Top Returning Big 12 Linebackers For 2017

    In a conference rarely synonymous with good defense, who will be the top returning linebackers in the Big 12 in 2017?

    March 13, 2017

    In a conference rarely synonymous with good defense, who will be the top returning linebackers in the Big 12 in 2017?

    The Big 12 will feature playmaking linebackers in 2017, a common occurrence for a league that routinely attracts quality athletes throughout the Southwest region. But will the league produce one of the country’s best linebackers this fall, such as candidates who’ll contend for the Butkus Award or other individual honors? The responsibility of carrying the conference banner could belong to Texas’ Malik Jefferson, Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo or TCU’s Travin Howard, the headliner of a very active group of linebackers in Fort Worth.

    Top Returning Big 12 Linebackers

    5. Taylor Young, Baylor

    At only 5-foot-10 and 225 pounds, Young lacks prototypical size for the position. But the heart and leadership he’ll bring to the Bear defense is something Matt Rhule will really value in his first year in Waco. Young has produced in each of his three years at Baylor, a tackling machine from the second level. Despite missing three games in 2016, he still ranked second on the team with 93 stops, including nine for minus yards and 4.5 sacks.

    4. Malik Jefferson, Texas

    Raw talent, desire, work ethic. The 6-foot-3, 238-pound Jefferson has it all. It’ll be up to the new staff in Austin to bring that potential to the surface in 2017, because the junior can leave for the pros at the end of this season. It wasn’t as if Jefferson played poorly last year, making 62 tackles and 5.5 sacks, so much as he failed to fulfill soaring expectations. With the fresh energy of a new staff, the lure of the NFL Draft and a possible shift outside, this could be the season Jefferson erupts into one of the nation’s best linebackers.

    3. Chad Whitener, Oklahoma State

    Whitener began his career in Berkeley, but he has flourished in Stillwater. He’s been a rock at middle linebacker for the Cowboys, amassing 164 tackles over the past two seasons. As a junior in 2016, he was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team for his consistency against the run. Plus, the 6-foot, 248-pound Whitener brings a lunch pail, workmanlike quality to an Oklahoma State defense that can use a few more players with his approach to the game.

    2. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma

    Okoronkwo, unlike many of his peers at the position, thinks pass rush first and run D second. And that’s not a knock on his ability to fill lanes, as evidenced by last season’s 71 tackles. Rather, it’s a nod to his explosive first step, heavy hands and sudden changes of direction, often attacking with his hand in the dirt. A dynamic edge weapon, the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Okoronkwo had nine sacks in 2016 and could be one of this year’s national breakout stars.

    1. Travin Howard, TCU

    With the returns of Howard and Ty Summers, the Horned Frogs will vie in 2017 for the top linebacker corps in the Big 12. Howard has surpassed 100 tackles in each of the last two seasons, leading the conference a year ago to earn a spot on the All-Big 12 First Team. The converted safety is only 6-1 and 210 pounds, but he uses his relative lack of size to cover ground in the shortest possible time. Additionally, Howard has a high football IQ, allowing him to diagnose and zero in before the ballcarrier can turn upfield.

    MORE: Top Returning Linebackers In College Football For 2017


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