With players like Jabrill Peppers, Raekwon McMillan, and Brandon Bell off to the NFL, we look to the returning ranks to find some absolutely ferocious linebackers.
5. Jason Cabinda, Penn State
Jason Cabinda emerged as the leader of the Penn State defense in 2016. Despite missing five games due to injury, the rising senior was third on the team in total tackles. His loss was greatly felt by the Lions, as the defense gave up an average of 402 yards per game during his absence, compared to 349 yards per game when he played. The biggest play of his career was a sack of J.T. Barrett on third down late in the Ohio State game. The play would go on to launch Youtuber FZappa20 into stardom. A healthy 2017 season should allow him to turn more heads as he hopes to hear his name called in the 2018 NFL Draft.
4. Mike McCray, Michigan
A ball-hawking linebacker with outstanding closing speed, McCray is expected to be one of the leaders for a young Michigan defense. After his freshman season in 2014, McCray seemed to be in position to form a feared linebacker duo with Jabrill Peppers. After a shoulder injury cost him most of the 2015 season, those plans were put on hold. In 2016, McCray actually had better stats than the consensus All-American, Peppers. Michigan is a young team that needs senior leadership if they hope to finish in better-than-third in the Big Ten East for the first time in Jim Harbaugh's tenure.
3. Jermaine Carter, Maryland
All-Big Ten Honorable Mention in 2016, Carter is an elite playmaker for a Terrapin defense that is just beginning to add the depth and talent needed for D.J. Durkin's system. The numbers for Carter pop in every category. He's lead the team in tackles the last two seasons. He had the second most sacks by a linebacker in the conference. He broke up five passes, forced two fumbles and recovered one.
2. Jerome Baker, Ohio State
Baker is likely to be among the next group of Ohio State players that hears their name early in the 2018 NFL draft. The true junior had a stellar season flanking McMillan, and now steps up as the most prolific holdover from the 2016 Buckeyes. Baker flashed in big games, making huge plays in wins against Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
1. Tegray Scales, Indiana
Even toiling away in Bloomington hasn't stopped Scales from being noticed. He is the first All-American linebacker from Indiana in 30 years. He's on the watch list for the Nagurski, Bednarik, and Butkus awards. His production is simply ridiculous. Scales lead the nation in tackles for loss, and had a string of six straight games with double-digit tackles. He led a Hoosier defense that was good, actually, finishing 31st in the nation in defensive S&P+. Simply put, he's the most productive linebacker in the entire conference.