May 21, 2024

College Football’s 20 best returning linebackers

College Football's top linebackers

Nebraska linebacker Collin Miller warms up before game against Indiana Saturday October 26, 2019 at Memorial Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

They are the enforcers along the front seven and often times the first line of defense.

Linebackers are the aggressors and set the tone from start to finish on any given autumn Saturday. Rather their names are called on a blitz package or in zone coverage, linebackers are usually the most active defenders on the field.

It’s a position that’s all about physicality and requires film study. However, in the Power Five linebackers must be relentless, have great instincts and play with a tenacity that intimidates opposing quarterbacks.

These players know how to hunt down ball carriers, dictate the game’s momentum and make clutch plays when their teams are in dire need. Here are the top returning linebackers in the Power Five and all of them will have a tremendous impact on their team’s success this fall.

20. Collin Miller, Nebraska: The Indiana native started all 12 games and tied for third on the team in tackles. Miller had a career-high, 10 tackles against Minnesota, including five solo. He also had eight eight stops in the win over Northwestern and six against Ohio State. The former three-star prospect had at least five tackles in five consecutive games. Not to mention Miller had five solo stops in the win over Maryland. With Mohamed Barry’s eligibility all used up, Miller will have a bigger role with the Blackshirts this fall.

19. Paddy Fisher, Northwestern: He generated 117 tackles during his sophomore year and added 88 this past season. Fisher is a team captain and the middle linebacker earned second-team All-Big Ten. The six-foot-four, 246-pounder had 10 tackles against Nebraska and nine apiece against Michigan State and Massachusetts. The Texas native can fly from sideline to sideline and tallied eight stops, forced a fumble and had an interception in the win over UNLV. Joe Gaziano left as the school’s all-time leader in sacks and it’s up to Fisher to pick up the void.

18. Mike Rose, Iowa State: The former three-star prospect was also a standout in basketball out of high school. Rose has been a very productive linebacker for the Cyclones and started all 26 games of his career. He led Iowa State in tackles for loss and had a sack against Texas Tech and Notre Dame last season. The Ohio native generated nine tackles apiece in victories over West Virginia and Louisiana-Monroe. Not to mention Rose had eight stops in the Camping World Bowl against the Fighting Irish.

17. Derrick Barnes, Purdue: The Kentucky native’s success went under the radar last season, but he’s one of the best returning linebackers in the Big Ten. Despite being a two-star running back prospect out of high school, Barnes tied for first on the team in sacks. He got to the quarterback against Vanderbilt, Maryland, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The six-foot-one, 245-pounder had eight tackles against Nevada and 2.5 sacks in the season-finale against rival Indiana. Barnes has 155 total stops, including 19 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks the past two seasons for the Boilermakers.

16. Cameron Goode, California: The Golden Bears had one of the best defenses in the Pac-12 last season and their linebacker play was the reason why. Goode led California in tackles for loss and sacks. The Texas native had a sack against UC Davis, North Texas, Arizona State, Oregon State and Illinois. Not to mention Goode had two sacks apiece in wins over Stanford and UCLA. The former three-star prospect had 10 tackles against Arizona State and five total sacks over California’s last three games.

15. K.J. Britt, Auburn: After one year of being a Tiger starter, the Alabama native earned second-team All-SEC honors. Britt generated seven tackles apiece in back-to-back wins over Texas A&M and Mississippi State. The six-foot, 236-pounder also had a sack against the Bulldogs and another against the Bayou Bengals. Britt tallied eight tackles in the bowl loss to Minnesota.  He wrapped up a solid season with 68 total tackles, including 10 for loss and 3.5 sacks.

14. Colin Schooler, Arizona: The former three-star prospect was named the Pac-12’s Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in 2017. Schooler led the Wildcats in tackles and stops behind the line of scrimmage last season. The California native had nine tackles apiece against Hawaii, USC and Stanford. Schooler had eight or more tackles in nine different games, including a jaw-dropping, 13 stops in the win over UCLA. Not to mention The six-foot-one, 229-pounder has 312 career stops and 46 tackles for loss.

13. Shane Lee, Alabama: He had a fabulous true freshman campaign with the Crimson Tide and showed why he was a four-star prospect. Lee finished second on the team in tackles from his inside linebacker position and earned Freshman All-SEC honors. The Maryland native had a sack in wins over Southern Miss, Tennessee, Arkansas and Michigan. Lee also had eight tackles apiece in victories over South Carolina and Texas A&M. The six-foot, 246-pounder had a career-high, 10 tackles in the victory over Mississippi State and tallied nine total stops in the bowl win against Michigan.

12. Joe Tryon, Washington: The former three star prospect is listed as a linebacker, but he earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors as a defensive lineman last season. Which means Tryon is a versatile linebacker, who can also contribute on the edge. He led the Huskies in tackles for loss and sacks. The six-foot-five, 262-pounder had seven tackles apiece against California, Stanford and Oregon State. Tryon also had a sack in five different Pac-12 games, including two apiece against Utah, Oregon State and Washington State.

11. Max Richardson, Boston College: The Georgia native knows how to set the tone for the Eagles’ front seven. Richardson led the team in stops, tackles for loss and sacks on his way to earning second-team All-ACC. The former three-star prospect also finished fourth in the league in tackles, with 107. He racked up a jaw-dropping, 14 tackles apiece against Rutgers and Louisville, plus 13 against Wake Forest. Richardson had 10 stops and a sack in the win over NC State. Not to mention the six-foot, 230-pounder accomplished the feat of having four-straight games with double-digit tackles.

10. Nick Bolton, Missouri: The Tigers had one of the SEC’s best defenses over the first half of last season. However, the unit fell apart over the last five games, which resulted in a 6-6 campaign. Still, Bolton led Missouri in tackles, with 104, including 70 solo. His production was second-best in the league and the Texas native earned first-team All-SEC honors. Bolton will be the leader of the front seven this fall and he will need to help Missouri’s defense gain the confidence the unit had through the first six games. Accomplishing that feat will benefit new coach Eliah Drinkwitz.

9. Nate Landman, Colorado: The middle linebacker from Africa has been a tackling machine for the Buffaloes. Landman has surpassed the century mark in tackling the past two seasons, with 219 total stops and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2019. The six-foot-three, 230-pounder is the heart and soul of Colorado’s defense, with eight tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception during his junior year. With a new coach and quarterback, the Buffaloes will be relying heavily on their defense early on and Landman will try to make sure everything will be a smooth transition.

8. Terrel Bernard, Baylor: The former three-star prospect had a brilliant sophomore season, finished second in the conference in tackles and earned second-team All-Big 12. Bernard is a versatile linebacker, who can play on the outside and in the middle. He had four straight games with a sack against West Virginia, TCU, Oklahoma and Texas. The six-foot-one, 222 pounder generated double-digit tackles in three-straight games, including 10 against West Virginia, 19 against TCU and 12 against Oklahoma. Bernard finished the season with 112 stops, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, an interception and recovered three fumbles.

7. Amen Ogbongbemiga, Oklahoma State: The Canadian had a breakout season in 2019 and was one of the best linebackers in the Big 12. Ogbongbemiga generated 100 stops, led the Cowboys in tackles for loss and sacks. The six-foot-one, 235-pounder had a sack in four different games, including the Oklahoma State’s first three. He had 10 tackles in the win over Oregon State, 11 apiece against Texas and West Virginia. Not to mention he had a career-high, 12 stops in the bowl game against Texas A&M. Ogbongbemiga went from being a former three-star prospect to a second-team All-Big 12 performer.

6. Kuony Deng, California: The former four-star prospect was the Bears’ No. 1 recruit last season and lived up to his billing. Deng finished third in the conference in tackles, with 119, which was second-best on the team. The Virginia native is also great in coverage and broke up a team-high, eight passes. The six-foot-six, 220-pounder tallied double-digit tackles against Oregon, USC and Oregon State. Not to mention he got to the quarterback in wins over Washington and Ole Miss, plus a career-high, 16 tackles against Utah.

5. Garret Wallow, TCU: He’s a tackling machine and the next great linebacker groomed by long-time coach Gary Patterson. The former three-star prospect was actually recruited as a safety, but bulked up and moved closer to the line of scrimmage. Wallow had a Big 12-best, 125 stops last season and had 18 tackles for loss. The six-foot-two, 212-pounder had double-digit tackles against UAPB, Purdue, Oklahoma and a career-high, 19 stops in the shootout loss to SMU. The New Orleans native earned first-team All-Big 12 honors and will be on the Butkus Award Watch List this fall.

4. Rayshard Ashby, Virginia Tech: He thrived for the past two seasons in Bud Foster’s system and solidified himself as one of the best linebackers in the ACC. Ashby led the league in tackles, with 120 total stops and was named the ACC’s Linebacker of the Week five times in 2019. The former three-star prospect had a sack against Boston College, Miami and Pittsburgh. Not to mention Ashby generated 11 solo tackles and recovered two fumbles against Notre Dame. The 5-foot-10, 237-pounder had a career-best, 18 total tackles in the shootout win over North Carolina. The Virginia native earned second-team All-ACC and has 225 tackles with the Hokies the past two seasons.

3. Micah Parsons, Penn State: He was the Nittany Lions’ five-star recruit from 2018 and has exceeded expectations through two seasons in Happy Valley. Parsons is athletic, aggressive and one of the most active linebackers in the country. The Pennsylvania native finished third in the conference with 109 stops and led the team in tackles for loss. Parsons had 10 or more tackles in six of Penn State’s final seven games. The six-foot-three, 245-pounder got to the quarterback against Purdue, Minnesota, Rutgers and twice in the bowl win over Memphis. Parsons was named the league’s Linebacker of the Year, earned first-team All-America and All-Big Ten honors.

2. Chazz Surratt, North Carolina: His journey has been unbelievable, considering he arrived on campus as a four-star, dual-threat signal-caller. Surratt started seven games at quarterback as a redshirt freshman in 2017, when he scored 13 total touchdowns. He made the switch to linebacker the following spring and never looked back. The six-foot-three, 230-pounder finished second in the conference in tackles, with 115 and fourth in stops behind the line of scrimmage. Surratt generated a jaw-dropping, 13 solo tackles against Virginia, to go along with 17 stops and a sack in the win over Virginia Tech. The North Carolina native also had a sack against South Carolina, Appalachian State, Clemson, Duke and NC State. All of Surratt’s production earned him first-team All-ACC honors.

1. Hamilcar Rashed, Oregon State: The Phoenix native had a monster junior season in 2019. Rashed led the entire FBS with 22.5 tackles for loss and finished with 14 sacks, which ranked third. He had a least one sack in seven games, including three apiece in back-to-back weeks against California and Arizona. The former three-star prospect tallied seven tackles apiece against Cal-Poly, UCLA, California and Arizona State. Not to mention Rashed had eight stops and two sacks against Oregon State on his way to earning second-team All-America and All-Pac-12 honors. The six-foot-four, 238-pounder is arguably the best returning player in the league and still hasn’t reached his ceiling.

Honorable Mention

Tyshon Fogg, Rutgers: The former four-star prospect led the Scarlet Knights with 93 tackles last season.

Henry To’oto’o, Tennessee: He was the Volunteers top recruit last season and finished with 72 total stops, five tackles for loss and earned Freshman All-SEC honors.

James Skalski, Clemson: He had 105 total tackles from his inside linebacker position last season. Still, Skalski will be a senior and an enforcer in the Tigers’ front seven.