Top Returning SEC Linebackers For 2017

    The SEC is getting a big boost from the healthy return of a South Carolina Gamecock, but will he be the league’s top linebacker of 2017?

    March 13, 2017

    The SEC is getting a big boost from the healthy return of a South Carolina Gamecock, but will he be the league’s top linebacker of 2017?

    South Carolina veteran Skai Moore missed all of last season to a neck injury that required surgery. Scary stuff. But he’s back at full strength and practicing without limitations for the Gamecocks. There’ll be rust, to be sure, but there will also be the desire to regain his place as the most productive and disruptive linebacker in the SEC. However, while he was rehabbing, a new era of defenders was evolving in places like Lexington and Athens and Starkville. And that next generation of SEC linebackers is out to make an even louder statement later this fall.

    Top Returning SEC Linebackers

    5. Leo Lewis, Mississippi State

    True, Lewis is young, with just a season of experience on his resume. But based on his debut in Starkville in 2016, the future is very bright for the emerging star. He grabbed the starting weakside job last season, finishing the year with 79 tackles and 4.5 stops for loss. Lewis’ youth ought not be confused with tentativeness. He’s a hard-hitting 6-foot-2, 230-pounder who’ll be distinctly better positioned to dominate in his second season of action.

    4. Roquan Smith, Georgia

    The Bulldogs and first-year coach Kirby Smart needed help at linebacker last season. Smith stepped up as a sophomore with an outstanding debut as a regular at weakside. The 10-game starter far and away led the team with 95 tackles, 36 more than his nearest teammate. Smith, who’s expected to miss spring with a pectoral injury, moves extremely well laterally, allowing him to string out plays. And his range could compel Smart to employ him on more blitzes this fall.

    3. Jordan Jones, Kentucky

    Jones was unexpectedly spectacular for the Wildcats in 2016, rising to the All-SEC Second Team with a program-high 109 tackles, 15.5 stops for loss, four sacks and nine quarterback hurries. And he was only a sophomore. Jones closes quickly on the ball and wraps up well in space, as evidenced by his league-high 74 solo stops. On a defense that lacks many proven stoppers, Jones and Josh Allen will again be expected to make a ton of plays from the second level in 2017.

    2. Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama

    Hamilton was in the midst of a breakout junior year in Tuscaloosa, when an ACL injury ended the campaign in the SEC title game. It was a big loss for both he and the Crimson Tide, which had grown accustomed to his consistency at middle linebacker. The 6-foot, 232-pound Hamilton is tough, smart and reliable, a cornerstone defensive player for Nick Saban. And while he’ll be limited in the spring, he doesn’t figure to face any limitations once the season begins.

    1. Skai Moore, South Carolina

    Will Muschamp is thrilled to get Moore back after he missed the entire 2016 season following neck surgery. Prior to the injury, he was the soul of the Gamecock defense, earning Second Team All-SEC in 2015 with 111 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss and four interceptions. The healthy return of Moore provides an instant injection of speed, experience and intensity to a unit that was very pleased with the development of Bryson Allen-Williams as a junior last year.

    MORE: Top Returning Linebackers In College Football For 2017


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