We continue our slog through the unit rankings with a look at the linebackers. To see the rest of the HP preseason unit rankings, go here.
First, the inside guys:
1. Greg Jones, Michigan State–A tackling maniac, he had 154 tackles, 14 TFL and nine sacks last year. As productive and sturdy as they come.
2. Tank Cardner, TCU–With a name like this, he has to be good right? Well, he had 89 tackles, 10 TFLs and a remarkable 10 pass breakups last year to prove it. The leader of yet another great TCU defense.
3. Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina–Led a star-studded defensive unit with 79 tackles, 12 TFLs, three pass breakups in 2009. Has a bright NFL future.
4. Martez Wilson, Illinois–Missed the 2009 season, but a tremendous talent who should break out in 2010. Moved to middle linebacker after playing outside and at end earlier in his career.
5. Nate Irvin, NC State–Also missed the 2009 season due to a car crash, but was lights out in 2008 and should be back to his old form in 2010.
6. Shane Skov, Stanford–An emerging star who personifies Stanford’s hard-nosed mentality under Jim Harbaugh. Had 62 tackles and three TFLs as a true frosh.
7. Brian Rolle, Ohio State–The rock of the Buckeye defense, he had 95 tackles, seven TFLs and a pick in 2009.
8. Dont’a Hightower, Alabama–Yet another talented inside backer coming off an injury. Was a freshman All-American in 2008 and will be the leader of the Tide defense in 2010.
9. Kelvin Sheppard, LSU–Top flight middle backer who led the Tigers with 110 tackles, 8.5 TFLs and an interception.
10. Casey Matthews, Oregon–The latest Matthews to shine in college football, he had 81 tackles, 4.5 TFLs and a pick in 2009.
Honorable Mention: Josh Bynes, Auburn; Ben Jacobs, Fresno State; Alex Wujciak, Maryland; Mario Harvey, Marshall
1. Akeem Ayers, UCLA–Superior athlete with size, speed and instincts. Made numerous spectacular plays in 2009, when he had 75 tackles, 14.5 TFLs and four picks while scoring three times.
2. Mark Herzlich, Boston College–Great story to come back from cancer, but let’s not forget how dominant he was in 2008, when he was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
3. Malcolm Smith, USC–Has been hampered by injuries, but very productive Will backer when healthy. Had 72 tackles, six TFLs and an interception (returned for a TD) last season.
4. Bruce Carter, North Carolina–Yet another high-level NFL prospect on the Tar Heel defense, he had 65 tackles, 7.5 TFLs and an interception last season.
5. Travis Lewis, Oklahoma–Since his freshman season, he’s been as productive as anyone. Last year, he had 109 tackles, 9.5 TFLs and an interception. One of the best Sooner linebackers in quite a while.
6. Colin McCarthy, Miami–I rank him here even though he may move over to the middle. He had a great junior campaign with 95 tackles, 10.5 TFLs and a pick.
7. Ross Homan, Ohio State–Led the Buckeyes last year with 108 tackles, but he also had five TFLs to go with five interceptions. Versatile player who is all over the field.
8. Emmanuel Acho, Texas–Not quite as dominating as his brother, Sam, but good nonetheless. Had 49 tackles, 10 TFLs and an interception in 2009.
9. Lawrence Wilson, Connecticut–Has had an illustrious career to date, with 140 tackles and 11 TFLs coming just last year. Should key a pretty good Huskie defense.
10. Nigel Bradham, Florida State–Led the Seminoles with 93 tackles, 5.5 TFLs and a pick in 2009. Should make an even bigger jump as a junior.
Honorable Mention: Sean Spence, Miami; Craig Stevens, Auburn; Mason Foster, Washington; Justin Houston, GeorgiaPowered by Sidelines