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2020 LSU Football Preview: Linebackers

Tigers hope to have hit grad transfer jackpot again with former North Dakota State Bison Jabril Cox

Butler v North Dakota State Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

What do you do when you completely start over? That’s what LSU will have to address with the linebacker position in 2020. Not only is Dave Aranda gone, but so are all four of LSU’s starting linebackers: K’Lavon Chaisson, Patrick Queen, Jacob Phillips and Michael Divinity.

It’s certainly a testament to how talented the 2019 defense was when all four players have joined NFL teams. Chaisson and Queen were first round picks, Phillips was taken in the third round, and Divinity signed as an undrafted free agent. But all those departures means Bo Pelini has to begin his second stint in Baton Rouge with a blank slate, but luckily for him Ed Orgeron and Dave Aranda have done a good job stocking the cupboard with talent.

2020 LSU Linebackers

Position Player HeightWeight Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
Position Player HeightWeight Tackles Tackles for Loss Sacks
Middle Linebacker Micah Baskerville (Jr.) 6’1”/228 15 4 `
Marcel Brooks (Soph.) 6’2”/194 8 0 1.5
Damone Clark (Jr.) 6’3”//239 50 4 3
Antoine Sampah (Fr.) 6’2/210 4-star freshman
Josh White (Fr.) 6’0”/213 4-star freshman
Outside Linebacker Andre Anthony (Sr.) 6’4”/256 No stats
Jabril Cox (Sr.)* 6’3"/233 92 9.5 5.5
Devonta Lee (Soph.)** 6’1"/223 No stats
Travez Moore (Sr.) 6’4”/246 No stats
BJ Ojulari (Fr.) 6’3”/218 4-star freshman
Ray Thornton (Sr.) 6’3"/227 No stats
Phillip Webb (Fr.) 6’3"/227 4-star freshman

*2019 stats at North Dakota State University

**Converted wide receiver

Well LSU needed help at linebacker so what do they do? They dip into the graduate transfer portal and add arguably the best defensive player on the market, North Dakota State’s Jabril Cox. Cox was a superb linebacker for the Bison and could have been a Day Two pick in April’s draft had he decided to declare. In four years Cox accumulated 258 tackles, 32 TFLs, 14 sacks, 6 interceptions and scored two touchdowns; he won three FCS national titles, was a three-time FCS All-American and the Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2018. He’ll come to Baton Rouge ready to assume one of the outside linebacker positions. And if you haven’t already, make sure to read Max’s excellent breakdown of Cox.

Over the last few years, LSU has had success at linebacker with players who waited their turn and shined when their moment finally arrived. Deion Jones only started for a year but got drafted in the second round by the Falcons; Duke Riley did the same in 2016 and would also go on to be drafted by the Falcons. Queen, as we mentioned earlier became a first round pick and wasn’t even the week one starter. Clark looks to continue that trend but how will he handle being the one responsible for making the calls? We’ve talked on and on about how does Myles Brennan handle being a first-year quarterback, well being the Mike linebacker means you’re the quarterback of the defense. We won’t know if Clark is ready until the games begin.

The other starter at outside linebacker isn’t nearly as solidified as Cox, but it sure seems like the coaching staff wants it to be Marcel Brooks. Brooks may be the best athlete on the roster and showed flashes of being a disruptive pass rusher in the 11 games he played in. But can Brooks get away with being an every down linebacker while weighing less than 200 pounds? Perhaps we need to think of Brooks as a linebacker in name only and is more a safety/linebacker hybrid like how the staff likes to use Jacoby Stevens. Either way, Brooks is the kind of athlete that has to be on the field and I’m excited to see how Pelini uses his skill set.

As for the rest of the linebacking group, it’s a mix of unproven veteran players like Andre Anthony and Travez Moore and newcomers like Antoine Sampah and Phillip Webb. Maybe Anthony, Moore and Ray Thornton benefit from the shift to the 4-3 and shine as true outside linebackers. Or maybe they can make it as defensive ends, it’s not as if the roster is loaded with blue chip defensive ends.

There’s reason to be optimistic about the future at linebacker for LSU. Sampah and Webb are top-100 prospects overall, and White, whom the coaching staff loves, was a top-10 middle linebacker prospect in last year’s class. In fact in 247’s player comparison, White is likened to LSU’s own Deion Jones.

The linebacker position has come a long way for LSU in the last few years. Remember, we’re not that far away from the days where LSU had more kickers than inside linebackers. Replacing four starting linebackers would have been a nightmare for LSU just three years ago, but now with all the talent Coach O and the staff have brought in, the Tigers truly are reloading instead of rebuilding.