Continuing on with our series highlighting the best players Iowa will face at each position group in 2017, it’s time to take a look at the linebackers. As always, the Big Ten is chock-full of quality players at the position, and the Hawkeyes will see some of the very best the conference has to offer.
5. Chris Frey, Michigan State
Frey is next in the long and increasingly storied line of tackling machines the Spartans are churning out. He logged 96 tackles in 2016 and will likely eclipse 100 tackles in 2017. His speed and athleticism allow him to run down running backs from across the field and match up with athletic tight ends with ease. If the Spartans are going to have a resurgence on defense, he’ll be the catalyst.
4. T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin
After missing the LSU game to open the season in 2016, Edwards shot out of the gates and emerged as one of the top linebackers in the conference. His efforts were key to Wisconsin’s elite defense carrying the load and keeping the Badgers in or around the top ten for most of the season. He recorded double-digit tackles four times last season and combined for 20 against Michigan and Ohio State.
3. Jack Cichy, Wisconsin
Cichy was leading Wisconsin in tackles through seven game before tearing a pectoral muscle against the Hawkeyes last season. Before the injury, he had 60 tackles on the season, including a combined 35 against LSU, Michigan and Ohio State. He finished the 2015 campaign with three sacks against Southern Cal in the Holiday Bowl, earning him the nickname “Three Sack Jack.”
2. Jason Cabinda, Penn State
Cabinda missed five games for the Nittany Lions in 2016. During that stretch of the regular season, Penn State went 3-2. With him on the field, they ran the table right up to the loss in the Rose Bowl to Southern Cal. He logged 11 tackles in that loss to add to his overall total of 80 on the year — averaging nearly nine per game. Like Frey, Cabinda is an elite athlete at the position and is a serious candidate to win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year — especially if he can lead Penn State to a similar season to what they had last year.
1. Jerome Baker, Ohio State
Baker might be the most complete linebacker in the conference, as he’s similar to current Tampa Bay Buccaneer and former Nebraska Cornhusker Lavonte David. He’s anther sideline-to-sideline guy, but is also a capable pass rusher. You’ll see the Buckeye defensive staff move him around the field in order to get him a clear path to the quarterback. Last season, he piled up 83 tackles and 3.5 sacks. You’ll likely see both of those numbers go up in 2017 — a combined result of the elite defensive front taking up blockers in front of him and the departure of Raekwon McMillan.
Don’t Sleep On:
Joel Lanning, Iowa State
2016’s “Mr. Everything” for the Cyclones seems to have found himself a new home at linebacker. He’s a guy who could cause a lot of problems against a Hawkeye offense that figures to rely heavily on its tight ends.