SEC Position Preview: Linebackers
The discussion about who's the best linebacker in the Southeastern Conference heading into the 2020 season boils down to two names: Nick Bolton and Dylan Moses.
While Moses missed last season with a torn ACL, Bolton turned a lot of heads at Missouri. He earned a season-grade of 91.1 from Pro Football Focus, making him the SEC’s top-graded linebacker, and was named first-team All-SEC by both the league’s coaches and the Associated Press after posting a team-best 107 tackles.
He finished second overall in the league to Jacob Phillips, but only because the LSU standout played in three more games (113 in 15, vs. 107 in 12). Bolton's 8.92 tackles per game easily gave him the best average, ahead of Arkansas De’Jon Harris (8.42).
Both are expected to lead their defenses this season, and maybe contend for the Butkus Award, but the one area Bolton may have an edge is in pass coverage. Bolton had two interceptions and eight passes broken up last season, while Moses didn't have any in 2018.
Regardless, having Moses back should be huge for the Alabama defense, which had to rely on true freshmen at the interior spots due to injuries, and opponents took advantage. However, it now means the Crimson Tide has four players with starting experience, and will be able to better rotate them.
The tricky part for Alabama is replacing both outside linebackers. Look for Chris Allen to claim one spot, and a slew of young talented prospects, many rated as 5-star recruits, to quickly push for playing time.
Consequently, Alabama can't be placed at the top of the SEC position rankings at linebacker, although it could very well end up there by season's end.
Auburn has returned all four primary starters at linebacker, and last year they combined to make more than 200 tackles. The group was led by standout K.J. Britt, who made 69 tackles including 10 for a loss and 2.5 sacks, en route to being named All-SEC, making him likely to be the third preseason All-SEC selection at media days.
Georgia also returns a lot at linebacker. Monty Rice led the Bulldogs in tackles (89), but keep an eye on sophomores Nakobe Dean and Azeez Ojulari.
Incidentally, Missouri ranked 14th nationally in total defense last season, which was better than Alabama, LSU and Auburn. A lot of that had to do with Bolton.
SEC Position Rankings: Linebacker
(Top half of the league only)
6. Texas A&M
7. Ole Miss
This is the fifth story in a series that will appear throughout June, previewing SEC position groups for the 2020 season.