The 2013 NCAA Football season is right around the corner, and we here at SportSmasher.com cannot wait, so we are prepping for the season by continuing our 2013 College Football Preview with the top inside linebackers in the country. The players who will be among the tackling leaders across the country are once again led by the Alabama Crimson Tide, who have two of the top players in the country at the position. Let’s get to the rankings:
C.J. Mosley – Senior, ILB/OLB (6’2 230lbs) Alabama – I was shocked that C.J. Mosley decided to return to Alabama for his senior season, he has done everything there is to do at the collegiate level, and if he declared for the 2013 NFL Draft he almost certainly would have been a first round selection. Mosley has played regularly on the Crimson Tide defense since he was a true freshman, and is one of the leaders of Alabama’s excellent defense, he is a tackling machine with great instincts who also excels in coverage. The only question that I have on C.J. Mosley is his size, he is a rangy sideline-to-sideline linebacker, who has never really bulked up. I wonder if he will be a better fit on the weakside in the NFL, because he will be able to use his excellent instincts and athleticism to make plays, and not have to take on blockers as frequently. Wherever Mosley lines up, he is going to be an excellent player on Sundays in the future, and he should be an All-American at Alabama in 2013.
A.J. Johnson – Junior, ILB (6’2 240lbs) Tennessee – A tackling machine, as a sophomore in 2012, A.J. Johnson finished fifth in the nation with 138 tackles. Nicknamed “The Beast” Johnson does not just tackle ball carriers, he punishes them, he is an explosive athlete with excellent speed who really delivers the blow. In fact, Johnson is such a good athlete that he also served as the Volunteers short yardage back, he carried the ball 12 times for 21 yards and six touchdowns in 2012. If you asked me which player on the list had the best potential as an NFL middle linebacker, my vote would go to A.J. Johnson, he is ferocious and plays with the mentality that you want from your middle linebacker.
Trey DePriest – Junior, ILB (6’2 245lbs) Alabama – The player on the top of this list C.J. Mosley, is a rangy sideline to sideline linebacker who uses his athleticism to make plays, he is able to do so because his teammate Trey DePriest is the opposite type of player. A stout, thickly built middle linebacker, DePriest seems to enjoy contact and loves to take on blockers. Finished second on the team in tackles as a sophomore in 2012, despite splitting time with Nico Johnson, who is now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. DePriest will now take on a larger role with the Crimson Tide defense, and should shine on the national stage in 2013.
Andrew Jackson – ILB, Senior (6’1 265lbs) Western Kentucky – When you watch Andrew Jackson play, you have flashbacks of Levon Kirkland, and any day I can spend having flashbacks about Levon Kirkland is a good day. Jackson is one of the most physical players in college football, he loves to take on blockers and lay the wood to whoever is carrying the ball, he punishes ball carriers. Of course, due to his weight and thickness, he is not a guy you would want chasing down plays from sideline-to-sideline. Clearly fits best taking on guards and fullbacks in the middle of a 3-4 defense. Jackson is from the same hometown as Ray Lewis and modeled his entire game after him, including the leadership and demeanor that Lewis possessed, which makes him a fan favorite and intimidating to the opposition.
Yawin Smallwood – Junior, ILB (6’3 245lbs) UConn – Over recent years, the University of Connecticut has been cranking out NFL caliber players on the defensive side of the ball, and Smallwood may very well be the best prospect yet. A tackling machine with incredible instincts, who finished with 120 tackles last season, Smallwood excels as a read-and-react linebacker who has the prototypical build for the position. Smallwood is always around the football and always seems to be in the right place at the right time to make a play, which is exactly what you want from your middle linebacker.
Max Bullough – Senior, ILB (6’3 245lbs) Michigan State – An excellent run defender with a thick frame, Bullough excels at taking on blockers to make stops, and is the heart and soul of the Spartans defense. As a junior, Bullough had 111 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception, while being named to First Team All-Big Ten. Bullough is not a great athlete and does not have sideline to sideline speed, he may be a two-down linebacker on the next level, but inside the tackle box he is one of the best in the country.
Eric Kendricks – Junior, ILB/OLB (6′ 230lbs) UCLA – A smaller linebacker who uses his speed and quickness to fly to the football, Kendricks burst onto the scene as a sophomore in 2012, where he totaled 149 tackles (led the PAC 12), 2.0 sacks, two forced fumbles. Kendricks needs to add bulk and muscle to be able to take on blockers on the next level, and I would not be shocked if he becomes a weakside linebacker in the 4-3 defensive scheme as a pro, his frame is just too small to carry the necessary bulk for a 3-4 inside linebacker. An excellent athlete with great instincts, expect Kendricks to be the leader of an excellent UCLA defense this fall, which is loaded with NFL caliber talent.
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. Due to his lack of pure speed, and his disciplined and patient style of play, I think he is likely to play inside linebacker on the next level.
OTHERS TO WATCH:
Lamin Barrow – Senior, OLB/ILB (6’2 235lbs) LSU – A.J. Tarpley – Junior, ILB/OLB (6’2 240lbs) Stanford – Chris Borland – Senior, ILB (5’11 245lbs) Wisconsin – Caleb Lavey – Senior, ILB (6’3 240lbs) Oklahoma State – James Morris – Junior, ILB (6’2 230lbs) Iowa – Andrew Wilson – Senior OLB/ILB (6’3 235lbs) Missouri – Greg Blair – Senior, ILB (6’1 250) Cincinnati – DeDe Lattimore – Senior, ILB (6’1 240lbs) South Florida – Glenn Carson, Senior (6’2 235lbs) Penn State