2025 NFL Draft Summer Scouting: Top 10 Linebackers

We’re chugging along with our Summer Scouting series here at NFLTR, going position by position breaking down the preliminary top prospects for the upcoming collegiate season and the 2025 NFL Draft cycle.

Harold Perkins

Today I’m breaking down the linebacker position. Linebackers are in a paradoxical place in the modern NFL, as despite the tremendous impact a quality linebacker can have for a defense, teams are less and less willing to invest significant resources in the position. Perhaps this is because true stars at the position are rare and the college game is not equipping as many players with the tools they need to succeed at linebacker in the NFL, but nonetheless, a quality linebacker on a rookie contract can be a big boost to a defense.

You can find the other positions done so far here:

Let’s take a look at the early top linebackers in 2025:


1: Harold Perkins Jr., LSU

A Texas high school star in both football and basketball, Perkins was widely considered the best linebacker prospect in the 2022 class. He chose LSU over a litany of other top programs and made an immediate impact, coming up with several huge plays in the Tigers’ season opener. As a freshman, Perkins played a lot at edge rusher, but shifted to playing primarily off-ball linebacker in 2023. Across both roles, he’s developed a reputation for making big plays routinely, with 13 sacks, 26 tackles for a loss, seven forced fumbles, two interceptions and seven pass breakups to date. Now heading into his true junior season, Perkins can take another step in his development to lock himself into the first round of the draft.

At 6-1 and 220 pounds, Perkins is a smaller linebacker, but he plays bigger than his size. He hits like a truck and is a sure tackler with the strength and technique to bring down any player. Perkins’s speed is elite even by the standards of undersized linebackers or safeties. He’s fast enough to legitimately cover NFL-caliber slot receivers down the field. With his range and length, he is an exceptional asset in both run defense and coverage. Runners can’t make the edge against him, and he can handle a variety of coverage assignments effectively.

Perkins is explosive off the edge with an advanced pass-rushing arsenal. He can bend the edge or counter inside, and he wins from multiple alignments. This fluidity in his movement translates to coverage, where he displays significant agility in open space, helping him keep up with and contain his assignments. Not to mention, he’s such a smart football player with excellent play recognition and he rarely finds himself out of position.


Most of Perkins’ weaknesses come down to his size and inexperience playing a traditional linebacker role. He moved from edge rusher because he’s too small to stick there full time, but he’s also on the small side for an NFL linebacker at 220. If he can add 10-15 pounds while maintaining his speed and acceleration, that would help, but that’s a big ask. Additionally, while Perkins has flashed incredible potential in coverage, he’s still learning so much about coverage techniques and principles. He’ll get better as he gets acclimated, but he’s not a polished product in that sense just yet.

Perkins is the only linebacker I have a first-round grade on. His combination of physical ability and pass-rushing prowess is rare, and he has the potential to be a true game-changer at linebacker. Not many of those players exist. Being undersized, a role such as the one Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a similarly sized player, has carved out in Cleveland might be in the cards. Playing a slot corner/safety/linebacker hybrid position would utilize Perkins’ range and instincts well, but he would need to improve significantly in coverage first. I also don’t know if moving Perkins further from the line of scrimmage is a wise idea. There’s a role for Perkins in the NFL and he can be a star, some team will just need to find it.

2: Barrett Carter, Clemson


Though he is a former five-star recruit who has started every game for the Tigers over his sophomore and junior seasons, Carter has flown somewhat under the radar. Playing next to Trenton Simpson and Jeremiah Trotter Jr. will do that. Despite his lack of notoriety, Carter has been quite productive in Clemson’s defense, with a combined 144 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, nine sacks, 14 pass breakups, three interceptions and two forced fumbles across his two starting seasons. That level of consistency is valuable, and Carter can be a starting linebacker in the NFL.

Though being 6-1 and 230 pounds does make him a bit undersized, Carter is not undersized enough for it to be a major concern — especially considering he’s an athletic freak. In particular, Carter’s change of direction and stop-and-start abilities are special, allowing him to blanket receivers and tight ends in man coverage. He’s faster and more explosive than most linebackers, making him perfectly suited to zone coverages. His breaks on receivers and the ball are top-notch. Coverage instincts like Carter’s are rare — he knows how to leverage his zones with other defenders and track multiple responsibilities to his area.

All these athletic gifts make him an exceptional blitzer as well. He’s not a refined pass rusher like Perkins, but he knows how to win quickly off the snap and shoot gaps, racking up good production despite not blitzing a ton relative to other linebackers. Against the run, he’s powerful taking on blocks and knows how to play the angles to prevent runners from gaining the edge or cutting back. Disciplined in all his assignments, Carter is a fundamentally sound run defender who won’t make critical errors.


Though his size isn’t usually an issue, it does occasionally show up when offensive linemen get their hands on him. In those situations, he struggles to shed the blocks and impact the play. He misses more tackles than you’d feel comfortable with, though these stats can be somewhat fluky, and it doesn’t appear to be a significant technique issue. For as good as he is in coverage, he could stand to be more productive on the ball, as there are missed opportunities for him to make plays on tape.

As a solid, reliable player with good upside, Carter fits what a lot of NFL teams look for in their linebackers. I have a high second-round grade on him, and short of a disastrous 2024 season, he should be a top-50 pick. In the modern NFL, linebackers who excel in coverage without being a liability in run defense are rare, and Carter adds blitzing value few others do. He’s both a safe pick and a player who could develop into a star, and those guys are coveted highly. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Carter play himself into the first round.

3: Danny Stutsman, Oklahoma

Stutsman, like Carter, is returning to college football for his senior season despite being a projected Day 2 pick in the 2024 draft. Though he played as a true freshman, Stutsman’s breakout came in his sophomore campaign, when he led the Big 12 in tackles and put himself on scouts’ radar. He continued his ascent in 2023, earning second and third-team All-American honors on the back of an impressively productive season and a knack for making big plays in the biggest moments. Heading into his senior season, Stutsman will enjoy get to cut his teeth on SEC competition and will look to boost his draft stock even further.


Unlike some of the other top linebackers in this class, Stutsman is built like a prototypical NFL linebacker. Standing at 6-4, 241, he’s what all teams look for in a thumping, run-defending linebacker. He plugs holes with surgical precision, using his size and speed to make big hits without being overly aggressive. He has sideline-to-sideline range, able to chase down runners from behind or cut them off to the edge and force them back inside. His tackling technique is excellent, and this shows up in his stats. Missed tackles just aren’t a thing for Stutsman.

Though Stutsman isn’t an elite athlete by NFL standards, he has the requisite traits to be effective in his role. He can get after the quarterback as a blitzer and hang with tight ends and running backs in coverage. His instincts are good in zones, and he can get his hands on the ball. Faster players can’t simply outrun him, at least not easily. Versatility isn’t what Stutsman is known for, but he’s displayed a variety of skills across multiple roles and schemes.

Although Stutsman has learned to work around his limitations, he’s still best when running downhill. Faster, more athletic tight ends give him trouble in coverage and nimble runners can lose him in space. Needing to be protected in coverage is something NFL teams will worry about, and it’s the single biggest thing Stutsman can do to improve his game. He may just be limited in this way, however.


I have a late second-round grade on Stutsman. Defensive coaches will love his old-school mentality and thumper reputation on the field. His coverage limitations can be worked around, and he can hold his own in basic zones. Even if he’s restricted to mostly playing running downs in the NFL, he’ll be excellent in that role. There’s just the question of how high you take a player like that. Stutsman will no doubt have his fans in NFL circles and can make a big impact in the right situation.

4: Collin Oliver, Oklahoma State

This is the draft of undersized linebackers, apparently. At 6-2 and 235, Oliver is a true senior coming off a breakout season in his first as a full-time starter. Though he played extensively in a rotational role in 2021 and 2022, 2023 was the first season he played more than 500 snaps, and it paid off for the Cowboys. Oliver’s best work came as a pass rusher, where he notched an impressive 37 pressures and seven sacks despite rotating heavily between the edge and off-ball linebacker. Oliver has some work to do if he wants to be a full-time NFL player, but he has tools and some refined skills that should translate to the league immediately.

As a pass rusher, Oliver is already accomplished. If it wasn’t for him weighing 235 pounds, his full-time home might be on the edge. Even so, he has excellent burst and bend to turn the corner or change directions quickly. He has the hand usage to win against longer tackles and knows how to maximize his frame. Whether he’s playing at edge rusher or linebacker, he’s fluid in space and routinely runs down running backs from behind, using his impressive long speed to surprise them in the backfield as they try and turn upfield.


These athletic traits make Oliver an appealing project in coverage. He has good ball skills and knows how to leverage his zones to close throwing lanes. Between his agility and explosiveness, he has the tools to be sticky in man coverage and is usually in the right position when receivers come out of their breaks. He can run with tight ends, running backs, and some slot receivers in coverage. His greatest potential may be in zone coverage, however, where he can keep his eyes on the quarterback and use his plus instincts and quick reactions to close off passes.

As I’ve alluded to, however, Oliver is far from a finished project as a coverage defender. He allowed a lot of catches to his man last season, routinely failing to make a play on the ball or disrupt the receiver. He’s not long or strong for an edge rusher, which means a move there full-time is unlikely. He needs to improve his timing and route recognition to become more effective there.

Another year of college football could do wonders for Oliver’s draft stock. I have a late second-round grade just based on his potential, as I believe he can improve his game across the board this year. His pass-rushing skills are genuinely great, and he flashed all the right traits to be good in coverage too. More off-ball production in general will be important for Oliver this year, to prove to teams that he won’t be a positionless player at the professional level. If he can do that, he can boost his draft stock significantly.


5: Jason Henderson, Old Dominion

It’s not often we get a chance to talk about the Monarchs, but they have a legitimate NFL prospect on their hands this year. Henderson is a two-year starter heading into his true senior season after back-to-back incredibly productive campaigns. With 215 tackles combined the last two seasons, Henderson knows how to stuff the stat sheet. There are things he needs to work on to make himself a strong candidate for a top-50 pick, but he has the makings of an intriguing prospect.

Adding to the list of undersized linebackers in this class, Henderson is only 6-1 and 227. But don’t let that fool you — he’s a demon between the tackles, a violent hitter with a quick first step. Ball carriers never escape his grasp once he’s locked on, and he knows how to shoot gaps better than anyone in this class. When it comes to his sideline-to-sideline range, he can beat running backs and jet sweeps to the outside, forcing them back in, and he gets underneath blockers with striking speed.

Henderson’s burst is underrated, as he’s frequently the first player moving after the ball is snapped. He utilizes angles well and closes rapidly, cutting off avenues of escape and chasing down plays from behind or in the open field. As a coverage defender, Henderson has great zone instincts, with the length and speed to play effective underneath coverage.


Unfortunately, Henderson is undersized without the crazy athleticism that makes the players above him pop. That makes his fit in the NFL questionable. Getting into a more advanced weight program could help with that, and since his game isn’t built on pure speed, he might be able to add some mass to his frame. As a man coverage player, Henderson struggles when asked to turn and run with his assignment. He’s a smart and capable zone defender, but teams that run a lot of man schemes may want to look in another direction.

Though he may struggle to find a home in the NFL, Henderson’s talent is undeniable. Versatile, hard-nosed run defenders with true range and some coverage abilities are useful NFL players, even if they are undersized. I have a third-round grade on Henderson, and the league may value him more as a mid-round player. Still, if he can improve his coverage technique and make some plays on the ball, he could see his stock rise and become a Day 2 pick.


Best of the rest

6 — Smael Mondon Jr., Georgia: Undersized but explosive coverage linebacker with excellent range and instincts. Very inconsistent run defender.

7 — Jay Higgins, Iowa: Intelligent, rangy coverage linebacker who could end up at safety. Poor run defender but makes up for it by being exceptionally versatile in coverage.

8 — Jamon Dumas-Johnson, Kentucky: Prototypical size with good run fits and a penchant for making big hits. Struggles in coverage and in the open field when asked to turn and run.

9 — Jack Kiser, Notre Dame: Top-shelf athlete who will have the chance to step into a bigger role with the Fighting Irish’s losses to the NFL at the position. 

10 — Power Echols, North Carolina: Will enter the league with three years of starting experience and has the chance to notch his third-straight 100 tackle season. 


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