The 2013 College Football season is quickly approaching, and as the 2013 SportSmasher.com College Football Preview rolls on, now is the time we rank the top outside linebackers in the country. If you cannot pressure the opposing quarterback, it is tough to win football games, and these edge rushers should rack up plenty of sacks for their schools this fall. Let’s rank them:
Anthony Barr – Senior, OLB (6’4 245lbs) UCLA – A former running back, Barr moved to the defensive side of the ball for the first time in 2012, and saying that the positional switch benefited the Bruins would be a huge understatement. Barr quickly became one of the country’s elite pass rushers, racking up 83 tackles and 13.5 sacks (second in the nation), and became a top NFL Draft prospect. Barr surprised many NFL scouts when he elected to return to UCLA for his senior season and he instantly became one of the top returning players in the nation. He uses his thick lower body from playing running back to explode off of the edge and has the long frame that it takes to separate from blockers and rush the quarterback. If Barr entered the 2013 NFL Draft, many scouts projected him to be a better prospect of Dion Jordan, who was selected third overall by the Miami Dolphins.
Adrian Hubbard – Junior, OLB (6’6 252lbs) Alabama – A player who was overshadowed by the many standouts on the Crimson Tide’s defense in 2012, Hubbard was actually their best and most consistent pass rusher, racking up 41 tackles and 7.0 sacks as a sophomore. Hubbard has a huge frame for a pass rusher and is very athletic for his size, but is also a strong run defender and should develop into one of the leaders of Alabama’s defense in 2013. Hubbard was just scratching the surface of his potential in 2012, and as he sees more time on the field, he could become a special player in 2013. Keep an eye on Hubbard, if he continues to develop, his NFL Draft stock could skyrocket.
Kyle Van Noy – Senior, OLB (6’3 235lbs) BYU – Another player that considered entering the 2013 NFL Draft, Van Noy is a relentless pass rusher, who possess great instincts for the position. Van Noy plays with full effort on every snap, often wearing down opposing blockers as the game wears on, he had 53 tackles and 13.0 sacks in 2012. Van Noy also has great instincts, which makes him better in coverage than most pass rushers, he had two interceptions in 2012. He makes plays from sideline-to-sideline and never gives up on a play, he will often make tackles far downfield, and has a great nose for the football.
Ryan Shazier – Junior, OLB (6’2 225lbs) Ohio State – One of the most productive players in college football last season, Shazier is blessed with incredible instincts, which helped him to make 115 tackles for the undefeated Buckeyes. He also contributed 5.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and one interception, and on a team full of talented defenders in 2012 he really stood out. Shazier is extremely fast and quick, he shoots through the gaps to make plays behind the line of scrimmage and has a nose for the football. If he is going to take on blockers on the next level, he needs to add a lot of bulk, and not diminish his speed and quickness while doing so.
Christian Jones – Senior, OLB (6’4 235lbs) Florida State – The Seminoles leading tackler returns for his senior season, following a junior year where he posted 95 tackles and two forced fumbles, Jones is an incredible athlete and a hard hitter. He has good instincts and is always around the football, has played multiple linebacker positions at Florida State, and produced wherever he has lined up. Has star potential, should develop into more of a team leader in 2013, if everything gels Jones could have a monster year for the Seminoles and be a top prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Trent Murphy – Senior, OLB/DE (6’6 260lbs) Stanford – A standout for an excellent Cardinal defense in 2012, Murphy led the team with 10.0 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss, in a group that is loaded with NFL caliber talent. Murphy is an extremely powerful rusher, who uses excellent technique to overwhelm blockers, but also has the speed and explosiveness to make plays coming off of the edge. A versatile player, Murphy has lined up all over the Stanford 3-4 defensive front, and has been productive wherever he plays.
Jeremiah Attaochu – Senior, DE/OLB (6’3 242lbs) Georgia Tech – Played linebacker for the past three seasons at Georgia Tech, but moved to defensive end this spring, he will likely plaly outside linebacker in the NFL. Attaochu enters the 2013 season with 19.0 career sacks, 10.0 of which came during the 2012 season, he is explosive off of the edge and has a good array of moves which allow him to regularly pressure the quarterback. Does not really have the size or build to play defensive end in the NFL, I was surprised to see such a productive player switching positions this spring, and I see him moving back to linebacker at the next level.
Carl Bradford – Junior, OLB (6’1 240lbs) Arizona State – I expect Arizona State to make some noise in the PAC 12, defensive lineman Will Sutton will get the headlines for an excellent Sun Devils defense in 2013, but expect Bradford to be a force to be reckoned with coming off of the edge. Bradford racked up 56 tackles and 12.0 sacks as a sophomore in 2012, while intercepting a pass and making 20.5 tackles for a loss. Expect the Sun Devils to surprise some people in 2013, and expect Bradford coming off of the edge to be a big part of the Arizona State defense, as his production makes him a national name.
Jordan Jenkins – Sophomore, OLB (6’3 245lbs) Georgia – The Bulldogs will be one of the best teams in college football this season, as they return the majority of their playmakers on offense, but who fills in for their NFL Draft depleted defense? Jarvis Jones led the nation in sacks last season, and he was selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Georgia will replace him with the very talented Jordan Jenkins. A player that showed maturity and made an impact as a freshman, Jenkins had 5.0 sacks in 2012, and he is expected to burst onto the national scene in 2013 and become the next great Bulldogs pass rusher.
Shane Skov – Senior, OLB/ILB (6’3 245lbs) Stanford – Considered one of the best linebackers in the country after the 2010 season, Skov tore his ACL in the third game of the 2011 season, and was rusty throughout much of the 2012 season. He started to look like his old self as the season wore on, and he began to regain confidence in his knee, he finished the season with 80 tackles and 2.5 sacks despite the knee injury. Skov has apparently returned to form and looks like his old self as he enters his senior season with a lot to prove as a key player for an excellent Cardinal defense.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Ishaq Williams – Junior, OLB (6’5 255lbs) Notre Dame – Lamin Barrow – Senior, OLB/ILB (6’2 235lbs) LSU – Hayes Pullard – Junior, OLB (6’1 230lbs) USC – Josh Shirley – Junior, DE/OLB (6’3 235lbs) Washington – Jake Ryan – Junior, OLB (6’3 230lbs) Michigan (injured, should return October) – Jonathan Brown – Senior, OLB (6’1 235lbs) Illinois – Tyriq McCord – Sophomore, OLB (6’3 235lbs) Miami – Shaq Thompson – Sophomore, OLB (6’2 225lbs) Washington – Travis Feeney – Sophomore – OLB (6’4 225lbs) Washington – Ron Powell – Junior, OLB/DE (6’4 250lbs) Florida – Anthony Hitchens – Senior, OLB (6’1 230lbs) Iowa – Vic Beasley – Junior, OLB/DE (6’3 235lbs) Clemson – Denicos Allen – Senior, OLB (6’1 225lbs) Michigan State – Dee Ford – Senior, OLB (6’2 240lbs) Auburn