SEC position rankings: Linebackers
Team Position Rankings:
- Running backs
- Wide receivers/tight ends
- Offensive line
- Defensive line
- Defensive backs
- Special teams
The SEC is full of linebackers that will be playing in the NFL one day and are currently contributing to some impressive units. The conference also includes what some could consider the new Linebacker U (Georgia) for how talented their group is this year.
The funny thing about the linebacker position is how variable it can be from team to team. Depending on the defensive scheme, a team might utilize two, three or four linebackers in its base defense.
In fact, the SEC has elite linebacker corps that come in sets of two, three and four, proving it’s quality and not quantity that is important.
Here is how we see the teams in the SEC ranking this season in terms of production from linebackers.
Predicting the starters: Leonard Floyd, Reggie Carter, Tim Kimbrough, Jordan Jenkins
Key backups: Lorenzo Carter, Natrez Patrick, Jake Ganus
This group is going to cause nightmares for opposing offenses. It’s the best linebacker corps in the NCAA and it’s not even close. Floyd and Jenkins could already be thriving as pros. Both are all-around linebackers that can stop the run or get after the quarterback at will. Lorenzo Carter, who is only a sophomore, has great burst off the line and pass-rushing skills that will also put him in the league one day.
Predicting the starters: Denzel Devall, Reuben Foster, Reggie Ragland, Ryan Anderson
Key backups: Shaun Dion Hamilton, Dillon Lee, Tim Williams
Ragland is the latest in star linebackers to come through Tuscaloosa and will be one of the best in the country at the position this season. Foster is also a beast and will most likely be Ragland’s successor as the leader of this group next year. But this season look for them to comprise perhaps the nastiest duo that the middle of any defense has to offer.
Predicting the starters: Kentrell Brothers, Michael Scherer, Donavin Newsom
Key backups: Clarence Green, Eric Beisel, Joey Burkett, Brandon Lee, Terez Hall
Brothers and Scherer are the SEC’s top returning tacklers, justifying the elite label for this group of linebackers in and of itself. Newsom is no slouch either and the stable of key backups will allow the Tigers to rotate in fresh bodies regularly.
Predicting the starters: Cassanova McKinzy, Kris Frost
Key backups: Tre’ Williams, JaViere Mitchell
Auburn is one of those rare teams that start two linebackers. McKinzy and Frost could have already taken their talents to the NFL but decided to give it one more go with the Tigers and will do so under the tutelage of new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Tre’ Williams is also a young talent that will become a household name in the SEC sooner than later.
HAPPY WITH THE SITUATION
Predicting the starters: Curt Maggitt, Dillon Bates, Kenny Bynum, Jalen Reeves-Maybin
Key backups: Chris Weatherd
Maggitt is an outside linebacker-defensive end hybrid. But when he takes his hand out of the dirt and joins the linebackers, Tennessee’s group can be as good as any in the SEC. While Maggitt will be the pass-rush specialist, Maybin-Reeves will serve as the do-it-all linebacker with the range to make plays all over the field.
Predicting the starters: Lamar Louis, Kendell Beckwith, Deion Jones
Key backups: Donnie Alexander, Duke Riley, Ronnie Feist
The Tigers lost Kwon Alexander to the NFL but Beckwith, Louis and Jones bring plenty of experience with them and hope to anchor an LSU defense that is always stout. Beckwith is a tackling machine and Jones could be in for a breakout senior year.
Predicting the starters: Antonio Morrison, Jarrad Davis
Key backups: Alex Anzalone, Daniel McMillian, Matt Rolin, Jeremi Powell
Morrison and Davis are coming back from injuries but if healthy will be a heck of a one-two punch. Anzalone also drew high praise this spring and will get his fair share of snaps. This is a deep and experienced group that could end up finishing better than this ranking if all goes well.
8. South Carolina
Predicting the starters: Skai Moore, Jonathan Walton
Key backups: T.J. Holloman, Bryson Allen-Williams
You don’t usually think defense when breaking down the Gamecocks but any shortcomings they have on that side of the ball are not because of the linebackers. Moore and Walton are as consistent as they come and if a third linebacker can emerge this season this will be a tough group to contain.
Predicting the starters: Stephen Weatherly, Darreon Herring, Nigel Bowden, Nehemiah Mitchell
Key backups: Ja’Karri Thomas, Zach Cunningham
Vanderbilt is not a very good team, at least not by SEC standards, but their linebacker corps is solid and not one of the reasons for their struggles. All three starters were key contributors last season and any one of them could emerge as one of the top linebackers in the conference. The MVP of this defense will certainly come from this group.
ADEQUATE … AND THAT MAY BE ENOUGH FOR THE DEFENSE
10. Ole Miss
Predicting the starters: Denzel Nkemdiche, C.J. Johnson
Key backups: Christian Russell
Ole Miss would be higher on this list if Nkemdiche wasn’t coming off a broken ankle and Johnson weren’t starting at a new position. But if Nkemdiche proves to be healthy and Johnson can be as good of an inside linebacker as he projects to be, this could be a very productive combo for the Rebels. Johnson is going to be one of the biggest linebackers in the conference and should be very valuable when it comes to stuffing the run.
11. Mississippi State
Predicting the starters: Zach Jackson, Richie Brown, Beniquez Brown
Key backups: J.T. Gray, Gerri Green, Quadry Antoine
If all of the Bulldogs linebackers were as good as Beniquez Brown, well, then they’d be Georgia. But having one of your three linebackers have All-SEC potential is why Mississippi State is this far down the list. Richie Brown has done well in a reserve role before and is a special teams standout but it remains to be seen how he will handle being a full-time starter. There’s also a good chance that Gray will eventually take Jackson’s spot in the starting lineup.
NEXT YEAR SHOULD BE BETTER
Predicting the starters: Jabari Johnson, Ryan Flannigan, Josh Forrest, Jason Hatcher
Key backups: Denzil Ware
Flannigan and Forrest are both seniors that will man the middle for the Wildcats. Beyond their experience, there’s not much to write home about when it comes to this group of linebackers. But Hatcher and Ware will get valuable playing time this year that they can bring back to Kentucky’s defense next season.
Predicting the starters: Khalia Hackett, Josh Williams, Brooks Ellis
Key backups: Dwayne Eugene
This is not an experienced group of linebackers but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some talent there. Ellis is the only returning starter but Hackett and Williams have both had their chances before and have shown the ability to make plays. And with no seniors, the Razorbacks could return all three starters in 2016.
14. Texas A&M
Predicting the starters: Shaan Washington, Josh Walker, Otaro Alaka
Key backups: A.J. Hilliard, Claude George
Alaka emerged late last season as one of the better linebackers in the conference and will look to build on that this season. Hilliard returns from a season-ending ankle injury he suffered in the first game last season and could end up starting. If Alaka continues to improve and Hilliard returns to form, the Aggies linebackers could easily be better than “worst in the SEC.”
And besides, is worst in the SEC really that bad?