With the report cards for the 2020 NFL draft completed, NFLDraftScout is turning its attention to the class of 2021, offering a quick “First Take” with rankings and perspective of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each position group. 

While critics are quick to suggest that inside linebackers are dinosaurs on the verge of extinction in today’s NFL, the 2019 and 2020 drafts suggested otherwise with Devin White (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Devin Bush (Pittsburgh Steelers) each living up to their top 10 selections in the NFL a year ago and the Chargers (Kenneth Murray), Seahawks (Jordyn Brooks) and Ravens (Patrick Queen) nabbing defenders with late first round picks this spring.

While traditional glass-eating MIKE ‘backers are no longer as necessary given how often offenses throw the ball, heavy hitters with the instincts and speed for coverage warrant early round picks.

Of the top prospects available in 2021, Alabama’s Dylan Moses is the obvious headliner, projecting as a first round talent, himself – at least based on his 2018 film.

Moses, remember, missed all of last season tearing his ACL during August camp. 

Prior to the injury, however, Moses looked like the next Butkus Award candidate from the Crimson Tide, finishing as a finalist to White in 2018 as a true sophomore.

This past year, it was Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons taking home the hardware, breaking a three-year streak of SEC players (White, Roquan Smith, Rueben Foster) being recognized as the best linebacker in college football.

If Moses returns to his previous All-SEC form, the Butkus may be his for the taking, though there is a certain star outside linebacker at Penn State who may have something to say about that. 

If anyone needed a reminder of the SEC’s supremacy, the 2019 NFL draft certainly provided it, setting a modern day record with 64 players drafted out of the conference – a full two dozen more than Big Ten’s 40. It was the 13 consecutive year that the SEC led all conferences in the number of players drafted into the NFL.

That said, there is plenty of talent brewing out west as well, including at Southern Cal, where junior Palaie Gaoteote IV is earning similar buzz early in his career as former Trojans star Rey Maualuga. Scouts are also heading to Colorado and Fresno State, where nationally underrated talents Nate Landman and Justin Rice keep turning heads.

And, of course, never discount the black and blue Big Ten, which features three tackle-hungry thumpers in Ohio State’s Tuf Borland, Northwestern’s Paddy Fisher, not to mention Wisconsin junior Jack Sanborn.

Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk.

The Top Five

1. *Dylan Moses 6-2 235 Alabama

2. *Palaie Gaoteote IV 6-2, 250 Southern Cal

3. Nate Landman 6-2, 230 Colorado

4. Paddy Fisher 6-3, 241 Northwestern

5. Tuf Borland 6-1 232 Ohio State

Best of the Rest

6. *DaShaun White 6-0, 228 Oklahoma

7. *Jack Sanborn 6-1, 232 Wisconsin

8. *Damone Clark 6-3, 239 LSU

9. K.J. Britt 6-0, 236 Auburn

9. Erroll Thompson 6-1, 250 Mississippi State

10. Justin Rice 6-2, 225 Fresno State

11. Monty Rice 6-0, 235 Georgia

12. Rayshard Ashby 5-10, 237 Virginia Tech

13. Max Richardson 6-0, 230 Boston College

14. Baron Browning 6-2, 248 Ohio State

15. Amen Ogbongbemiga 6-0, 225 Oklahoma State

16. *Isaac Slade-Matautia 6-0, 235 Oregon

17. Jace Lewis 6-0, 230 Montana

18. Treshaun Hayward 6-0, 220 Western Michigan

19. Tyshon Fogg 6-0, 240 Rutgers

20. Zane Zandier 6-2, 230 Virginia

Prior “First Take” Positional Previews: 

Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Offensive Tackles | Offensive Guards | Centers | Defensive Ends | Defensive Tackles | Outside Linebackers