5-star linebackers of the last decade: Varying levels of success for star prospects
As we examine the 5-star recruits over the last decade in our daily series, read about each position:
Note: Recruiting rankings refer to 247sports’ industry composite rankings.
As it stands now, 2015 is shaping up to be a down year for linebacker prospects. There are only three five-star players in the class of 2015, all outside linebackers, the fewest since 2012. Over the last decade, there have been 37 five-star linebackers to come out of high school. In all, 12 of them landed in the SEC, including six in the last three years.
2005 – 4 LBs
Rey Maualuga, Southern California: Maualuga was an immediate star for the Trojans, earning freshman All-America honors, then first team Pac 12 nods his final three years and a unanimous All-America spot in 2008. Maualuga finished his career with 273 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks, along with five career interceptions. He went to the Cincinnati Bengals as a second round pick in 2009 and still stars for the Bengals.
Tray Blackmon, Auburn: Blackmon never panned out at Auburn, battling injuries and suspensions over the course of his time on the Plains. He failed to enroll in classes in his final go at Auburn, ending his career. He played in the CFL after leaving the Tigers.
Brian Cushing, Southern California: Cushing paired with Maualuga, joining his teammate as a freshman All-American, earning All-Pac-12 performer and All-American honors over the course of his career. He finished at USC with 178 tackles, 27.0 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks and was a Houston Texans first round pick. He went on to win the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2009 and is a star for the Texans.
Luther Brown, Southern California: Unlike his two five-star classmates, Brown didn’t match his high school ranking. Brown battled injuries and was a backup during his career with the Trojans.
Notable players: Clay Matthews, Southern California; Travis Beckum, Wisconsin; Sean Lee, Penn State; Pat Angerer, Iowa; Aaron Curry, Wake Forest; James Laurinaitis, Ohio State; Curtis Lofton; Oklahoma
2006 – 4 LBs
Sergio Kindle, Texas: Kindle was a star for his four years at Texas, playing as a linebacker/defensive end hybrid player. He was simultaneously a finalist for the Butkus and Hendricks Awards, the first player to earn both distinctions. Over his four seasons, Kindle had 176 tackles, 16 sacks and 43 tackles. The Baltimore Ravens chose Kindle in the second round in 2010, and he last played in the NFL in 2012.
Brandon Graham, Michigan: Graham was moved to defensive end after he arrived at Michigan and excelled. He terrorized the Big Ten with 138 tackles, 56.0 tackles for loss and 29.5 sacks over his career, finishing second all-time on Michigan’s leaderboard for both sacks and tackles for loss. Graham went in the first round to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010, where he’s finally found a role after a few unproductive seasons.
Micah Johnson, Kentucky: Johnson, who won Kentucky’s Mr. Football award his senior year, was a good pull for the Wildcats. He was productive over his four seasons, totaling 285 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He had his best season as a senior, with 105 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss in 2009. After going undrafted, Johnson has bounced around the NFL.
Marcus Ball, Florida State: Ball went to FSU out of high school, but ended up leaving the Seminoles after being caught up in academic fraud. He played JUCO ball for a year before transferring to Memphis, where he moved to safety. Ball was solid at Memphis, with 145 total tackles, 13 passes defended and five interceptions in two seasons. Ball played in the CFL before the New Orleans Saints signed him in 2014.
Notable players: Brandon Spikes, Florida; Navorro Bowman, Penn State; Bruce Carter, North Carolina; Kelvin Sheppard, LSU; Akeem Dent, Georgia; Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri; Daryl Washington, TCU
2007 – 1 LB
Chris Galippo, Southern California: Galippo had a standout sophomore year in with 70 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two interceptions. He never repeated that stat line and battled injuries for much of his career, eventually losing his starting job.
LBs ranked lower: Rolando McClain, Alabama; Casey Matthews, Oregon; Von Miller, Texas A&M; Lavonte David, Nebraska; Akeem Ayers, UCLA
2008 – 3 LBs
Nigel Bradham, Florida State: Bradham played from day one at Florida State, appearing in 13 games as a freshman. He started 39 games in his career, including the final 37 he played in. Bradham finished his career with 305 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks in four years, leading FSU to a No. 4 national defensive ranking as a captain his senior year. The Buffalo Bills made him a fourth round draft pick in 2012 and has been a starter since his rookie year.
Etienne Sabino, Ohio State: Sabino was a five-year player for the Buckeyes but he saw his 2012 senior season cut short with an ankle fracture. He played in 47 games over his time in Columbus, starting 13 games over the course of his career. He finished his career with 119 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Arthur Brown, Miami: Brown, a Kansas native, had an eventful college career. He started at Miami, where he recorded just 17 tackles in two seasons. He transferred back home to Kansas State, where he posted consecutive 100-tackle seasons and accumulated 17. tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks, earning All-Big 12 honors in 2011 and 2012. The Baltimore Ravens made him a second round pick in 2013 to replace Ray Lewis.
Notable players: Aldon Smith, Missouri; Nick Perry, Southern California; Bruce Taylor, Virgnia Tech; Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower, Alabama; Sean Spence, Miami (Fla.)
2009 – 5 LBs
Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State: Burfict was a beast after picking Arizona State over Southern California. After dominating as a sophomore, he had a bit of a down year in his junior year, with 69 tackles and 5.0 sacks before deciding to bolt to the NFL. Despite being regarded as one of the best linebacker prospects in the draft, Burfict went undrafted due to an array of on- and off-field issues. The Cincinnati Bengals signed him and he’s since gone on to star there, recording 127 and 171 tackles in his first two seasons, respectively, before suffering an injury-plagued 2014.
Manti Te’o, Notre Dame: Te’o was a star on the field for the Fighting Irish and was a Heisman finalist in 2012. Unfortunately, he’ll go down as the guy with the fake internet girlfriend more than for his play. Te’o was undoubtedly a star on the field, finishing his career with 437 tackles (third in Notre Dame history), 34.0 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He had seven interceptions in his senior year. Te’o ended up as a second round pick, heading to the San Diego Chargers, where he’s played in 23 games and recorded 122 tackles over the last two seasons.
Jelani Jenkins, Florida: Jenkins looked like a star from the moment he joined the Gators, with a great blend of size, speed and strength. In three years, Jenkins had 180 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks. He left Florida after his junior year to enter the NFL Draft, where the Miami Dolphins picked him in the fourth round. After playing sparingly as a rookie, he had 110 tackles in his second year in the league.
Nico Johnson, Alabama: Johnson was part of a class that won three national championships in four years. While Johnson was a very good contributor for the Crimson Tide, he never blossomed into a superstar player. He totaled 162 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks in his four years. Johnson was a fourth-round pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013. He currently plays for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Dorian Bell, Ohio State: Bell redshirted his first season at Ohio State, and finished his freshman season with just nine tackles. After he was suspended for the entire 2011 season, Bell transferred to Duquesne, where he played well away from the spotlight.
LBs ranked lower: Luke Kuechly, Boston College; Jarvis Jones, Georgia; Kevin Minter, LSU; Jon Bostic, Florida
2010 – 5 LBs
Jordan Hicks, Texas: Hicks capped off his career in 2014 by leading the Longhorns with 113 tackles, as well as 11.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two interceptions. In his first three seasons for Texas, Hicks had 89 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks. Hicks redshirted in 2013 after he suffered a season-ending injury.
William Gholston, Michigan State: Golston used his supreme athleticism to make the move to defensive end at Michigan State. He had a solid career, finishing with 142 total tackles, 30.0 tackles for loss and 10.0 sacks. He declared early for the draft and was picked in the fourth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013, where he has 71 tackles and 4.0 sacks in two seasons.
Christian Jones, Florida State: Over his four-year career in Tallahassee, Jones racked up 223 tackles, 24 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks. He should be a fine NFL player. Jones went undrafted in 2014 but caught on with the Chicago Bears. He played with a chip on his shoulder after the draft snub and finished his rookie year with 68 tackles and 2.0 sacks.
Alec Ogletree, Georgia: Ogletree was a safety/linebacker prospect in high school, but he was projected to play linebacker in college. He had some scrapes with the law but more than lived up to the hype on the field. In his final year at Georgia, he had 111 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, earning second-team All-SEC recognition before leaving early for the NFL. The St. Louis Rams took him with the 30th overall pick in 2013 and he’s blossomed into a star, recording more than 100 tackles in each of his first two seasons.
Jeff Luc, Florida State: Luc never made the grade at Florida State, playing mostly on special teams in his time in Tallahassee. He transferred to Cincinnati, where he made 34 tackles and 1.5 sacks as a senior.
LBs ranked lower: CJ Mosley, Alabama; Anthony Barr, UCLA; Eric Kendricks, UCLA;
2011 – 6 LBs
Curtis Grant, Ohio State: Grant was a solid contributor in his senior year at Ohio State, finishing fifth on the team in tackles with 69 stops while picking up 5.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack and an interception. He didn’t play much in his first two years on campus for getting a shot in 2013, but ended his career a national champion.
Steve Edmond, Texas: Edmond bounced back strong from a season-ending injury in 2013, making 109 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks for the Longhorns in their first year under Charlie Strong.
Trey DePriest, Alabama: DePriest was once again a steady contributor for Alabama in his senior year, finishing his career with the best of his four seasons at Alabama. DePriest mad 87 tackles and 5.0 tackles for loss as a senior, helping to spearhead one of the best run defenses in the country.
Tony Steward, Clemson: After suffering tears to both of his ACLs in his first three years at Clemson, Steward showed why he was so highly regarded coming to school in his final two season. He finally got on the field in 2013, making 37 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack in 13 games. As a senior, he recorded 58 tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Stephone Anthony, Clemson: After eschewing the NFL draft after a stellar junior year, Anthony was solid as a senior. He led the Tigers in tackles with 75 tackles and had 10.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks to top off his excellent career. Those figures were a bit of a step back from 2013, when he put up 131 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks. Anthony is currently wowing scouts at the Senior Bowl.
Ishaq Williams, Notre Dame: Williams never blossomed into a star for the Irish, making 45 tackles and 6.0 tackles for loss in his first three years. After telling coach Brian Kelly he wouldn’t play in 2014, there is a possibility for Williams to return for his final year of eligibility in 2015.
Notable players: Amarlo Herrera, Georgia; Kris Frost, Auburn; A.J. Johnson, Tennessee; Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State; Denzel Perryman, Miami (Fla.)
2012 – 1 LB
Josh Harvey-Clemons, Georgia: Clemons was dismissed from Georgia for several violations of team rules. The hybrid safety/linebacker was very good on the field for the Bulldogs, recording 66 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 12 QB hurries in 2013. He landed at Louisville, where he sat out the 2014 season and was officially moved to safety full time on the team’s roster.
Notable players: Ryan Anderson, Alabama; Kwon Alexander, LSU; Beniquez Brown, Mississippi State; Reggie Ragland, Alabama; Antonio Morrison, Florida
2013 – 4 LBs
Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame: After a strong freshman year in which he had 67 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss, Smith continued to develop into a star for the Fighting Irish in 2014. He was the team’s leading tackler with 111 stops and racked up 9.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, seven quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. Smith is already being talked about as a potential first round pick if he decides to leave school early after next season.
Matthew Thomas, Florida State: After getting a medical redshirt for a shoulder injury in 2013, Thomas played in eight games and made three starts in 2014. He finished the year with 26 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Jonathan Allen, Alabama: Allen was a regular starter as a sophomore, getting the first snaps in 12 of Alabama’s 14 games. He had just 32 tackles, but 11.0 of them were for loss. He also recorded 5.0 sacks, seven quarterback hurries and a blocked kick.
Reuben Foster, Alabama: Foster played mostly on special teams as a sophomore, finishing the year with 23 total tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack.
2014 – 4 LBs
Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State: McMillan played in 14 of 15 games as a freshman, finishing eighth on the national champion Buckeyes with 54 total tackles. He also had an interception, which he took back for a touchdown, 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Tre’ Williams, Auburn: Williams played in 13 games in 2014, logging 16 tackles and one quarterback hurry as a reserve.
Rashaan Evans, Alabama: Evans played in 13 games as a freshman, recording 1.0 sack, 14 tackles and 2.0 tackles for loss while recording three quarterback hurries. He was perhaps known more for saying he was “living it up on Bourbon Street” during Alabama’s Sugar Bowl preparation in New Orleans.
Clifton Garrett, LSU: Garrett redshirted in his first year at LSU.
Lived up to the hype
- Brian Cushing, USC
- Brandon Graham, Michigan
- William Gholston, Michigan State
- Micah Johnson, Kentucky
- Sergio Kindle, Texas
- Nigel Bradham, FSU
- Rey Maualuga, USC
- Alec Ogletree, Georgia
- Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
- Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
- Stephone Anthony, Clemson
- Arthur Brown, Miami and Kansas State
- Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
- Trey DePriest, Alabama
- Steve Edmond, Texas
- Jordan Hicks, Texas
- Jelani Jenkins, Florida
- Nico Johnson, Alabama
- Tony Steward, Clemson
- Marcus Ball, FSU
- Dorian Bell, Ohio State
- Tray Blackmon, Auburn
- Luther Brown, USC
- Chris Galippo, USC
- Jeff Luc, FSU
- Etienne Sabino, Ohio State
- Ishaq Williams, Notre Dame
- Jonathan Allen, Alabama
- Rashaan Evans, Alabama
- Reuben Foster, Alabama
- Clifton Garrett, LSU
- Josh Harvey-Clemons, Georgia
- Curtis Grant, Ohio State
- Christian Jones, FSU
- Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State
- Matthew Thomas, FSU
- Tre’ Williams, Auburn