The NCAA College Football season officially begins on August 27th. Teams are complete with their spring practices. Some teams know what they have. Other teams are still looking for the key ingredient. Some programs have returning starters and some are flipping over an entire side of the football. Who are some of the best returning linebackers in the SEC for the 2022 season?
In the SEC, talent is almost limitless. There is no doubt the SEC recruits some of the best players in the country. Further, they continually develop some of the best players in the country. With that, we will take a look at the top returning linebackers within the SEC for the 2022 football season.
5. Nolan Smith, Georgia
This senior outside linebacker from IMG Academy in Florida stands at 6’3”, 235 pounds. With good size for a linebacker, Nolan Smith excels in coverage in the Georgia Bulldog defense. Despite being a little underweight for a “run stopper” Smith holds his own in the trenches.
Since 2019, Smith has been an integral part of the Bulldogs defense. In 2019 and 2020, Smith register 2.5 tackles for loss in each of those seasons. In 2021, he came alive with nine tackles for loss. Additionally, Smith improved in most other statistical categories as well. Again, in 2019 and 2020, Smith had 2.5 sacks each year. In 2021, he added one more and ended the championship season with 3.5 sacks. He also added one interception, two passes defended and three forced fumbles.
Showing his ability to get to the quarterback, Nolan Smith had a career-high seven quarterback pressures against and led his team with eight tackles in a win over Michigan in the Orange Bowl. If 2021 was an indicator for things to come, the SEC needs to keep its eye on Nolan Smith.
4. Bumper Pool, Arkansas
Bumper Pool hails from Texas but chose the Arkansas Razorbacks. Although a bit undersized at 6’2”, 232, Pool is a beast in the open field. Pool earned First-Team All-SEC honors and Third-Team All-America owners from Phil Steele in the 2021 season. Although Pool only started one game at linebacker last year, he led the Razorbacks with 125 tackles which placed him tenth in the nation.
Pool is no stranger to big games either. He excels at them. In October 2021, Pool had a two week stretch against SEC opponents Georgia and Ole Miss. In both of those games, the linebacker tallied double digit tackles leading to a 9.5 tackle per game average. That average placed him top 20 in the nation in tackles per game.
3. Henry To’oto’o, Alabama
This 6’2”, 228 pound linebacker out of California has found a home at Alabama after transferring from the Tennessee Volunteer football program. The senior linebacker totaled 113 tackles last year included 53 solo tackles. To’oto’o also added four sacks, one forced fumble and two passes defended.
To’oto’o is an unabashed leader of the Crimson Tide defense. He is an elite tackler that finds his way to the ball on almost every play. To’oto’o was a force to be reckoned with last year but he will be an even bigger force this year. No stranger to SEC competition as he transferred within the conference, To’oto’o seems to take his game to another level when playing SEC opponents. While at Tennessee, To’oto’o registered 72 and 76 tackles, respectively in 2019 and 2020 with the majority of games coming against SEC opponents.
2. Jeremy Banks, Tennessee
Our second best returning SEC linebacker is Jeremy Banks from Tennessee. Banks is one of the most physical linebackers in the nation at 6’1”, 224 pounds. Always playing like he has something to prove, Banks has great instincts, awareness and overall football IQ. With 11 starts last year, Banks tallied 128 total tackles averaging 9.85 per game. That average was 12th best in the nation for tackles per game. Throughout the year, Banks had six double-digit tackle games to include one interception.
Banks did not explode onto the scene until last season. Prior to last season, Banks played sparingly as a reserve linebacker. As a sophomore, Banks tallied 28 tackles. Also, during his sophomore year, he switched from running back to linebacker. The running back mentality plays well with Banks’ game as he is initiating contact on most interactions on the field.
1. Will Anderson, Alabama
The nations most prolific sacker last year, Will Anderson is only a sophomore. With 17.5 sacks, Anderson led the nation and the vaunted Crimson Tide defense. Anderson’s production comes after a 2020 season that saw seven sacks from the 6’4”, 243 pound linebacker.
Will Anderson is a bonafide attacker at the edge rusher position. Additionally, his combination of height and strength is an enormous mismatch for opponents. Combine that with his agility and Anderson becomes a complete nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.
The only question left for Will Anderson is; can he out perform last year?