The "Triple Take" team, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta, provides updates on their breakdown of the top linebacker prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.
The opinions of these Steelers Radio Network personalities do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.
Matt's Second Take on the LB position ...
Who's stock has risen and why?
Nick Niemann, Iowa (6-4, 233 lbs.) - Niemann's brother Ben recently played in the league and Iowa has quietly been a linebacker pipeline to the NFL of late. Highly productive at Iowa, Niemann consistently makes plays on game day. But it was his pro day that really is starting to generate buzz around Niemann. At 6' 3", he has the dimensions teams are looking for. But at 234 pounds, Niemann blazed a 4.48/40 and even more impressive, his 3-cone drill score of 6.67 was really outstanding. His other drill work was also quite good including a 4.14 short shuttle score. Not only does Niemann have size and run well in a straight line, but he is quick to change directions without losing much momentum.
Who's emerged and why?
Derrick Barnes, Purdue (6-1, 245 lbs.) - Barnes is a really interesting player. In 2019, he aligned on the line of scrimmage as an edge defender and played quite well. He has that ability to rush the passer off the edge. But last year, he was moved off the ball to a more traditional linebacker spot and shined there as well. Then Barnes blew up Purdue's Pro Day. His long arms are useful as an edge rusher and he still did 29 reps on the bench with those long arms, but it was Barnes' forty time (4.57) and vertical jump (37") that really make you take notice.
Other Notes: Amazingly, Ohio State has four off the ball linebackers that NFL scouts are looking at. Those draftable linebackers are Baron Browning, Tuf Borland, Pete Warner and Justin Hilliard. But the two that really stand out are Browning and Warner and they have similar, very impressive athletic profiles. Browning stands 6' 3" and 245 pounds. Warner is also 6' 3" and just seven pounds lighter. Both linebackers ran in the very low 4.5s, which is great for their size. Both had arm lengths of over 33" as well as 40" vertical jumps. Browning's outstanding 130" broad jump bettered his teammate by eight inches, and he had the better agility drill scores as well. Also, coming in at 245 pounds was big for Browning, as he does excellent work as an edge rusher and could even project to playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 front. Both players should be very excited about their performances and their stocks should be on the rise, especially when factoring in their rare height for the position.
Matt's First Take on the LB position ...
#5 - Nick Bolton, Missouri (6-0, 232 lbs.) - Bolton makes a ton of plays and is extremely reliable. Coaches will love this guy and his production is top-notch. He is a high-quality athlete that reads plays very quickly and demonstrates an excellent understanding of what the opponent is looking to accomplish. He plays the game in balance and rarely takes a false step when defending the run or pass. There is no such thing as a sure bet in the scouting world, but Bolton is awfully close.
#4 - Jamin Davis, Kentucky (6-4, 234 lbs.) - Davis is tough and plays hard, but the beauty of him is his rare combination of height, length and speed. He has a lot of upside as a coverage player but hasn't played a lot of man coverage thus far. Few linebackers built like Davis play the run as well and he is especially impressive when chasing the ball sideline to sideline. He is a good tackler with a huge tackling radius. Davis really stepped up this past year and is a player on the rise.
#3 - Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame (6-1 1/2, 220 lbs.) - This is a very undersized player as traditional linebackers go and might even be a safety in the NFL. He played an overhang role at Notre Dame, but has a skillset to help a defense at the next level in just so many ways. He often had to cover slot receivers in college. But Owusu-Koramoah plays big, is an explosive powerful hitter and plays with ferocity. Still, you have to worry about his ability to take on much bigger blockers over and over if left in the box. His new team will have to have a defined plan for Owusu-Koramoah, but he is a modern-day defender with an old school mentality and tenacity. That's a good combination.
#2 - Zaven Collins, Tulsa (6-4, 260 lbs.) - Collins is built like a 3-4 outside linebacker and can certainly rush the passer off the edge as well as hold up there at the point of attack in the run game. But Collins excels off the ball as well. He almost looks out of place on the second level because he is just so big, but he is very fluid and doesn't have a tough time at all playing in space or changing directions. Plus, Collins is very fast and plays fast. He is a rare prospect.
#1 - Micah Parsons, Penn State (6-3, 244 lbs.) - Parsons has quite the blend of size, speed, power with the ability to be the centerpiece of a defense at the next level. He opted out in 2020, but his tape the previous year was very impressive. Parsons is a downhill thumper as well as an excellent space player. He affects the passing game as a pass-rusher, often off the edge, as well as showing the ability to man up with tight ends and running backs, although he wasn't asked to do a lot of that at Penn State. Parsons fits every scheme and projects to being a big-time impact player in the NFL.
Dale's Second Take on the LB position ...
Who's stock has risen and why?
Jamin Davis, Kentucky (6-4, 234 lbs.) - Davis has worked his way from being considered a Day 2 pick to now getting considerable first-round buzz. When you run a 4.37-second 40-yard dash and combine it with a 42-inch vertical jump and 11-foot broad jump, that will happen. That's especially true when the production on tape matches up. Davis is a high-upside player whose best days are ahead of him. He might now be the No. 2 off-ball linebacker taken in this draft.
Who's emerged and why?
Baron Browning, Ohio State (6-3, 245 lbs.) - OK, we could have put several Ohio State linebackers here, but we'll go with Browning. He produced his share of splash plays for the Buckeyes and his pro day was dynamite. He ran a 4.51 40, had 33 ½-inch arms, a 40-inch vertical and a 6.78-second three-cone drill of which many running backs would be proud.
Other Notes: Browning's teammate at Ohio State, Pete Werner was no slouch at the Buckeyes' pro day, either. He ran a 4.52 40 and had a 40-inch vertical at 6-3, 238 lbs. … With so many risers in a deep linebacker class, Missouri's Nick Bolton has been forgotten a bit. But his tape is good and he ran a more than respectable 4.59 40 at 5-11, 237 lbs. He's a fast, old-school downhill linebacker. … Iowa's Nick Niemann opened some eyes with his testing, running as low as a 4.45 40 while posting a 6.67-second three-cone drill. He might have run himself onto some draft boards as a guy who had 77 tackles in eight games in 2020.
Dale's First Take on the LB position ...
#5 - Jamin Davis, Kentucky (6-4, 234 lbs.) - A long, lanky prospect, Davis enters the draft as a junior with just one full season as a starter under his belt. But he had five interceptions in college, including three in 2020. He also had 102 tackles in 10 games this season. Like many inexperienced young linebackers, he needs to get better on his reads, and he'll need to learn to get off blocks better, but he's got plenty of speed to go sideline to sideline.
#4 - Nick Bolton, Missouri (6-0, 232 lbs.) - Bolton was a two-year starter at Missouri who packs a punch when he hits a runner. Despite his lack of size, he's not great in man coverage, but he does show a good knack for handling zones. Bolton also is an accomplished blitzer who will continue to get better as he grows older. He's just 21 years old.
#3 - Zaven Collins, Tulsa (6-4, 260 lbs.) - Has the size to play outside linebacker, but is better suited to play in space. His size sets him apart from most of the other prospects coming out. But he played small school football growing up in a small town in Oklahoma, where he lined up at quarterback, linebacker and safety. Had 54 tackles, four sacks and four interceptions in just eight games in 2020.
#2 - Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame (6-1 1/2, 220 lbs.) - One of the true wildcards in this year's draft. He could be taken very early or very late in the first round. A linebacker in a safety's body, Owusu-Koramorah filled the stat sheet for the Irish in his two seasons as a starter, recording 142 tackles, seven sacks, an interception, 24.5 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles. The question with him will be his size. Is he as big as listed?
#1 - Micah Parsons, Penn State (6-3, 244 lbs.) - Like Collins, Parsons has the throwback size to go along with excellent speed and playmaking ability. When he sees the ball, look out. The only one of the top linebacker prospects to opt out, he'll obviously need to test as well as expected to hold down this spot. But he had 109 tackles, including 15 for a loss, and five sacks in 2019.
Mike's Second Take on the LB position ...
Who's stock has risen and why?
Zaven Collins, Tulsa (6-4, 260 lbs.) - Collins doesn't have far to rise, given that he's consistently been regarded as a prospect with first-round potential. But Collins sold his versatility in an interview with the NFL Network during Tulsa's Pro Day, and in doing so he made a compelling argument.
"It went well," Collins maintained after producing a 4.67 40, a 35" vertical and a 10'2" broad jump. "I think it was a really fluid day. Moving side to side, getting out, opening up, those are the things I'm best at.
"With my size, strength and speed I can do a lot of things, rush on third down, drop back in coverage, spy the 'Q,' be inside on first and second down, do basically about anything. I attribute a lot of that to the defense we ran in college. It's something that's helped me out quite a bit."
The ability to rush off the edge on third down after playing a more traditional off-ball linebacker spot on first and second down intrigues, as does Collins' willingness to spy quarterbacks when necessary.
He may not have gone to Alabama or Ohio State, but he still won the 2020 Bednarik Award (Maxwell Club) and the 2020 Nagurski Award (Football Writers Association of America), which are given annually to the nation's best defensive player. Collins was the only player in FBS with four-plus sacks and four-plus interceptions in 2020 (he had four of each in eight games).
Various NFL Network analysts have projected Collins to go 19th, 24th, 28th, 29th and 32nd overall.
He looks like a certain first-round selection; the questions are when and where?
Other Notes: Stanford's Curtis Robinson (6-3, 236 lbs.) is another player who projects as capable of playing on the edge or off the ball, in Robinson's case in either spot in a sub-package role. He can also cover kicks … Purdue's Derrick Barnes (6-0, 230 lbs.) is still another player who projects outside/edge-inside versatility. Barnes was an edge rusher for the Boilermakers in 2019 (7.5 sacks in 12 games) and an inside linebacker in 2020 (54 tackles and an interception in six games). He's shown stopping power and physicality inside and an ability to translate speed to power when coming off the edge.
Mike's First Take on the LB position ...
#5 - Jabril Cox, LSU (6-3, 229 lbs.) - The arrow is pointing up, from North Dakota State and then to LSU as a transfer for 2020 and now to the next level. NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah liked what he saw from Cox at the Senior Bowl: "A big, long, athletic linebacker who's been really good in coverage with tight ends and backs this week." Cox can also contribute defending against the pass from the throwing end (he had six-and-a-half sacks in his lone season at LSU). Cox is a former quarterback and wide receiver in high school who has the athleticism to fill a variety of roles. His trajectory is headed in the right direction.
#4 - Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame (6-1 1/2, 220 lbs.) - He's taking the lighter, stick-and-move aspect of the new-wave inside linebacker to the extreme, but he's also an intriguing chess piece. Owusu-Koramoah's versatility projects as a player capable of coming off the edge, playing strong safety or "big nickel" and lining up off the ball. Draft the athlete and then determine the best fit or fits as you go. He won't need the luck of the Irish to contribute at the next level.
#3 - Jamin Davis, Kentucky (6-4, 234 lbs.) - Davis had five interceptions in three seasons at Kentucky, including three in 2020, including an 85-yard pick-six against Tennessee. Jeremiah sees a lot of Darius Leonard in Davis (Leonard went in the second round in 2018 and promptly became a first-team All-Pro; apparently there were more new-age inside linebackers available than initially perceived back then, as well). Davis closes with authority and has shown he can take the ball away in the running game as well as the passing game.
#3 - Zaven Collins, Tulsa (6-4, 260 lbs.) - Among Collins' remarkable attributes is he looks svelte at 260 pounds. He can stick and move well enough to play the "spy" and to make a leaping interception and then sprint 96 yards the other way for a walk-off pick-six in double-overtime. Collins did that in 2020 against Tulane and in the process authored perhaps the pre-draft Highlight of the Year. He didn't look tired upon reaching the end zone. Collins can diagnose and then explode, and his closing speed is reminiscent of a video game. It was said on air of Collins during a Tulsa-UCF broadcast, "It looks like there are three of him."
#1 - Micah Parsons, Penn State (6-3, 244 lbs.) - Parsons didn't play in 2020, but he was the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year in 2019 as a sophomore, as well as a first-team AP All-America selection. His tape from that season includes forcing Buckeyes running back J.K. Dobbins to fumble and chasing Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields from the pocket to the sideline. Parsons is a whatever-is-necessary defender, whether what's required at a given time is stuffing a short-yardage run, rushing the passer off the edge, tackles in the open field, what have you. His game can be summed up by a line from play-by-play man Chris Fowler during the 2019 Penn State-Michigan game: "Is he playing fast, or what?" Fast and ferocious.