From legends like Dick Butkus and Lawrence Taylor, to modern day studs like Bobby Wagner and Khalil Mack, linebackers are often captains on defense. Versatility is the top trait of quality linebackers as they are asked to stop the run, defend against the pass and put pressure on quarterbacks.
There are several top linebacker prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft, which will proceed as scheduled from April 23-25 in a fully virtual format. DraftKings sportsbook is offering several prop options that are focused on the NFL draft. That includes how many linebackers will be selected in the first round. The total is set at 4.5 with UNDER (-225) as the favorite and OVER (+180) as the underdog.
Which Linebackers Are Top First Round Prospects?
Illustrating their importance, 34 linebackers were first-round picks during the last 10 NFL drafts. That includes at least four linebackers being selected in Round 1 during five of the last six drafts. There are several NFL-ready linebackers in the 2020 class, so let’s break down the top prospects.
Isaiah Simmons, Clemson Tigers
Clemson Tigers star Isaiah Simmons sits at the top of most linebacker ranking lists. That includes the list posted by SI draft expert Kevin Hanson. Simmons is a versatile defender who logged more than 100 snaps at five different positions during his junior year. A great mix of size, speed and skill, Simmons had 104 tackles (67 solo), eight sacks and three interceptions for the Tigers in 2019. Further cementing his draft stock, Simmons posted a lightning-quick 4.39 in the 40-yard dash, which was the eighth-fastest time at the 2020 NFL Combine.
K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU Tigers
Listed as an EDGE rusher in some player rankings and a linebacker in others, K'Lavon Chaisson played outside linebacker at LSU. Chaisson appeared in 10 games during his freshman year, but just one game as a sophomore after he suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Returning to full health, Chaisson played 13 games during his final season and led the Tigers with 6.5 sacks. Chaisson is ranked 17th on the Sports Illustrated Top-100 board. DraftKings has Chaisson as the second-favorite to be the first linebacker selected.
Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma Sooners
A true-freshman starter, Kenneth Murray played 40 games during his three-year career at Oklahoma. NFL ready, Murray anchored the Sooners defense and was a big contributor on three straight Big 12 Championship teams. Murray finished his career with 9.5 sacks and 325 tackles (176 solo), including 36.5 that resulted in losses.
Noted for his speed, plus sideline-to-sideline range, Murray has a motor that never quits.
Patrick Queen, LSU Tigers
Despite being a one-year starter at LSU, Patrick Queen is a top-ranked inside linebacker. SI Chiefs Maven Jordan Foote says “It’s difficult to find any glaring weaknesses in Queen’s game”. Queen played 14 games during his first two years and 15 games as a junior during the Tigers’ 2019 National Championship season. Queen recorded 85 total tackles (37 solo), three sacks and one INT during his final year at LSU. Due to limited experience, Queen needs some polishing. But he has a skill set that can be developed on the fly at the NFL level.
Zack Baun, Wisconsin Badgers
A relative unknown prior to the 2019 NCAA season, Zack Baun played 20 games during his first two seasons. That changed during his final season, as Baun posted 52 solo tackles (75 total), 12.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one pick-six. A hybrid linebacker, Baun is a versatile defender who has blossomed into a dynamic pass rusher. SI Seahawks Maven Corbin Smith suggested Seattle will target Baun with the 27th overall pick. Since Jadeveon Clowney isn’t expected to re-sign with Seattle, adding Baun as a situational pass rusher makes sense.
Which Teams Need Help at Linebacker?
Carolina is in a major rebuild and needs to fill the void created when Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly retired at the end of the 2019 NFL season. All in need of pass rushers, the Miami defense created just 23 sacks last season while Atlanta, Detroit and Seattle had 28. Washington and Cleveland both allowed more than 140 rushing yards per game, so a stud run-stopping linebacker would help their defense. While they may wait until later rounds to address the need, the Ravens, Chargers and Rams could use an upgrade at linebacker as well.
DraftKings bookmakers have posted a sharp number on this NFL draft prop. My research points to either four or five linebackers being selected during the first round. While I am confident that Simmons, Chaisson and Murray will be first-round selections, I feel either Queen or Baun will be second-round picks. Bettors also need to consider the talent-rich draft pools at several other positions. The total staying UNDER is the best bet here.
The Play: UNDER 4.5 (-225)
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