Big East player rankings: Linebacker

We move on to linebacker rankings in the Big East. Will these cause as much outrage over the defensive line rankings? Let me also add that I am surprised only Max Gruder was named to the Butkus Award watch list. Plenty of other good candidates in the league, though there are questions on nearly every team because some good linebackers are gone.

1. Sio Moore, Connecticut. With Lawrence Wilson gone, expect Moore to emerge as the leader of the linebacker group. He already had a great season in 2010, finishing second on the team with 110 tackles. He also had 11.5 tackles for loss and should be one of the best in the league.

2. J.K. Schaffer, Cincinnati. Schaffer was a second-team All Big East selection last season after finishing second in the league in tackles with 111. In fact, he has posted back-to-back 100 tackle seasons. He was one of the bright spots on the Bearcats defense and should be even better in 2011.

3.Max Gruder, Pitt. The only player from the Big East under consideration for the Butkus Award, Gruder has 175 combined tackles over the past two years. Pitt is moving to a 3-4 and he will be on the weakside this season. The Panthers need a good season out of him.

4. Najee Goode, West Virginia. The Mountaineers lost many of their best players at linebacker, but at least Goode returns to anchor the unit. As a senior and most experienced player, he is in line to have a breakout season and be a leader of this group.

5. Sam Barrington, USF. Barrington had his best season yet in 2010. He finished right behind DeDe Lattimore in tackles on the team with 65.

6. DeDe Lattimore, USF. The Lattimore-Barrington duo put USF atop the team linebacker rankings, so here they are in back-to-back positions here in the player rankings. Lattimore finished second on the team in tackles in a season that got him Freshman All-America honors in one publication.

7. Marquis Spruill, Syracuse. Spruill had a breakout freshman season last year, with 51 tackles, two tackles and seven tackles for loss in 13 starters. Just a true sophomore, he will be the veteran of the starting unit because of heavy losses the Orange took at this position.

8. Dexter Heyman, Louisville. Heyman was transformed when Charlie Strong took over as head coach. He moved to linebacker and had the best season of his career. He should be even better this year, especially when you consider he is one of the hardest workers on the team.

9. Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers. Beauharnais is the top returning tackler for the Scarlet Knights after finishing third on the team last season. But he has been moved from the middle to the strong side, where he will be able to contribute in the pass rush.

10. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers. Greene has moved from free safety to linebacker, and he should help shore up the entire linebacker group. But the big question is how well he does in the transition.

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