Creating the perfect SEC linebacker for 2018
Roquan Smith. Jeff Holland. Rashaan Evans. Shaun Dion Hamilton. Skai Moore. Courtney Love. DeMarquis Gates. Charles Wright.
The list of talented linebackers who are moving on from the SEC to the NFL is a long one this offseason, with Smith and Evans potentially going in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at the end of the month.
However, the SEC is known for its defense, and it won’t disappoint this fall, as there are still plenty of superstar linebackers waiting in the wings. Though there are plenty of big names returning to SEC sidelines, only the best of the best and their elite skills make the cut for our perfect SEC linebacker.
Here’s who we’d pick to make an unstoppable linebacker for the 2018 season:
Tackling: Devin White, LSU
Roquan Smith led the SEC with 137 tackles in 2017, but White was right on his tail, recording 133 as a sophomore. Making White’s mark even more impressive was the fact that White’s 133 tackles came in 13 games, while Smith played in 15.
Smith is off to the NFL, where he’ll almost certainly be an early first-round pick. White will be in that position soon enough, perhaps as soon as next year, but for now, he’s back to lead the LSU defense.
In an era where tackling is often inconsistent, White is the surest tackler in the SEC, even if his form could sometimes use some work. Still, he has a nose for the ball and, when the pressure is on, you can bet he’ll be in on the action:
— Belle Es You (@SouthernbeLLSU) January 1, 2018
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him atop the tackle leaderboard again when the 2018 season is over and done.
Pass rushing: Josh Allen, Kentucky
When it comes to rushing the passer, not many linebackers do it better (or more consistently) than Josh Allen. The Kentucky linebacker has recorded 14 sacks the past two years — 7 in 2016 and another 7 last season.
When healthy, Jordan Jones provides the perfect complement to Allen, allowing Allen to get after quarterbacks while being a tackling machine behind him. And Allen doesn’t disappoint, showing some instinctive pass-rushing moves, like this devastating spin move against South Carolina last year:
— Brian Johannes (@Draft_Brian) October 7, 2017
This fall, Allen and Jones are back for one more ride with the Wildcats, and if both stay healthy, Allen should have plenty of opportunities to try to record even more sacks during the 2018 season.
Speed: D’Andre Walker, Georgia
Walker wasn’t featured as much as he probably should have been in Georgia’s defense last year, as the Bulldogs also had talented playmakers in Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, Reggie Carter and Davin Bellamy.
However, he still managed to make 13.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage, 5.5 of which were sacks. His speed makes him tough to block on blitzes or when he comes around the edge on a pass rush.
Without the players mentioned above this fall, more responsibilities will fall on Walker, who could become a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft if he continues to play well with offenses game planning to stop him.
Versatility: David Reese, Florida
Need someone to make a key tackle? Reese had 102 last year. Need a big play behind the line of scrimmage? Reese had 10.5 tackles for a loss in 2017.
He also picked up 1.5 sacks and had an interception, putting himself in position to be Florida’s next great linebacker. Along with DL Cece Jefferson, Reese has the Gators’ defense in good hands heading into 2018.
He’ll do whatever is asked of him in new DC Todd Grantham’s scheme, and if Grantham can maximize his potential, Reese’s 2018 stats might put his strong 2017 stats to shame.
Big-play ability: Mack Wilson, Alabama
Wilson hasn’t played as much as other linebackers on the Alabama defense the past couple of years, but his highlight reel can stack up against anyone’s.
His big hits, particularly on special teams, are a reason the NCAA is trying to phase kickoffs out of the game. Just ask former Texas A&M return man Speedy Noil what he thinks of Wilson’s bone-crunching hits:
Everytime I think of Speedy Noil, reminds me of when Mack Wilson knocked his tooth out. pic.twitter.com/q7FsS7XXew
— Jas Mon'Vogue (@JassyBravo) December 20, 2016
In addition to his big-time hits, Wilson also had four interceptions last year, returning one for a touchdown. The big question this year will be whether he can be a more well-rounded linebacker to fill in for Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton, but there’s no doubting that he can be a one-man momentum swing when the spotlight is on him.