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May 22, 2013

SEC's interior linebackers an outstanding group

1) CJ Mosley, Alabama
2) AJ Johnson, Tennessee
3) Avery Williamson, Kentucky
4) Chase Granham, Vandy
5) Andrew Wilson, Mizzou
6) Amarlo Herrera, UGA
7) Benardrick McKinney, MSU
8) Donnie Baggs, Texas A&M
9) Mike Marry, Ole Miss
10) Antonio Morrison, UF


There's not much doubt Mosley belongs at the top of this list, as he's probably the best linebacker in college football today. He racked up 107 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 2 INTs, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery last season. He doesn't shy away from tough competition, either: his best game came against the only team to beat Alabama in 2012 -- Texas A&M -- when he had 14 tackles.

Tennessee's defense was hideous in 2012, but it wasn't Johnson's fault -- he racked up 138 tackles, led the SEC in tackles per game (11.5) and tallied 8.5 TFL on the way to a second team ALL-SEC nod. He should be up for much more than that this year. Williamson may be the best linebacker the majority of the country hasn't heard of, as he put up huge numbers -- 135 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 fumbles forced and an INT -- during his junior season.

Garnham is very underrated, considering he totaled 84 tackles, 7 sacks and 12.5 TFL last year. Missouri's defense underperformed last season, but it wasn't Wilson's fault as he ably manned the middle and turned in a team-leading 79 tackles and 2.5 TFL.

Herrera came into his own later in 2012 and will be one of the more important players on Georgia's defense after tallying 70 tackles and an INT in 14 games, nine starts, last year. Baggs wouldn't be on this list if we hadn't seen him in the spring, but we did, so he is. Baggs (27 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT) was highly productive as A&M's fourth linebacker last season and is making the move to the inside. He brings a combination of smarts, athleticism and a nose to the football to the middle for the Aggies.

McKinney (102 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack) can make the case that he's seriously underrated on this list, but he'll have a couple of years to make up for it. Already 6'5", 235, he likely will be heading to the NFL as well. Marry plays the Mike position in Ole Miss' 4-2-5 and was effective around the line of scrimmage in 2012, racking up 10.5 TFL with his 78 total tackles.

An All-Freshman selection in 2012, Morrison (34 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) will be looked to first to start ahead of some extremely talented incoming freshmen.



Team:

1) Alabama
2) Georgia
3) Tennessee
4) Florida
5) Ole Miss
6) Mississippi State
7) LSU
8) Vanderbilt
9) A&M
10) Kentucky
11) Missouri
12) Arkansas
13) Auburn
14) South Carolina


With Mosley leading the back, there's no shock that Alabama has the top linebacking corps in the SEC. The Bulldogs don't have established names yet, but they have a ton of talent to draw from. The same goes for Florida and LSU -- and the Tigers could seriously jump up the charts if Lamin Barrow moves inside this summer. Florida is bringing some outstanding freshmen linebackers who could push for immediate playing time.

Ole Miss runs a 4-2-5 and has two very good linebackers, so they fit where they are. Depth, however, may not be as good. Kentucky, Tennessee, Vandy and Mizzou have one very good established interior linebacker, but they don't know what else they have after that. With guys like Johnson and Williamson, at least, the Vols and Wildcats know the starter is top-notch.

A&M is breaking in a new MLB who could be very good, and could end up with deep depth if Reggie Chevis and Jordan Mastrogiovanni are as advertised. But that all remains to be seen. Arkansas may have something with All-SEC Freshman Otha Peters, but they're in a rebuilding mode. Auburn and South Carolina, for lack of a better term, are just a mess right now.


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