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A way-too-early look at the 2021 NFL Draft: Linebackers

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Which linebackers could be donning the black and gold next year? Let’s look at the top middle linebackers Steeler fans should be watching this college football season.

Buffalo v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

From the second the 2020 draft came to a close, speculation had already started up for the 2021 class. So, in that spirit, here we are with an article series highlighting prospects who look to be this upcoming draft’s biggest stars.

And the season hasn’t even started yet.

Admittedly, “way too early” draft predictions are exactly what they’re titled: Way too early - and as a result, are very rarely, or perhaps never, accurate at all.

In this draft primer series, we won’t be mocking players to any teams, but rather looking at the top players at each position who could get drafted by the Steelers with their first few picks in 2021. Prospects such as Trevor Lawrence, Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Fields, and Penei Sewell, who are all expected to be gone long before the Steelers are projected to pick in the first round, will not be included.

The goal? Not to make any “hot take” predictions, but rather to look at some players that Steeler fans might want to watch a little closer than usual this college season.

Ninth in this series will be the position which often operates as the quarterback of the defense: middle linebackers. They are ranked in no particular order.


Micah Parsons, OLB/ILB #11, Penn State

2019 stats: 109 total tackles, 52 solo tackles, 5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles.

Height/Weight: 6’3”, 245 lbs.

The athletic linebacker projects to be a versatile star on the next level. With experience at both pass-rusher and linebacker, Parsons looks to be a fit in whatever scheme he is drafted into. Parsons’ sideline-to-sideline ability helped him become Penn State’s leader in tackles last season, and his athleticism was one display all year long. Parsons impressed in both coverage and run support, and is more than adequate at rushing the passer.

Parsons is the complete package at linebacker, with the ability to play on both the inside and outside. His aforementioned athleticism, speed, and ability to stop both the run and pass make him an intriguing prospect. He has very few holes in his game, but sometimes has a tendency to overrun plays. This shouldn’t prove to be huge problem, however, as it is common of young linebackers.

Parsons was the Big Ten’s linebacker of the year in 2019, and has Isaiah Simmons-level upside, if not even higher. The Defensive MVP of last year’s Cotton Bowl looks to continue on his star trajectory with hopes of being a top-10 pick in the upcoming draft.

Some notable article about Micah Parsons:

2021 NFL Draft: Ranking Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons - Pro Football Network

Scouting Micah Parsons: LB can be one of nation’s top five players - NFL.com


Dylan Moses, LB #32, Alabama

2019 stats: N/A

Height/Weight: 6’3”, 235 lbs.

A torn ACL kept Moses out of the entirety of the 2019 season, but he returned to school for his senior year in order to play another year before his entry to the NFL.

Back in 2018, Moses had emerged as a first-round talent at linebacker. He amassed 86 total tackles (45 solo), along with 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Moses has sideline-to-sideline speed and is an incredible athlete, who was described in one draft report as having “defensive back speed as a linebacker”. Moses is a hard-hitting defender who clearly has a love and dedication to the game of football. He’s an excellent tackler as well.

Moses can be a bit slow at processing plays and sometimes struggles with biting on fakes. Injuries could be a concern for his NFL future, as he suffered a broken foot his freshman year, and tore his ACL in his junior season.

Moses is currently neck-and-neck with Micah Parsons for the top linebacker spot in the 2021 draft. If his injuries don’t prove to be a problem in the future, Moses’ complete game and athleticism make him a sure-fire first round prospect.

Some notable articles about Dylan Moses:

2021 NFL Draft: Linebacker Dylan Moses back as a potential Top-10 pick - Pro Football Network

Dylan Moses Draft Profile - The Draft Network


Chazz Surratt, LB #21, North Carolina

2019 stats: 115 total tackes, 66 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble.

Height/Weight: 6’3”, 230 lbs.

Surratt, a former quarterback, found himself playing defense at North Carolina and never looked back. He’s very athletic and has a great football IQ, even though he is still learning his newfound position. Surratt is great in coverage and his footwork really stands out. Even though he is still relatively new to playing linebacker, he shows the aggressiveness and hustle necessary to play in the middle of a defense.

Surratt is still learning the nuances of his position, and it stands out in his tackling angles and consistency. He has all of the physical tools needed to improve, however, and we should continue to see growth from Surratt over the next few years. He’s been projected anywhere from a first round sleeper to a day 3 pick. It is expected 2020 will be a pivotal season for the North Carolina defender.

2021 NFL Draft: Meet Tar Heels linebacker Chazz Surratt - Pro Football Network

Chazz Surratt’s crooked path to linebacker - North State Journal

Chase Surratt Draft Profile - The Draft Network


Paddy Fisher, LB #42, Northwestern

2019 stats: 88 total tackes, 39 solo tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble.

Height/Weight: 6’4”, 246 lbs.

Fisher was a first round prospect earlier in his career, but after a down year in 2019, he still has a chance of putting his career back on the right track. He’s another athletic defender, but simply not on the same level as Parsons, Moses, and Surratt, who to many are the top ‘backers in this year’s class.

Fisher is best when he is stopping the run with great instincts and tackling combined with toughness and great range. In pass-coverage and blitzing he hasn't been as dynamic. With this being said, he hasn't had many reps in those areas, meaning an expanded role in 2020 could help Fisher fill out his game a little bit more.

Deciding to return to school for another year, if Fisher and Northwestern’s defense can return to dominance in 2020 we could be considering him as a top prospect once again. As of right now, Fisher looks like a solid day 2 pick for a team in need of an above-average run stuffer at linebacker.

Some notable articles about Paddy Fisher:

Paddy Fisher Draft Profile - The Draft Network

How Paddy Fisher became the face of Northwestern’s defense - Inside NU

2021 NFL Draft: The curious case of Paddy Fisher - Pro Football Network


Some other names to look out for this season include Arizona’s Colin Schooler, Missouri’s Nick Bolton, Navy’s Diego Fagot, Baylor’s Terrell Bernard, California’s Kuony Deng, and Ohio State’s Tuf Borland.

Poll

Which linebacker would you most like to see as a Pittsburgh Steeler next year?

This poll is closed

  • 72%
    Micah Parsons
    (239 votes)
  • 11%
    Dylan Moses
    (37 votes)
  • 8%
    Chazz Surratt
    (27 votes)
  • 4%
    Paddy Fisher
    (16 votes)
  • 3%
    Other
    (11 votes)
330 votes total Vote Now

Will there be a new face at the linebacker position on the Steelers next year?

The Steelers already have their three-down star— Devin Bush. However, behind Bush the depth gets a little sketchy. Veteran Vince Williams does what he is supposed to do quite well— stop the run. However, he’s not getting any younger and isn't as versatile even though he’s a great blitzer when called upon. Youngster Ulysees Gilbert III has a similar skillset to Bush’s, but is still very unproven as a former fifth-round pick.

Unless the team wants to make a statement in having the most athletic linebacker corps in the league, there isn't much of a chance Pittsburgh will go after a high-pedigree linebacker such as Dylan Moses or Micah Parsons. However, if the Steelers need a new run stuffer, or a coverage specialist if Gilbert doesn't pan out, both Fisher and Surratt could be round 2-3 options.

Similarly to second round receivers, the Steelers have made it a tradition to draft a linebacker in the first round. Even though it isn't as much of a need as it has been before, there could be a potential opening alongside Bush next year.

Team needs aside, I doubt many Steelers fans would complain if Micah Parsons donned the black and gold this fall.