Ranking the nation's top 20 linebackers

Mike Huguenin
Turner Sports

Linebackers who can get to the passer are at a premium, and two of the top three linebackers in the nation are best known for their pass-rushing ability.

But we certainly don't short-change the linebackers who are big-time run-stuffers.

This is the seventh part of our breakdown of the nation's best players at each position. Today, we're picking the top 20 linebackers. Part one of our position breakdowns was on running backs, followed by wide receivers and tight ends, interior offensive linemen, offensive tackles, defensive tackles and defensive ends.

"Best" doesn't necessarily mean the most pro potential or even the most talent. Instead, it's a mix of what the player has accomplished and how we think the player will do this season. But production does trump potential.

We will look at a position a day until Monday, when we rank all 124 of the nation's quarterbacks. Next, we will look at cornerbacks.

Here are the linebacker rankings.

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20. Jordan Hicks, Texas

Particulars: 6-2/235, Jr.; West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West
Buzz: Hicks has battled nagging injuries but appears ready to truly blossom into a big-time playmaker. He made 65 tackles last season. Hicks is solid against the run and the pass, and moves well laterally. He is a former five-star prospect who is the only returning starter at linebacker for the Longhorns.

19. Jelani Jenkins, Florida

Particulars: 6-0/237, Jr.; Olney (Md.) Our Lady of Good Counsel
Buzz: Jenkins, a former five-star recruit, has always had good speed and has added bulk and strength. Last season, his second as a starter, he had 75 tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks, six pass breakups and an interception, which he returned for a TD. (While Jenkins is an excellent athlete, he has hands of stone, so the pick was a surprise). He will team with Jon Bostic to give the Gators one of the best linebacker duos in the SEC.

18. Cameron Lawrence, Mississippi State

Particulars: 6-3/230, Sr.; Senatobia (Miss.) Magnolia Heights School
Buzz: He did a superb job in his first season as a starter, finishing with 123 tackles, the most of any returning player in the SEC. Lawrence also had six tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions. He had six games with double-figure tackles, including 12 against Alabama and Georgia and 11 against South Carolina. He played quarterback as well as defense in high school, and also finished second in the state in the 300-meter hurdles.

[Related: Nick Florence has big shoes to fill as he takes over as Baylor's QB]

17. Jake Knott, Iowa State

Particulars: 6-3/252, Sr.; Waukee (Iowa) High
Buzz: He will be a three-year starter for the Cyclones and has made 245 tackles in the past two seasons. He had 115 stops last season, to go along with four forced fumbles, three pass breakups and two interceptions. He had six games with double-figure tackles. He has played in every game (38) in his college career. He and fellow senior A.J. Klein give Iowa State one of the nation's top three or four linebacker duos.

16. Mike Taylor, Wisconsin

Particulars: 6-2/224, Sr.; Ashwaubenon (Wis.) High
Buzz: Taylor led the Big Ten and was third nationally with 150 tackles last season; he had seven games with at least 10 stops, including 22 in a loss to Ohio State. Taylor is especially good against the run. He will be a four-year starter for the Badgers and has 254 tackles, including 23.5 for loss, in his career. He and Chris Borland are one of the nation's best linebacker tandems.

15. Michael Clay, Oregon

Particulars: 5-11/222, Sr.; San Jose (Calif.) Bellarmine Prep
Buzz: He was a reserve in his first two seasons, including work as a long snapper in 2009, then starred as a starter last season. He had 102 tackles, two tackles, three sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss despite missing three games with an injury. While undersized, Clay can run and has good instincts.

14. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers

Particulars: 6-1/230, Sr.; Avon (Conn.) Avon Old Farms School, preceded by Elizabeth (N.J.) High
Buzz: After spending his first three seasons as a safety, Greene was a revelation last season after moving to linebacker. He tied for 10th nationally and led the Big East with 141 tackles and added 14.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He had seven games with double-digit tackles, including 17 in an overtime win over USF. He is a half-brother of Pitt RB Ray Graham; Greene is the best defensive player in the Big East and Graham is the league's top offensive player.

13. Jonathan Brown, Illinois

Particulars: 6-1/235, Jr.; Memphis Christian Brothers
Buzz: Brown was a solid reserve as a true freshman in 2010, then became one of the best linebackers – and a big-play machine – in the Big Ten last season. He led the Illini with 108 tackles and was second in the league with 19.5 tackles for loss, a total that was sixth in the nation. He also had six sacks, four pass breakups, an interception, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. He had a career-high 17 tackles in the Illini's loss to Ohio State.

12. A.J. Klein, Iowa State

Particulars: 6-2/244, Sr.; Kimberly (Wis.) High
Buzz: Klein was the Big 12 co-defensive player of the year last season along with Oklahoma DE Frank Alexander. Klein, who will be a three-year starter, has made 228 tackles in the past two seasons, including 116 in 2011. He also had six pass breakups and an interception return for a TD. He added two sacks, including one of Baylor's Robert Griffin. Klein had five games with double-digit tackles last season, giving him 12 in the past two seasons.

11. Arthur Brown, Kansas State

Particulars: 6-1/228, Sr.; transfer from Miami, preceded by Wichita (Kan.) East
Buzz: Brown was one of the nation's top recruits as a high school senior but was a bust in two seasons at Miami. After he sat out the 2010 season following his transfer, Brown started to live up to the hype last season. He led K-State with 101 tackles, showing off the athleticism that made him such a touted recruit. He added 9.5 tackles for loss and had one interception, against Baylor's Robert Griffin.

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10. Dion Bailey, USC

Particulars: 6-0/200, Soph.; Lakewood (Calif.) High
Buzz: Bailey was a highly regarded high school safety and redshirted in 2010. He didn't move to linebacker until spring practice of 2011 but quickly took to his new position, using his speed to make a team-high 81 tackles. He had three games with double-figure tackles, and also made two interceptions last season. He was the Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year.

9. Chase Thomas, Stanford

Particulars: 6-4/245, Sr.; Marietta (Ga.) Walton
Buzz: Thomas will be a four-year starter for the Cardinal. He led Stanford with five forced fumbles, 9.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last season. He has 20 sacks and eight forced fumbles in his career. Thomas thought about turning pro but decided to stay in school for his senior season. While he is listed as an outside linebacker, he often lines up at end for the Cardinal. He and Shayne Skov might be the nation's best linebacker duo.

8. Denicos Allen, Michigan State

Particulars: 5-11/232, Jr.; Hamilton (Ohio) High
Buzz: Allen was a stud in his first season as a starter. He was second on the Spartans in tackles with 83, and led them in sacks with 11 (second-most in the Big Ten) and tackles for loss (18.5, fourth-most in the Big Ten). He's a bit undersized, but has good speed and is a big hitter. Allen also lettered in wrestling and track (4-x-400 relay) in high school.

[Related: Pat Forde: College football's 25 most intriguing players]

7. Chris Borland, Wisconsin

Particulars: 5-11/250, Jr.; Kettering (Ohio) Archbishop Alter
Buzz: He was the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2009 and a first-team all-league performer last season; he missed all but two games in 2010 with a shoulder injury. Borland is a throwback linebacker, of sorts; he's short and not the fastest guy but he has excellent instincts and is a hard hitter. He made 143 tackles last season (tied for seventh nationally), and added 19 tackles for loss (tied for 12th), two interceptions, seven pass breakups and five forced fumbles. He has 10 forced fumbles in his career, the most of any current player.

6. Kevin Reddick, North Carolina

Particulars: 6-3/240, Sr.; Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy, preceded by New Bern (N.C.) High
Buzz: He will be a four-year starter for the Tar Heels and has 190 career tackles. He is a big, physical linebacker with good instincts. While he is known mostly as a run-stuffer, he does have two interceptions and 10 pass breakups in his career. UNC is switching to a 4-2-5 set this fall, and the Tar Heels are expected to be more aggressive, which should suit Reddick just fine.

5. Gerald Hodges, Penn State

Particulars: 6-2/223, Sr.; Paulsboro (N.J.) High
Buzz: Hodges made a huge jump, from backup in 2010 to star in 2011. He earned All-Big Ten notice last season after finishing with a team-leading 106 tackles. He put his athleticism and quickness to good use to also notch 4.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, an interception, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He had four games with double-figure tackles. He was a three-year starter at quarterback in high school, and also played linebacker as a senior.

4. Shayne Skov, Stanford

Particulars: 6-3/242, Sr.; Pawling (N.Y.) Trinity-Pawling School
Buzz: Skov missed all but three games last season with a torn ACL. He plays with a nasty attitude and is a big hitter who moves well. An inside linebacker, he made 84 tackles in 2010, with 6.5 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss and five tackles for loss. He started as a true freshman in 2009 after a highly decorated high school career. He is from the San Francisco area, but went to a prep school in New York for his final three years of high school.

3. Sean Porter, Texas A&M

Particulars: 6-2/230, Sr.; Schertz (Texas) Clemens
Buzz: Porter, who didn't redshirt, is headed into his third season as a starter. He is a big-play guy who was an All-Big 12 performer for the Aggies last season after coming up with 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. He had two sacks each against Oklahoma State and Arkansas. Porter has excellent speed and puts that to good use on the pass rush.

2. Manti Te'o, Notre Dame

Particulars: 6-2/255, Sr.; Honolulu Punahou School
Buzz: Te'o will be a four-year starter and has been a tackle machine the past two seasons. He had 128 tackles last season and 133 in 2010; he has a combined 23 tackles for loss the past two seasons. Te'o has 17 games with double-digit tackles in his career. He was a five-star recruit out of high school and has lived up to the hype.

1. Jarvis Jones, Georgia

Particulars: 6-3/241, Jr.; transfer from USC, preceded by Columbus (Ga.) Carver
Buzz: He signed with USC out of high school, but suffered a neck injury during a game as true freshman in 2009. USC doctors would not clear him for spring ball in 2010 and he transferred to Georgia. After sitting out 2010, he returned with a vengeance last season, finishing with 13.5 sacks, tied for second nationally. He also had 70 tackles, seven quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. He is the nation's best pure pass rusher.

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