Editor's Note: These rankings were originally published before the combine. We will be updating our position rankings throughout draft season.
As the NFL continues to evolve into a pass-first league, what front offices covet in linebackers continues to evolve.
Teams are looking for linebackers that excel in coverage and can play all three downs as opposed to the old-school, two-down thumpers that were most associated with the position in the past. The linebackers that will be selected early in this year's draft have the ability to make an impact in the passing game.
Here are my updated linebacker rankings for the 2020 draft:
1. Isaiah Simmons, Clemson (rJR, 6'4", 238 pounds)
As Simmons says, he "just play(s) defense." That was his response to a PFF tweet highlighting that he played 100-plus snaps at five different positions in 2019. The converted safety won the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top college linebacker, but Simmons is a versatile chess piece that can win in a variety of ways. A modern-day hybrid defender, Simmons' elite physical profile was on full display at the combine—4.39, 40-yard dash, 39" vertical jump and 11' broad jump at 6'4" and 238 pounds. He finished his junior season with 104 tackles, 8.0 sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
2. Patrick Queen, LSU (JR, 6'0", 229 pounds)
Performing his best down the stretch during LSU's title run, Queen ended his breakout junior season with 6.0 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in his final four games in 2019. Thriving in coverage, Queen has outstanding speed and is a fluid mover with excellent change-of-direction ability. While he isn't the biggest linebacker, he's quick to diagnose and has the balance and body control that makes him a reliable open-field tackler. One of the youngest prospects in the draft, Queen won't turn 21 until training camp (August 13).
3. Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma (JR, 6'3", 241 pounds)
Murray plays with urgency and possesses sideline-to-sideline range and exceptional closing speed. A highly productive and physical tone-setter in the middle of Oklahoma's defense, Murray has racked up more than 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons including a team-high 17 tackles for loss in 2019. With the athleticism to cover running backs and tight ends, Murray is a modern-day linebacker with the ability to make an impact on all three downs early in his career.
4. Zack Baun, Wisconsin (rSR, 6'2", 238 pounds)
One of the most productive edge rushers in 2019, Baun had 19.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks, second to only Ohio State's Chase Young among Big Ten defenders. Baun has an explosive first step, but he lacks the ideal size and length to be a full-time NFL edge rusher. Expected to transition to an off-ball role at the next level, as he said at the Senior Bowl, because Baun is fluid when dropping into coverage. With sideline-to-sideline range to go along with his coverage and blitzing ability, Baun should transition smoothly into his new role at the next level.
5. Troy Dye, Oregon (SR, 6'3", 231 pounds)
Highly productive since becoming a starter as a true freshman, Dye has led the Ducks in tackles all four years in Eugene. While he has a thin frame, he uses his outstanding length, coverage ability and instincts to make an impact in the passing game. Over his collegiate career, he has a total of five interceptions and 14 passes defended. Due to his outstanding range, effort and coverage skills, Dye should hear his name called on Day 2.
Here are the next 10 linebackers:
6. Malik Harrison, Ohio State (SR, 6'3", 247 pounds)
7. Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech (SR, 6'0", 240 pounds)
8. Akeem Davis-Gaither, Appalachian State (rSR, 6'2", 224 pounds)
9. Evan Weaver, Cal (SR, 6'2", 237 pounds)
10. David Woodward, Utah State (rJR, 6'2", 230 pounds)
11. Francis Bernard, Utah (SR, 6'0", 234 pounds)
12. Logan Wilson, Wyoming (rSR, 6'2", 241 pounds)
13. Davion Taylor, Colorado (SR, 6'1", 228 pounds)
14. Willie Gay Jr., Mississippi State (JR, 6'1", 243 pounds)
15. Jacob Phillips, LSU (JR, 6'3", 229 pounds)
Kevin Hanson joins SI for the 2020 NFL Draft season. His NFL Mock Drafts have graded as the most accurate over the past five years, per The Huddle Report. His 2015 NFL mock draft graded as the most accurate and his 2019 NFL mock draft was the second-most accurate out of 101 draft analysts.
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