Big 12: Big 12 linebackers 2010

The Big 12's top 10 linebackers: Part 2

August, 4, 2010
We've already looked at the conference's best quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. Let's flip across the other side of the ball and take a look at the conference's top-10 linebackers.

Check out part one, featuring linebackers 6-10, from this morning.

1. Travis Lewis, Oklahoma

[+] EnlargeTravis Lewis
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesOklahoma's Travis Lewis, above, will battle with Texas A&M's Von Miller for the right to be called the conference's top linebacker.
There are disagreements about whether Lewis or Von Miller is the conference's top linebacker, and it's very, very close. But in the Big 12, the strength should be shifted slightly to the running game, especially among the conference's top-three teams --Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. In short, having a run-stopping linebacker is slightly more valuable than having a crazy-good pass rusher. That said, they're both -- by far -- the best at what they do. Lewis has 253 tackles in two seasons at Oklahoma and is entering only his junior year, while Miller has one season of excellence in three years at Texas A&M leading up to his senior season. Both were All-Big 12 first-teamers in 2009, and both should be again in 2010.

2. Von Miller, Texas A&M

Miller and Lewis are a step above the rest of the linebackers in the conference, and Miller has no returning contemporary when it comes to sacks. He had 5.5 more than any returning Big 12 player (Missouri DE Aldon Smith), and will play a position in new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter's 3-4 scheme built for his talents. The speedy, athletic 6-3, 240-pounder will be DeRuyter's "Joker," a hybrid defensive end/linebacker position.

3. Brian Duncan, Texas Tech

Duncan led the Red Raiders in tackles in 2009 with 87, and though he was held without a sack as a junior, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound senior may get big opportunities for game-changing plays in 2010. New defensive coordinator James Willis moved him to the outside of his 3-4, aggressive scheme, and Duncan should spend a lot more time in the offensive backfield with Willis' penchant for blitzing.

4. Keenan Robinson, Texas

Only two Longhorns had more tackles than Robinson's 63 from 2009, and both (Roddrick Muckelroy and Earl Thomas) were 2010 NFL draft picks. He'll be one of the leaders of a Texas defense that should be among the nation's best once again, with Robinson holding down one of the outside linebacker spots for the second season. His four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks earned him All-Big 12 honorable mention.

5. Orie Lemon, Oklahoma State

Lemon missed all of the 2009 season after tearing his ACL, but he's back this spring and sounds back on track. He was second on the team in tackles in 2008 with 90 stops, and this spring, defensive coordinator Bill Young said his linebacker was among the best middle linebackers in the country. Based on his placement on this list, I don't agree 100 percent, but he's definitely one of the best in the conference. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound senior's injury delayed his career, but it gives the Cowboys some much-needed maturity and leadership on a defense that lost seven starters from a season ago.

See Nos. 6-10 on our list.

The Big 12's top 10 linebackers

August, 4, 2010
We've already looked at the conference's best quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. Let's flip across the other side of the ball and take a look at the conference's top 10 linebackers.

Part two will be up this afternoon.

6. Emmanuel Acho, Texas

The slightly lesser-known half of the Acho brothers, Emmanuel Acho should join his brother Sam as two of the key cogs in one of the nation’s best defenses. He made just two starts last season, but 36 of his 45 tackles were solo and he also added 9.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. He’ll have a bigger role for the Longhorns in 2010, and will be itching for it after being held out of the spring game after offseason surgery. Expect him to move up from the All-Big 12 honorable mention he earned as a sophomore.

7. Will Ebner, Missouri

Ebner is one of the hardest hitters on this list, and he’ll have a chance to deliver plenty of said hits after taking over the starting job at middle linebacker last season for the injured Luke Lambert. His 78 tackles earned him an All-Big 12 honorable mention. He earned the respect of the coaches for his hard hitting from the first day he arrived on campus, and he’ll use a stout 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame to do it this season.

8. Drew Dudley, Kansas

Dudley hasn’t had a chance to showcase his talent for the new Kansas coaching staff after being forced to sit out of contact drills during the spring. He left the spring as the backup to Justin Springer in the middle of the defense, but once he’s back in camp this fall and healthy, he should reclaim his spot and help the Jayhawks defense once again. With 88 tackles in 2009, he begins his senior season as the team’s leading returning tackler.

9. Bront Bird, Texas Tech

Bird has to deal with a position change -- a move from the outside to the inside of defensive coordinator James Willis’ 3-4 -- but has the talent to make the adjustment. He also has the size; he gained 12 pounds to move to 252 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. He should surpass his 56 tackles from a year ago and solidify his status as one of the best linebackers in the Big 12.

10. Huldon Tharp, Kansas

Tharp earned Freshman All-American honors after making 59 tackles as a true freshman in 2009. At 6-foot, 217 pounds, he'll be one of the most talented players on the Kansas defense and will anchor the weak side.