Big Ten Breakdown: Ranking the conference’s 5 best linebackers
In our Big Ten Breakdown series, we will examine the best five players in the conference at each position. We continue this series with a look at the best linebackers across the Big Ten.
College football might be shifting to up-tempo, spread offenses. But the Big Ten is still known for its exceptional linebacker play across the conference. The conference had 10 linebackers named to the Dick Butkus Award watch list and three of the conference’s top four tacklers from a season ago return to build upon outstanding 2015 seasons. Needless to say, the conference is stacked with linebacker talent.
Here’s a look at the Big Ten’s five best linebackers entering the 2016 campaign:
5. Vince Biegel, senior, Wisconsin
Biegel was one of the top players along Wisconsin’s defense as an outside linebacker last season. He recorded 66 tackles and finished 10th in the Big Ten with 14.5 tackles for loss. Biegel also finished tied for seventh in the conference with eight sacks.
Biegel is a versatile talent who can seal the edge in the running game and also get to the quarterback with regularity. He has a chance to lead the Big Ten in sacks and will be an instrumental leader along Wisconsin’s front seven during his senior season.
4. Riley Bullough, senior, Michigan State
Michigan State’s front seven will experience some turnover entering the 2016 season, but the Spartans still have Bullough anchoring the middle of the defense.
Bullough is a beast, recording 106 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks during his junior season. He became the first Michigan State player to record 100 tackles in a season since his brother Max accomplished the feat in 2012.
Bullough has also been named to the Butkus Award, Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy watch lists and should be mentioned among the best defensive players in the Big Ten. He will be relied upon heavily to lead Michigan State’s retooling defense.
3. Josey Jewell, junior, Iowa
Jewell exploded onto the scene during his sophomore season, racking up 126 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks last season. Jewell enters 2016 as the conference’s leading tackler from last season and has been an incredible success story for the Hawkeyes.
This year Jewell will have to battle being schemed against after being one of the nation’s most pleasant surprises last season. Jewell should be up to the task and will anchor Iowa’s front seven this season. He was also mentioned on the Nagurski Trophy and Butkus Award watch lists.
2. Raekwon McMillan, junior, Ohio State
McMillan is now the face of Ohio State’s defense after an outstanding sophomore season. McMillan recorded 119 tackles, four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks last season.
McMillan has been recognized nationally as one of the best linebackers entering the 2016 season. He’s already been named to the Bednarik Award, Nagurski Trophy and Butkus Award watch lists. Things might be a bit tougher on McMillan as Ohio State replaces eight defensive starters from last season’s squad.
Deciding between McMillan and the No. 1 player on this list wasn’t easy. McMillan definitely has a chance to finish the season as the conference’s best linebacker.
1. Anthony Walker, junior, Northwestern
Each player on this list was named to an All-Big Ten team last season. But Walker is the only player on this list to be named first-team All-Big Ten last season. Walker was alongside elite company in Ohio State’s Joshua Perry and Wisconsin’s Joe Schobert and even edged out first-round pick Darron Lee for a spot on the first team.
That proves just how good Walker was last season, even if he might not be under the national spotlight. Walker’s stats make his case even better. He recorded 120 tackles, led the Big Ten with 20.5 tackles for loss and four sacks to top off an outstanding sophomore campaign.
The nation appears to be catching onto Walker’s talent, however. He was named to the Nagurski Trophy, Butkus Award and Bednarik Award watch lists and should be viewed as one of the top linebackers in the country.
Jason Cabinda, Penn State
Jermaine Carter Jr., Maryland
Hardy Nickerson, Illinois
Steve Longa, Rutgers
Cody Poock, Minnesota
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