Although offense has headlined the conference recently, the SEC is certainly known for its fast and physical linebackers. Experienced and dominant linebackers are some of the most coveted players in all of college football.
Let’s peak into the crystal ball at the SEC’s top linebacker duos for 2014:
1. Ramik Wilson and Leonard Floyd, Georgia
2013 combined stats: 188 tackles, 20.5 TFL, 10.5 sacks, 29 QB hurries
Bring it: Pick a Georgia duo. The Bulldogs are loaded at linebacker, and Jordan Jenkins and Amarlo Herrera are both worthy to be mentioned as well. But with Wilson and Floyd, you get the best of both worlds. Wilson eats up ball carriers and led the SEC in tackles last season (133), while Floyd could blow into the league’s most premier pass rusher. He’s long, lean and mean, and now, he’s more experienced. Wilson and Floyd should have big seasons under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
2. AJ Johnson and Curt Maggitt, Tennessee
2013 combined stats: 106 tackles
Bring it: AJ Johnson returns as one of the SEC’s premier middle linebackers, while Curt Maggitt returns to the field after missing all last season due to a knee injury. Johnson has recorded two straight 100-tackle seasons – 324 tackles in three seasons – and he could have easily elected to head to the NFL last year. Maggitt will play an interesting role for the Vols, because the biggest role needed is defensive linemen. Maggitt will two-time at linebacker and defensive end, but whichever position he ends up playing the most, he’ll be a pass rushing specialist. The 2011 freshman All-American is ready for his second debut.
3. Benardrick McKinney and Matthew Wells, Mississippi State
2013 combined stats: 121 tackles, 13 TFL, 4.5 sacks
Bring it: MSU’s defense may very well be the SEC’s most underrated defense, and Benardrick McKinney may be the conference’s best linebacker. At 6-5, 245 pounds, he’s a specimen who’s NFL ready now, and he’s recorded 173 tackles over just two seasons. Matthew Wells won’t get much pub playing alongside McKinney, but he’s a complete linebacker who was all over the field last year, making 50 tackles, including six for loss. This duo has a chance to be very, very good this year.
4. Serderius Bryant and Denzel Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
2013 combined stats: 113 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 3 sacks
Bring it: Fresh off Denzel Nkemdiche’s freshman All-American season, he suffered a knee injury in the first game against Vanderbilt that hampered his overall production. Because of off-the-field issues, Nkemdiche will miss week one’s game against Boise State. While Nkemdiche was out, Serderius Bryant jumped in and had a fabulous season, racking up a team-high 78 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss, including three forced fumbles. Bryant and Nkemdiche are both undersized, but they play with an edge that makes up for any size questions you may have. The Rebels’ defense should be very good in 2014.
5. Skai Moore and Kaiwan Lewis, South Carolina
2013 combined stats: 110 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 6 INTs
Bring it: Skai Moore and Kaiwan Lewis may not be popular among the entire SEC, but these two have a nose for the football. Moore led the team with 56 tackles as a freshman, while the junior Lewis finished third with 54. Lewis also led the team with nine tackles in the Capital One Bowl. But the best part about it is that they combined for six picks. Ball-hawking linebackers. You don’t read that too often.
6. Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost, Auburn
2013 combined stats: 118 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 FF
Bring it: I really like the upside of Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost and what they bring to the table for Auburn. McKinzy is moving to middle linebacker, and he finished second with 66 tackles last season, including 7.5 for loss. Frost now has the spotlight to blow into the player we all thought he would become, and he made 52 tackles, including six for loss last season.
For the sake of mentioning them, Alabama’s Trey DePriest and LSU’s Kwon Alexander are two of the top linebackers in the league. However, their main counterparts haven’t solidified themselves yet. Alabama will feature Reggie Ragland and Denzel Devall in addition to DePriest, and one of them should develop into DePriest’s right-hand man. LSU’s DJ Welter and Kendell Beckwith will battle in fall camp to start alongside Alexander, and either could emerge and have a fantastic year.
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