SEC’s top 25 players of 2013: No. 23 Tennessee’s AJ Johnson

SDS is continually counting down the top 25 players in the SEC for 2013, and we’re not stopping until we get to No. 1. I know you’ll agree with every single one…

No. 23 – AJ Johnson, LB, Tennessee (JR)

2012 stats: 138 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 1 sack, 8 QBH
Projecting 2013 stats: 140 tackles, 10 TFL, 2 sacks, 10 QBH

Why he’s worthy: Tennessee had its worst defense in the history of the program in 2012. The Vols finished last in nearly every defensive category across the board. But there was at least one bright spot in linebacker AJ Johnson.

Johnson racked up a nasty SEC-leading 138 tackles in 12 games, good for 6th most in the country. He posted the most tackles by any Tennessee player since the former Vol great and current New England linebacker Jerod Mayo. And there’s still so much room for improvement.

Johnson’s game in 2012 was raw. He was just a raw tackler who had great instincts and leadership qualities, and those instincts and qualities should help propel Johnson to become one of the best Mike linebackers in the country for 2013.

How many tackles will Johnson rack up in 2013? Assuming he stays healthy and Tennessee notches a bowl game, he could reach upwards of 145 to 150. No SEC linebacker in the last six years has made 145 tackles in one season. That’s Johnson’s goal.

Knowing Tennessee’s personnel on defense was out of position 90 percent of the time due to Sal Sunseri’s reckless 3-4 defense, the whole defensive unit stands to take a giant step forward, spearheaded by AJ Johnson.

And if his defense isn’t good enough to convince you, he also excelled as Tennessee’s goal line runner and registered six touchdowns – but it’s unlikely he’ll get that opportunity under Butch Jones.

Johnson is an NFL-caliber middle linebacker who scouts love, and he’s looking for a monster junior season.

The Countdown:

1.  Biggest freak in college football
2.  Johnny what’s his name?
3.  Best running back in college football
4.  The biggest winner in the rankings
5.  College football’s No. 2 overall running back
6.  A record-setting QB
7.  The Tide’s defensive glue
8.  The best offensive tackle in college football?
9.  Alabama’s O-line anchor
10. Texas A&M’s versatile left tackle
11. The biggest deep threat in the country?
12. Florida’s dancing defender
13. One LB who should explode in 2013
14. Jarvis Jones who?
15. The SEC East’s top receiver
16. Florida’s Honey Badger
17. A receiver who doesn’t drop passes…ever
18. LSU’s freak
19. A Rebel who knows he’s good
20. Funny name; not a funny game
21. Arkansas’ O-line anchor
22. A receiving freak
23. An underrated Tennessee head smasher
24. LSU’s defensive quarterback
25. An unheralded Hog

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports