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2021 NFL Draft Prospects for Vikings: Linebackers

View photos of potential linebackers the Vikings can select in the 2021 NFL Draft. Read the full story HERE.

In the lead-up to the 2021 NFL Draft, Vikings.com is taking a position-by-position look at prospects who have garnered a range of attention from national outlets. The series will include rankings, stats and background information for multiple prospects. We'll also include comments that experts shared during interviews.

Vikings status at linebacker

No Vikings position group was hit harder by injuries in 2020 than linebacker. Eric Kendricks missed the final five games of the season because of a calf injury he suffered during a practice, and his former college roommate Anthony Barr tore a pectoral muscle in Week 2, ending his seventh pro season before he really got going.

Injuries weren't limited to the pair of Pro Bowlers or constrained within the season. Ben Gedeon, a fourth-round pick in 2017, was unable to pass a physical and return to action in 2020, and Cameron Smith, a fifth-round selection in 2019 learned of a congenital heart defect after testing positive for COVID-19 at the onset of training camp. Smith underwent surgery and hopes to return; Gedeon was released.

Troy Dye, a fourth-round selection a year ago, played in 11 games and made five starts despite spending time on Injured Reserve after Week 2.

View the best photos of Vikings LB Troy Dye from the 2020 season.

Kendricks, Barr and Dye could be the starters in base. Minnesota also is returning Ryan Connelly (an Eden Prairie native and former pick of the Giants) and Blake Lynch (an undrafted rookie a year ago). The Vikings additionally signed Nick Vigil in free agency to help offset the departure of Eric Wilson after four solid seasons.

Even though Kendricks and Barr have two starting spots on lock, the Vikings are almost certain to add to the group in the draft. Minnesota has selected at least one linebacker in all but one draft since 2006. The lone exception was 2008 when Minnesota made just five selections, in large part because the Vikings had sent multiple picks to the Chiefs to acquire Jared Allen.

View the best photos of Vikings LB Eric Kendricks from the 2020 season.

Ask the analyst

Chances are Ben Leber needs little introduction to those reading this. He was another part of the reason that Minnesota didn't need to draft a linebacker in 2008. The 2002 third-round pick of the Chargers had joined the Vikings in 2006 and wound up playing in all but one game in his five seasons with Minnesota. He started 15 of the 16 games he played in 2008 and recorded career bests of two interceptions, seven passes defended, four fumble recoveries and his lone forced fumble. Now host of the "Unrestricted" podcast and an analyst, Leber recently caught up with Vikings Entertainment Network's Gabe Henderson to discuss this year's linebackers.

Follow him on Twitter @nacholeber for his analysis and be sure to check out "Unrestricted."

Expert rankings

NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah currently has six linebackers in his overall Top 50: 11. Micah Parsons, 18. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, 24. Jamin Davis, 25. Zaven Collins, 33. Nick Bolton and 50. Jabril Cox.

ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., has two linebackers in his overall Top 25: 11. Parsons and 14. Davis.

Rankings for each player within the linebackers position group by Jeremiah, his NFL Media counterpart Bucky Brooks, Kiper, analytics site Pro Football Focus and The Athletic's Dane Brugler are listed below.

Prospects

Note: Heights and weights are from each player's profile on NFL.com (linked for each player's name).

Micah-Parsons-2560

School: Penn State | Year: Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-3 | Wt: 246 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
LB1 LB1 ILB1 LB1 LB1

2020 stats: opted out; 2019 stats: 13 games; 109 tackles (52 solo), 14 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, 5 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery, four forced fumbles

Penn State Pro Day results: Parsons showcased his athleticism with a time of 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash, broad jump of 10 feet, 6 inches and time of 6.96 seconds in the 3-cone drill.

Leber believes: "I think Micah Parsons … is head-and-shoulders above everybody else. I think it's because he has this background from high school where he was more of a blitzer. When they picked him up at Penn State, they knew they had this raw athleticism that could just ferociously come off the edge and get after the quarterback. They had to sort of refine his linebacking skills, and they have really come along.

"He hasn't left behind the tenacity to get downhill, to break through the line of scrimmage, to get after the quarterback, and I think that's the first thing that you see, when he makes a decision to go downhill, whether the ball is handed off or it's a play-action and the quarterback is going to hold onto the ball, he's attacking," Leber continued. "He almost attacks with a safety-like athleticism and movement. I don't think he's going to be there at 14, but nonetheless, he's a super talented guy, and I can't wait to watch him."

Jeremiah-Owusu-Koramoah-2560

School: Notre Dame | Year: Redshirt Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-1 | Wt: 221 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
LB2 LB2 OLB1 LB2 LB2

2020 stats: 12 games; 62 tackles (42 solo), 11.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception, 3 passes defended, 2 fumble recoveries (1 returned 23 yards for a touchdown against Clemson), 3 forced fumbles

Notre Dame Pro Day results: Owusu-Koramoah did not run the 40, but he did turn in a vertical leap of 36.5 inches, broad jump of 10 feet, 4 inches and time of 6.81 seconds in the 3-cone drill.

Outside-inside: NFL.com analyst Chad Reuter described the playing style that helped Owusu-Koramoah win the 2020 Butkus Award:

Leber believes: "He brings the pain. He's not a super big guy. The thing you like about him is he's tenacious. There are times where he's playing and is the fastest guy on the field. I'm not saying on defense. I'm saying the offense included, he's the most explosive guy that you see in a short area. He gets to the point of impact with explosion, and he sort of moves like a defensive back. You can see him out covering a guy in the slot, a guy all the way out at No. 1. He seems comfortable like that.

"I think in the run game, sometimes, he can struggle a little bit against some of the bigger guys," Leber added. "He just doesn't bring a lot when he's going against a 300-pounder, but when you look at a guy that's going to run around in space and make some noise, it's this guy."

Nick-Bolton-2560

School: Missouri | Year: Jr. | Ht: 5-foot-11 | Wt: 237 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
LB5 LB3 ILB3 LB3 LB4

2020 stats: 10 games; 95 tackles (53 solo), 8.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, 5 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery

Missouri Pro Day results: Bolton did not test as well as Parsons or Owusu-Koramoah. His 40 time of 4.60 seconds is solid, but his 3-cone time was 7.40 seconds.

Leber believes: "He's absolutely a guy who can play, sort of like [former Viking] Kentrell Brothers. Obviously the same school, easy to make the same comparison. I think they have the same nose for the football. I think they play with the same instincts. They're great tacklers. I think Nick Bolton is maybe a little better in space. That's where he sets himself aside from Kentrell Brothers, but absolutely a guy, that if the Vikings were to pick up a second-round pick somewhere and Nick Bolton is there, you absolutely have to start considering that position because … we already saw what is going to happen if we lose a guy to injury for a significant amount of time. 'How much depth do you have?' A second-round selection on a future starter is not a bad way to go."

Zaven-Collins-2560

School: Tulsa | Year: Redshirt Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-5 | Wt: 259 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
LB4 Unranked OLB2 LB4 LB3

2020 stats: 8 games; 54 tackles (36 solo), 7.5 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, 4 interceptions (2 returned for touchdowns), 2 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery, 2 forced fumbles

Tulsa's Pro Day results: Collins is much larger than Bolton but was in the neighborhood with his 40 time of 4.67 seconds.

Taking them back: Collins ranked seventh in the NCAA with four interceptions last season. His 152 return yards and two touchdowns via picks were second nationally on the way to claiming the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik awards. The runbacks included a 38-yard touchdown at South Florida and this 96-yard score against Tulane to end the double-overtime contest:

According to Brugler: "A large-framed, long defender, Collins is an ultra-smooth mover in coverage with the awareness that leads him to the football. He needs to improve his run fits and take-on technique, but he has the power in his hands to dispose of blockers in the hole and find the ball carrier, and also flashes untapped pass-rush skills. Overall, Collins isn't overly explosive, but he has a unique blend of size, range and instincts for the position with the scheme versatility to be a starting Sam in a 3-4 or inside/outside backer in a 4-3."

Jabril-Cox-2560

School: LSU (after North Dakota State) | Year: Redshirt Sr. | Ht: 6-foot-3 | Wt: 232 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
LB6 Unranked ILB5 LB6 LB6

2020 stats: 10 games; 58 tackles (37 solo), 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, 3 interceptions (1 returned for a TD), 5 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery

LSU Pro Day results: Cox did not participate because of hamstring tightness; he plans to squeeze in a session on April 26 just before the draft starts on April 29.

Got it covered: PFF's Mike Renner noted the work that Cox has done while in pass coverage in the past three seasons, earning grades of 87.4 and 85.2 at North Dakota State before carding an 83.5 after joining the Tigers.

Jeremiah says: "Cox is a versatile second-level defender with outstanding range, coverage ability and character. He is at his best when lined up outside the box. He can mirror tight ends in coverage and can chase plays down from the back side. He is a little bit late to key/diagnose through the collection of bodies when he's lined up inside. When his sightlines are clear, he plays fast and physical."

Jamin-Davis-2560

School: Kentucky | Year: Redshirt Jr. | Ht: 6-foot-3 | Wt: 234 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
LB3 LB4 ILB2 LB5 LB5

2020 stats: 10 games; 102 tackles (48 solo), 4.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 3 interceptions (1 returned 85 yards for a touchdown), 2 passes defended, 1 forced fumble

Kentucky Pro Day results: Davis's 40 time was listed at 4.48 seconds, and he more than impressed with a vertical of 42 inches and a broad jump of 11 feet.

Jeremiah says: "Davis is a tall and lanky off-the-ball linebacker. He has excellent eyes to key, read, fill and finish. He uses his quickness to beat blockers to spots. He is much better working around blocks than taking them on, but he has outstanding lateral range, and his eyes give him a jump-start. ... I wish he was allowed to blitz more often, because he has the traits to excel in that department."

Chazz-Surratt-2560

School: North Carolina | Year: Redshirt Sr. | Ht: 6-foot-2 | Wt: 229 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
Unranked LB5 ILB4 LB8 LB8

2020 stats: 11 games; 91 tackles (49 solo), 7.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, 1 interception, 3 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble

North Carolina Pro Day results: Surratt ran the 40 in 4.59 seconds and the 3-cone drill in 7.04 seconds. His vertical was 31.5 inches.

Major transition: After beginning his college career as a Tar Heels quarterback in 2017 — on the heels of winning Parade National Player of the Year and Gatorade North Carolina Player of the Year awards as a QB — Surratt became a linebacker in 2019. Remarkably, he finished that season as the runner-up for the ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and followed with a First-Team All-ACC selection in 2020. The transition is not dissimilar from that of Barr, who began at UCLA at running back before becoming a linebacker that the Vikings drafted with the ninth overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Dylan Moses-2560

School: Alabama | Year: Sr. | Ht: 6-foot-1 | Wt: 225 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
Unranked Unranked ILB9 Unranked LB10

2020 stats: 12 games; 76 tackles (40 solo), 6.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, 1 interception, 3 passes defended, 1 forced fumble

Alabama Pro Day results: Moses was recovering from meniscus surgery and did not participate.

Leber believes: "A lot of people look at his tape and stats from last year and say, 'Well, OK, he was good.' Maybe we saw regression, a little bit, in some of his movements, but it comes out after the season that he played with a torn meniscus. I can't imagine how painful that was, so you've got to give him credit for playing through the pain and understanding he wants to be out there for his teammates.

"What I like about him is he's versatile. In his years at Alabama he played every [linebacker] position. He can play Mike; he can play the outside," Leber added. "I think he's more suited for an outside spot. I don't think he's a true A-to-B gap player going downhill. I think he can really make some plays as he's running sideline to sideline, running those alleys, playing out in space, not having to take on those big offensive linemen all of the time, but when you look at the sheer athleticism, 'Is this guy a football player?' Dylan Moses absolutely is."

Cameron-McGrone-2560

School: Michigan | Year: Redshirt So. | Ht: 6-foot-1 | Wt: 234 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
Unranked Unranked ILB6 Unranked Unranked

2020 stats: 5 games; 26 tackles (14 solo), 2.0 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks

Michigan Pro Day results: McGrone did not participate because he was recovering from a knee injury.

Leber believes: "The fun thing about watching Michigan's defense this year, I went to go watch Kwity Paye — and that happens a lot of the time, you'll go to watch one player, and then there's another player, 'Holy crap, who is that guy?' If you want to find a Kwity Paye comparison, when it comes to energy level at the second level [of the defense], it's Cameron McGrone.

"Immediately I saw this ball of energy that never stopped, but the thing that stood out to me was he understood pass concepts. What I mean by that, he knew how to get through the trash. If he had a back coming out of the backfield, but he also saw a compressed receiver set, he put himself in a position not to get picked," Leber added. "It's those little things, where he still stayed in coverage, even though he had to fight through some of the trash, and that's saying a lot for a college player. He's well-coached and he understands how to take all of that coaching from practice into the games, so I see a cerebral player that flies around and gives a ton of energy and was ultra-productive in the Big Ten."

Baron-Browning-2560

School: Ohio State | Year: Redshirt Sr. | Ht: 6-foot-3 | Wt: 245 pounds

Table inside Article
Daniel Jeremiah Bucky Brooks Mel Kiper, Jr. Pro Football Focus Dane Brugler
Unranked Unranked ILB7 LB9 LB7

2020 stats: 7 games; 29 tackles (20 solo), 3.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, 2 passes defended, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 forced fumbles

Ohio State Pro Day results: Browning nearly maxed out the "Relative Athletic Score" created by Kent Lee Platte thanks to physical measurements and performances in timing and testing drills. His score of 9.98 is the fifth-highest out of 2,118 linebackers that have been rated since 1987.

What's in a grade?: PFF's Renner pointed out that evaluation goes beyond incredible athleticism. He noted Browning's progression with the Buckeyes.

"The former five-star recruit has always had the physical tools, but until this year he was more liability than difference-maker for the Ohio State defense. You could see the wheels turning in real time in years past, but this year saw a noticeable uptick in his play speed," Renner wrote. "The team simplified his role in the defense, and his natural ability flourished — to a degree. He still only earned a 71.8 overall grade. The one area he continues to intrigue in is the pass rush. His size and athleticism are tailor-made for the edge, which would alleviate processing speed issues."

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