CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2017: Top 20 Linebackers
Who are the best linebackers coming into the college football season? Here are the projected 20 top guys
Preview 2017: Top 20 Linebackers
Who are the best linebackers coming into the 2017 college football season? This is a projection of the top COLLEGE players, and not necessarily the best pro prospects – although it happens to work out that way up top. Talent, of course, matters, but this is about looking ahead at who will be the top 20 this year.
20. Roquan Smith, Jr. Georgia
The best player on a potentially devastating linebacking corps, the 6-1, 225-pound big hitter led the team with 95 tackles and can get into the backfield, too.
19. Ty Summers, Jr. TCU
While running mate Travin Howard might be the better veteran linebacker on the Horned Frogs, it’s not by all that much. Summers is the bigger of the two and stronger against the run, following up an 86-stop first season with 121 as a sophomore.
18. Quentin Poling, Sr. Ohio
A bear of an all-around playmaker, the All-MAC star can get into the backfield, pick off passes – he has seven in his career – and can rush the passer. If he’s not the MAC Defensive Player of the Year, he won’t be all that far off.
17. Nyles Morgan, Sr. Notre Dame
Somewhat quietly, Morgan has been a positive for the Fighting Irish defensive front with 47 tackles as a freshman, working mostly on special teams as a sophomore, and last year breaking out with a 94-stop, four-sack season. He’s a 6-1, 238-pound thumper who can get all over the field.
16. T.J. Edwards, Jr. Wisconsin
The 6-1, 246-pounder is of the nation’s toughest unsung stars. He’s been a tackling machine in his first two seasons, coming up with 84 sacks as a freshman followed up with 75 last year with 15 career tackles for loss.
15. Josey Jewell, Sr. Iowa
Hitter, hitter, hitter. The 6-2, 230-pound veteran all-star has been through the wars over the course of his great career, generating 301 career tackles with 250 over the last two seasons. While he can get into the backfield, he’s at his best getting around the ball and stuffing the run.
14. Porter Gustin, Jr. USC
Whether he’s an outside linebacker, or a defensive end, or a hybrid who just might be the next Clay Matthews, the 6-5, 260-pound freakish athlete finished second on the team with 68 tackles with 5.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss.
13. Shaquille Quarterman, Soph. Miami
The star of the baby-young linebacking corps, he’s got a big game body with a. 6-1, 240-pound frame and the toughness to go along with it. After making 84 tackles with ten tackles for loss in his first season, the star recruit will do even more for a rising rock of a Cane D.
12. Kenny Young, Sr. UCLA
A star on the field and in the community, the New Orleans native is a true leader. A good 6-1, 240-pound hitter over the last few seasons, he followed up a 69-tackle sophomore run with an all-star 90-tackle season with five sacks and three fumble recoveries. He can do it all.
11. Cameron Smith, Jr. USC
It’s champing, not chomping, but who’ll argue with these two? Porter Gustin could be the flashier of the USC linebackers, but the 6-2, 245-pound Smith is the rock. He started out his career with 79 tackles as a freshman and followed it up with 83 stops last season. Everything will be funneled his way.
10. Fred Warner, Sr. BYU
The Cougars have a special veteran linebacking corps led by the 6-4, 230-pound flash into the backfield. While he’s great against the run – with 86 tackles last year and 177 in his career – he’s at his best when turned loose behind the line with 21.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and five picks over the last two seasons.
9. Jahlani Tavai, Jr. Hawaii
The secret will get out soon, but the NFL scouts know all about him. At 6-4 and 235 pounds, the best linebacker in the Mountain West has terrific size and the all-around game to be among the nation’s most dangerous all-around performers. All he did was make 129 tackles with seven sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss last year.
8. Rashaan Evans, Sr. Alabama
Next. Yet another amazing Alabama linebacker who’ll be on the short list for every award and early NFL draft consideration, the 6-3, 231-pound Auburn native is a thumper coming off a 53-tackle season with three sacks. All but unnoticed was his national title performance with a season-high 11 tackles against Clemson.
7. Malik Jefferson, Jr. Texas
The first great player of the Charlie Strong run now has to be the star leader of the Tom Herman era. He’s starting to get bigger, now up to 238 pounds on his 6-3 frame, but can he be a tone-setting tackler for a D that struggled to hit? Absolutely. With 123 tackles, seven sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in his first two seasons, it’s salary drive time for the NFL.
6. Jerome Baker, Jr. Ohio State
A guided missile of a hitter, he might not be massive at 6-1 and 225 pounds, but he brings the thump. In his first year in a full-time role, he registered 83 tackles with 3.5 sacks, two picks and 9.5 tackles for loss, blasting away with 15 tackles in the win over Michigan.
5. Travin Howard, Sr. TCU
With Howard combining with Ty Summers, TCU has one of the nation’s best 1-2 linebacking punches. Undersized, Howard is just 6-1 and 210 pounds, but he’s been able to hold up well as the team’s leading tackler in each of the last two seasons with 235 stops.
4. Shaquem Griffin, Sr. UCF
While he gets the headlines as the big-time star who just so happens to have one hand, the 6-1, 213-pound American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year is a devastating athlete who makes play everywhere. Amazing behind the line, he cranked up 11.5 sacks with 20 tackles for loss to go along with his 92 stops.
3. Kendall Joseph, Jr. Clemson
It makes life a lot easier to work behind a line full of NFL talent, the 6-0, 230-pound Joseph does his part as the man in the middle of all the fun. A decent prospect – but hardly an elite one – it took him a year to get going, and then everything clicked in with 108 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss.
2. Azeem Victor, Sr. Washington
The 6-3, 222-pound machine in the UW linebacking corps missed the last part of last year with a leg injury, but he still finished as a First Team All-Pac-12 performer. While he might not be huge, he’s a fantastic athlete making 95 tackles with seven broken up passes as a sophomore, and 67 steps in his injury-shortened 2016.
1. Micah Kiser, Sr. Virginia
It’s all there to be a franchise NFL linebacker, but the 6-2, 240-pound All-ACC star put it off for one more year. A special tackler, he was great as a sophomore with 117 tackles with 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 13 tackles for loss, and blew up even bigger as a junior with 134 stops with 6.5 sacks, ten tackles for loss and five forced fumbles with seven broken up passes.