2014 Preseason All-American Projections: Outside Linebackers

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2014 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 May for the 2015 NFL Draft.

First-Team Outside Linebackers:

Eric Striker, Oklahoma

Oklahoma finished the 2013 season strong with upset wins over Oklahoma State and Alabama. The resurgent Sooners defense was one of the big reasons, and the stop unit got some huge plays via Striker to pull off those upsets.

Striker was an unknown heading into the 2013 season, but the sophomore broke out as one of the top defenders in the Big XII. The conference’s coaches selected Striker as a Second-Team All-Big XII pick while the media had him as a first-teamer. He totaled 50 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 10.5 tackles for a loss and a forced fumble.

The 6-foot, 220-pounder is lightning off the edge and has a real speed advantage over offensive tackles. Playing college football’s version of the arena league, the Big XII, Striker should produce a large sack total. Moving into double digits seems likely. The Seffner, Florida product could be poised for a massive junior season.

Miles Jack, UCLA

Jack was a freshman phenom at UCLA last season. With a year of experience, it is downright scary how good he could be in 2014.

Jack was not just a starter last year; he became a superstar and was named the Pac-12’s Offensive AND Defensive Freshman of the Year. On the defensive side of the ball, Jack recorded 75 tackles with 11 passes broken up and two interceptions. His pass-coverage skills for a freshman were outstanding. On offense, Jack played running back because of injuries. He ran for 267 yards on 38 carries (7.0 average) with seven touchdowns. Jack ripped off 120 yards on six carries against Arizona, including a 66-yard run. He ran for four touchdowns against Washington – his home-state school.

The Bruins lost Anthony Barr to the 2014 NFL Draft, but they still have talent around Jack. It wouldn’t be surprising if he is used as a blitzer more to help make up for the loss of Barr. With the good coaching staff at UCLA running an advanced 3-4 defense, Jack (6-1, 230) has the talent and scheme to run wild. He could put up a big stat line as a sophomore with tackles, sacks, interceptions, passes batted and forced fumbles.

Second-Team Outside Linebackers:

Kyler Fackrell, Utah State

There is a nice buzz about Fackrell heading into his junior season. Follwoing two impressive seasons, he won’t take anybody surprise in the Mountain West.

Fackrell had a quality sophomore season in 2013 and provided another good impact for Utah State. He totaled 13 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles, five sacks, 82 tackles, one interception and a pass broken up. Fackrell became a starter in 2012 and was a First-Team All-WAC selection. The redshirt freshman totaled 87 tackles with eight tackles for a loss, three sacks, three interceptions, three passes broken up and two forced fumbles.

The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder has a nice combination of size and quickness. Fackrell has good instincts, but it wouldn’t be surprising if his numbers dip as teams scheme away from him.

Shaq Thompson, Washington

Thompson is a solid contributor for the Huskies defense. The speedy linebacker made his presence felt starting in 2012 as a freshman and should have his best football ahead of him.

For the second straight season, Thompson played well for Washington. He had 78 tackles with four tackles for a loss, four passes broken up and an interception in 2013. In 2012, Thompson was a freshman sensation for the Huskies as he made a huge impact for their defense. Thompson totaled 74 tackles with 8.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, three interceptions, three passes broken up and a blocked kick.

Thompson (6-2, 231) has added some necessary weight, so he could be an even better run-defender as a junior. New head coach Chris Petersen got some good play out of linebackers at Boise State, and he should help Thompson to produce well in 2014.

Third-Team Outside Linebackers:

Jake Ryan, Michigan

The Wolverines rushed Ryan back from an ACL injury last year, so it wasn’t surprising that he wasn’t his normal self. Now that Ryan is more than a year removed from the injury, he could be back to the old form that saw him make a huge impact for Michigan.

Ryan was the Wolverines’ best defensive player in 2012, so it was somewhat understandable why they were desperate to have him rush back. He led the team in tackles with 88 in 2012. The sophomore also had 16 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, three passes batted and four forced fumbles in a sensational season. After an ACL tear in spring practice, Ryan made his return in early October. As a junior, he had 30 tackles with 4.5 tackles for a loss. Ryan would have been better off taking a redshirt and having another year of eligibility to play college ball.

Ryan (6-3, 235) could have a huge senior year if he can produce similarly to his sophomore season.

Jordan Jenkins, Georgia

There was a lot of hype about Jenkins entering the 2013 season, but the sophomore didn’t completely justify it with his performance. He turned in a solid, but unspectacular, season with 45 tackles, five sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. Jenkins made an impact in his freshman season and was a contributor for the Bulldogs. He was mainly a backup, but still started six games and registered 31 tackles with five sacks, eight tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. With Jarvis Jones moving on to the NFL, Jenkins was expected to take over as the Bulldogs’ featured pass-rusher, but that didn’t happen. Jenkins (6-3, 246) has a lot of athletic upside, so he could make a big jump as a junior.

Honorable Mentions: Florida State’s Terrance Smith, Penn State’s Deon Barnes, Stanford’s James Vaughters and Mississippi’s Denzel Nkemdiche.

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