Paul Myerberg USA TODAY Published 9:20 AM EDT Jul 9, 2019
USA TODAY Sports is getting ready for the 2019 college football season by breaking down the best players at each position in the Bowl Subdivision. Up next: the linebackers.
This might sound familiar: Clemson and Alabama are battling it out for the top spot. In a tight race, Clemson junior Isaiah Simmons has a slight edge over Alabama junior Dylan Moses. From there, the list runs through a trio from the Pac-12 and ends with a pair of sophomores set to make the leap to All-America status.
1. Isaiah Simmons, Clemson (Jr.)
Simmons can do it all: rush the passer, run in coverage, stop the run and make splash plays — not to mention shine on special teams, an added bonus from a player destined for every preseason All-America team. He arrived on campus as a safety and has transitioned into a hybrid role that takes full advantage of one of college football’s most impressive talents.
Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons tackles Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams during the 2018 Cotton Bowl.
Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports
2. Dylan Moses, Alabama (Jr.)
Moses burst onto the national recruiting scene early in his high school career and has lived up to the billing across his first two seasons. The Tide’s leading tackler as a sophomore, he enters the 2019 campaign as perhaps the top defender in the SEC and the program’s latest standout linebacker destined for NFL stardom.
3. Paddy Fisher, Northwestern (Jr.)
It’s clearly helped Fisher’s development that his head coach, Pat Fitzgerald, is one of the great college linebackers in recent history. An all-conference performer since the first days of his redshirt freshman season, Fisher tackles everything in sight and has a knack for the splash play; he tied for the Big Ten lead in forced fumbles a year ago.
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4. Joe Bachie, Michigan State (Sr.)
Bachie is a Michigan State linebacker out of central casting. A former middle-tier recruit from Ohio, Bachie moved into a key role late in his freshman season and has since blossomed into one of the Big Ten’s best. Bachie is just one reason why the Spartans are more than capable of upending the perceived pecking order in the East Division to nab a New Year’s Six bowl bid.
5. Anfernee Jennings, Alabama (Sr.)
Jennings is now far removed from the knee injury he suffered at the end of his sophomore season, though he seemed no worse for wear during an impressive 2018 campaign. A strong pass rusher in the vein of several recent Alabama stars coming off the edge, Jennings doubles as one of the leaders for a team again in the mix for the national championship.
6. Troy Dye, Oregon (Sr.)
Justin Herbert grabs headlines on the offensive side of the ball. A new teammate, incoming freshman Kayvon Thibodeaux, has been a primary topic of conversation around the Oregon defense. If overlooked on a national scale, Dye is one of the biggest keys to the Ducks’ quest for a Pac-12 title and potential College Football Playoff berth. The only player in the Power Five to lead his team in tackles in each of the past three seasons, Dye is making a case to be included among the top defenders in program history.
7. Colin Schooler, Arizona (Jr.)
Just take a peek at his sophomore numbers: 119 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions. That came on the heels of Schooler’s superb freshman year, an unexpected development given his status as a three-star recruit. Schooler is a primary reason why Arizona finished 2018 ranked 71st nationally in yards allowed per play — it would’ve been a horror show without him patrolling the middle.
8. Evan Weaver, California (Sr.)
Between Dye, Schooler and Weaver, the Pac-12’s first-team defense is loaded on the second level. Weaver was credited with 159 stops in 2018, tied for second in the program’s single-season record book, and graded out as one of the top linebackers across the FBS. No single defender has taken better to head coach Justin Wilcox’s scheme, which places a heavy load on its linebackers.
9. Micah Parsons, Penn State (So.)
In terms of pure physical gifts, Parsons is on another level. He flashed this athleticism in spurts as a true freshman; if not quite up to speed from a mental perspective — not surprising nor disappointing given his youth — Parsons made individual plays that speak to a skill set unmatched in the Big Ten. It’s just a matter of time before it all comes together. When it does, Parsons will be borderline unstoppable.
10. K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU (So.)
Here’s a wild card to end the list. After a productive freshman season in 2017, Chaisson seemed well on his way to stardom during last year’s opener against Miami (Fla.), making five tackles and a sack before tearing his ACL in the final minutes of a 33-17 win. That’s a temporary hurdle for an edge rusher pegged for greatness: Devin White, the former LSU star, predicated Chaisson will eventually set the program’s record for sacks in a season.
Five also just missing the cut
Markus Bailey, Purdue; Jacob Phillips, LSU; Shaquille Quarterman, Miami (Fla.); Merlin Robertson, Arizona State; David Woodward, Utah State.
Published 9:20 AM EDT Jul 9, 2019
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