Of the leading 20 tacklers at linebacker last year in the SEC, half won’t be on the field in 2016.

Some were seniors who are out of eligibility. Others felt it was their time to jump to the NFL a bit early. One — more on him later — would have suited up if not for an injury. Replacements must be found.

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Nevertheless, an awful lot of talent returns to the best conference in America at the linebacker position. Reinforcements are on the way, too. According to the 247Sports composite rankings, three of the top seven LB prospects for the 2016 class are going to the SEC. Alabama got two, while LSU nabbed the other.

At the professional level, the pass rushers and the coverage corners are the ones making big money when it’s time to talk contracts. But sound tackling in the linebacking corps is a necessity for any defense.

Here are our Top 10 linebackers in the SEC for 2016. These guys can’t wait to bring the pain on game day.

10. Reuben Foster, Alabama: Among all the Crimson Tide defenders returning in 2016, Foster is the leading tackler from a season ago. Yet another in a long line of five-star recruits who fill up this depth chart, Foster is the primary candidate to take over for the departed Reggie Ragland as the top stopper for ‘Bama. With so much pressure being applied in front of him, he could hit triple digits in tackles.

9. Michael Scherer, Missouri: The primary tackler in the conference a season ago, Kentrell Brothers, left quite a legacy at Mizzou before becoming a fifth-round pick in April’s draft. Scherer was rather impressive himself for perhaps the most underrated defense in the SEC, and now he’s the unquestioned leader of his position group. Whether he can put up Brothers-like numbers remains to be seen.

Nov 1, 2014; Columbia, MO, USA; Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles (14) is tackled by Missouri Tigers linebacker Michael Scherer (30) during the second half at Faurot Field. Missouri won 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

8. Ryan Anderson, Alabama: Judging Tide defenders individually is not an easy task, as coach Nick Saban’s scheme is the one constant in Tuscaloosa on that side of the football. Just as much of a pass rusher from his outside linebacker position, he supplements what is always a loaded defensive line. While he’s not an accomplished tackler just yet, he’s vicious behind the line of scrimmage.

7. Brooks Ellis, Arkansas: The Hogs may not have been spectacular defensively in 2015, but they finished second in the league stopping the run. More often than not, it was Ellis at the bottom of the pile when the enemy tried to pound it between the tackles. If the Razorbacks want to get even more out of Ellis this season, then the secondary play behind him needs to improve significantly.

6. Tim Williams, Alabama: With 10.5 sacks last season, Williams was a devastating pass rusher off the edge. The amazing thing is he was almost exclusively a situational player in sub packages on third down, so rarely was he asked to do anything other than go get the quarterback. Can he be a down-to-down difference maker? He has more than enough ability to do so, but we’re yet to see it.

Nov 14, 2015; Starkville, MS, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Tim Williams (56) sacks Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott (15) during the game at Davis Wade Stadium. Alabama won 31-6. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

5. Kendell Beckwith, LSU: Another linebacker who seems to be in the pileup following every play, Beckwith makes plenty of tackles, sacks the quarterback and even forced a pair of fumbles a season ago. The Bayou Bengals are loaded with talent at both tackle and end this year, so Beckwith should be able to roam free and make a beeline for the football down after down.

4. Richie Brown, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs were a lot better offensively in 2015 than on defense, but that doesn’t take away from the stat line Brown put together. He led MSU in tackles and sacks, although he would be happy to surrender the top spot in the latter category this season. With better D-line play in front of him, he wouldn’t have to shed so many blockers.

3. Jarrad Davis, Florida: Now that Antonio Morrison has moved on to the NFL, Davis is the premier linebacker in Gainesville. Even with Morrison still in town this past season, Davis was one of the leading tacklers in the league and made plenty of plays behind the line of scrimmage. He could have defected for the pros a year early, but he came back to become even more dominant at the college level.

Oct 31, 2015; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Sony Michel (1) runs with the ball as Florida Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) defends during the second half at EverBank Stadium. Florida Gators defeated the Georgia Bulldogs 27-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

2. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Tennessee: We’re pretty sure the Volunteers will score plenty of points this season with Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara on the ground, so now it’s time to keep opponents off the scoreboard a bit better. Reeves-Maybin is the heart and soul of the defense and one of the true leaders in the conference. If this is indeed UT’s year, then he’ll be a huge part of it.

1. Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt: The Commodores were asked to do an awful lot defensively last season, as the offense proved to have very little beyond running back Ralph Webb. Cunningham is a sideline-to-sideline stopper who fills up the box score liberally Saturday after Saturday. Coach Derek Mason is a mastermind and will again call the signals in 2016, with Cunningham’s production leading the way.


DeMarquis Gates, Ole Miss: While he may have led the Rebels in tackles a year ago, too many of them were after healthy gains. He needs to become better acquainted with the enemy backfield.

Shaan Washington, Texas A&M: Because Myles Garrett and Co. command so much attention along the defensive front, the linebackers in College Station tend to get overlooked.

Tim Kimbrough, Georgia: Outside linebackers like Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins get the accolades in UGA’s 3-4 scheme. But with those two gone, Kimbrough can make a name for himself in 2016.

Skai Moore, South Carolina: He would be in the Top 5 if healthy. Unfortunately, the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder will miss the 2016 campaign with a herniated disc in his neck.

John Crist is the senior writer for Saturday Down South, a member of the FWAA and a voter for the Heisman Trophy. Send him an e-mail, like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.