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There are currently four five-star linebackers in the 2014 recruiting class in Rashaan Evans (Alabama), Clifton Garrett (LSU), Raekwon McMillian (Ohio State) and Tre’ Williams (Auburn).
And over the course of the last decade, there have been 39 five-star linebackers.
*All prospect rankings are determined by 247Sports’ Composite Player Rankings
2004 – 6 LBs
Keith Rivers, USC: Rivers was one of the most highly touted linebackers out of high school, and he ended up signing with USC. He amassed 240 total tackles, including 18.5 for losses. Rivers became an All-American at USC and was a first-rounder with the Bengals in ‘08. He currently plays for the Giants.
Dan Connor, Penn State: Connor played four years for Penn State and was an All-American his junior and senior season for Joe Paterno. He left PSU as the all-time leading tackler in Nittany Lion history, and he became third-round pick for the Panthers.
Brian Toal, Boston College: Toal was the Big East’s rookie of the year, but injuries eventually took their toll on Toal. He missed most of the ‘07 and ‘08 seasons, and he never completely lived up to his potential. He went undrafted in 2009 and last suited up for the Jets in ‘11.
Willie Williams, Miami: Williams had the potential to be an All-World linebacker, but his troubled past got the best of him. He ended up getting into Miami but transferred to West Los Angeles CC then onto Louisville. At UL, he was arrested once more and eventually landed at NAIA school Union College.
Kyle Williams, Iowa: Williams was never cleared to play at Iowa because of grades, and he sat out a year before playing for Purdue. However, according to reports, in three separate incidents between November of ‘05 and February of ‘06, Williams attacked and/or battered three different women in two states.
Chris Patterson, Oklahoma: Patterson signed at OU with Adrian Peterson in ‘04, but he never made it on campus. He struggled with academics and failed to qualify. Patterson bounced around schools and eventually signed with Kansas State and only made 18 tackles during his injury-plagued career.
LBs ranked lower: Lawrence Timmons, Dannell Ellerbe, Jerod Mayo, Tamba Hali, David Harris and Anthony Spencer
2005 – 4 LBs
Rey Maualuga, USC: Maualuga is an All-American incarnate, landing on the prestigious team three years in a row. In addition, he was the Bednarick Award winner in ‘08, along with being the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and the Rose Bowl MVP. He was a second-round pick in ‘09 with the Bengals where he still plays. Maualuga is one of the best linebackers ever in college football.
Tray Blackmon, Auburn: Blackmon and Maualuga couldn’t have had more opposite careers. Blackmon battled injuries and suspensions throughout his career at Auburn. His career ended when he failed to enroll in classes and turned his attention to the CFL. He played for the CFL for Calgary.
Brian Cushing, USC: Cushing is one of those linebackers who lived up to the hype in college, becoming a freshman All-American, All-Pac-12 performer and an All-American during his career. He racked up 178 tackles, 27 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks en route to becoming a first-round pick with the Texans, where he currently plays.
Luther Brown, USC: Brown struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, and when he was healthy, he probably didn’t live up to the five-star hype. He became a backup middle linebacker during his senior season.
LBs ranked lower: Clay Matthews , Travis Beckum, Sean Lee, Pat Angerer, Aaron Curry, James Laurinaitis and Curtis Lofton
2006 – 4 LBs
Sergio Kindle, Texas: Kindle was a four-year player who appeared in 46 career games, and he was a potent linebacker/defensive end hybrid for the Longhorns. Kindle became the first-ever player to be named on Butkus and Hendricks Award watch list at the same time. He tallied 176 tackles, 16 sacks and 43 tackles for loss in his four-year career. Kindle became a second-round pick for the Ravens, where he last played in 2012.
Brandon Graham, Michigan: Graham went to Michigan under Lloyd Carr but was unfortunately unlucky enough to play in the Rich Rod era. Graham was an elite talent for the Wolverines who moved to defensive end, and he lived up to the hype. He posted 138 tackles, 56 tackles for loss and 29.5 sacks. Graham finished his career second in both sacks and tackles for loss for Michigan. He was a first-round pick with the Eagles, where he still plays today.
Micah Johnson, Kentucky: The former Kentucky Mr. Football had a good career for the Wildcats. Johnson racked up 285 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, and he finished with more than 100 tackles as a senior. He went unsigned and played for five different NFL teams.
Marcus Ball, FSU: Ball signed with FSU, only to transfer to JUCO and finish his career at Memphis. He made a minimal impact for FSU, and he played safety for Memphis. With respect to FSU, Ball was a bust, but he had an okay career at Memphis. He made 145 total tackles, 13 passes defended and 5 INTs.
LBs ranked lower: Brandon Spikes, Navorro Bowman, Bruce Carter, Kelvin Sheppard, Akeem Dent, Sean Weatherspoon and Daryl Washington
2007 – 1 LB
Chris Galippo, USC: Galippo had one good year with the Trojans as a sophomore, but over the long haul of his four-year career, he underachieved. He battled injuries and eventually lost his starting job to Devon Kenard.
LBs ranked lower: Rolando McClain, Casey Matthews, Austin Box, Von Miller, Lavonte David, Akeem Ayers, Martez Wilson, JK Wright and Rennie Curran
2008 – 3 LBs
Nigel Bradham, FSU: Bradham had a very good career for Florida State. He started from day one, and he racked up an impressive 305 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks in four years. The Bills picked him in the fourth-round of the ‘12 draft, where he currently plays. Bradham had an impressive career overall.
Etienne Sabino, Ohio State: Sabino played five years for the Buckeyes’ program, and he saw his 2012 senior season get cut short with an ankle fracture. He played in 47 games and started just 13 games during his career. He finished his career with 119 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Arthur Brown, Miami: Brown has had a Jekyll and Hyde career. At Miami he struggled, making only 17 tackles in two seasons. But after his transfer to Kansas State, he tallied two straight 100-tackle seasons, 17 tackles for loss and three sacks. He made a strong rebound for the Wildcats, and eventually he lived up to his five-star hype. He was a second-round pick with the Ravens, where is currently plays.
LBs ranked lower: Aldon Smith, Nick Perry, Bruce Taylor, Ryan Baker, Lerentee McCray, Courtney Upshaw, Dont’a Hightower and Sean Spence
2009 – 5 LBs
Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State: The former USC commit switched to ASU on signing day, and he played flat out mean. Burfict was a sophomore All-American, but he had a down year as a junior. He left ASU early for the NFL Draft where he went undrafted in ‘12 but signed with the Bengals, where he still plays. He led the NFL in tackles in 2013.
Manti Te’o, Notre Dame: Te’o was one of the top prospects in the ‘09 class from Hawaii, and he’ll be known more for being duped by a guy posing as a fake girlfriend than his play on the field, unfortunately. But he had a very strong career at UND, racking up 437 tackles, 34 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He also tallied seven INTs as a junior. Te’o was picked in the second round by the Chargers.
Jelani Jenkins, Florida: Jenkins entered UF as a stellar athlete with speed to burn as an outside linebacker. Jenkins totaled 180 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and six sacks in three seasons. He left Florida a year early and opted for the NFL Draft. He was picked by the Dolphins in the fourth round.
Nico Johnson, Alabama: Johnson just ended his career with his third national championship in four seasons, and he was a big-time impact player for the Tide. He totaled 162 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Johnson currently plays for the Chiefs after becoming a fourth-round pick in 2013.
Dorian Bell, Ohio State: Bell was a tremendous all-around athlete heading to OSU, and he redshirted his first season. His freshman season only saw him make nine tackles, and he was suspended for the entire ‘11 season. He transferred to Duquesne, where he actually played well.
LBs ranked lower: Luke Kuechly, Jarvis Jones, Kevin Minter, Jon Bostic, Kyle Van Noy and Trent Murphy
2010 – 5 LBs
Jordan Hicks, Texas: Hicks had a strong sophomore season, but his freshman and junior season were lacking. Hicks has tallied 89 tackles, seven tackles for loss and only two sacks in three seasons. Hicks suffered a season-ending injury in 2013 and redshirted, and he’ll return for his final season in 2014.
William Gholston, Michigan State: Golston is an athletic freak, and he made the switch to defensive end and had a good career at Michigan State. He made 142 total tackles, 30 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. He declared early for the draft and was picked in the fourth round by Tampa Bay, where he currently plays.
Christian Jones, FSU: Christian Jones is was a beast for FSU and played well in his four-year career. Jones racked up 223 tackles, 24 tackles for loss and eight sacks. He should be a fine NFL player.
Alec Ogletree, Georgia: Some recruiting services had Ogletree listed as a safety exiting high school, but he was projected to play linebacker in college. And he became a big-time player. Yes, he had some legal troubles, but Ogletree lived up to the hype on the field. He amassed 197 total tackles, 20 tackles for loss and six sacks. He was a first-round pick for the Rams, where he currently plays.
Jeff Luc, FSU: Luc was one of the most physically imposing players in high school, and he signed with Florida State. However, he struggled at FSU, playing mostly on special teams, and made just 15 tackles in 2011. He then transferred to Cincinnati, and he made 34 tackles and 1.5 sacks as a senior. Luc struggled to live up to his five-star hype.
LBs ranked lower: CJ Mosley and Anthony Barr
2011 – 6 LBs
Curtis Grant, Ohio State: Grant hasn’t played much for Ohio State in the first two years, and he made only 10 total tackles in two seasons. In his junior season in 2013, Grant finally got his opportunity to play, making 52 tackles, four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Steve Edmond, Texas: Edmond has made 22 starts in three years for the Horns’ defense, making 192 tackles total. He missed the last two games of 2013 due to a season-ending injury.
Trey DePriest, Alabama: DePriest has been a steady contributor for Alabama through three seasons, and he’ll be the leader of the defense in 2014. DePriest has made 146 tackles and 13 tackles for loss.
Tony Steward, Clemson: Steward has torn both ACLs in the last three years, and he finally got on the field for the Tigers in 2013, making 37 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack in 13 games. Steward has one more season for the Tigers.
Stephone Anthony, Clemson: Anthony has been a great player for the Tigers the last three years, and just last season, Anthony racked up 131 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. Anthony is returning for his senior season.
Ishaq Williams, Notre Dame: Williams has had three seasons at Notre Dame, making 45 tackles and six tackles for loss, and he has one more season for the Irish.
LBs ranked lower: James Vaughters, CJ Johnson, Kris Frost, Denzel Nkemdiche, Lamar Dawson, AJ Johnson
2012 – 1 LB
Josh Harvey-Clemons, Georgia: JHC was more of a hybrid safety-linebacker. However, JHC was recently kicked out of Georgia. Harvey-Clemons made 66 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 12 QB hurries in 2013. We don’t know where he will wind up yet.
LBs ranked lower: Denzel Devall, Brandon Fusilier-Jeffires, Reggie Ragland, Jabari Ruffin, Noor Davis and Antonio Morrison
2013 – 4 LBs
Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame: Smith had a fabulous freshman season for the Irish, making 67 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and one forced fumble. He has a huge future ahead.
Matthew Thomas, FSU: Thomas played in four games as a freshman before a season-ending shoulder injury. Thomas recorded four tackles and two tackles for loss.
Jonathan Allen, Alabama: Allen played in 12 games, making 16 tackles, three tackles for loss and .5 sacks. The Tide’s defense fits him so well.
Reuben Foster, Alabama: Foster played in nine games and made 12 tackles and one tackle for loss.
Lived up to the hype
- Keith Rivers, USC
- Dan Connor, Penn State
- Rey Maualuga, USC
- Brian Cushing, USC
- Sergio Kindle, Texas
- Micah Johnson, Kentucky
- Nigel Bradham, FSU
- Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
- Alec Ogletree, Georgia
Switched positions and still lived up to the hype
- Brandon Graham, Michigan (DE)
- William Gholston, Michigan State (DE)
Good careers but mixed reviews
- Arthur Brown, Miami and Kansas State
- Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
- Jelani Jenkins, Florida
- Nico Johnson, Alabama
- Etienne Sabino, Ohio State (borderline bust)
- Brian Toal, Boston College (Injuries)
- Willie Williams, Miami
- Kyle Williams, Iowa
- Chris Patterson, Oklahoma (Injuries)
- Tray Blackmon, Auburn
- Luther Brown, USC (Injuries)
- Marcus Ball, FSU
- Chris Galippo, USC (Injuries)
- Dorian Bell, Ohio State
- Jeff Luc, FSU
Undetermined (Still Playing)
- Jordan Hicks, Texas
- Christian Jones, FSU
- Curtis Grant, Ohio State
- Steve Edmond, Texas
- Tony Steward, Clemson
- Stephone Anthony, Clemson
- Ishaq Williams, Notre Dame
- Trey DePriest, Alabama
- Josh Harvey-Clemons, Georgia (Let’s see where he transfers)
- Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
- Matthew Thomas, FSU
- Jonathan Allen, Alabama
- Reuben Foster, Alabama
Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports