year over year, and they estimated he may have been playing around 270 pounds in 2022. From having watched him a year earlier, they said they thought he was significantly lighter in 2021. If Sewell drops his weight back to 2021 levels, he could be a pass-coverage linebacker. He definitely has that ability becaise he is a very good zone-coverage linebacker in the middle of the field. What stands out quickly when watching Sewell are impressive instincts and vision to get in position to make plays. He is comfortable in space, showing smooth agility to drop into coverage and cover ground. He has serious speed to break on receivers and eat up ground in a hurry.

Run Defense:
NFL prototype: Fred Warner, 49ers
  1. Jack Campbell
  2. Daiyan Henley
  3. Noah Sewell
  4. Henry To’oTo’o
  5. Demarvion Overshown
  6. Micah Baskerville
  7. Trenton Simpson
  8. Owen Pappoe

Recap: The thumper inside linebacker is a dying breed in the NFL. Still, teams have to have middle linebackers who can be tough run defenders. They especially need pursuit skills with the rash of mobile quarterbacks and the mixing in of read-option plays. This was really tough to rank because honestly, there wasn’t a poor run defender in this group, but all of them to need improve in certain aspects.

Campbell is a superb run defender, and his tackle total of more than 260 over the past two years was no accident. He has very good instincts and is very fast at reading his keys to get in position to make plays. For a tall linebacker, Campbell plays with good leverage and does not stand up too high. He is a tough box linebacker who shows the strength to take on blocks, shed offensive linemen, and make the tackle. Campbell is smart to understand what offenses are trying to do, and he is disruptive when he isn’t making tackles. In the ground game, Campbell is very consistent and tough to help shut down rushing offenses. He is a very good run defender and projects to be an asset to help produce favorable down-and-distance situations for his defense.

In the ground game, Henley is a solid tackler who wraps up ball-carriers and gets them to the ground. However, Henley slides into some tackles and does not always arrive with violence. It would be good to see him become more forceful and violent as a tackler for the NFL. That would help to avoid missed tackles and being dragged for extra yardage. Henley has enough size and mentality to take on blocks, hold his ground, shed the block, and get in on tackles. He is a fast defender with sideline-to-sideline speed. Henley is a dangerous seek-and-destroy linebacker who hunts down backs with a serious burst. Henley is a very good run defender and projects to be an asset to shut down and limit an offense’s ground game.

Sewell was a seek-and-destroy linebacker in the ground game in 2021, but he looked slow in 2022 and was late to the ball. In 2021, Sewell displayed impressive speed to the perimeter for a big backer, and he covered a lot of ground. With his size, Sewell would deliver some hard hits and put ball-carriers into the turf with violence. Sewell is generally a reliable tackler, but he is not perfect and will have some misses. In 2022, he was stout, but he just could not run like he did in 2021.

At Alabama, To’oTo’o proved to be a good run defender and really improved over his final season. The trait that really stands out about To’oTo’o is his instinctiveness, and he uses that to get in position to make tackles. To’oTo’o is a step ahead of the defense and has advanced read-and-react skills. As a senior, he was stronger, more physical, and better at taking on blocks. However, the physical part of the game is always going to be a challenge for him. To go along with his mental acumen, To’oTo’o is fast and athletic to go sideline-to-sideline. With his skill set and instincts, To’oTo’o should be a good run defender in the NFL.

Overshown is a solid against the run. In 2022, he showed an improved ability to take on blocks and was stronger. Still, he will need to improve at taking on and shedding blocks at the pro level, but he has the potential to do that. Overshown does a good job of closing ground in pursuit and working his way through trash. His tackling isn’t bad, but he could stand to be coached up at the pro level.

In run defense, Baskerville is a missile who defends sideline-to-sideline with the quickness to track down ball-carriers. He has good instincts and is adept at reading his keys to explode through the scrum to take down running backs. However, Baskerville lacks size and strength for taking on blocks as a downhill run defender. In terms of getting off blocks, he could always have issues with that in the NFL.

As a run defender, Simpson is very fast, going sideline-to-sideline, yet he is built well enough to tackle. He chases down ball-carriers while having the size and strength to handle big backs. In the ground game, Simpson has excellent speed to close, is able to change tack to redirect, and is bolt of lightning to the flat on perimeter runs. However, he needs to get better at taking on and shedding blocks at the point of attack.

Pappoe showed serious speed to be a pursuit run defender at Auburn. However, his instincts were inconsistent in college, and he struggled with reading his keys. Pappoe also had size issues with taking on and shedding blocks. In part because of those size and instincts, he was not always a downhill defender. His run defense needs to improve for the NFL.

NFL prototype: Roquan Smith, Ravens
  1. Jack Campbell
  2. Noah Sewell
  3. Trenton Simpson
  4. Daiyan Henley
  5. Henry To’oTo’o
  6. Demarvion Overshown
  7. Owen Pappoe
  8. Micah Baskerville

Recap: With each passing year, I think tackling is becoming a lost art in the NFL. Missed tackles are a plague on defenses that seems to get progressively worse every season. One of the primary reasons for this epidemic is the decreased training-camp practices with less padded work and live hitting. Rule changes have also made tackling more difficult in that players must avoid contact in certain locations and avoid methods of taking down a ball-carrier. The end result is seeing a plethora of missed tackles on a down-by-down basis. The members of this group are pretty solid, and no prospect stands out in a really negative manner.

Campbell, Sewell and Simpson are very good tacklers. Consistently, they did a good job of wrapping up ball-carriers with solid tackling technique. Henley, To’oTo’o, Overshown and Simpson are solid tacklers. You rarely saw them miss tackles when they get to the back. Pappoe and Baskerville could have problems tackling big backs in the NFL.

NFL prototype: Lavonte David, Buccaneers
  1. Jack Campbell
  2. Henry To’oTo’o
  3. Daiyan Henley
  4. Demarvion Overshown
  5. Micah Baskerville
  6. Owen Pappoe
  7. Noah Sewell
  8. Trenton Simpson

Recap: Instincts are what separates good linebackers from great ones. Having the innate feeling of what the offense is going to do is a huge factor for linebackers who can take the ball away, make a critical stop on a third down or consistently set up good down-and-distance situations for the defense. All great players are instinctive.

In this group, I have Campbell as the most instinctive linebacker in the 2023 NFL Draft class, and he really stands out in this regard. His instincts are very good, and he often seems to be a step ahead. To’oTo’o and Henley have excellent instincts as well. There isn’t much separating the top three.

Overshown, Baskerville and Pappoe all possess above-average instincts. They all showed the ability to anticipate what is coming and get in position to make plays or be disruptive. Each should continue to have good instincts in the NFL after getting tuned into the pro game.

Sewell has decent instincts and looked better in 2021, but he took a big step backward in 2022. Team sources said Simpson lacked instincts in 2022 and did not play up to his skill set.

Shedding Blocks:
NFL prototype: Bobby Wagner, Free AGent
  1. Jack Campbell
  2. Noah Sewell
  3. Trenton Simpson
  4. Henry To’oTo’o
  5. Daiyan Henley
  6. Demarvion Overshown
  7. Owen Pappoe
  8. Micah Baskerville

Recap: Getting off blocks is a critical attribute for any linebacker in the NFL. Running around blockers results in busted gap integrity and can spring backs for big runs. Shedding blocks is one of the hardest aspects for a college player going to the the next level. A lot of the top linebackers in the NFL struggled with it early on.

Campbell is the best at shedding blocks, as he can take the contact, hold his ground, shed the block, and make the tackle. Sewell was similar in 2021, showing a lot of strength and physicality to do the same, but he did not look as good in 2022. Simpson is capable of doing that. To’oTo’o and Henley aren’t bad for their size, but being smaller could be an issue that flares up from time to time in their pro careers.

Overshown, Pappoe and Baskerville need development for taking on and shedding blocks at the next level. Overshown was improved in 2022, but he could continue to make strides. Getting off blocks might always be problematic for Pappoe and Baskerville.

Pass Rush:
NFL prototype: Micah Parsons, Cowboys
  1. Trenton Simpson
  2. Noah Sewell
  3. Henry To’oTo’o
  4. Daiyan Henley
  5. Demarvion Overshown
  6. Owen Pappoe
  7. Jack Campbell
  8. Micah Baskerville

Recap: There aren’t too many inside linebackers in the NFL who consistently rush the passer, but 3-4 defenses especially like to have interior backers who can blitz up the middle after the quarterback. This group has some linebackers who are very good blitzers, especially the first five.

Simpson showed some ability as a blitzer with explosive speed to hunt down the quarterback. He had 8.5 sacks over the past two seasons, and he could be a dangerous sub package edge rusher. In fact, I think moving to rush like Micah Parsons would be the best fit for Simpson in the NFL.

Sewell, To’oTo’o, Henley, Overshown and Pappoe all showed nice blitzing ability over the past two seasons, with each of them having a four-sack season. Campbell and Baskerville dropped into coverage primarily and rarely blitzed in college.

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