2024 NFL draft prospect rankings: Linebackers

Eddie Brown, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Football

Editor's note: The Union-Tribune's Eddie Brown is breaking down prospects, position by position, leading up to the NFL draft (April 25-27). Here are his top 10 linebackers, plus "bonus" players he believes will be drafted or signed as a priority free agent:


1. Junior Colson (Jr., Michigan, 6-foot-2, 238 pounds)

The former four-star recruit spent the first nine years of his life in Haiti. Colson played in all 43 games (starting 36) for the Wolverines after enrolling, helping them win their first national championship since 1997. The Lott IMPACT Trophy winner was the leader of the best defense in college football last season, and led the team in tackles the last two seasons. He's a strong run defender who possesses a great feel for coverage. Projected: Round 2

— 2. Edgerrin Cooper (Jr., Texas A&M, 6-2, 230)

Cooper catapulted himself into early-round discussion after a dominant junior season for the Aggies — 83 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and eight sacks with two forced fumbles. The first-team All-American is the only prospect in this class who led his team in all four categories. Cooper features elite speed, decent coverage skills and plenty of special teams experience (11 career tackles on both kick and punt coverages). Projected: Rounds 2-3


— 3. Payton Wilson (Jr., NC State, 6-4, 233)

Based solely on 2023, Wilson would likely be the first linebacker selected and it would almost assuredly be in prime time on Day 1. The unanimous All-American and Butkus Award winner produced 138 tackles (17.5 for a loss), nine passes defensed, six sacks, three interceptions (including one pick-six), two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. He's a three-year captain, big, fast and capable of making plays sideline-to-sideline. However, there are ruby red flags when it comes to durability. He has an injury history that dates back to high school, including multiple surgeries on both shoulders and multiple knee injuries. Projected: Rounds 2-4

— 4. Cedric Gray (Sr., North Carolina, 6-1, 234)

Gray was a three-star recruit who became a three-year starter for the Tar Heels, producing 100-plus tackles his final three seasons in Chapel Hill. He was the only Power 5 player to average double-digit tackles per game in both 2022 and 2023. He was a multiyear team captain in both high school and college. Gray needs to bulk up a bit, and his aggressive nature can be used against him at times, but his premium athleticism, production and football IQ is indicative of an impact player in the pros. Projected: Rounds 3-4


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