Who are the top linebackers in SEC history?

We’ve spent the last several weeks flipping through team-specific media guides, glancing over highlight film and nearly coming to blows at our home office determining this 25-member comprehensive list of the league’s best tacklers.

Editor’s note: The SDS staff weighed multiple factors during our SEC’s all-time linebackers rankings process including career statistics, individual awards, importance to their respective team and the era in which they played. Official statistics were pulled from team web sites or media guides.

15.) DeMeco Ryans, Alabama (2002-05)

A three-star recruit out of Bessemer, Ala., in 2002, Ryans into a formidable linebacker during the Mike Shula years for the Crimson Tide, posting his most noteworthy season as a senior with several national honors.

Ryans was a unanimous All-American selection, won the SEC’s defensive player of the year award and earned the Lott Trophy in 2005 following a 76-tackle campaign. Ryans’ 11.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage led his team. Ryans started 37 games in Tuscaloosa and ranks fourth in school history with 308 tackles (175 solos).

After moving from outside to middle linebacker at the next level, Ryans was named AP Defensive Rookie of the Year with the Houston Texans in 2006 after collecting 155 tackles.

Career numbers:

308 tackles, 33 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 2 INT

Individual superlatives:

All-American (2005); All-SEC (2004-05); SEC Def. POTY (2005); Lott Trophy (2005)

NFL Draft:

No. 33 overall (second round) in 2006

Defining moments:

Ryans established a new single-game school record with 25 tackles against Arkansas as a sophomore in 2003.

14.) Rolando McClain, Alabama (2007-09)

The ‘quarterback’ of the defense during his stint in Tuscaloosa, McClain was a three-time All-SEC selection who earned a starting spot at inside linebacker midway through his true freshman season in 2007.

Before winning the BCS Championship and deciding to skip his senior season for the NFL Draft in 2009, McClain capped a brilliant final campaign as a junior with a unanimous All-American selection, an SEC defensive player of the year honor and multiple individual awards. McClain posted one of the best single-seasons for a player at his position in league history and became the first Alabama player to ever win the Lambert Award after positing 105 tackles and 14.5 stops in the backfield as a junior.

In addition, McClain was the Crimson Tide’s first Butkus Award recipient since sack master Derrick Thomas earned the accolades in 1988.

Various off-the-field issues have plagued a promising start to his NFL career which began as a first-round pick of the Oakland Raiders. After signing a five-year, $40 million contract in 2010, McClain was released three years later. He now plays for the Dallas Cowboys where he is trying to rebuild his career.

Career numbers:

274 tackles, 31.5 TFL, 8 sacks, 5 INTs

Individual superlatives:

All-American (2009); All-SEC (2007-09); Butkus Award (2009); Lambert Award (2009); SEC Def. POTY (2009)

NFL Draft:

No. 8 overall in 2010

Defining moments:

McClain posted a career-best nine solo tackles and picked off a pass during a win over Kentucky in 2009.

13.) Brandon Spikes, Florida (2006-09)

One of the few two-time national champions on this list, Spikes was a three-time All-SEC standout and two-time All-American in Gainesville for Urban Meyer’s dominant Gators, headlining one of the nation’s top defenses during his tenure.

In 47 career games (39 starts), Spikes set a school record with four interception returns for touchdowns, managed 307 tackles and led Florida with 31.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage as the most intimidating player on his side of the football.

A nasty player with a mean streak, Spikes’ best season came in 2008 when he flourished in the middle as Florida’s leading tackler on the SEC’s top-ranked scoring defense. With Carlos Dunlap freeing up space at the line of scrimmage, Spikes earned unanimous All-American status with 93 tackles and two interception returns for touchdowns.

Production dropped as a senior (68 stops) and an eye-gouging suspension caused him to miss a game, but Spikes still received All-American accolades, was a finalist for several national defensive awards and left Florida as the program’s top linebacker over the last decade.

Spikes is arguably Florida’s second-best defensive player in school history behind Wilber Marshall (1980-83).

Career numbers:

307 tackles, 31.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 6 INT

Individual superlatives:

All-American (2008-09); All-SEC (2007-09)

NFL Draft:

No. 62 overall (second round) in 2010

Defining moments:

In the 2009 BCS Championship Game against Oklahoma, the nation’s leading offensive juggernaut, Spikes led the Gators with six tackles and anchored a defense that gave up just 14 points to Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford.

12.) C.J. Mosley, Alabama (2010-13)

One of the SEC’s all-time best linebackers in coverage, Mosley may have been Alabama’s only four-time All-American had it not been for an elbow injury as a sophomore that caused him to miss time at the weakside spot after earning a reputation as one of college football’s budding stars as a true freshman in 2010.

During his other three seasons however, Mosley’s impact was substantial. A consensus All-American as a junior and senior during back-to-back national championship years for the Crimson Tide, Mosley was the star of the nation’s best defense under Kirby Smart, accumulating 215 tackles over a 27-game stretch.

As a junior in 2012, Mosley followed in the steps of Alabama greats and former teammates Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower with All-American honors and tied the school record with three career pick-sixes. He ascended from the group as a senior and joined rare air in Tuscaloosa with his second All-American season, besting several notable Alabama linebackers in the last decade.

Mosley shared SEC defensive player of the year honors with Mizzou’s Michael Sam after leading the Crimson Tide with 108 tackles and managed his third straight all-league mention. He also won the Butkus Award after finishing behind Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o and Georgia’s Jarvis Jones the previous season.

Career numbers:

319 tackles, 23 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 5 INT, 24 pass deflections

Individual superlatives:

All-American (2012-13); Freshman All-American (2010); All-SEC (2012-13); SEC Def. POTY (2013); Butkus Award (2013)

NFL Draft:

No. 17 overall in 2014

Defining moments:

Mosley capped off an All-American junior season with an MVP performance in the national title game against Notre Dame with a team-best eight tackles during the Crimson Tide’s 42-14 stomping of the previously unbeaten Fighting Irish.

11.) Jarvis Jones, Georgia (2011-12)

His stint between the hedges was brief, but Jones left a long-lasting stamp in the SEC as one of college football’s best-ever blitzing outside linebackers, registering league-highs 45.5 tackles for loss and 28 sacks in two All-American seasons at Georgia.

After redshirting in 2010 following a transfer from Southern Cal, Jones led the SEC with 13.5 sacks and 26 quarterback hurries as a sophomore and was recognized as a consensus All-American for his efforts.

That wasn’t his best performance, however.

Jones finished first in the nation with 14.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss — single-season school records — despite missing two games as a junior in 2012 and also led the SEC with seven forced fumbles (another program record). The SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year, Jones was named a finalist for the Lombardi, Butkus, Bednarik and Nagurski awards. Jones shattered several program-bests once set by defensive lineman and feared pass rusher David Pollack.

Jones skipped his final campaign for the NFL and was picked 17th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013. After picking up 40 tackles as a rookie, Jones missed most of last season on the designated to return list after injuring his wrist while sacking Cam Newton.

Career numbers:

155 tackles, 45.5 TFL, 28 sacks, 9 forced fumbles

Individual superlatives:

All-American (2011-12); All-SEC (2011-12); SEC Def. POTY (2012)

NFL Draft:

No. 17 overall (first round) in 2013

Defining moments:

In his final Outdoor Cocktail Party rivalry battle against Florida, Jones was unstoppable during Georgia’s hard-fought 17-9 victory, recording three sacks, two forced fumbles, two recoveries and a game-high 13 total tackles.