Ranking 2014 SEC position groups: Linebackers
Defense is the hallmark of the SEC and no defensive position produces more stars in the conference than linebackers.
But to have success in the SEC, it’s more than just about having stars, it’s about having a cohesive and talented unit and this conference had several top linebacking corps in 2014.
Here are the top linebacker position groups of this past season in the SEC.
RELATED: SEC’s top 10 best safeties in 2014
14. Texas A&M — What is there to say about the Aggies’ linebackers? Texas A&M’s run defense was virtually non-existent and was the worst in the SEC. Shaan Washington’s early-season injury hindered his production and the Aggies failed to really develop any consistent play at linebacker in 2014. That’s a big reason for Texas A&M allowing 223.5 yards on the ground.
13. South Carolina — Skai Moore had a decent season, but outside of him there isn’t much to get excited about in regard to the Gamecocks’ linebackers. South Carolina had the SEC’s worst defense this season, but Moore’s strong finish to the season helped bring some legitimacy to this group.
12. Kentucky — Josh Forrest was a beast for the Wildcats this season racking up 104 tackles, including a 20-tackle performance against Tennessee. Unfortunately for UK, there wasn’t much production outside of Forrest and the Cats finished with the third-worst run defense in the SEC, allowing just over 191 yards per game.
11. Vanderbilt — The Commodores may not have won a SEC game this year, but Vanderbilt appears to have a strong group of young linebackers led by Nigel Bowden. The true freshman led the ‘Dores with 78 tackles and fellow freshman Zach Cunningham was second with 67 tackles. With Derek Mason as head coach, this is a unit and a defense that expects to only improved under his defensive guiding.
10. Ole Miss — Mississippi’s linebackers were expected to have a big year behind Sendarius Bryant and Denzel Nkemdiche. But Nkemdiche’s fractured ankle forced him to miss almost the last half of the season and Bryant didn’t perform to his preseason expectations. Through it all, the Rebels managed to have the SEC’s fifth-best run defense.
9. Auburn — Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost were easily Auburn’s top two linebackers this season with 82 and 75 tackles, respectively. However, Auburn didn’t get much out of the other linebackers on the team as six of Auburn’s top ten tacklers were defensive backs. This group must improve next season for Auburn to return to the top of the SEC.
8. LSU — LSU’s defense got off to a slow start in 2014, but the Tigers found their groove in the team’s final five games, allowing no more than 315 total yards in one game. At linebacker, Kwon Alexander and surprise star Kendell Beckwith stood out among the rest. Beckwith, who had never played middle linebacker prior to this season, was second on the team with 68 tackles. He helped compensate for an underwhelming DJ Welter.
7. Mississippi State — The unquestioned leader of MSU’s linebackers is Benardrick McKinney. The standout junior earned All-SEC honors in what is likely his final collegiate season before heading to the NFL. His 61 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks helped the Bulldogs to one of the SEC’s most-feared rush defenses and a top-10 regular-season ranking.
6. Florida — The conference’s second-best run defense was led by junior Antonio Morrison, who earned a second-team All-SEC honors for his 98 tackles, six sacks and three QB hurries. Seniors Michael Taylor and Neiron Ball also recorded productive seasons and helped the Gators earn the distinction of the SEC’s second-best rush defense.
5. Arkansas – Led by Martrell Spaight, the SEC’s top tackler (123), Arkansas’ linebackers are arguably one of the most improved position groups in the SEC. Brooks Ellis is a rising star in the league and made several plays throughout the season, including two interceptions. The defense has a whole improved greatly from 2013 to 2014, allowing nearly 70 yards less per game, and Ellis and Spaight are a big reason why.
4. Alabama — Individually, Alabama’s linebackers don’t have the stats that other players do, but team-wise you don’t get much better than Alabama. The Crimson Tide boasted the SEC’s top run defense, allowing just at 88.7 yards per game. The conference’s second-best run defense allowed nearly 30 yards more per game. Trey DePriest and Reggie Ragland spearheaded the Tide’s latest outstanding linebacking corps.
3. Tennessee — The Vols stumbled their way to a 6-6 season, but the linebackers were easily the top group of this year’s team. AJ Johnson lived up to his billing as a senior leader, racking up 101 tackles. However, it was the two other linebackers Curt Maggitt and Jalen Reeves-Maybin who stole the show. Maggitt recorded the highest amount of sacks (11.0) for a SEC linebacker and Reeves-Maybin posted double-digit tackles for loss (10.0). Even with the loss of Johnson, Tennessee is in good hands at the linebacker position.
2. Missouri — If there was a surprise group this season, it had to be the Missouri linebackers. Kentrell Brothers shook offseason surgery and had a breakout junior season with 117 tackles. Behind Brothers, Michael Scherer became one of Mizzou’s most reliable defensive players and the two became the best tackling duo in the SEC. This unit isn’t nearly as deep as others in the conference, but with only one returning starter before the season, it’s safe to say Missouri’s linebackers performed above expectations.
1. Georgia — It’s tough to compete with the Bulldogs in this category. Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera form one of the nastiest linebacker duos in the conference and the two combined for 214 tackles on the season. In Jeremy Pruitt’s 3-4 defense, guys like Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins also stood out, although the sack numbers weren’t as high as many predicted before the season. And with the emergence of freshman Lorenzo Carter toward the end of the season, UGA boasts one of the most complete linebacker units in the country.