2013 Preseason All-American Projections: Inside Linebackers

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2013 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation’s leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and this coming fall’s stars could be the headline players next April for the 2014 NFL Draft.

First-Team Inside Linebacker: A.J. Johnson, Tennessee

Johnson was the rare bright spot on Tennessee’s woeful defense last year. The sophomore tied for fifth in the nation with 138 tackles. He also chipped in 8.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and one pass broken up. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound linebacker was an excellent run-defender and showed off impressive instincts.

Johnson’s athletic ability was illustrated by serving as Tennessee’s short-yardage ball carrier. He ran for six touchdowns with 21 yards on 12 carries. Defenders seemed to hesitate to take on Johnson charging through the hole. He is athletic, fast and physical. Around Tennessee, Johnson is known as “the beast.” He is extremely aggressive, hitting players with authority and putting ball-carriers into the ground hard.

Even though the Volunteers had a weak defense in 2012, they have some other young talent at linebacker next to Johnson. It will also help the junior that he continues to have a massive nose tackle in front of him in Daniel McCullers. With Alec Ogletree, Manti Te’o and Kevin Minter off to the NFL, Johnson looks like the best middle linebacker in college football and a First-Team All-American.

Second-Team Inside Linebacker: Eric Kendricks, UCLA

While Anthony Barr got all the headlines, Kendricks also had a breakout season for the Bruins in 2012. Kendricks led the Pac-12 in tackles with 149 tackles, six tackles for a loss, two sacks, four passes broken up, two forced fumbles and one blocked kick. He led UCLA’s run defense and was all over the field with sideline-to-sideline ability. His instincts were excellent as he did a great job of reading-and reacting.

The 6-foot, 228-pound Kendricks is a great athlete like his older brother Mychal Kendricks, a linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles. Eric Kendricks needs to gain weight for the next level and could move to outside linebacker.

It could be hard for Kendricks to repeat that production in 2013 as offenses are going to make sure they get a hat on him in the ground game. Kendricks has a good talent around him so he should still produce as a junior. If Kendricks can duplicate his 2012 production, he could easily be the First-Team All-American.

Third-Team Inside Linebacker: Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky

Jackson has been one of the most physical defenders in college football over the past few seasons. The Lakeland, Fla. product grew up in Ray Lewis’ hometown and has patterned his game after the future Hall of Famer. Jackson is a thumper of a linebacker. He has good instincts and some quickness. Jackson is extremely physical and has a violent presence on the field with a big-time demeanor.

Jackson totaled 122 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and four forced fumbles last season. The junior held his own against Alabama with seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss. He had a huge game against Florida Atlantic with 19 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, a pass batted and a forced fumble that was returned 75 yards for a touchdown by teammate Quanterus Smith. Jackson had 109 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, one interception and one forced fumble in 2011.

Jackson is one of the most physical players in college football as he constantly lays the wood on linemen and ball-carriers. He doesn’t get noticed as much by playing at a smaller school, but the consistently productive Jackson is definitely deserving of All-American consideration.

Honorable Mentions: Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov, Alabama linebacker Trey DePriest, Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough, LSU linebacker Lamin Barrow, Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland, Iowa linebacker James Morris, Stanford linebacker A.J. Tarpley and Oklahoma State linebacker Caleb Lavey.

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