Does the SEC have the “must watch” linebacker for the 2016 college football season?
If you believe NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, who has been going position-by-position to identify the Top 10 college football players to watch this season, the SEC is loaded with guys that you’ll want to pay attention to on Saturdays.
On Friday, Zierlein focused on the Top 10 linebackers to watch in college football. Five of his 10 suggestions play in the SEC.
Here’s a look at where each of them ranked on the list:
1. Jarrad Davis, Florida
With 98 total tackles and 11 tackles for loss during the 2015 season, the Gators linebacker does not have the most impressive numbers on the list. But Zierlein claims he belongs at the top of the list because of what you see from him, not what you read in the box score.
“Davis is a long linebacker with incredible sideline-to-sideline range and he accelerates into his tackles for maximum force,” Zierlein wrote. His explosiveness also makes him a quality blitzer.”
Consistency seems to be the issue for Davis, and if he’s able to find it, he could be in for a monster 2016 season for the Gators.
4. Reuben Foster, Alabama
Reggie Ragland was the Alabama linebacker that received most of the accolades last season, and Foster played well right alongside him. Many expect he could be the next Crimson Tide linebacker to step forward into the national spotlight.
“On a team loaded with NFL talent last season, including a thumping inside linebacker in Reggie Ragland, Foster still managed to stand out,” Zierlein wrote. “In fact, there are some scouts that believe Foster will be a more complete linebacker than Ragland based on his ability to cover in the passing game.”
5. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Tennessee
Jalen Reeves-Maybin surprised some around the league when he elected to return for his senior season with the Vols. He’ll be a key cog in new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Reeves-Maybin ranked No. 6 in the SEC with 105 total tackles in 2015.
According to Zierlein: “With outstanding coverage traits and an ability to get home as a blitzer, Reeves-Maybin should be a shining star for the Vols’ defense this season.”
6. Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt may have one of the league’s more underrated linebacking corps, and much of that has to do with the presence of Zach Cunningham, who quietly tallied 103 tackles in 12 games for the Commodores as a sophomore last season.
“Cunningham plays with advanced awareness and instincts. He takes precise routes to ball carriers,” Zierlein wrote. “More than 36 percent of his tackles were made within two yards of the line of scrimmage.”
9. Kendell Beckwith, LSU
There are questions about his speed and agility when it comes to playing at the next level, but there are not many questions about Kendell Beckwith’s ability to be a difference maker for Dave Aranda’s LSU defense in 2016.
Zierlein explains why Beckwith doesn’t rank higher on the list: “Beckwith doesn’t have the speed and short-area quickness that we’re growing accustomed to seeing at the linebacker position in the NFL, but he’s the type of thick, interior thumper that 3-4 defenses search for.”