We are winding down our positional watch lists for the 2023 NFL draft here at Touchdown Wire. Today we bring our attention to the off-ball linebackers. A few weeks ago we saw both Devin Lloyd and Quay Walker come off the board in the first round, Troy Anderson in the second round and a host of linebackers in the third round, including the talented Nakobe Dean.
What could the next group of linebackers look like? This group looks just as talented, with a number of former four- and five-star recruits to study. Plus, an early entry for the best name of the 2022 draft cycle.
Troy Brown began his college football journey at Central Michigan where, after redshirting in 2017 and playing mostly in a reserve role in 2018, he enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2019. That season he earned First-Team All-MAC honors as he recorded 91 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss and a sack. He also tied for the team lead in interceptions with three.
He was a First-Team All-MAC selection the following season, playing in six games with five starts during the COVID-shortened campaign. He was second on the team with 42 total tackles, and second as well with 4.5 sacks.
Last season, Brown again earned First-Team All-MAC status, recording 65 total tackles, seven tackles for a loss and a sack.
With one year of eligibility remaining, Brown transferred this January to Mississippi, where he will be at the heart of Lane Kiffin’s defense next season in the SEC. His experience, as well as his ability to play downhill in a flash, will certainly entice NFL scouts this season:
Coming out of Cedar Falls High School in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Jack Campbell was offered a scholarship by Iowa State during his sophomore season in high school. The Iowa Hawkeyes offered him a few months later, and ultimately Campbell decided to play for the Hawkeyes.
During the 2019 season, Campbell played in 11 games as a true freshman in a reserve role. He played in five games as a sophomore the following year, missing two games with an illness, but recorded 29 tackles, a sack and an interception.
A starter for the 2021 season, Campbell played in 14 games, recording a massive 140 total tackles, along with 3.5 tackles for a loss and a sack. Campbell also registered a pair of interceptions on the season. He was named a First-Team All-Big Ten selection by the media, and a Third-Team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches. He was also a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, given to the top linebacker in the country.
Campbell’s tackle numbers draw your immediate attention, but he is also a solid linebacker in coverage. On this play against Colorado State, watch as he matches the pivot route from a wide receiver and breaks on the throw, breaking up the pass:
Mohamoud Diabate was a four-star recruit coming out of Auburn High School in Auburn, Alabama, who entertained offers from a number of upper-tier programs including LSU, Florida State, Auburn and Alabama. He ultimately committed to Florida in August of 2018, and saw the field immediately as a true freshman in 2019. That year, he played in all 13 of Florida’s games, with one start, recording 18 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, and 4.5 sacks.
The following year, Diabate played in all 12 of the Gators’ games, making six starts. He recorded 69 total tackles — ranking second on the team — seven tackles for a loss, and an interception. This past season, Diabate started ten games for Florida, and set career high numbers in total tackles with 89.
He entered the transfer portal this winter, and announced his decision to transfer to Utah at the start of 2022.
Jestin Jacobs graded as a four-star recruit coming out of Northmont High School in Clayton, Ohio, and according to 247Sports he was the sixth-ranked player in the state of Ohio, and the 16th-ranked outside linebacker in the country. He enrolled at Iowa, and after redshirting in 2019 and seeing limited action in 2020, Jacobs took on a bigger role for the Hawkeyes in 2021. He played in 14 games for Iowa last year, registering 53 total tackles and an interception.
Iowa used Jacobs primarily on the edge, as 311 of his 533 snaps last season came with him aligned outside for the Hawkeyes. He also saw over 140 snaps aligned outside as a corner, as Iowa would use him as their overhang defender against certain formations. He recorded an interception against Penn State on one such occasion.
There is some projection involved with looking at Jacobs for the 2023 NFL draft, but his athleticism and usage aligns with where the league is trending. His ability to play in space is going to have NFL scouts paying attention to him this fall.
An undersized linebacker coming out of McGill Toolen High School in Mobile, Alabama, Carlton Martial did not have any offers waiting for him from the college ranks, so he walked-on to Troy for the 2017 season.
He redshirted that season, but earned a scholarship prior to the start of fall camp the next year. He started nine games at linebacker for the Trojans in 2018, recording 76 total tackles, including nine for a loss, and three sacks.
He has been a tackling machine in the years since. During the 2019 season, Martial recorded 127 total tackles, which is still his career-high mark, 18.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks and three interceptions. He was named a First-Team All-Sun Belt player, and when he registered 4.5 tackles for a loss against Southern Miss, he tied a school single-game record set by DeMarcus Ware and Kenny Mainor.
During the 113 campaign, Martial led the nation with 113 total tackles, and was a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, which is given to the top player who began his career as a walk-on. He was again named a First-Team All-Sun Belt player. This past season, Martial was a finalist for the Burlsworth Trophy and again earned First-Team All-Sun Belt honors, as he recorded 126 total tackles, including ten for a loss, and a pair of sacks.
He enters the 2022 campaign just 104 tackles away from setting a record for career tackles in the Sun Belt. Plays like this are going to get him there:
Darius Muasau began his college football career at Hawaii, playing in all 15 games during the 2019 season as a true freshman, along with four starts. He was third on the team with 61 total tackles, and in a victory over Army he notched a season-high 11 tackles.
During the 2020 season, Muasau registered 104 total tackles, and led Hawaii in tackles for a loss (9.5), sacks (4.5) and quarterback hurries (7). He was named a First-Team All-Mountain West selection, and was a finalist for the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year award.
Last year was another solid season of Muasau, as he set career-high marks in total tackles (108), tackles for a loss (14), and sacks (7). He was again named a First-Team All-Mountain West selection.
He found a new home for the 2022 season, as he announced at the start of the calendar year that he would be transferring to UCLA. The Bruins have enjoyed a solid off-season in the transfer market under head coach Chip Kelly and Director of Player Personnel Ethan Young, and Muasau is part of that off-season haul:
career win shares gained/lost from the portal
Alabama — the rich get richer
LSU — everyone loves to rip Brian Kelly, but he killed the portal
UCLA — got some solid G5 talent, but can they translate their success to the P5?
Ole Miss — Lane Kiffin, Portal King pic.twitter.com/Tba9NZJ2LK
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) May 9, 2022
With one more solid year, Muasau will put himself firmly in the mind of NFL scouts for next year’s draft.
247Sports graded DeMarvion Overshown as a four-star recruit during the 2018 recruiting cycle, and ranked him as the fifth-best player in the state of Texas, and the sixth-best safety in the country. He began his career with the Longhorns at safety, playing there his first two season.
Overshown played in nine games as a true freshman in 2018, and played in eight more the following season, registering his first career start. But he switched positions prior to his junior season, and started all ten games for the Longhorns at linebacker in 2020. He recorded 60 total tackles, eight tackles for a loss, and a team-high seven pass breakups. He was named an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection, and was the Defensive MVP of the Alamo Bowl.
This past season saw Overshown lead the Longhorns with 74 total tackles. He was again an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection, and was also named a Butkus Award semifinalist. He has sideline-to-sideline ability, as he showed on this play against Oklahoma:
For the past few seasons, Ivan Pace Jr. has been at the heart of the Miami Redhawks defense.
In the year ahead, he’ll be serving in the same capacity for Luke Fickell at Cincinnati, close to where he played his high school football.
During his senior year at Colerain High School in Cincinnati, Pace racked up 84 total tackles on defense while running for 1,414 yards and 22 touchdowns on offense. He led his team to a 14-1 record and a trip to the state championship game, and was named the Division 1 Defensive Player of the Year in Ohio.
He began his college career at Miami of Ohio, and appeared in six games as a freshman, recording 19 total tackles — including 7.5 for a loss — and an impressive seven sacks. He started all three games the Redhawks played in during 2020, finishing the year with 26 total tackles.
He had a monster campaign last year, setting career-high marks in total tackles (125) and tackles for a loss (13) while adding another four sacks, and his first collegiate interception:
Pace had transfer offers from Arkansas and LSU, but in Cincinnati, he’ll not only be playing close to home, he’ll get to prowl the second-level of the Bearcats’ defense with a fellow linebacker he knows quite well.
His younger brother Deshawn Pace, who was third on the team in tackles last season while earning an Honorable Mention All-AAC selection. The race to lead the team in tackles next year might be fun to track…
During the 2019 recruiting cycle, Owen Pappoe was one of the highest-regarded linebacker prospects in the nation. 247Sports graded him as a five-star recruit, the fourth-highest player in the state of Georgia, and the top outside linebacker in the nation. ESPN viewed him as a five-star recruit as well, and also the top outside linebacker in the country.
He entertained offers from a number of schools and took official visits to LSU, Penn State and Texas, but ultimately signed to play at Auburn.
During the 2019 season, he stepped right into the starting lineup for the Tigers, starting every game as a true freshman. He recorded 49 total tackles on the season, along with three tackles for a loss and a pair of sacks.
As a true sophomore in 2020, he played in 11 games, registering career-highs in total tackles (93), tackles for a loss (6) and sacks (4). He also recorded his first career interception, coming against South Carolina.
Pappoe struggled with injuries during the 2021, appearing in just five games. He still managed to record 23 total tackles and three tackles for a loss in limited action.
He was limited in the spring as well, as he works his way back from the lower-body injury suffered last season:
Jeff Schmedding says Owen Pappoe is out this spring. The LB was on scooter the other day.
"He's as locked in and diligent about everything he does as I've seen, really. He's a kid who's learning the game as he's watching."
— Bennett Durando (@BennettDurando) March 16, 2022
But when healthy he is one of the best linebackers in college football, and a healthy final season for the Tigers could propel him into the early rounds next spring.
At the outset, we can be honest:
Bumper Pool would make a watch list regardless of how he played on the field, if for nothing else than being an All-Name Team selection.
But how he plays on field certainly helps.
Pool was a four-star recruit according to both 247Sports and Rivals, and he chose to play at Arkansas over schools like Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, USC, Michigan, Arizona and Oklahoma State. As a true freshman in 2018, he played in ten games for the Razorbacks, making four starts. He recorded 29 total tackles, along with 2.5 tackles for a loss.
During the 2019 campaign, he started all 12 games for the Razorbacks at weakside linebacker, racking up 94 total tackles, which placed him second on Arkansas. Pool added another 6.5 tackles for a loss that season, and against Kentucky that year he recorded ten tackles, his first double-digit game.
As a junior in 2020, Pool started nine games for Arkansas, missing the Mississippi game with a shoulder injury. He recorded 101 total tackles, again ranking second on the team, and added another 6.5 tackles for a loss. He was named a Second-Team All-SEC player by the coaches at the end of the season.
This past season, Pool managed to improve on those already impressive numbers. He recorded career-highs in total tackles (125), solo tackles (45), and tackles for a loss (7.5). Pool had seven double-digit tackle games, including 14 against Rice and 13 against both LSU and Missouri.
As for his name, that was a decision he made when he turned 16. He was given the name James Morris Pool by his parents when he was born, but when he turned 16 he had his name legally changed to Bumper James Morris Pool, as the nickname stuck at an early age. “I’ve been called Bumper since I was born,” Pool said. “I had to explain it to all my friends’ parents.”
In the 2021 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions drafted offensive lineman Penei Sewell seventh overall.
Could his younger brother Noah join him in the first round?
Noah Sewell was a five-star recruit coming out of Orem High School in Orem, Utah. Over the course of his high school career he was a standout on both sides of the football, racking up over 2,000 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns as a running back, and adding another 224 total tackles and five interceptions as a linebacker. He was named the Utah Valley Football Player of the Year after his senior season. Sewell was also the first consensus five-star recruit out of the state of Utah since Naloti Ngata.
He enrolled at Oregon, and immediately stepped into the starting lineup. In seven games during the 2020 season, he recorded 48 total tackles, along with 6.5 tackles for a loss and a pair of interceptions. Sewell was named the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year for his work.
This past season, Sewell played in 14 games for the Ducks, registering 114 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, 4 sacks and an interception. He also broke up five passes while in coverage. For his efforts, Sewell was named a First-Team All-Pac-12 selection.
He is a high-effort player, who works through the whistle on every snap. On this play against Washington State, watch has he passes off the first in-breaking route to his fellow linebacker, and then matches the second in-breaking route from the wide receiver for the deflection:
Depending on which scouting service you subscribe to, Trenton Simpson was either a four- or a five-star prospect coming out of Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. ESPN graded him as a four-star prospect, and the third-best prospect in the state of North Carolina, while 247Sports rated him as a five-star recruit and the top player in the state, as well as the top outside linebacker in the 2020 recruiting class.
Simpson passed on offers from Charlotte, Duke, Colorado State, Florida, North Carolina and a host of other schools to commit to Auburn. But he flipped his commitment later in the cycle to enroll at Clemson.
He was an immediate contributor in 2020 as a true freshman, playing in 12 games and making three starts. That season he registered 28 total tackles, four sacks, and 6.5 tackles for a loss.
This past season, he played in all 13 of Clemson’s games, making 12 starts. He set career-high marks in total tackles (65), tackles for a loss (12.5) and sacks (6.5).
Simpson is the son of Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy D. Simpson, who served 17 overseas tours from 1994 through 2021 as a member of the United States Army Rangers.
Drake Thomas enrolled early at N.S. State, and appeared in ten games and making three starts as a true freshman during the 2019 season. Over those ten games, he recorded 34 total tackles, along with four tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. He also notched an interception against West Virginia, and registered eight tackles in a game against Clemson.
The following season, he played in — and started — ten games for the Wolfpack. Thomas added 58 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks to his career statistics that season. He suffered a torn pectoral muscle which cost him the bowl game that season, as well as spring workouts.
Following the injury and the surgery, Thomas decided to alter his diet and approach in the off-season. It paid off last season, as he set career-high marks in total tackles (99), tackles for a loss (13.5) sacks (6) and interceptions (3). He was named a First-Team All-ACC selection by the coaches and the Associated Press, was named the ACC Linebacker of the Week twice, and earned the Mario Williams Award as the team’s Defensive MVP.
An area where he stands out is in coverage. He had four pass breakups in addition to the three interceptions, and you can see his coverage skills on this PBU against Louisville, where he makes a play at the catch point on an option route from the running back:
Edefuan Ulofoshio did not generate a lot of attention during the 2018 recruiting cycle, grading as a two-star prospect according to 247Sports. This was despite being on a Bishop Gorman High School team in Las Vegas that finished 15-0 and was named the top team in the nation according to USA Today. Ulofoshio recorded 100 total tackles, including 15.5 for a loss, as a season as Bishop Gorman finished 13-2 and won their ninth-straight 4A state championship.
He chose to continue playing football at Washington, and saw action in three games as a true freshman, preserving a redshirt year. He played in all of Washington’s game during the 2018 campaign, making three starts. He recorded 12 tackles and 1.5 sacks in Washington’s win over Washington State that season.
Ulofoshio started all of Washington’s games in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, recording 47 total tackles. He was named a Second-Team All-Pac-12 selection. He began the 2021 season in the starting lineup as well, until an injury cut his season short after six games. It is expected that he will miss time at the start of the season as well, but if he can return to the field, Uloofoshio is a player to keep an eye on for NFL draft purposes.