Cowboys’ CFB linebacker watchlist for 2025

Tony Nguyen | Dallas Cowbyoys
June 23, 2024

As the NFL begins summer scouting for the 2025 draft, scouts and analysts are beginning to notice a recurring trend: a scarcity of top-tier linebacker prospects. This is reminiscent of the challenges faced in the 2024 draft. A shortage at the linebacker position raises concerns for teams in need of defensive playmakers, as they seek to address crucial gaps in their rosters. With the league evolving towards faster-paced offenses and versatile defensive schemes, the demand for agile and instinctive linebackers has never been greater, but traditional linebackers are still needed and they are becoming a more rare breed. As franchises weigh their draft priorities and explore alternative avenues to bolster their linebacker corps, the 2025 draft promises to be a test of scouting acumen and resourcefulness in uncovering hidden gems amidst the scarcity of linebacker prospects.

The Dallas Cowboys find themselves navigating a challenging landscape at the position as they prepare for the upcoming season. Despite selecting Marist Liufau in the third round of the 2024 draft, the team’s defensive roster remains relatively thin in this crucial area. Following veteran middle linebacker Leighton Vander Esch’s retirement due to a neck injury suffered early in the 2023 season, the Cowboys sought to fill the void by signing Eric Kendricks to a one-year deal. Kendricks, known for his prowess on the field, particularly under the guidance of newly acquired defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, is expected to play a pivotal role, assuming the responsibilities of the green dot for communication and quarterbacking the defense.

Meanwhile, the anticipation builds for the return of DeMarvion Overshown, the promising 2023 third-round pick and safety convert, who showed great potential as a weakside linebacker before an ACL injury sidelined him last season. Damone Clark’s transition to the strong side linebacker position in 2023 yielded mixed results, prompting uncertainty about his role moving forward. Markquese Bell, a safety, demonstrated his versatility by excelling as the team’s starting weakside linebacker in 2023, though he will return to his original position.

As the Cowboys head into training camp, they will evaluate a mix of undrafted free agents and practice squad members, all vying for a chance to make their mark on the team’s linebacker corps. The future is far from concrete at the linebacker position. Here’s a look at some names to watch at the position for the 2025 NFL draft.

Oklahoma’s Danny Stutsman (28) signs a ball for a young fan and lets a fan take his head band after an NCAA football game between University of Oklahoma (OU) and Iowa State at the Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023.

Danny Stutsman has made significant contributions to the Oklahoma Sooners’ defense since his freshman year in 2021. In 2023, he solidified his status as a standout linebacker, earning second-team Walter Camp All-American and first-team All-Big 12 honors. Stutsman led the team in total tackles, solo tackles, and tackles for loss while demonstrating versatility with three sacks, an interception, and multiple forced fumbles and pass breakups.

His sophomore season saw him receive honorable mention All-Big 12 as he led the conference in tackles. Stutsman’s impact on the field was evident with double-digit tackle performances and key defensive plays throughout the season.

Nov 11, 2023; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; LSU Tigers linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. (4) tackles Florida Gators wide receiver Marcus Burke (88) during the second half at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Harold Perkins has made a significant impact as a linebacker for LSU since his 2022 freshman year. In 2023, he earned second-team All-SEC honors and continued his academic success by making the SEC Academic Honor Roll. In his sophomore season, he led the team in tackles for loss for the second consecutive year and received second-team All-SEC recognition. Perkins’ versatility and athleticism have been evident on the field, where he has excelled in various aspects of the game, including dropping into coverage and making plays in the backfield.

Dec 30, 2022; Charlotte, NC, USA; Maryland Terrapins linebacker Jaishawn Barham (1) during the first half in the 2022 Duke’s Mayo Bowl against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Jaishawn Barham transferred to Michigan from Maryland for the 2024 season. At Maryland, he earned recognition as a Freshman All-American and received All-Big Ten honors twice. During his sophomore season, he continued to excel, earning All-Big Ten honorable mention. Barham’s career is exemplified by multiple sack games and consistent all around play. He was highly regarded as a high school prospect and participated in the Polynesian Bowl. Off the field, he studied Family Science at Maryland.

Clemson linebacker Barrett Carter recovers a fumble by Kentucky during the fourth quarter of the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl at EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida, Friday, December 29, 2023. Clemson won 38-35.

Barrett Carter, Clemson linebacker, is recognized as one of the most versatile players in college football. He received high praise from coach Dabo Swinney for his exceptional skills on the field and his community engagement off it. Throughout his career at Clemson, Carter demonstrated outstanding performance, earning various accolades and distinctions. He excelled both academically and athletically, showcasing his commitment to excellence in all aspects of his life. Carter’s impact extended beyond the football field, as he actively engaged in community service initiatives, reflecting his dedication to making a positive difference.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – DECEMBER 02: Matt Salopek #15 of the Miami (Oh) Redhawks tackles Jacquez Stuart #0 of the Toledo Rockets during the second quarter of the MAC Championship at Ford Field on December 02, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

Matt Salopek, a linebacker for the Miami Red Hawks, has left an indelible mark on the program. As he enters the 2024 season, he’s already played 45 games for the team, becoming the first Red Hawk to achieve over 100 tackles in three consecutive seasons since 2002-04. With 392 career tackles, he ranks 11th in program history. Salopek’s accolades include three-time All-MAC performer and MAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2023. In his standout 2023 season, he played in all 14 games, earning MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors and finishing with impressive statistics. Notably, he recorded double-digit tackles in seven contests, including a career-high 18 tackles in a win over Cincinnati. His consistency and impact on the field make him a formidable force in college football. Beyond his athletic achievements, Salopek excels academically, majoring in Finance, showcasing his dedication to both sports and education.

Cowboys are going back to the LB well in 2025 draft, here’s why