With Will Anderson Jr. and Dallas Turner coming off the edges, and senior Henry To'oTo'o back to anchor the middle, Alabama is an easy No. 1 pick as the best linebacker unit in college football for the 2022 season. Georgia must reload after losing Nakobe Dean and a couple of other key cogs, but elite recruiting will keep this unit performing at a high level for coach Kirby Smart. NC State, Iowa and Oregon round out the top five linebacker units in the nation for '22.
How did we come up with these rankings? A couple of factors were considered. Depth, overall talent, production, level of competition and projected output in 2022 all factored into the rankings for the linebacking corps. While some teams may have experienced a down year last season, having a change of scheme, impact freshman or transfer or new coach can make a huge difference. These rankings reflect projections for '22, not solely what teams accomplished in '21.
College Football's Top 20 Linebacker Units for 2022
Will Anderson Jr. is back after a monster sophomore season that saw him record 33.5 tackles for a loss and 17.5 sacks. He’s the best player returning in college football for ’22. Rising star Dallas Turner is expected to man the other side after notching 8.5 sacks from November to the end of the year. Henry To’oTo’o mans one spot on the interior, while Jaylen Moody and Deontae Lawson are competing for the role vacated by Christian Harris’ departure to the NFL.
Nakobe Dean, Channing Tindall and Quay Walker leave big shoes to fill at linebacker for coach Kirby Smart. However, the next wave of stars is already in place. Seniors Nolan Smith and Robert Beal are poised to rank among the SEC’s best at this position, while rising stars Jamon Dumas-Johnson, Smael Mondon and Xavian Sorey will join Trezmen Marshall to help to fill the void on the interior of this unit. Raw talent and potential isn’t a problem for this group.
3. NC State
The Wolfpack might have the most underrated defense in college football going into the 2022 season. Despite a few major injuries at linebacker, this unit held teams to 19.7 points a contest in ’21. With 10 total starters back, look for coordinator Tony Gibson to build another standout group, with the linebackers set to lead the way once again. This unit was without Payton Wilson (second game) and Isaiah Moore (seventh) for large chunks of the season, but Drake Thomas picked up the slack with 99 stops (13.5 TFL). Wilson and Moore are back to full strength, and the Wolfpack has depth in the form of Devon Betty and Jaylon Scott to spell the starters as needed.
All three starters are back to form an active and standout group for coordinator Phil Parker once again. Jack Campbell is the headliner for the Hawkeyes after recording 143 tackles and directing a defense that limited teams to just 19.2 points a game last fall. Campbell is among college football’s top returning defenders. Seth Benson (105 tackles) and rising star Jestin Jacobs (53) join him the starting lineup.
New coach Dan Lanning helped to mold some of the nation’s top defenses at Georgia, and his arrival is good news for an Oregon group not lacking for talent up front. Noah Sewell (114 tackles) is among the nation’s best at linebacker, and running mate Justin Flowe could also work his way into that conversation if he can stay healthy after missing the last two seasons due to injury. Mase Funa, DJ Johnson and Bradyn Swinson should be the top contributors at the edge linebacker spots for Lanning.
9. Notre Dame
11. Ohio State
18. Michigan State
19. San Diego State
20. Appalachian State