Ranking the SEC’s Top 10 inside linebackers for 2019
Even with a superstar like Devin White and guys like Mack Wilson, Deshaun Davis and Terez Hall going off to the NFL, the SEC is still absolutely loaded at the inside linebacker position heading into the 2019 season.
We know that the SEC consistently produces the best defensive talent when it comes to the draft, but even for a conference with such a great pool of talent, the depth at inside linebacker this fall is ridiculous. I haven’t ranked cornerbacks or safeties yet, but of all the defensive positions I’ve done top 10 lists for so far, this was the toughest to sort out.
When guys like LSU’s Michael Divinity Jr. and Georgia’s Tae Crowder don’t even make the cut, you know it’s a deep position. Those guys could become stars this fall.
However, this article is about the guys who did make the cut, so here’s how I rank the top 10 SEC inside linebackers heading into the 2019 season:
10. Mohamed Sanogo, Ole Miss
On a defense that struggled as much as the Rebels’ last season, it’s hard to stand out. However, Sanogo did just that, recording 112 tackles (good for 5th place in the SEC).
He also had a sack and forced a pair of fumbles. With a new defensive coordinator coming into Oxford (former Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre), things should improve this fall. With the sort of numbers Sanogo put up last year, he stands to make a big jump in 2019.
9. Jacob Phillips, LSU
I mentioned Divinity above, but Phillips gets a spot on this list because he’s more proven. Phillips had 87 tackles and a sack, and also returned his one interception for a touchdown:
— Duane Lively (@DuaneLively) September 3, 2018
Phillips and Divinity will have a lot of work to do to take over for Devin White, but they have the talent to make sure the LSU defense continues to be one of the best in the SEC.
8. Daniel Bituli, Tennessee
Bituli has been perhaps the most consistent player on the Tennessee defense the past 2 seasons, and he could be ready for a big breakthrough in Jeremy Pruitt’s second year. Coming off a 79-tackle campaign in 2018, he’ll be asked to do more this fall.
Bituli is, of course, known for his long interception return for a touchdown against Alabama in 2017, but Pruitt will try to get some more big plays out of the talented linebacker this year:
— Alex Byington (@_AlexByington) October 21, 2017
If the Vols are going to make it to a bowl game in 2019, Bituli and OLB Darrell Taylor are going to have to lead the defense. We’ll see if they’re up to the task.
7. David Reese II, Florida
Reese took a bit of a step back in 2018, but he’s still a very talented, very consistent presence in the middle of the Gators’ defense. In 2017, he recorded 102 tackles (10.5 for a loss) and 1.5 sacks. Last year, he had only 77 tackles (2.5 for a loss) and no sacks.
A lot of that had to do with a change to new DC Todd Grantham’s defense, but Reese will need to get back to his 2017 ways this fall. Reese won’t blow anyone away with his highlight reels, but he’s the sort of guy you can plug in at middle linebacker and not worry about for the rest of the season.
6. Erroll Thompson, Mississippi State
The Bulldogs are losing Jeffery Simmons, Montez Sweat, Gerri Green, Johnathan Abram and others on defense, but the cupboard isn’t bare. That’s because of Thompson, who should be ready to take a step forward this fall.
Alongside OLB Willie Gay Jr., the Bulldogs still have a solid linebacking corps, and Thompson should be ready to step up and be a leader. He can do everything you want in an inside linebacker, from shooting gaps and stopping the run:
Erroll Thompson doing Erroll Thompson things pic.twitter.com/UK2mYnXpd8
— Brett Hudson (@Brett_Hudson) November 23, 2018
To making insanely athletic plays in pass defense. Just look at this diving interception from last year:
Erroll Thompson, woah. pic.twitter.com/ORhuFc9OSO
— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) September 8, 2018
Not many people outside of Starkville know Thompson’s name, due to the other stars Mississippi State had on defense last year. That will change in 2019.
5. Kash Daniel, Kentucky
Daniel has played alongside some talented linebackers at Kentucky, including Josh Allen and Jordan Jones. This year, he’ll be the top guy in the linebacking corps, so we’ll see if he’s ready to take on even more responsibility.
Even with the other stars on the Kentucky defense last season, he was the vocal leader. He’s also a heck of a player, recording 84 tackles (7.5 for a loss) and 1 sack in 2017.
He’ll need to do more this year, but I have a feeling if someone shows him that he’s ranked No. 5 on this list, that’ll give him plenty of motivation. Just don’t tell him my name when you mention this article, please.
4. T.J. Brunson, South Carolina
While guys were dropping like flies and battling through injuries all over the South Carolina defense last season, Brunson was a steady presence. He recorded 106 tackles (10.5 for a loss) and 4 sacks while appearing in all 13 games.
That last number is the most impressive for the Gamecocks, as he was one of only a few starters to stay on the field all season. This fall, you’d think that South Carolina’s injury luck will turn around, and that will only make Brunson better.
If he’s this good without a guy like DJ Wonnum rushing the passer and with big run-stuffing DT Javon Kinlaw battling various ailments, imagine how big of a star he’ll be this fall with those guys back on the field.
3. De’Jon Harris, Arkansas
Harris is the SEC’s returning leader in tackles, recording an impressive 118 takedowns in 2018 for a defense that struggled most of the season. Still, as DC John Chavis and the Razorbacks try to improve from last year, Harris is a guy they don’t have to worry about at all.
He’s a great boost to any run defense, as he’s one of the best in the conference at avoiding blockers and finding the ball. If other linebackers can develop and improve around him, Harris could take the jump to being a superstar in 2019.
Harris is also solid in pass defense, knocking down five passes last season. He can cover sideline-to-sideline, and it’ll be interesting to see how much he can help the Hogs improve when the 2019 campaign gets underway.
2. Cale Garrett, Mizzou
Speaking of tackling machines, Garrett has done it all for the Tigers the past 2 seasons. Like Harris, he has eclipsed the 100-tackle mark each of the past 2 years, and will likely do it a third time in 2019, barring injury.
Garrett is also the vocal leader of the defense, especially now that Terez Hall and Terry Beckner Jr. are off to the NFL. He’s been overlooked for the past 2 years, but now it is truly his time to shine.
If he makes more than 100 tackles again this year, the Tigers can continue their upward trajectory. He’s a great player who is no slouch covering running backs and tight ends, either, so it’ll be fun to see what he can do for Mizzou in his final year in Columbia.
1. Dylan Moses, Alabama
Moses seems ready to become a household name this fall. Alabama has a habit of producing elite linebackers for the NFL Draft, and Moses should be the next first-rounder.
He runs a 4.46 40-yard dash and still has the size and strength to make bone-crunching hits. Last season, he recorded 86 tackles (10 for a loss), 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He can do everything asked of him in Nick Saban’s defense and he has elite sideline-to-sideline speed. Just check out this highlight video:
Alabama has produced some talented NFL LBs over the years – Demeco Ryans, Donta Hightower, CJ Mosley, Reuben Foster, Rolando McClain
Up Next – Dylan Moses 6-3 240lb (reported 4.46 40-yard dash) ATHLETIC FREAK!
— Ray Garvin (@RayGQue) June 14, 2019
If he stays healthy, Moses should emerge as the leader of the defense this fall. He’ll be counted on to make a ton of tackles, use his speed in pass defense situations and even get after the opposing quarterback on occasion. He should be a lot of fun to watch in 2019.