2017 Preseason All-American Projections: Outside Linebackers

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2017 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 the stars of next fall could be the headlining players next April in the 2018 NFL Draft.

First-Team Outside Linebackers:

Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

When watching Virginia Tech last year, Edmunds was impossible to ignore as he was all over the field for the Hokies. He totaled 106 tackles with 18.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, three passes broken up, one forced fumble and one interception on the season. Edmunds is a quick, instinctive linebacker with good length. He is capable of producing a huge season for Virginia Tech and earning a lot of postseason honors.

James Hearns, Louisville

Sources believe Hearns is a bigger version of Devonte Fields. They say that Hearns is loose, limber, quick and fast to close. He needs to be more consistent, but his pass-rush talent is developed, and he could be a terror off the edge in 2017. Last year, Hearns totaled 42 tackles with 10 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, two passes batted and five forced fumbles. Louisville will put up a ton of points this season with Heisman Trophy quarterback Lamar Jackson coming back in Bobby Petrino’s point-machine offense. Thus, Louisville’s defense should be protecting a lot of leads whil the other team is throwing the ball a lot. That should lead to an abundance of pass-rushing opportunities for Hearns, giving him the potential of producing a mammoth 2017 season.

Second-Team Outside Linebackers:

Matthew Thomas, Florida State

Team sources say that Thomas has a first-round skill set and a lot of upside to develop. In 2016, he recorded 77 tackles with 11 tackles for a loss, two passes batted and one forced fumble. The quick and athletic Thomas could be poised for a big 2017 season. There is a lot of talent on the Florida State defense, and Thomas could clean up a lot from the disruption created by the defensive line and good coverage from the secondary.

Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss

Haynes played well last year and illustrated that he can be a difference-maker as an edge defender. In 2016, Haynes notched 53 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles, three passes batted, one interception and seven sacks. His sophomore season was even better with 43 tackles with 16.5 for a loss, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles and two passes batted. He recorded 31 tackles with nine tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks as a freshman.

Haynes is a fast edge rusher who has some natural functional strength to battle bigger offensive tackles. He is capable of a big senior year that could earn him a lot of postseason honors.

Third-Team Outside Linebackers:

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma

The 6-foot-1, 242-pound Okoronkwo was a dangerous edge defender for the Sooners in 2016. He totaled 71 tackles with 12 tackles for a loss, nine sacks, three passes batted and two forced fumbles. It was a breakout season for the junior after serving as a backup in his previous seasons. Okoronkwo could produce even more now that he has a year of playing experience.

Jerome Baker, Ohio State

There has been a lot of media hype about Baker, but in speaking with scouts who did advance work on the 2018 class, they aren’t impressed with Baker. They said that Baker runs around more blocks than he takes on and has the speed to get away with that against average offensive lines in college. Fortunately for Baker and Ohio State, he will be able to continue to get away with that in 2017, but that could catch up to him in the NFL. Baker had a quality debut with 83 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, and two interceptions. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder could produce a big season now that he has a year of experience. Although there is a lot of talent around Baker who will eat up production as well. Thus, I have Baker being a Third-Team All-American.

Honorable Mentions: Clemson’s Kendall Joseph, South Carolina’s Skai Moore, Wisconsin’s Jack Cichy, Michigan’s Mike McCray, Ohio State’s Chris Worley, Penn State’s Jason Cabinda, Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter, Notre Dame’s Te’Von Coney, Georgia’s Davin Bellamy, Arkansas’ Dre Greenlaw, Florida State’s Jacob Pugh and Auburn’s Tre’ Williams.

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