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C&M Roundtable: Will Auburn Have the Best Linebacker Corps in the SEC?

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The Tigers return their top 4 linebackers from 2019 and signed a loaded class this past recruiting cycle. Could this be the best unit in the SEC?

NCAA Football: Auburn at Louisiana State Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

“Doesn’t matter we aren’t having a season!!!”

Yo, we get it. Things are pretty shaky right now with all these out of conference games being cancelled. Confidence is quickly dwindling that there will even be a college football season this year and that sucks.

But until that decision is actually made, we are going to soldier on as if a season of some sort still happens this fall.

And if a season does happen, one unit Auburn fans are going to have a lot of fun watching is the linebackers. Travis Williams took over as Auburn’s linebackers coach in 2016 and immediately turned a unit that had been a consistent weakness in Auburn’s defense to a consistent strength. 2020 might be the best bunch to date.

KJ Britt, Chandler Wooten, Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe are all back. Auburn signed three blue chip prospects in the 2020 class. This unit is going to be VERY good. But will it be the best?

The Auburn football sages here at the Temple of College & Magnolia are here to dispense their wisdom once again on why Auburn will or won’t have the best linebacker corps in all of the SEC this season.


AUNerd

This one is legitimately tough for me. There are 3 strong contenders for this honor in my opinion: Alabama, Auburn and Georgia. The Crimson Tide’s backers struggled at times last fall but that’s because by the of the season they were starting two true freshman. They are a year older and now they return Dylan Moses who missed all of last season with an injury. He’s been consistently mocked by experts to be a 1st round draft pick next spring.

But I would rank them 3rd at the moment. Auburn returns their outstanding foursome this fall. KJ Britt is unquestionably the best run stopping backer in the country and with some improvements in coverage could challenge Moses for that top spot in the 2021 NFL Draft class. Owen Pappoe started every game despite being a true freshman and is poised for a monster sophomore season. At times, I thought Zakoby McClain was the best linebacker on the field last fall while Chandler Wooten is a leader who can play all three positions in Auburn’s scheme.

The homer in me wants to go Auburn but if I am being honest, I think heading into the fall I would give Georgia the nod. Monty Rice is a beast and is back to lead this nasty UGA defense once again. Tae Crowder is gone but will be replaced by Nakobe Dean who graded out the highest of all freshman linebackers per PFF. Former blue chips Quay Walker, Trezman Marshall and Channing Tindall serve as backups while Azeez Ojulari has a chance to be a breakout pass rusher off the edge.

I love Auburn’s group but I am going to give just the ever so slightest of nods to the Dawgs and then take a very long shower.

Verdict: No


Jack Condon

I can’t believe Nerd chose not to #BarnHard above, but it’s alright. I’ll get us rolling in the right direction. While you may be looking at the raw talent and recruiting rankings of some other linebacker groups in the SEC, there are some intangibles that only come with time that fall in Auburn’s favor.

Nerd went through some of the superlatives with Britt, Pappoe, McClain, and Wooten, and while they’re not as highly-regarded as some of the studs in Athens or Tuscaloosa, the group itself will be better. With K.J. Britt as an undoubted leader in the middle, Auburn’s group won’t be in the wrong mindset or positioning at all. We’ve now seen the fireworks from a player like Zakoby “Mac Jones is my favorite player” McClain, and Owen Pappoe learned a ton from being in the rotation as a freshman.

I think one of the most important benefits for Auburn this season will be the “minister of culture” attitude that it seems like Chandler Wooten has taken on. With all of the recent events around the country, he appeared to shoulder the outward vocal responsibility for the team, and he did so in a mature and eloquent manner. Having someone like that in the room will only make the other linebackers strive for greatness.

Plus, you’ve got the added positive that they’ve all played together for an entire year now. Yeah, Alabama’s got Dylan Moses, but they lost Anfernee Jennings and Terrell Lewis. Georgia’s got some fantastic young guys as well, but both teams are going to be going through the growing pains of meshing as a unit. This season especially, that’s going to be even more difficult to do than ever. No spring practice, and possibly less fall practice. That’s why Auburn has the edge this season.

Verdict: Yes


Will McLaughlin

Nerd and Jack have already hit on basically every point I would have made here. K.J. Britt did a tremendous job filling the role left by Deshaun Davis the prior before. I’m excited to see what Britt does for an encore and the continued emergence of Owen Pappoe. With no spring practice and an experienced group coming back across the board, I will choose to Barn Hard to answer this question!

Verdict: Yes


Josh Black

They will but they won’t get the credit for it. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better collection of linebackers based on talent and experience than K.J. Britt, Owen Pappoe, Chandler Wooten, and Zakoby McClain. What Travis Williams has done in restoring the pride of the Auburn linebackers is inspiring. K.J. Britt is one of the most sound tacklers Auburn has had in a decade and matches it with a toughness and ability to lay the wood that we weren’t used to seeing 4 years ago.

But you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere outside of this here website that will agree with Auburn’s linebackers being the best in 2020, and the reason is because of the lack of experience in front of and behind them. I could easily see Georgia’s group getting the nod this year with all that they return defensively. Shoot of Alabama’s group ever stays healthy they’ll be a sexier pick.

Bottom line, go ahead and get ready to be called a homer this fall for believing in the Auburn linebacking corp. But also be prepared to be right.

Verdict: Yes


James Jones

Short answer: Yes, because they had it last year and didn’t lose anyone.

Long answer: The only question here is whether or not Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson made that much of a difference for Britt and company. We know they were great, but were they so great that they made the men behind him look like all conference players? I don’t think that gives this group enough credit. KJ Britt is a potential first round draft pick. Owen Pappoe is the perfect linebacker for the way football is played today. Chandler Wooten made the most of his chances, and he would be a star on other teams. Zackoby McClain only made the kind of play that kids dream about in their backyards*. This is the most talent Auburn has had at linebacker since 2003, which included one of the greatest linebackers in Auburn history in Karlos Dansby, an incredibly smart and agile Dontarrious Thomas in the middle, and the one man in common with both groups: Travis Williams.

Verdict: Yes

*-I was a kid during the Pat Dye era. To heck with offense, I wanted to be a linebacker


DrewMac

I am really happy I am right after my good buddy James Jones, especially with that line of being an Dye-hard Auburn man. Everyone above me has made some solid points and pretty much everything I had thought up to say. The only thing missing is that ZacKoby McClain is from Valdosta, GA and if you want football players, you get real ones in South Georgia. Auburn is EXTREMELY solid at the linebacker position which they have got to be since we lose two men on the front along with Nick Coe. Are they the best in the conference though? Maybe? Here’s the thing though, get me in the conversation of being the best and that’s all I can really ask for, because being in the conversation, leads to this...

Verdict: Uh-huh


Ryan Sterritt

I’ll be honest, I haven’t done my homework this offseason. I haven’t bought my Athlon and Lindy’s, and I haven’t been looking at other team’s depth charts, unless that team is Arizona State in my NCAA 14 dynasty. But you see, I’ve painted myself into a bit of a corner.

Instead, I’m going to lean on Auburn’s returning sack leader to have an even bigger year and put himself in position to be Auburn’s first 1st round draft pick at linebacker since Takeo Spikes.

Yeah, that quote was me in last week’s roundtable, predicting KJ Britt to lead Auburn in sacks and become a first round draft pick. I’m going to double down on my love for KJ Britt, especially when he’s being paired with @TheFreak.

Verdict: Yes


You’ve heard our sage advice, now it’s your turn. Will Auburn have the best linebacker corps in the SEC this season?

Poll

Will Auburn have the best linebacker corps in the SEC?

This poll is closed

  • 75%
    Yes
    (66 votes)
  • 11%
    No
    (10 votes)
  • 12%
    It doesn’t matter
    (11 votes)
87 votes total Vote Now

War Eagle