The field generals of the defense, linebackers are crucial components of a successful program. Alabama and Stanford, the nation’s two top defenses, both have linebackers in the top five, and the Tide have two more in the Honorable Mention category. The defenders below are not only likely to make opposing offensive coordinators very unhappy this fall but make NFL general managers salivate next spring.
1. C.J. Moseley 6’2″ 232 lbs Alabama, Senior– Athletic with a high football IQ, Moseley can do it all at linebacker. He plays the run well, provides a strong pass rush when called upon, and is stellar in pass coverage, returning three interceptions for touchdowns last season while also leading the team in tackles. Like most Alabama defenders, Moseley has outstanding technique, reads offenses well, and is always where he is supposed to be. A Butkus Award finalist, he is a little on the small side but is easily the best and most complete linebacker heading into 2013.
2. Anthony Barr 6’4″ 245lbs. UCLA, Senior– A former running back, Barr entered last season new to the position and performed exceptionally well, compiling 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss. The most talented linebacker on this list, the length and explosiveness of the Bruin aides Barr in getting around the edge and the quarterback. With running back speed, he is able to keep pace in pass coverage, but still needs to work on the technical aspects of his new position. Nevertheless, Barr will be a big play waiting to happen throughout this season as UCLA fights for PAC 12 supremacy. Moreover, the elite edge rusher figures to be all-the-more sought after at the next level and is unlikely to be available outside of the top ten.
3. Shayne Skov 6’3″ 244lbs. Stanford, Senior– The Cardinal possess one of the nation’s top defenses and Skov is at the heart of their success. Built like a prototypical middle linebacker, he lacks the speed and foot quickness of some of the other elite linebackers around the nation. However, Skov’s play improved throughout last season as he recovered from a 2011 injury. If he can build on that success, Stanford could be legitimate title contenders. Skov has also been praised for his intangibles, such as being the glue that makes his teammates better.
4. A.J. Johnson 6’2″ 240lbs. Tennessee, Junior– Plenty physical and with great size, Johnson puts up huge numbers and wracked up 138 tackles for the Volunteers. Outstanding at the point of attack, Johnson plays with a motor but often out of position and with poor technique. Beyond his standout efforts on defense, Johnson scored six touchdowns as a “Wildcat” quarterback for the Vols. Although he will not get mentioned as much as others due to the team he plays for, the player known as “The Beast” is a force to be reckoned with.
5. Christian Jones 6’4″ 232lbs. FSU, Senior– A rangy athlete, Jones is a talented linebacker and plays the run very well. His pass coverage skills, however, are comparatively lacking. This will be a big year for Jones, who tallied 95 tackles last season, as he attempts to show first round level skills under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
Honorable Mention: Trey DePriest (Alabama) Jr., Adrian Hubbard (Alabama) Jr., Max Bullough (Michigan State) Sr., Prince Shembo (Notre Dame) Sr., Benardrick McKinney (Mississippi State) So.
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