The middle section of the defense always seems to be an SEC specialty. SEC Football has no shortage of fast, powerful, and aggressive playmakers at the linebacker spot, be they outside rushers, coverage guys, or pursuit men in the middle that put up monster tackle numbers. Every year there are SEC linebackers selected early in the NFL draft – Roquan Smith, Rashaan Evans – and every year there is a new crop ready to burst onto the scene.
Here are the best returning linebackers in the league
Devin White – LSU
White exploded onto the scene as a sophomore in 2017 as he unexpectedly took over the SEC from his linebacker position. The All-Sec first team and All-America second team selection led the conference in tackles with 133, an impressive feat given some of the other linebackers playing in the SEC last fall.
White is that annoying presence that seems to be everywhere on the field at once. He averaged 10.2 tackles per game last season and he was remarkably consistent as he posted nine or more tackles in 11 of 13 LSU games. He has the ability to get into the backfield, as evidenced by his 14 tackles for a loss, five quarterback hurries, and 4.5 sacks.
White is the most complete linebacker in the conference entering the 2018 season, as he has that nose for the ball that all great linebackers seem to be blessed with.
Josh Allen – Kentucky
White might be your guy if you want an all-around linebacker, but those wanting pressure from the edge will tell you that Allen is the man.
The Kentucky linebacker is a physical specimen at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds and – while he is not an athletic freak – he has more than enough agility and explosiveness to get the job done when rushing the quarterback. The junior could have gone pro this year after a 2017 campaign where he posted 65 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, and forced two fumbles. This built on a sophomore year where Allen also posted seven sacks and forced four fumbles.
Allen was very consistent over the last couple of years, but there is a feeling he could be set for a real breakout season in 2018. If he can post double-digit sacks – a total that would seem to be within his reach – then he would lock himself in as a top 20 NFL draft choice for 2019.
Anfernee Jennings – Alabama
It was always unlikely that a list of top linebackers would be constructed without a Crimson Tide player featuring somewhere.
Nick Saba’s squad in 2017 featured more injuries to linebackers than could have been expected, with Jennings being one of many Alabama players at the position to go down through one ailment or another. Before hurting his knee in the national semifinal, Jennings had 41 tackles, six for a loss, two forced fumbles, and one sack. The 6-foot-3, 262-pounder has unlimited potential if he can get – and stay – healthy, especially in a defense tutored by Saban.
Charles Wright – Vanderbilt
Wright’s journey to becoming one of the most feared pass rushers in the SEC has been a strange one. A lightly recruited West Coast transplant, Wright has strived to better himself as a player year after year with the Commodores and he enters his senior season as an All-SEC representative after an impressive season in 2017.
Wright led the country in sacks after three games, posting 4.5 of them as the Commodores got off to a white hot start. While his sack numbers reduced over the rest of the season – much like the Commodores play – Wright still posted 7.5 sacks, the most by a Vandy player since Tim Fugger had eight in 2011.
Knowing that Wright has the ability to rush the passer – and with the impressive Dare Odeyingbo applying pressure on the other side of the line – it is not unrealistic to think that Wright could surpass that Fugger mark in 2018 during his senior season.
D’Andre Walker – Georgia
Walker is your bolter for the 2018 season.
A player buried on a Georgia depth chart that featured like likes of first round NFL pick Roquan Smith - along with playmakers Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy, and Reggie Carter - Walker just didn’t see the field enough. Now though, it is his turn to shine.
With limited snaps last season, Walker still managed to make 13.5 tackles for a loss and pick up 5.5 sacks. It is his speed that is a problem for offenses to deal with as the electric Walker can get around the corner on a blitz faster than just about any linebacker in the league. If his numbers can be extrapolated out over a full season with no loss in his dynamic pass rush, then Walker will be a huge name in college football by November.
Other notable linebackers: Mack Wilson – Alabama, Jordan jones – Kentucky, Jabari Zuniga – Florida, Jachai Polite – Florida, Dre Greenlaw – Arkansas, Gerri Green – Mississippi State, Christian Miller – Alabama, David Reese – Florida, De’Jon Harris – Arkansas, Tyrel Dodson – Texas A&M, Cale Garrett - Missouri