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Who Should The Panthers Pick at 33: Inside Linebacker

As the NFL Draft approaches, the Carolina Panthers find themselves in a pivotal position with the 33rd overall pick in the second round. With several areas needing attention, one position that stands out is the inside linebacker (ILB) spot. The Panthers need a versatile linebacker to bolster their defense, and fortunately, the 2024 draft class offers some intriguing options. Among them are NC State’s Peyton Wilson, Texas A&M’s Edgerrin Cooper, North Carolina’s Cedric Gray, Michigan’s Junior Colson, and Notre Dame’s Marist Liufau. Let’s delve into their performances in the 2023 season, examining their statistics, physical attributes, and potential impact at the next level.

Payton Wilson, ILB, NC State

  • Height: 6’4″
  • Weight: 240 lbs
  • 40-Yard Dash: 4.65 seconds
  • 2023 Tackles: 69 Solo, 138 total, 6 Sacks, 3INTs

Wilson, a standout for the NC State Wolfpack, possesses the ideal size and speed combination for an NFL linebacker. His impressive 69 tackles in the 2023 season showcased his ability to diagnose plays and make impactful stops. Wilson’s athleticism allows him to excel in coverage as well as against the run, making him a well-rounded prospect for the Panthers to consider.

Edgerrin Cooper, ILB, Texas A&M

  • Height: 6’3″
  • Weight: 230 lbs
  • 40-Yard Dash: 4.58 seconds
  • 2023 Tackles: 39 Solo, 83 total, 8 Sacks, 2 FF

Cooper, hailing from Texas A&M, brings a slightly lighter frame but compensates with exceptional speed and agility. His 4.58-second 40-yard dash time underscores his sideline-to-sideline pursuit ability. Despite his relatively lower tackle count of 39 solo tackles in 2023, Cooper’s instincts and coverage skills make him a valuable asset in today’s pass-heavy NFL.

Cedric Gray, ILB, North Carolina

  • Height: 6’3″
  • Weight: 235 lbs
  • 40-Yard Dash: 4.62 seconds
  • 2023 Tackles: 64 solo, 124 total, 5 Sacks, 1 INT

Gray, a tackling machine for the North Carolina Tar Heels, may lack the height of some other prospects, but his production speaks volumes. Amassing an impressive 64 tackles in 2023, Gray showcased his tenacity and ability to shed blocks and make plays in the backfield. His 4.62-second 40-yard dash time demonstrates adequate speed for coverage responsibilities at the next level.

Junior Colson, ILB, Michigan

  • Height: 6’3″
  • Weight: 235 lbs
  • 40-Yard Dash: 4.55 seconds
  • 2023 Tackles: 44 Solo, 95 Total

Colson, representing the Michigan Wolverines, combines ideal size with exceptional athleticism, making him a coveted prospect at the linebacker position. Despite a slightly lower tackle count of 85 in 2023, Colson’s 4.55-second 40-yard dash time highlights his explosiveness and ability to close gaps quickly. His potential in coverage and as a pass rusher adds versatility to his skill set.

Marist Liufau, ILB, Notre Dame

  • Height: 6’2″
  • Weight: 245 lbs
  • 40-Yard Dash: 4.70 seconds
  • 2023 Tackles: 23 solo, 44 total, 3 Sacks, 1 FF

Liufau, a force for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, brings a combination of size, strength, and football IQ to the table. His 44 tackles in 2023 reflect his ability to plug running lanes and deliver punishing hits. While his 4.70-second 40-yard dash time may not be elite, Liufau compensates with his physicality and instincts, making him a reliable run-stopper and contributor in blitz packages.

Conclusion The Carolina Panthers face a tough decision with the 33rd overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, especially considering the wealth of talent available at the inside linebacker position. Peyton Wilson, Edgerrin Cooper, Cedric Gray, Junior Colson, and Marist Liufau each offer unique skill sets and attributes that could benefit the Panthers’ defense. Whether they prioritize athleticism, tackling prowess, or versatility in coverage, the Panthers must carefully evaluate these prospects to make the best selection for their team’s needs and future success. With the right choice, the Panthers could secure a cornerstone piece for their defense for years to come.

Desmond Johnson is the host of Bleav in Panthers on Bleav Podcast Networks with All Panthers SI’s Schuyler Callihan and Panthers All Time Leading Rusher Jonathan Stewart. Tune in Tuesday mornings live at






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