- Washington (Azeem Victor Sr. Keishawn Bierria Sr. D.J. Beavers So. Tevis Bartlett Jr. Ben Burr-Kirven Jr. Connor O’Brien Sr. Sean Constantine Sr.)
Victor was probably the conference’s best defensive player as a junior before he got hurt and is back for one more year. Bierria is a speedy backer who can make plays on the edge. Beavers, Bartlett and Burr-Kirven are battle-tested players who provide scary depth.
2. Stanford (Joey Alfieri Sr. Peter Kalambayi Sr. Kevin Palma Sr. Casey Toohill Jr. Sean Barton Jr. Bobby Okereke Sr.)
The Cardinals are dripping with 240-50-pound linebackers with athleticism, toughness and the ability to get into the backfield. Alfieri, Kalambayi and Palma are all All-Pac-12-level players.
3. UCLA (Kenny Young Sr. Josh Woods Jr. Lokeni Toailoa So. Mique Juarez Fr. Krys Barnes So. Breland Brandt Fr.)
Young is a first-team All-Pac-12 player and the rest of the crew is ultra-talented. The key might be Juarez, who redshirted due to unclear issue, who might be the most pure-talent at linebacker in the conference.
4. USC (Cameron Smith Jr. John Houston Jr. So. Uchenna Nwosu Sr. Olajuwon Tucker Sr. Jordan Iosefa So. Christian Herrera Sr.)
Cameron Smith is a first-round talent and first-team All-Pac-12 player. The rest of the group is deep and experienced.
5. Arizona State (Koron Crump Sr. D.J. Calhoun Sr. Christian Sam Jr. Alani Latu Sr. Malik Lawal So.)
The Sun Devil defense had a rough 2016, but they have a lot of talent at linebacker. Crump and Calhoun are All-Pac-12 players and Sam isn’t far behind.
6. Colorado (Rick Gamboa Jr. Derek McCartney Sr. N.J. Falo Jr. Terran Hasselbach Jr. Drew Lewis Jr.)
The Buffs lost a lot at linebacker, but get a nice boost back with McCartney coming back from injury and a proven talent in Gamboa.
7. Washington State (Peyton Pelleur Sr. Isaac Dotson Sr. Frankie Luvu Sr. Nnamdi Oguayo So.)
Pelleur has been around forever and is one of the conference’s best tacklers. Dotson and Luvu bring loads of great experience.
8. Oregon State (Manase Hugalu Sr. Andrzej Hughes-Murray So. Jonathan Willis Jr. Bright Ugwoebgu Jr.)
The Beavers have a nice linebacker unit, led by senior Hugalu who is one of the best linebackers who isn’t a household name and Hughes-Murray who looks like a star in the making.
9. Utah (Cody Barton Jr. Sunia Tauteoli Sr. Kavika Luafatasaga Sr. Cody Ippolito Sr. Donovan Thompson So.)
No stars here, but a nice mix of experience, strength and talent. Arizona transfer Ippolito is a huge score who can really rush the passer.
10. Cal (Devante Downs Sr. Raymond Davison Sr. Hamilton Anoa’i Sr. Cameron Saffle Jr. Aisea Tongilava Jr.)
This group is pretty good for how bad Cal’s defense was last year. Downs and Saffle are borderline All-Pac-12 players.
11. Oregon (Troy Dye So. Kaulana Apelu Jr. A.J. Hotchkins Sr. Justin Hollins Jr. Jimmie Swain Sr.)
This is all about Dye, who I think was the conference’s best defensive freshman last year. A lot of questions outside of that though.
12. Arizona (DeAndre’ Miller Sr. Brandon Rutt Jr. Carrington Vaughn So. Kahi Neves Fr.)
Not too much to get excited about here, but that can be said about a lot of Arizona’ units.