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The inside linebacker position is somewhat similar to the running back position in that it has lost some of its value as the game of football has shifted more toward the pass.

However, the two top seeds in the AFC and NFC last season -- the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers -- not so coincidentally employed 2023 First-Team All-Pros at their inside backer positions: Roquan Smith and Fred Warner. An elite inside linebacker can make a noticeable impact. 

CBS Sports HQ NFL analyst Rick Spielman, the general manager of the Minnesota Vikings for 16 seasons (2006-2021), provides his analysis on the 2024 inside linebacker class from the "With The First Pick" podcast episode that aired on April 3 to inform the draftaholics on who to look for if their team needs linebacker help. 

This is the seventh position group in CBS Sports' pre-draft evaluations with wide receiversrunning backsquarterbackstight endsoffensive line and defensive backs all ready to be perused. Each prospect also includes a closer look from yours truly. Welcome to the upper crust of the 2024 NFL Draft linebacker class.  

Tier 3

Tommy Eichenberg (Ohio State)

  • Height: 6-2 | Weight: 233 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: 2023 Butkus-Fitzgerald Big Ten Linebacker of the Year, two-time First Team All-Big Ten (2022-23)

 Pro comp: Retired seven-year NFL veteran LB Dan Morgan

"Old school, two-down middle linebacker," Spielman said. "Relies on his smarts and instincts. Good size, but just above the line athlete with average timed speed. He is quick to read and react to run. Attacks down hill and will take on at the point. Not always consistent to shed inline. Instinctive working through trash and solid wrap tackler. He does get out of control in space and will overrun some plays. Best in zone coverage. Better reacting underneath than if he has to run, and run with vertical threats. Just an average blitzer. Better football player than athlete that may only be a two-down player."

  • Highest he could get drafted: Middle of third round
  • Lowest he could get drafted: Fifth round

Final Thoughts: Eichenberg's vision and anticipation in the run game is his best trait, and it allows him to shed blocks efficiently from the offensive line to bring runners down. He consistently wraps up when tackling and piledrives ball carriers to the ground. Eichenberg led the Buckeyes in tackles in both 2022 (120) and 2023 (80). However, his 31 5/8-inch arms are shorter than the desired length, and he can struggle against runners who rely on quickness instead of power. As good as Eichenberg's anticipation is in the run game, he could improve in that area in pass coverage. He is strong as a run defender, and if he improves in coverage, he could potentially be a starter as a rookie. 

Payton Wilson (NC State)

  • Height: 6-4 | Weight: 233 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: 2023 Butkus Award winner (best linebacker in CFB), 2023 ACC Defensive Player of the Year

 Pro comp: Current free agent LB and seven-year veteran Zach Cunningham

"Older player (turns 24 on April 21) with durability concerns," Spielman said. "His size and straight line speed stand out on the tape. Ran 4.43 at the combine, very good range from sideline to sideline. He will attack downhill, but poor use of hands and struggles to disengage off blocks. Solid wrap tackler, but too many fly byes over-running in space. He has some limitations in coverage, but is an effective blitzer off the edge or through the A Gap. He was very productive on tape, but the injury history may be a concern with some teams."

  • Highest he could get drafted: Middle of second round
  • Lowest he could get drafted: Middle of third round

Final Thoughts: Wilson possesses a tall, filled-out build with shorter arms (30 1/2 inches) and high-end athleticism (ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine). He can play all three downs as he has the anticipation and agility to play both the pass and the run, and Wilson can play man or zone coverage, thanks to his elite athleticism. Wilson also excels when blitzing as that is where his speed can truly shine while he sneaks through openings at the line of scrimmage. His height can sometimes lead him to tackle too high, and the shorter arms can hurt when trying to shake free of blockers. Wilson tore his ACL in his right knee in high school and needed season-ending shoulder surgery in 2021. If healthy, he can be a weapon as a pass rusher and blitzer who can also drop back into coverage. 

Tier 2

Junior Colson (Michigan)

  • Height: 6-2 | Weight: 238 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: 2023 CFP national champion, two-time Second Team All-Big Ten (2022-2023)

 Pro comp: New Orleans Saints LB Willie Gay/Dallas Cowboys LB Damone Clark

"Physical linebacker between the tackles," Spielman said. "He will step up and take on blocks at the point. Not always consistent to shed and locate the ball. Instinctive working through trash and solid wrap-up tackler. More of a build-up speed linebacker in pursuit taking good angles to the ball. Good enough athlete in zone coverage. Not a real factor as a blitzer. He was a good football player on tape, but nothing stood out in my views to say he is exceptional in one area. Steady but not special."

  • Highest he could get drafted: First 15 picks of second round
  • Lowest he could get drafted: Middle of third round

Final Thoughts: The 240-, 250-plus-pound inside linebacker is mostly a thing of the past with the game of football shifting more and more toward the passing game every season, but Colson's tight, muscular build is the closest thing to that prototype in this year's draft. The Wolverine linebacker also has solid play speed to go along with that size. He consistently fights through blocks, and he's fundamentally sound: His 5.4% missed tackle rate with 105 tackles in 2023 is the third lowest among 198 players who had 80 or more tackles, per TruMedia. Colson is also able to drop into coverage and remain on balance in zone or man. He is a risk taker, looking to blow up plays in coverage and go through blocks instead of going by them. Ultimately, he is a three-down linebacker who could start right away. 

Jeremiah Trotter Jr. (Clemson)

  • Height: 6-0 | Weight: 228 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: Two-time AP Second Team All-American (2022, 2023), 2023 First Team All-ACC

 Pro comp: Dallas Cowboys LB Eric Kendricks/Pittsburgh Steelers LB Patrick Queen/Minnesota Vikings LB Ivan Pace Jr.

"Lacks ideal size and length, but he is a very instinctive linebacker," Spielman said. "He reads and reacts to the run. Attacks down hill and forces ball carriers to spill outside. he can slip blocks and very instinctive locating the ball. Good range from sideline to sideline. He will fall off some tackles due to lack of length but good tackler overall. Instinctive in coverage. Reads quarterbacks' eyes and gets a jump on throws. Very good quickness and ability to avoid [blocking] running backs as an inline blitzer. Instinctive, productive football player. If he were bigger, he may go earlier in the draft."   

  • Highest he could get drafted: Middle of second round
  • Lowest he could get drafted: Lower third round

Final Thoughts: Jeremiah Trotter Jr. looks like the son of an NFL ALL-Pro linebacker, which makes sense because his dad Jeremiah Trotter was a four-time Pro Bowler and a 2000 First-Team All-Pro linebacker. Trotter is instinctive, and he makes it his business to always be around the football as he was the only player in college football with five or more sacks and multiple interceptions in each of the last two seasons. He provides great formational versatility, lining up as an inside linebacker (591 snaps in 2023 per Pro Football Focus), defensive lineman (38 snaps in 2023 per PFF) and as a slot corner (28 snaps per PFF). He has a laser-like speed as a blitzer, and he knows when to delay his pursuit as a play is developing and when to go full throttle from the snap. Trotter's smaller frame and arm length (31 1/2" arms), which leads to him not being much of a punisher when going in to make the tackle. His coverage and blitzing abilities will allow him to be a solid linebacker for football in the 2020s. 

Tier 1

Edgerrin Cooper (Texas A&M)

  • Height: 6-2 | Weight: 230 pounds
  • Accolades/notable statistics: 2023 All-SEC First Team and AP All-America First Team, 17.0 tackles for loss in 2023 (Led SEC)

 Pro comp: Kansas City Chiefs LB Nick Bolton, Seattle Seahawks LB Jerome Baker, Jacksonville Jaguars LB Devin Lloyd

"Best overall athlete of stacked linebacker group," Spielman said. "Speed and quickness jump off the tape. He improved his instincts to locate the ball and make plays from 2022 to 2023. His long speed shows up from sideline to sideline or if he chases down from behind. He prefers to dodge rather than take on blockers inline. Needs to improve his hand use and come under control in space. He is an aggressive wrap tackler that can knock ball carriers back on contact. He is athletic in zone coverage. There are some awareness issues at times with routes developing behind him. He can be a disruptive blitzer and has excellent closing burst to screens. He plays with violence although out of control at times."

  • Highest he could get drafted: First 10 picks of second round
  • Lowest he could get drafted: Bottom of second round

Final Thoughts: Edgerrin Cooper possesses the desired length (34-inch arms) and speed (4.51 40-yard dash at the combine) for a modern day inside linebacker. He is strong at setting up himself up with the right pre-snap depth to pursue the proper angle in the run game. Cooper also has legitimate explosion and bend when blitzing off the edge to affect the quarterback. His long arms allow him to bearhug and toss ball carriers to the ground with ease. Very quick processer when reading route progressions in the passing game and how blocks are developing in the rung game. Cooper can also stick to running backs, tight ends and a few receivers in coverage, both man and zone, and he is always aware of where his help is in coverage. Leading the SEC in tackles for loss like he did says a lot. Cooper can be better with his timing in the run game and could refine his pass rush moves, but he brings a lot to the table. Cooper could develop into a strong three-down linebacker in the NFL.