Today, we count down the SEC’s five best linebackers
5) Ryan Baker, LSU
85 total tackles and 8 sacks playing behind Kelvin Sheppard is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s something to be extremely proud of. Baker doesn’t do anything fantastically, just does everything well: tackles well, has good speed has good instincts and has good intelligence of the game. But let’s see how he does as LSU’s top linebacker, with Sheppard no longer around to lead the way. That’s the only question regarding his success in 2011, the step up to the leadership position.
4) Jonathan Bostic, Florida
He didn’t do a whole lot in 2010, but the things he did do were very impressive. He has great vision and can see plays happening two seconds before they happen, which is probably the top quality needed in a linebacker, along with tackling. Oh and he does that well, too. He had 36 solo tackles a year ago (one more than Baker) which is something to think highly of once you realize that the Gators were actually almost as bad on defense as they were on offense as a team. Bostic should have a great 2011 under Muschamp’s new system.
3) Jerry Franklin, Arkansas
Franklin has been the rock of the Arkansas defense since 2008. He’s one of those guys that you don’t realize how much you’ll miss him until he’s gone. He has accumulated 269 total tackles in three years at Arkansas, including 15 in one game against Mississippi State last year. He is the surest tackler the nation- yes, the nation, not just the SEC- has seen since Brandon Spikes. He’s also got decent speed to boot, and fantastic instincts, the deadly triple threat in a linebacker. Watch out for this guy to launch his name into the conversation of the Butkus Award and have a fantastic 2011.
2) Jelani Jenkins, Florida
I feel I’m a pretty honest and rational person when doing these rankings. And I honestly believe that Florida will have two of the SEC’s five best linebackers. Why not? Bostic has great potential, and Jenkins does too. Jenkins can really motor, plus he’s got exceptional instincts on top of it. 77 total tackles in 2010 is deceiving. It makes a fantastic linebacker look good. This guy will shoot out of nowhere to have a monster 2011 season- good enough to shut down the best running backs the Gators have to face.
1) Dont’a Hightower, Alabama
The cream of the 2011 linebacker crop resides, sadly, not in Gainesville, but in Tuscaloosa. Hightower is a playmaker. He’s got the great vision, speed and tackling, but there’s just something special about him. Kind of like Tim Tebow. Yeah, he had all the skills, but it was just something else that made him incredible. Hightower will be incredible in 2011, not just because of who he is, but because of who he plays for. His Tide teammates will back him up plenty as he wins the Dick Butkus Award for best linebacker in the nation.
The rest of the top 10:
6) Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
7) Danny Trevathan, Kentucky
8) CJ Mosley, Alabama
9) Chris Marve, Vanderbilt
10) Melvin Ingram, South Carolina