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Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey (20) congratulates James Morris (44) for sacking Northwestern's Kain Colter in their 2013 game.

All of these Iowa linebacking trios from last decade are hard to beat

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ANSWER: Trying to compare players is difficult enough, but when the comparison spills over to the entire linebacking corps, this topic gives me indigestion.

Let’s start with the first unit. Middle linebacker Pat Angerer was a second-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009. A.J. Edds (2009) and Jeremiha Hunter (2010) were second-team All-Big Ten linebackers. In 2009, Iowa finished 11-2 overall, won the Orange Bowl and finished No. 7 in the final rankings. Angerer (second round) and Edds (fourth round) were 2010 draft picks, while Hunter has more career tackles than either player.

The trio of James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens was a force in 2012 and 2013. None of the three were named first-team All-Big Ten, but no unit played better collectively in the Kirk Ferentz tenure other than the 2002 offensive line. Morris and Kirksey led the team in tackles in 2011. Hitchens, who was the defensive MVP in 2013, led the team in tackles in 2012 and 2013. Kirksey (third round) and Hitchens (fourth round) were 2014 draft picks. Kirksey (Browns) and Hitchens (Chiefs) are NFL starters, while injuries derailed Morris’ NFL career.

Josey Jewell, Bo Bower and Ben Niemann combined to start 123 games at Iowa. Jewell was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous first-team All-American last fall. Bower and Niemann each had at least 39 career starts. Jewell led the Big Ten in tackles twice and was second in his other season. Jewell ranks fourth in school history with 415 career tackles. Bower is tied for 43rd. The NFL draft is held in two weeks.

As difficult as it is to rank these corps, I can parse it this way. Morris, Hitchens and Kirksey formed the best unit. They played at a championship level, while the team did not. Angerer, Edds and Hunter played for the best team of the last decade and they were paramount to that success. Jewell was the best college linebacker of the group and deserving of every award he received.

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