Photo courtesy of Arkansas athletics
Outside of Florida and Georgia, rave reviews were few and far between when looking at the SEC East linebackers.
Rest assured, these groups in the SEC West will be a lot different. Here, we take a look at the stock of each SEC West linebackers corps and tell you whether to buy or sell:
Even with the loss of Dylan Moses, this group was destined to be one of the best in the league once again. Will Anderson and Christopher Allen are elite off the edge, and Christian Harris has proved a lot in the middle of the defense. Now, this group has the chance to be the best in the country. More help enters with Henry T’oto’o from the portal, who was Tennessee’s leading tackler in 2020. On top of that, Shane Lee is back from injury after a big freshman season in 2019.
The top five players in this group might be better than any other in the nation, but it doesn’t stop there. Like everywhere on this Alabama team, there is tons of talented depth. You can thank Alabama’s historic recruiting recently for that.
There are a lot of elite linebackers groups in this conference, but Alabama has set the bar.
Depth issues and struggles on the defensive front hurt this group at times, but it returns one of the top linebacker duos in the conference in Bumper Pool and Grant Morgan.
Both Morgan and Pool were workhorses last season as they both finished with more than 100 tackles. Again, this group had some big-time concerns when it came to depth. Morgan and Pool essentially carried all the workload at linebacker last season. Fortunately, the Razorbacks do add versatile Penn State transfer Trent Gordon who can take some of the pressure off Morgan and Pool.
Depth might still be an issue, but this group will improve again if Pool and Morgan can stay on the field.
Like Arkansas, Auburn has an elite duo at linebacker in Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe. McClain finished first in the SEC in tackles with 113. Pappoe played out of position for most of the season, but grew into his role and finished with 93 tackles in 2020. McClain somehow wasn’t named to any All-SEC teams last year, despite leading the league in tackles. Regardless, both McClain and Pappoe have a future in the NFL.
Outside of those two, Auburn does return Chandler Wooten, an experienced guy who opted out in 2020. Between McClain, Pappoe, and Wooten, that is one of the better top threes in the league. Wesley Steiner and Cam Riley were highly recruited out of high school, and both will have some sort of role in 2021.
This group was the strength of the defense last season. With everyone returning plus Wooten opting back in, the Tigers could be better at the position than they were last year.
Losing Jabril Cox hurts, but LSU returns everyone else and brings in an impact player from the portal in Mike Jones from Clemson. Damone Clark led the team in tackles with 63, and should have a starting spot waiting for him again. Clark and Jones could become one of the better duos in the country.
Guys like Micah Baskerville and Navonteque Strong will help round out the rotation. That gives LSU four guys to work with.
Is this an elite group? No, but it will get the job done.
Mississippi State: Selling
This one was close.
This group is experienced at the top with guys like Tyrus Wheat and Aaron Brule, but it does lose its top guy in Erroll Thompson. Thompson was a 2-time All-SEC performer who was a thumper in the middle of the defense for Mississippi State. In 2020, Thompson led the way with 96 tackles while starting in all 11 games.
Aaron Brule should be the next guy to step up at linebacker. Brule finished with 77 tackles last season — good for second on the team. The question is whether he can be as physically imposing as Thompson was on a regular basis.
This group will put up some numbers, and has some experience. Unfortunately, the loss of Thompson will linger at times.
Ole Miss: Selling
If this group could have returned its top tackler in Jacquez Jones, it would’ve been easy to be a lot higher on Ole Miss. Unfortunately, Jones hit the portal and ended up transferring to Kentucky.
Fortunately, Ole Miss does return its No. 3 tackler from a year ago in Lakia Henry. Henry will be forced to step up and play a bigger role in 2021. The Rebels also hit the portal to add Maryland transfer Chance Campbell, who has some starting experience.
This group should improve from a year ago, but like a lot of areas on this Ole Miss defense, it is still a year or two away from hitting its stride.
Texas A&M: Selling
Losing Buddy Johnson hurts this group, and it’ll show at times during the year. The Aggies do have a few experienced guys like Aaron Hansford and Edgerrin Cooper, but it will be very tough to replace Johnson’s production.
Johnson led the way for Texas A&M last season with 86 tackles. The second most comes from Hansford, who had 49 tackles. The gap between A&M’s first- and second-leading tacklers from a year ago is large, so there are big shoes to fill.
There is talent here to build around, and the Aggies will benefit from playing behind an elite defensive line. Still, it is hard to see this group taking another step without their engine.