So far we’ve ranked the Pac-12’s likely starters at quarterback and the league’s running back rooms, the league’s wideout groups and its offensive lines, and most recently the defensive lines/edge rushers. Now, the attention shifts to linebackers. 

No. 12: Arizona Wildcats

Returning snap percentage: 27.8%

Three of the top four snap-getters last season at inside ‘backer have left the program. Jerry Roberts is the lone returner from the four that saw at least 100 snaps. “It’s good to have Jerry back,” first-year defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen said at the outset of fall camp. “But there’s so much learning in that group. We’re so young. It’s my job to get them gelled together and try to bring them along.” There’s a real lack of experience with the group. UA is hoping Malik Reed can make a jump after filling a limited role last season.

No. 11: Washington State

Returning snap percentage: 24.0%

New defensive coordinator Brian Ward loses two longtime starters at middle ‘backer in Jahad Woods and Justus Rogers. That duo combined to produce 531 tackles over the last four seasons. Wood in particular finished first or second on the team in tackles in each of the last five seasons. That’s going to be a challenge. The former Nevada defensive coordinator was able to bring Daiyan Henley with him to Pullman, and that’s a good starting point for the rebuild at the position. Henley had 103 tackles for the Wolf Pack last season en route to an All-Mountain West second-team selection. 

No. 10: Colorado Buffaloes

Returning snap percentage: 62.2%

Nate Landman (63 tackles) has exhausted his eligibility, leaving a sizable hole in the middle of the Colorado defense. A three-time All-Pac 12 selection and a 2020 All-American, Landman averaged 10 tackles a game over the course of his career. The glass-half-full piece of a season-ending injury Landman suffered seven games into the year was that it allowed Quinn Perry a five-game dress rehearsal to prepare for this season. Perry ended the year as the Buffs’ leading snap-getter at inside linebacker. It was an up-and-down showing, but that experience should serve him well. CU also pulled in West Virginia transfer Josh Chandler-Semedo, a key piece of the Mountaineer defense last season with 18 quarterback pressures and 110 tackles (third-most in the Big 12). Robert Barnes adds to the depth. This is a group with the potential to surprise some folks. 

No. 9: UCLA Bruins

Returning snap percentage: 36.6%

The Bruins are a tough team to place. On one hand, they return very little from a group that wasn’t exactly great a season ago. On the other hand, they add one of my favorite transfer acquisitions anyone made all offseason—former Hawaii linebacker Darius Muasau. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound ‘backer was a two-time All-Mountain West First Team selection and, in the last two seasons, produced 213 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, five pass breakups, five forced fumbles (all in 2021), and two interceptions. He’s going to be an all-conference linebacker right away in the Pac-12. UCLA needs him to stay healthy because depth elsewhere is questionable. Jordan Genmark Heath graduated. Caleb Johnson transferred. Ale Kaho opened fall camp on the sidelines.

No. 8: Stanford Cardinal

Returning snap percentage: 99.5%

Both Levani Damuni and Ricky Miezan return after finishing first and second on the team in tackles last year. Damuni was also the team’s second-leading tackler in 2020. While he was rehabbing an injury in the spring, Jacob Mangum-Farrar saw first-team reps. The theme of Stanford’s offseason: Everyone’s back, so this group should be better than it was.

No. 7: USC Trojans

Returning snap percentage: 38.6%

From an intangible standpoint, Shane Lee was one of the most important additions USC made all offseason. The former Alabama linebacker seems like a safe bet to be named a captain in his first year with the program. USC is hoping he can recapture the form he had as a first-year player in 2019, when he finished with 86 tackles and earned a Freshman All-American selection. Injuries led to a diminished role over his final two seasons in Tuscaloosa. Maybe the highest-upside move USC made on the defensive side of the ball, though, was adding former Arizona State Freshman All-American Eric Gentry. Ralen Goforth and Raesjon Davis appear in line to see the field as well. There are questions, sure, but in terms of pure talent, USC looks to be in good shape. 

No. 6: Oregon State Beavers

Returning snap percentage: 60.0%

Omar Speights and Avery Roberts combined for 217 tackles a year ago. Oregon State’s linebacker group was that duo. One returns, one departs. Speights is a preseason first-team all-conference guy, so no worries there. Roberts is going to be tough to fully replace, at least immediately. It feels like Kyrei Fisher has the inside track to winning that job after 30 tackles and three tackles for loss last year. He’s a sixth-year senior who might be finally getting his shot at a starting gig. I also love Jack Colletto—a utility kind of player who makes plays all over the field.

No. 5: Arizona State Sun Devils

Returning snap percentage: 59.9%

The aforementioned Gentry was perhaps the most painful loss Arizona State had to endure all offseason. Darien Butler is also off to the NFL. But Kyle Soelle and Merlin Robertson return after finishing first and third on the team in tackles last season, and that duo is one of the better one-two punches at linebacker you’ll find in the Pac-12. Robertson is earning some early attention in fall camp for the work he put in this offseason. ASU offensive lineman LaDarius Henderson said at Pac-12 Media Day he trusts fourth-year linebacker Connor Soelle to step into a bigger role.

No. 4: California Golden Bears

Returning snap percentage: 80.2%

Five inside linebackers saw at least 200 snaps for Cal last season. Four of them return, including the defense’s third-leading tackler in Muelu Iosefa. The third-year man played in each of Cal’s four games in 2020, earning starts in the final two games. He started all 10 of his appearances last season. In 2022, he’ll pair with former Washington standout Jackson Sirmon. Sirmon brings over 33 games of Pac-12 experience and 16 career starts. Playing for Justin Wilcox and Cal DC Peter Sirmon—Jackson’s father—should only help his game.  

No. 3: Utah Utes

Returning snap percentage: 27.2%

One qualified Pac-12 defender earned a 90 grade from Pro Football Focus last season. That player was Devin Lloyd. (Only eight Power Five defenders earned a 90 grade, to put that achievement into context. Just five did so the year prior.) There is no one who is going to replicate Lloyd’s value. That being said, Utah has talent at linebacker. Karene Reid is due for a breakout after 45 tackles a year ago. Florida transfer Mohamoud Diabate put up 89 tackles last season for the Gators and brings over a pretty versatile skillset. Lander Barton also gets the distinction of being the only true freshman mentioned in this ranking. He’s a stud, and an immediate impact guy. 

No. 2: Washington Huskies

Returning snap percentage: 54.0%

If he’s healthy, Edefuan Ulofoshio is one of the best in the country. The problem is he’s not healthy and he could miss a significant piece of the 2022 season. Losing Sirmon hurts, but UW has Carson Bruener, Pitt transfer Cam Bright, and UAB transfer Kris Moll to pick up the slack. Bruener has a ton of upside. Bright spent four years with the Panthers—a captain in 2021—and totaled 182 total tackles with 20.5 TFLs. Moll was a first-team all-conference player for UAB in 2019 and 2020. After an injury wiped out his 2021 season, Moll arrives in Seattle with something to prove. He’s an underrated talent in the league if healthy. And he might not even start with the way Alphonzo Tuputala is approaching the new season.

No. 1: Oregon Ducks

Returning snap percentage: 77.6%

No Pac-12 linebacker played more snaps than Noah Sewell last season. No Pac-12 linebacker has a higher ceiling than Justin Flowe. As a next-man-up kind of player, I love Jeff Bassa’s potential. Frankly, the top spot in this ranking was entirely uncontested. Sewell is one of the best off-ball linebackers in college football. Only five FBS defenders had at least 100 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and five pass breakups last year. Sewell was one of them, a powerful middle ‘backer with prototypical size that still moves like a smaller defender. He gets downhill with violence and disrupts quite a bit. In Dan Lanning’s system, expect a monster. Flowe is getting NFL Draft buzz despite seeing less than 100 defensive snaps in two years. That’s how alluring the talent is. Depth, star power, upside; the Ducks have it all.