0 out of 10
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Linebackers tend to play under the radar, but few positions are more important in football.
In this projection — the final installment in our offseason series — we preview 10 of college football’s best linebacker units of 2022.
While decisions are subjective, the key factors are return production – including transfers – and expected performance.
Units Previously Covered: Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Wide Receiver, Secondary, Running Backs, Quarterback.
1 out of 10
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Given that Luke Fickell spent a decade coaching linebackers at Ohio State, it’s only reasonable that the Bearcats tend to be strong at that position each season.
They have to replace Joel Dublanko and Darrian Beavers, but the transfer of Ivan Pace Jr. from Miami, Ohio is an excellent first figure. Pace, who was a first-team All-MAC selection last year, has reunited with his brother Deshawn Pace — UC’s top returning tackler.
Wilson Huber and Jaheim Thomas were backups in 2021 but will likely start and Ty Van Fossen (70 tackles) will be another key element.
Though the Bearcats have to manage rotation, they’re never lacking in talent.
2 out of 10
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Clemson’s front seven is solid on the ACC. However, defensive line makes this grouping stand out while NC State is strongest at linebacker.
And for that, the wolf pack can point to setbacks.
Payton Wilson (shoulder) and Isaiah Moore (knee) – who combined had 202 tackles in 2020 – both missed much of the campaign. Their absence forced Devon Betty and Jaylon Scott into an unexpected game time alongside Drake Thomas, who finished a single stop before 100.
Healthy, Wilson and Moore join Thomas, Betty and Scott in a deep, experienced unit in a promising team.
3 out of 10
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Most importantly, Oklahoma has the players.
DaShaun White made 61 tackles last season while David Ugwoegbu made 48 stops. Danny Stutsman added 38 in his injury-hit year, and Shane Whitter contributed 27 more as a rotation player.
Finally, the Appalachian State transfer TD Roof brings four seasons of experience and recorded 68 tackles last year.
Similar to Cincinnati, the head coach is another plus. Brent Venables played linebacker in college and has coached that position for nearly three decades.
4 out of 10
Michigan State deserves a mention after adding transfers Jacoby Windmon and Aaron Brule to a unit bringing Cal Haladay back. As usual, however, Iowa is stacked.
Jack Campbell led the country with 143 tackles last season and Seth Benson delivered 105 with a 5.5 for loss. Jestin Jacobs would fold every time the Hawkeyes turned to the cash hybrid spot, but he still made 53 stops.
This trifecta accounted for an overwhelming proportion of defensive snaps, so depth isn’t as necessary to the Hawkeyes as would typically seem.
But when a defense has three reliable contributors like Campbell, Benson and Jacobs, there’s little point in forcing a rotation.
5 out of 10
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This is a strong year for the position within Conference USA considering UAB and UTEP also have a reasonable chance of capturing this title.
North Texas almost lost its appeal in June.
Star linebacker KD Davis entered the transfer portal, potentially picking up his team-leading 121 tackles and 16 stops for a loss elsewhere. A few days later he exited the portal and returned to the Mean Green.
Now they’re bringing back Davis with Larry Nixon III (70 tackles), Sean-Thomas Faulkner (53) and Kevin Wood (52). Jordan Brown (28) and Carson Kropp (17) bring additional depth to UNT, along with Quinn Whitlock (20) switching to the “Eagle” hybrid spot.
6 out of 10
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Was that just an excuse to talk about Kyle Pugh? We will neither confirm nor deny it.
Pugh has the incredibly rare distinction of being an eighth grader. He has dealt with a multitude of injuries – for which he received an extra season – and took advantage of the 2020 eligibility break. He is a two-time All-MAC selection.
Also, the Huskies bring back Nick Rattin (72 tackles) with a bunch of youngsters. Jaden Dolphin, Makhi Nelson-Douglas and Daveren Rayner each provided 29+ tackles in 2021.
This strong group of linebackers is a key strength as NIU chases a second straight MAC crown.
7 out of 10
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Jay Norvell left Nevada and inherited an impressive linebacker lineup in the state of Colorado.
Cam’Ron Carter (100 tackles) and Dequan Jackson (84) carried the Rams last season. They also had 16 takedowns with seven sacks in the backfield.
Colorado state depth is also promising. Bam Amina, Tavian Brown and Sanjay Strickland each contributed in reserve roles last season and offered more than 16 tackles. They will be valuable members of the rotation, along with newcomer Drew Kulick.
Note: Mohamed Kamara, listed as a linebacker in 2021, is now considered a defensive end on the official list. Since he’s an edge rusher, it would be reasonable to mention him here as well.
8 out of 10
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Noah Sewell is the familiar commodity. He has 159 tackles over the past two years and leads the Ducks in that category in both seasons.
Sewell came to Eugene in the 2020 recruiting class with Justin Flowe, a fellow 5-star struggling with injuries. But when he started the 2021 opener, Flowe registered 14 tackles and a forced fumble. The optimism about his future is understandably high.
Oregon also converts Jeffrey Bassa to a full-time linebacker. The former safety slipped out of distress last season, making 48 tackles and staying there for 2022.
Fourth-year player Mase Funa has 85 career tackles, giving the Ducks another experienced option. Edge rushers Bradyn Swinson (24 tackles) and Treven Ma’ae (20) may also switch to outside linebacker depending on staff.
9 out of 10
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In a word: unfair.
Will Anderson Jr. was a unanimous All-American and took home the 2021 Nagurski Trophy. He paced the FBS in both tackles for loss and sacks and also crossed the century mark with 101 stops.
On the other side is Dallas Turner, who has had 10 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in Alabama’s last 10 games. Behind him, former top recruit Chris Braswell is a strong breakthrough contender.
Henry To’oTo’o (112 tackles) is a two-time All-SEC pick runner-up and an inside linebacker. He will be the main man in the middle while Jaylen Moody or Deontae Lawson on the weak side make up the tide break.
10 out of 10
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As one of the newcomers to the Sun Belt, Marshall brings a star duo of linebackers to the conference.
Abraham Beauplan earned first-team All-Conference USA recognition after recording 110 tackles in 2021. Eli Neal is a two-time All-Conference USA honorable mention with 172 takedowns (12 for losses) over the past two seasons.
The latest starter is Charlie Gray, who had 55 tackles with a 7.5 in the backfield last season. Northern Colorado’s Jace Bobo (87 tackles) and J’Coryan Anderson (19) also add encouraging depth to Marshall.
Marshall has an excellent shot at winning a conference title in his first sun belt season.