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. 

With the need to affect passers paramount in today’s NFL, the days of traditional off-ball outside linebackers earning top-10 selections may be nearing an end. Those players athletic and explosive enough to both rush and cover (as well as support the run), however, are arguably more valuable than ever.

That was the case with Clemson’s freakish Isaiah Simmons, the first outside linebacker off the board this spring to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 8 overall.

And it will almost certainly be the case in 2021 again with Penn State’s Micah Parsons, who might have leapt Simmons had the true junior been eligible for last year’s draft.

It is easy to venture into hyperbole with Parsons, a consensus All-American last year and the first sophomore in Big Ten history to be named the Butkus-Fitzpatrick Linebacker of the year.

Rather than “just” your traditional glass-eating ‘thumper, Parsons is an exceptional athlete, boasting terrific lateral agility, balance and core flexibility to slice and slither his way through gaps to wreak havoc in the backfield. Even better, his long arms and incredible hand-eye coordination help him rip the ball free, forcing six fumbles in just two seasons at the college level.

Parsons is a true three down linebacker who can also handle coverage duties. There are plenty of other candidates who are more specialists, such as edge rushers Charles Snowden (Virginia) and Oregon State’s speedy Hamilcar Rashed, Jr., who exploded for 22.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks as year ago.

Because of his eye-popping production, the Beavers’ Rashed, Jr. will draw plenty of attention this year, as will North Carolina’s Chazz Surratt, who was making the transition from quarterback to linebacker at this time a year ago. Scouts are eager to see both build upon last season’s success.

Expect another linebacker out west – Cal’s long-armed and limber 6-5, 225 pound Kuony Deng – to put up big numbers in 2020 now that his former teammate, Evan Weaver, is taking his FBS-leading 182 tackles from a year ago to the Arizona Cardinals.

Scouts are also eager to see how Temple-transfer Quincy Roche fares in Miami, especially given the presence of potential first rounder Gregory Rousseau at defensive end. 

Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk.

The Top Five

1. *Micah Parsons 6-2, 245 Penn State

2. Charles Snowden 6-6 235 Virginia

3. Quincy Roche 6-3, 235 Miami

4. Chazz Surratt 6-2, 230 North Carolina

5. Hamilcar Rashed, Jr. 6-2, 236 Oregon State

Best of the Rest

6. Kuony Deng 6-5, 225 Calfornia

7. Pete Werner 6-2 239 Ohio State

8. *Nick Bolton 6-0, 235 Missouri

9. Shaka Toney 6-2, 243 Penn State

10. *Devin Lloyd 6-2, 235 Utah

11. Garrett Wallow 6-1, 212 TCU

12. Jabril Cox 6-2, 233 LSU

13. *Adam Anderson 6-5, 225 Georgia

14. Jamar Watson 6-2 242 Kentucky

15. *Merlin Robertson 6-2, 235 Arizona State

16. Jahad Woods 6-0 225 Washington State

17. Sam Williams 6-2, 251 Mississippi

18. *Gabe Reid 6-2, 231 Stanford

19. Troy Andersen 6-2, 233 Montana State

20. Christian Elliss 6-2, 230 Idaho

Prior “First Take” Positional Previews:

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