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2021 NFL Draft: BTSC Steelers Big Board, Inside Linebackers

Ranking and analyzing the top 23 inside linebackers in the 2021 NFL Draft.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 05 Purdue at Penn State Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We only have three positions to go until the release of the entire BTSC Big Board! We are inching ever so close to the draft, and we are looking forward to seeing how the final rankings come together.

After the Steelers lost several key pieces at inside linebacker in 2020, they mostly relied on Robert Spillane and newly acquired Avery Williamson to hold the fort in the middle of the defense. Spillane had a fantastic 2020 season, and Devin Bush will hopefully be 100% by the beginning of the season, but the Steelers are still thin at the position after losing Vince Williams. They have not yet brought back Avery Williamson, who was acquired in a mid-season trade with the Jets. Ulysees Gilbert has talent, but his back issues seem to be a chronic problem.

Whether or not the Steelers bring back Avery Williamson, I get the sense that the Steelers will draft an inside linebacker at some point during the draft later this month. If Bush and Spillane stay healthy, this unit can be one of the best in the league once again, but if one of them goes down with an injury, the Steelers may be in trouble.

So today, we are taking an in-depth look at the inside linebackers. The depth is not great at this position, but there could still be a few intriguing names on the board at the beginning of day three. We will likely see three or four inside linebackers taken in the first round. Micah Parsons and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will almost positively be taken on day one, with Zaven Collins and the rising Jamin Davis as the other two that could sneak into the back end of the round.

Before checking this edition of the board, make sure you’re caught up on the previous positions. You can check out the first nine installments of the board here: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers (Part 1), Wide Receivers (Part 2), Tight Ends, Interior Offensive Line, Offensive Tackles, Interior Defensive Line, and Outside Linebackers/EDGE.

As always, the main rankings are steelerfan11’s, while the analysis is a collaborative effort. SNW’s consensus rankings are an average of where the prospects appeared on big boards (ranking all positions) from other draft websites to see where the prospects stack up elsewhere. The websites, in order, are CBS Sports, Drafttek, ESPN, Mock Draft Database, and Tankathon.

There aren’t that many positions left to analyze, but if you’d be interested in contributing to the last few editions of the big board, please let us know in the comments below.

Let’s get to rankings:

1. Micah Parsons — #11, Jr, 6’3”, 244 lbs — Penn State
Top 10 grade
Consensus ranking: 10 (6, 14, 4, 12, 12)
2020 season stats: (0 games)
2019 season stats: Tackles 53, TFL 11.5, Sacks 4, FF 1, FR 1, PD 2, Int 4, (13 games)

steelerfan11: If it were not for such an offensive heavy class and potential character concerns, Parsons would be a top five pick. His 4.39 40, 6.89 3-cone drill, and 126 inch broad jump confirm his insane athleticism. He has fantastic instincts as a run defender and decent fluidity in coverage, although that may be the part of his game that needs the most polish. Nonetheless, Parsons’ ability to play the run, rush the passer, and drop into coverage all at high levels make him worthy of a top ten pick. The exciting thing is that we have not yet seen what he is fully capable of.

Necksnation: Parsons would likely be the consensus top defensive player in the draft if not for character issues. Like many top prospects, he opted out of the 2020 college season, but his stock actually rose when Penn State’s defense suffered in his absence. His pro day numbers solidified his status as one of the most athletic defenders in the draft. As a blitzer, Parsons demonstrates great instincts and the ability to shed blocks and make tackles. His coverage skills could use some refining, but it’s nothing he can’t handle, and it’s certainly not a weakness of his. Parsons’ ceiling and his athleticism make him the top linebacker in this class, and he has a good chance of going inside the top 15.

2. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah — #6, Sr, 6’1”, 215 lbs — Notre Dame
Top 20 grade
Consensus ranking: 21 (23, 29, 14, 19, 18)
2020 season stats: Tackles 62, TFL 11, Sacks 1.5, FF 3, FR 0, PD 3, Int 0, (12 games)

steelerfan11: While not the biggest linebacker in the world, Owusu-Koramoah has serious range in coverage and outstanding versatility. His lack of size occasionally bites him when trying to tackle a well-built running back or tight end, but the burst he displays when rushing the passer makes up for it. His versatility also allows him to play safety in certain packages, and he has had no trouble covering receivers and tight ends out of the slot. Adding some weight would only help him, but he will be a valuable piece for a defense that can use his versatility correctly.

Ryland B.: Owusu-Koramoah is an athletic, undersized linebacker who has been ranked as the best in his class by many respectable draft analysts. Likely the best coverage linebacker in the draft, Owusu-Koramoah brings great athleticism and technique when matched up with tight ends and running backs. However, while players with a more coverage-oriented skill set usually aren’t the most willing tacklers, Owusu-Koramoah plays with some serious hustle, and he loves to make the big hit. His size is the biggest hole in his game, as some see him more as a box safety than a true linebacker. I actually really like the fit of Owusu-Koramoah on the Steelers at #24, as in today’s NFL you can never have too many coverage linebackers, but for a team looking to replace the buck role once filled by Vince Williams, Owusu-Koramoah isn’t the guy.

3. Zaven Collins — #23, Jr, 6’4” 260 lbs — Tulsa
Late 1st round grade
Consensus ranking: 35 (28, 75, 23, 25, 22)
2020 season stats: Tackles 53, TFL 11.5, Sacks 4, FF 1, FR 1, PD 2, Int 4, (8 games)

steelerfan11: Collins has old-school size, but his fluidity in coverage is better than a lot of 230 pound linebackers in this class. He has decent range in coverage, but that is not his biggest strength. He was expected to run in the 4.6 range at his pro day, and he ran a little slower than that at 4.67. It was not a shocker to many people, but it does show that he may want to consider shedding a couple pounds if he wants to improve his range in coverage. However, his other numbers were impressive for a man his size, recording a 35 inch vertical and 122 inch broad jump. He will occasionally take a bad tackling angle and fail to bring the opponent down, but he does a good job of realizing gaps and filling them quickly. He has a few minor issues to fix, but he should still be able to contribute in year one. He should be off the board by the time we get to pick 40.

Itz JustNoah: Despite the 4.67 40 time, Collins is freakishly athletic with good size for the position. He has natural instincts that allow him to always be around the ball. He’s fluid in both man and zone coverage, and he’s a very solid tackler against the run. Rushing the quarterback isn’t his biggest strength, and his size does sometimes limit his range but neither of those things worry me too much. With Bush’s speed and Collin’s coverage ability, I think they compliment each other really well and I would be extremely happy if we take him at 24.

4. Jamin Davis — #44, Jr, 6’4”, 234 lbs — Kentucky
Early 2nd round grade
Consensus ranking: 91 (44, 193, 36, 90, 94)
2020 season stats: Tackles 102, TFL 4, Sacks 2.5, FF 1, FR 1, PD 8, Int 5, (10 games)

steelerfan11: Davis was forced into a starting role for Kentucky last season and became one of the top playmakers in the SEC. The major concerns are that he is a slow processor and does not always read the quarterback’s eyes quick enough, but his knack for making the big play will put him in the first round conversation. His pro day testing was fantastic, recording a 4.47 40, 42 inch vertical, 132 inch broad jump, and 21 bench reps. When BTSC draft guru Pittsblitz56 mentioned him to me a couple weeks ago, he pointed out Davis’ length and how much the Steelers could use someone with length in the middle of the defense next to Devin Bush, who is not the tallest linebacker in the world. I am not his biggest fan, but I could understand taking him if he fell to pick 55 because of the upside. However, I think he will be long gone before the Steelers are on the clock in round two.

Ryland B.: Davis has long been a popular sleeper in the draft community, and he’s starting to get mentioned as a potential first round pick in mock drafts. He’s a fantastic athlete with solid size, who is impressive in coverage and a solid run defender. He’s a willing tackler, but he can have a hard time making his way through traffic and not getting caught in blocks. Against the pass, he does show impressive ball skills and the athletic ability to stick with his assignment. He’s a good linebacker who will just have to improve his strength and instincts at the next level.

5. Jabril Cox — #19, Sr, 6’4”, 231 lbs — LSU
Mid 2nd round grade
Consensus ranking: 62 (85, 54, 39, 60, 71)
2020 season stats: Tackles 58, TFL 6.5, Sacks 1, FF 0, FR 1, Int 3, (11 games)

steelerfan11: Cox is a transfer from North Dakota State who dominated FCS competition. LSU had its share of problems in 2020, but Cox was one of the few bright spots. His sideline-to-sideline speed and fluidity in coverage was on full display this season, as he accounted for three interceptions and five passes defended. I also love his effort. His motor is always running at 100%, and he never takes a play off. Cox still needs to improve as a run defender, but I believe that he has shown enough in that department to expect him to improve in time. Overall, Cox’s outstanding ability to play almost any type of coverage at a high level makes him worthy of a day two selection.

Ryland B.: Cox is quickly becoming one of my favorite linebackers in this draft. He’s built nearly the same as Jamin Davis, and similarly is an excellent athlete who is rock solid in coverage. He has the same big play gene as the Kentucky linebacker as well. But where Davis struggles in navigating traffic, Cox is a heat-seeking missile. He flies across the field and through contact to make tackles, and while he’s still developing as a run defender, he shows all of the required tools and effort. He’ll be excellent value in the second or third round.

6. Nick Bolton — #32, Jr, 6’0”, 232 lbs — Missouri
Early 3rd round grade
Consensus ranking: 37 (50, 31, 32, 36, 38)
2020 season stats: Tackles 95, TFL 16, Sacks 4, FF 0, FR 1, PD 5, Int 0, (10 games)

Itz JustNoah: Ridiculously underrated, Bolton has a good balance of size, speed and physicality. He has a natural feel for the game, he recognizes where he needs to be and fills holes in the defense. He wraps up well and plays with a high motor. But he doesn’t provide much as a pass rusher, and his ability in man coverage is average at best. There are plenty of teams that could be looking for a linebacker in the first round, Denver, Washington and Green Bay just to name a few, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if he sneaks into the very bottom of the 1st round. I think he’ll have great value as a 2nd round pick and if we opt for something different in the 1st, I wouldn’t mind Bolton at 55.

Ryland B.: Built like Devin Bush, Bolton has a skillset similar to that of a slightly more athletic Vince Williams. He doesn’t have sideline-to-sideline range, but he has tremendous short-area explosiveness, and is a tough, physical tackler. He’s a smart player who is decent in zone coverage, but his athletic limitations show up when in man coverage. I think he could be a great interior blitzer, using his quickness to shoot gaps, but I didn’t see him do much of that at Missouri. I’m not as big a fan of his tape as others, as he often had a really hard time shedding blocks, which could be a big problem on the next level. Bolton is a solid prospect who could hear his name called anywhere from the first to third round in a linebacker class everyone has ranked differently.

7. Chazz Surratt — #21, Sr, 6’2”, 225 lbs — North Carolina
Mid 3rd round grade
Consensus ranking: 70 (81, 75, 47, 74, 73)
2020 season stats: Tackles 91, TFL 7.5, Sacks 6, FF 1, FR 1, PD 4, Int 1, (11 games)

steelerfan11: Surratt is a former quarterback who is still learning the position. However, he has adapted to the position very well. Fluidity in coverage was the first thing that impressed me about Surratt. Being a former quarterback helped him become a successful quarterback of the defense for North Carolina, as he did a fantastic job of reading the quarterback’s eyes and making plays in coverage. He has also proven to be a tremendous blitzer, accounting for six sacks in 2020. He still needs to learn the position a little better and add a few pounds to his frame, but he is an exciting developmental prospect who should not fall to day three.

Itz JustNoah: As a UNC fan, I had the pleasure of watching Surratt in a lot of games this year. His pro day numbers may not be the greatest but his athleticism is evident on tape. He’s always around the ball, he plays fast and he’s good against the pass, both in coverage and as a pass rusher. Surratt is relatively new to the position and he’s not very refined but his raw talent is undeniable and should easily make him at least a 3rd round pick if he doesn’t sneak into the 2nd. I wouldn’t mind if Pittsburgh wanted to take him but I would prefer we take Collins or Bolton before even thinking about Surratt.

8. Dylan Moses — #32, Sr, 6’3”, 240 lbs — Alabama
Mid 3rd round grade
Consensus ranking: 59 (76, 48, 54, 62, 53)
2020 season stats: Tackles 80, TFL 22, Sacks 6.5, FF 1, FR 0, PD 4, Int 1, (13 games)

steelerfan11: Moses suffered a season-ending ACL injury in 2019 and struggled to return to form in 2020, but the former five-star recruit still has a lot of potential. He is an instinctive run defender who is a consistent and reliable tackler. He has good range in coverage, but he was more inconsistent in coverage than what you would like to see in a linebacker with his experience. One thing worth nothing is that Alabama switched his role in their defense and made him play MIKE linebacker, and he struggled. He has the potential to become a starter at the NFL level, but I think it will be in more of a 4-3 outside linebacker role.

Necksnation: Once considered a potential top 10 pick, an underwhelming 2020 caused Moses to plummet on draft boards. He is an above average tackler who is very athletic, although it isn’t always evident in his film. Moses’ awareness is a reason for concern. In the film I watched, he was frequently getting fooled by read options, and it sometimes looked like he didn’t know where the ball was. His coverage skills could also use some work, as he only registered two interceptions and four pass breakups in his three seasons at Alabama. However, if he can return to his 2018 form, Moses has the potential to be a quality starter for an NFL team.

9. Cameron McGrone — #44, Jr, 6’1”, 236 lbs — Michigan
Mid 3rd round grade
Consensus ranking: 88 (121, 69, NA, 83, 79)
2020 season stats: Tackles 26, TFL 2, Sacks 4.5, FF 1, FR 0, PD 1, Int 0, (5 games)

steelerfan11: Familiar with Devin Bush? McGrone has a similar profile but has a smaller sample size. He has the same size, speed, and blitzing ability that made Bush a top ten pick, but we did not see it week in and week out. However, much of that may have been because of Michigan’s inconsistent play as a unit. When Aidan Hutchinson went down with a season ending injury, Michigan’s defensive line struggled to get consistent pressure, which made Josh Ross’ And McGrone’s job more difficult. McGrone had an injury of his own in 2020, but he displayed amazing toughness and played through it. He is excellent in man coverage, but his ability to play zone coverage is an unknown at this point because of how rarely Michigan employed zone philosophies. If he reaches his full potential, he’s Devin Bush 2.0, but the Steelers already have the real Devin Bush. I expect them to find someone who would be more of a complement to Bush’s skill set.

Ryland B.: Another undersized, athletic linebacker, McGrone stepped into a big time role in Michigan’s defense last year and did not disappoint. Despite weighing only 236 and having a lankier build, McGrone is incredibly physical and was a tough, hard-hitting defender. He was very good against the run and a relentless blitzer while at Michigan. In coverage, McGrone is incredibly solid as he’s really smart and athletic. McGrone is a very good linebacker, but his size could be a concern at the NFL level.

10. Pete Werner — #20, Sr, 6’3”, 242 lbs — Ohio State
Late 3rd round grade
Consensus ranking: 112 (126, 121, 96, 106, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 54, TFL 2.5, Sacks 1, FF 2, FR 0, PD 1, Int 0, (8 games)

steelerfan11: I was not looking at Werner as a potential fit for the Steelers during the season simply because I did not know if he had the necessary athleticism, but he silenced doubters like me by recording a 4.58 40 and a 39.5 inch vertical. He is very good instinctually and plays a very smart version of football. His role increased in Ohio State’s defense despite the crowded linebacker room, and he was up to the task both in coverage and against the run. If Werner continues to improve in coverage, his size and athleticism will make him a valuable player as early as year one.

Ryland B.: Werner reminds me a bit of Clemson’s Tanner Muse last year. Like Muse, Werner is a fantastic straight line athlete, but his quickness and change of direction aren’t great, and could lead to issues tackling shiftier players. Werner is a good run defender overall though, as he’s a physical tackler with good size. He’s pretty good in coverage, as he’s smart in zone and has the athleticism to play some man, although his aforementioned COD issues could pop up in the NFL. Werner is a very solid prospect who has starter upside and the floor of a special teams ace.

11. Baron Browning — #5, Sr, 6’3”, 240 lbs — Ohio State
Early 4th round grade
Consensus ranking: 82 (75, 98, 81, 76, 81)
2020 season stats: Tackles 30, TFL 3, Sacks 1, FF 2, FR 0, PD 2, Int 0, (7 games)

Ryland B.: Browning is a talented linebacker who really excelled in coverage last year for Ohio State. He’s very athletic with good size and some versatility, being moved across a lot of different linebacker spots in college. A powerful, willing hitter, Browning is pretty solid in run defense and pass-rushing scenarios, possessing a good all-around game. He is still raw though, and his mental processing is a little slow, although many draft analysts have pointed to his lack of a true position at Ohio State as the cause of his inconsistent play. Overall, Browning is a good prospect whose mixture of experience and physical tools should make him a really solid mid-round pick.

12. Tony Fields II — #1, Sr, 6’1”, 220 lbs — West Virginia
Early 4th round grade
Consensus ranking: 198 (NA, 231, 189, 174, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 88, TFL 4, Sacks 1, FF 0, FR 0, PD 3, Int 1, (9 games)

steelerfan11: Fields was one of my favorite under-the-radar prospects to watch this season. Every time I watched West Virginia, he flew to the ball and continually made plays for the Mountaineer defense. He displayed his speed at his pro day, running a 4.5 flat in the 40. The big concern with him is his size. He is undersized and does not have a gigantic frame to add a ton of extra weight. He is still somewhat inexperienced dropping into zone, but he has the range and awareness to cover tight ends, running backs, and even slot receivers. If he can add about 10 pounds and maintain his speed, I think Fields has a chance to become a starting MACK linebacker in the NFL.

13. Derrick Barnes — #55, Sr, 6’1”, 245 lbs — Purdue
Mid 4th round grade
Consensus ranking: 249 (NA, 316, 248, 183, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 54, TFL 5.5, Sacks 0, FF 0, FR 0, PD 1, Int 1, (6 games)

Ryland B.: Barnes is a physical, run-stuffing linebacker with more of an old-school feel than the others in this class. He’s a decent athlete, but not the type for man coverage assignments like the others in this class. However, Barnes’ size and intensity make him a force defending the middle of the field, and his sound tackling and short-area explosion are strengths as well. His attitude and ability to defend the run and blitz make Barnes an ideal buck linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He’s around as good a Vince Williams replacement as they come in the middle rounds.

14. Garret Wallow — #30, Sr, 6’2”, 230 lbs — TCU
Late 4th round grade
Consensus ranking: 228 (NA, 250, 186, 248, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 90, TFL 9, Sacks 3, FF 3, FR 0, PD 1, Int 0, (10 games)

steelerfan11: Wallow is a former safety who has good range but does not have great instincts. He has loose hips and makes zone drops look easy. He has the quickness and change-of-direction skills needed to play man coverage against slot receivers, and he is also an impressive blitzer, which is something that he can provide to an NFL team in year one while he continues to develop the other aspects of his game that are not as polished. While Wallow is a good tackler, he will need to recognize plays faster and process information quicker. That should come with time, but Wallow should still be considered a developmental prospect at this point. I do not see him being a starter in year one, but he can still be useful in subpackages and on special teams.

15. Charles Snowden — #11, Sr, 6’7”, 240 lbs — Virginia
Mid 5th round grade
Consensus ranking: 240 (NA, 126, 282, 313, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 44, TFL 10, Sacks 6, FF 1, FR 0, PD 0, Int 0, (8 games)

Itz JustNoah: Snowden played as an outside linebacker in UVA’s 3-4 but he has the athleticism and length to play on the inside. He’s smooth in coverage, good with his hands and he has a good first step. However, he’s overall very raw and his ability to shed blocks is not the greatest. He’s 6’7” but carries a thin frame that could lead to him getting bounced around as a pass rusher. Due to his athleticism, length and lack of pass rushing ability, I think he would fit best in a 4-3, where he can still play “outside” but not be a true pass rusher. I like Snowden as a prospect but he’s a low ceiling, high reward type player and I would not want Pittsburgh to draft him.

16. Nick Niemann —#49, Sr, 6’ 4”, 233 lbs — Iowa
Late 5th round grade
Consensus ranking: 350 (NA, 382, NA, 318, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 77, TFL 2.5, Sacks 0, FF 0, FR 1, PD 0, Int 0, (8 games)

Ryland B.: Known more as a “smart but not very athletic” linebacker at Iowa, Niemann ran a 4.45 40 at his pro day, showing that he has athleticism to play at the NFL level. Niemann’s best trait is his technique, as he’s a smart player who plays with good discipline and processing. He’s a good tackler with a physical style of play and good block-shedding ability. He projects best as a two-down linebacker at the NFL level.

17. Monty Rice — #32, Sr, 6’1”, 235 lbs — Georgia
Late 5th round grade
Consensus ranking: 168 (NA, 192, 117, 196, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 49, TFL 4, Sacks 1, FF 2, FR 1, PD 1, Int 0, (9 games)

steelerfan11: Rice was a consistent player at Georgia and will look to provide the same stability to the team that drafts him. When lineman get to the second level, he does a good job of disengaging from them and getting to the ball carrier. He is also a good tackler who has good closing speed. Unfortunately, he lacks ideal length and will probably never develop into a starter. His ceiling is likely a career backup, but a team will likely get the most value out of him by using him on special teams.

18. KJ Britt — #33, Sr, 6’0”, 243 lbs — Auburn
6th round grade
Consensus ranking: 173 (NA, 136, 129, 255, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 23, TFL 1, Sacks 0, FF 0, FR 0, PD 0, Int 0, (9 games)

Ryland B.: KJ Britt is the epitome of the late-round, run-stuffing linebacker with limited athleticism. He doesn’t offer much coverage ability or sideline-to-sideline range, but he’s a tackling machine who will do a good job defending the run up the middle. Perhaps the biggest issue is that Britt is slightly undersized and can have a hard time shedding blocks, both of which are big issues for a player with his style of play. I’m not sure if Britt has much starter upside, but he might be a solid special teamer on the next level.

19. Joshua McMillon — #40, Sr, 6’3”, 240 lbs — Alabama
7th round/UDFA grade
Consensus ranking: 364 (NA, 433, 294, NA, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 9, TFL 1, Sacks 0, FF 0, FR 0, PD 1, Int 0, (11 games)

steelerfan11: McMillon is a well-built linebacker with solid tackling skills. He is not the most rangy linebacker or the biggest playmaker on defense, but he seems to process information and understand his assignments well. After six seasons in college, he seems to have reached his athletic ceiling, however, so he may be limited to special teams in the NFL.

20. Amen Ogbongbemoga — #7, Sr, 6’3”, 235 lbs — Oklahoma State
7th round/UDFA grade
Consensus ranking: 262 (NA, 190, 282, 313, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 80, TFL 5, Sacks 2.5, FF 3, FR 2, PD 0, Int 0, (11 games)

Ryland B.: Born in Nigeria, Ogbongbemoga has had an interesting journey on his way to the NFL, as he went on to have a successful high school career in Canada to starting on the Oklahoma State defense. Surprisingly enough, he has NFL bloodlines too, as his cousin is Dolphins defensive linemen Emmanuel Ogbah. Ogbongbemoga had impressive production last year, and is a fairly athletic linebacker who is solid in all phases of the game. He plays with a strong motor and is a good tackler, although his game and overall physicality can be a little inconsistent at times. He’s slightly undersized and can have a hard time getting off blocks. Ogbongbemoga could be an interesting late-round/UDFA pickup.

21. Caleb Kelly — #19, Sr, 6’3”, 232 lbs — Oklahoma
7th round/UDFA grade
Consensus ranking: NA (NA, NA, NA, NA, NA)
2020 season stats: (0 games)
2019 season stats: Tackles 7, TFL 0, Sacks 0, FF 0, FR 0, PD 0, Int 0, (4 games)

steelerfan11: While Kelly has solid speed, his lateral agility leaves a lot to be desired. He plays bigger than his size as a run defender and isn’t afraid to get physical, but his poor change-of-direction skills give elusive running backs the edge against him one-on-one. He has not shown much in the pass rushing department and still needs a lot of work as a coverage linebacker, but the former five-star still has some upside, which is why it would make sense for a team to take a shot on him at the end of the draft.

22. Anthony Hines — #19, Jr, 6’3”, 230 lbs — Texas A&M
7th round/UDFA grade
Consensus ranking: 290 (NA, 257, 271, 341, NA)
2020 season stats: (0 games)
2019 season stats: Tackles 73, TFL 10.5, Sacks 0, FF 0, FR 0, PD 0, Int 0, (13 games)

Ryland B.: A highly sought after high school prospect, Hines brings five star athleticism to the table, but he’s still raw overall. He has a lean build for a linebacker, but he’s a hard hitter who isn’t scared of contact, although his smaller size can be an issue when taking on linemen. Hines’ athleticism is a massive plus though, and he has all of the tools to succeed in coverage. Opting out of the 2020 season is reason for concern, especially due to the rawness of Hines’ game — but if he can get coached up a bit more and add some bulk, he has the upside to be a starter at the NFL level.

23. Paddy Fisher — #42, Sr, 6’4”, 240 lbs — Northwestern
7th round/UDFA grade
Consensus ranking: 188 (NA, 164, 187, 213, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 86, TFL 4.5, Sacks 0, FF 1, FR 1, PD 3, Int 1, (9 games)

steelerfan11: Fisher is a very smart player who did an excellent job as quarterback of the defense, but he has a serious lack of speed and range in coverage. He is a good run defender who recognizes gaps and fills them quickly, and he is not afraid to get physical at the point of attack. The only problem is that today’s game requires linebackers who can do more than simply play the run, and Fisher is not one of those linebackers.

Notable prospects who decided to return to school for 2021:

Alabama LB Christopher Allen

Texas LB Ayodele Adeoye

Should the Steelers draft a linebacker in the 2021 NFL Draft?

steelerfan11: While I do not see linebacker as a huge need, I expect it to be addressed early on. I was a Robert Spillane critic and was surprised when he made the roster, but he silenced doubters like me last season. He is not the most gifted athlete, but he is a solid run defender despite his size and will only do better when he is paired next to Devin Bush. I would also consider re-signing Avery Williamson, who is becoming cheaper each day that he is still on the market. He would provide the length that we could use next to Devin Bush.

I understand the love around here for Zaven Collins, and don’t get me wrong. His tape is fantastic, but I do not see him being valuable enough to us to forgo our needs on the offensive line early on. I see left tackle, center, cornerback, tight end, running back, and as our biggest needs, in that order. They are all bigger issues than middle linebacker, where we have a rare talent in Devin Bush as the MACK linebacker, a solid player in Robert Splillane, and a cheap free agent option in Avery Williamson if we are not comfortable with the situation as it stands currently. I like Tony Fields, but he would not be a starter for us. He would play the MACK position in a 3-4 system, and that job belongs to Devin Bush. I am warming up to Derrick Barnes on day three as well, but he does not have great length either. If Jabril Cox were to somehow fall to our third round pick, I would be okay with that selection as well. Pete Werner could be interesting in the third or fourth round if he is still available, and he may be my first choice based on value, but I would still look at the other positions of need that are listed above before forcing a linebacker.

Necksnation: Over the past eight years, the Steelers have used an astounding amount of draft picks on linebackers. In five of the past seven years that they’ve had a first round pick, the Steelers have selected a linebacker, and in three of those drafts they took multiple linebackers. This year, they have a budding star in Devin Bush, but the other ILB spot is in question. Bush is the MACK linebacker, and for the past few years Vince Williams was the BUCK linebacker. However, Williams has been released, leaving Robert Spillane in charge of the position. Spillane performed admirably in 2020, but many Steelers fans want yet another high pick spent on a linebacker. By the time the Steelers are on the clock in the first round, Micah Parsons and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah should both be gone, leaving Zaven Collins as a popular choice. Collins is a good athlete with great tape, making him the object of many Steelers fans’ desire. However, it still seems somewhat unlikely that he is the pick, partially because the Steelers haven’t used their top pick on a player outside the Power 5 since 2004. But the strongest argument against Collins (or any linebacker) is that the Steelers have too many offensive holes to take a linebacker, especially since Spillane played fairly well when given the opportunity. Taking a linebacker in the first round this year would be a luxury pick, which is something the Steelers can’t afford if they intend to make a playoff run this year.

Ryland B.: Devin Bush is a star, but is Robert Spillane good enough to start beside him? That’s the question that will determine whether or not the Steelers spend a high pick on an inside linebacker in the upcoming draft. After cutting Vince Williams, Pittsburgh’s depth at the position isn’t great, but if Spillane can fill the run-stuffing role of a buck linebacker full time in 2021, the Steelers could likely find a cheap backup in the later rounds of the draft or in free agency and be fine. But if the team is looking for a starter, there’s a couple of options they could go with. The first is BTSC draft favorite Zaven Collins, who is really the only linebacker in this draft besides Micah Parsons who has the size and skillset to be an excellent run-stuffer while also possessing the athleticism to play all three downs. Putting Collins (or Parsons in the unlikely event he falls to #24) next to Bush would give the Steelers a talented tandem of linebackers who would never have to come off of the field. The problem is that it would cost a first round pick. The other option is to go with the coverage linebacker, such as Jabril Cox and Jamin Davis in the second and third rounds, who would bolster the Steelers pass defense but have to be taken out for Spillane on short yardage situations. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is the best of such linebackers in this draft, but he’d cost a first round pick as well. Of course they could go with a pure run-defending buck instead, but again, such a player could be easily found near the end of the draft or as a cheap free agent. The wildcard here in Nick Bolton, who similarly to Collins is an athletic run-stuffer, but simply lacks the size to be an ideal fit in that role. Devin Bush is undersized already, and starting two smaller linebackers on the same defense is never a good idea in the AFC North.

All of that is to say, there’s a lot of different options for the Steelers when it comes to picking one in the 2021 NFL Draft. But it will depend the most on how confident they are in Robert Spillane.


When should the Steelers draft an inside linebacker in the 2021 NFL Draft?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Round 1
    (24 votes)
  • 38%
    Rounds 2-3
    (65 votes)
  • 41%
    Rounds 4-5
    (70 votes)
  • 3%
    Rounds 6-7
    (6 votes)
  • 1%
    UDFA/Don’t draft an inside linebacker
    (3 votes)
168 votes total Vote Now

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