Creating the perfect SEC inside linebacker for 2019
Even in a conference that is usually loaded on defense, the SEC’s 2019 class of inside linebackers is particularly deep.
No, there’s no proven superstar like former LSU LB Devin White in this group, but there are a couple of players who could work their way into first-round contention for the 2020 NFL Draft.
Behind them are a number of others who will almost certainly hear their names called at the draft in the next couple of years. But only a few have skills that are truly elite.
So, who did we pick to make up our perfect SEC inside linebacker for the 2019 season? Here are our choices:
Speed: Dylan Moses, Alabama
Want an inside linebacker who is 6-3 and 235 pounds? Of course you do. Want that linebacker to run the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds, too? Sounds impossible, right?
Nope. That’s the sort of elite speed Moses brings to the table, per this AL.com report from 2017. He also had 86 tackles (10 for a loss) and 3.5 sacks for the Tide in 2018.
How fast is he in game situations? Watch him chase down this Louisville wide receiver from behind in Week 1 of last season:
He looks like he will be the next star linebacker from Alabama, and if he has a big season, he could end up being a top-10 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Size/Strength: Cale Garrett, Mizzou
Garrett checks in at 6-3 and 230 pounds and he puts that size to good use. After recording 105 tackles in 2017, he came back and had 116 tackles in 2018. He’s a huge part of a Mizzou defense that desperately needs him to carry the load this fall.
The Tigers need him in there on every down, and he’s shown that he’s strong enough to handle that workload the past 2 years. The 2019 season could be the third season in a row he goes over the 100-tackle mark, and that’s something that would put him among some elite company in SEC history.
His size and toughness make him an NFL prospect, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with him when the 2020 draft rolls around.
Versatility: T.J. Brunson, South Carolina
Brunson was everywhere for the Gamecocks in 2018, and was one of their few key defenders who stayed healthy. He finished with 106 tackles (10.5 for a loss) and also had 4 sacks. In addition to that, he knocked down a pass and also forced a fumble.
Getting to the quarterback as an inside linebacker isn’t easy, so for Brunson to have 4 sacks is pretty impressive. He has the athleticism to play the run, cover receivers and running backs and also get after the quarterback. That’s impressive, even in today’s game where versatility is everywhere.
If some of the other key defenders for South Carolina can stay healthy around him this fall, he could have an even better 2019 campaign.
Tackling/Run defense: De’Jon Harris, Arkansas
Harris is the SEC’s returning leader in tackles, finishing behind only LSU’s Devin White and Vanderbilt’s Jordan Griffin last year with 118 total takedowns. He’s a tackling machine and is especially good at diagnosing runs and keeping himself clean in space.
Here he is shooting a gap against Colorado State last season:
— PFDZ (@PFDZ44) June 6, 2019
And here’s he is crashing recklessly into the backfield against Auburn last year to tackle the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage:
— PFDZ (@PFDZ44) June 6, 2019
He has a nose for the ball, and he should be among the SEC’s leading tacklers again this fall.
Pass defense: Erroll Thompson, Mississippi State
Thompson not only had 87 tackles (10 for a loss) and 4 sacks last season, he also had 2 interceptions. That puts him in a group of his own, as he’s the only returning SEC linebacker with 85 or more tackles and two picks:
This interception in the end zone against Texas A&M helped seal a big-time Mississippi State victory last season:
— Ben Griffin (@GriffinBen32) October 28, 2018
Then there was this pick at Kansas State, which was even more impressive:
Erroll Thompson, woah. pic.twitter.com/ORhuFc9OSO
— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) September 8, 2018
He can do whatever is asked as an inside linebacker, but his ability to make big plays as a pass defender is what earns him a spot on this list.
Leadership: Kash Daniel, Kentucky
Most teams consider their middle linebackers to be the quarterbacks of the defense, and no one fits that bill more than Daniel. Even with guys like Mike Edwards, Josh Allen and Jordan Jones on the defense last season, Daniel was the unquestioned heart and soul of the unit.
Nobody plays with more energy than Daniel, and you can see how much his teammates love him in this highlight during the Wildcats’ bowl game:
Kash Daniel with the huge sack. pic.twitter.com/gr7ZSASYru
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 1, 2019
He’s back for one more ride with the Wildcats, and he’ll be the unquestioned leader of the defense when Kentucky takes the field.