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OAYP: 2019 Sun Belt Linebacker Rankings

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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The new OAYP advanced metric ranks the Sun Belt's returning linebackers.

In case you missed it, I’ve already released the marginal OAYP rankings for all the qualifying Sun Belt offensive players, edge defenders, and interior defensive linemen. Those, along with a more comprehensive explanation (in the QB rankings), can be found here:

QB | RB | WR | TE | OL | EDGE | DL

Now we’re onto the linebackers. As we’ve done with all the other position groups, we’ll tier them out into ‘superstars’ (marginal OAYP >1.0), ‘second tier’ (marginal OAYP between 0.5-1.0), and potential breakout stars (players that didn’t get enough reps to qualify, but posted high OAYP scores on a smaller sample size).

The top end talent in this group is elite, but the league has some questionable depth outside of a couple of teams.

*marginal OAYP in parentheses*

Superstars

-Carlton Martial, Troy (1.88)
-Bryan London, Texas State (1.42)
-Jordan Fehr, App State (1.19)
-Nikolas Daniels, Texas State (1.09)

As a redshirt freshman, Carlton Martial tallied 76 tackles, 8.5 for a loss, 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 14 combined QB pressures, 13 run stuffs, and graded out as one of Pro Football Focus’ top five run defenders on his way to earning Freshman All-American honors. Steady as steady comes, he was a consistent force with flashes of brilliance. He’ll take on more of a leadership role in 2019 after Hunter Reese graduated and Tron Folsom transferred, but Troy should be just fine at the position between he and Justin Whisenhunt.

Jordan Fehr will also bear more of the leadership brunt this season, even though App State returns three of their four starting linebackers, in light of Anthony Flory’s departure. Loaded as the group was a year ago, Fehr was the only one selected to the all-conference first team thanks to his do-it-all versatility. As effective in run defense as he is getting after opposing passers or dropping into coverage, anything less than another first team All-Sun Belt nod would be a surprise.

He’ll have stiff competition, though, from two guys out of Texas State. B.J. Bennett recently pointed out:

Few players in the country have a resume quite like Bryan London's. The Texas State linebacker is college football's active tackling leader with 341 career stops, adding 17 tackles for loss, eleven pass break-ups and six forced fumbles, all, remarkably, with a senior season still to go. In two of his three years in the Sun Belt Conference, London has led the league in solo tackles. He is athletic, consistent and instinctive. He is also on the verge of history.

London, already, ranks in the top ten all-time in the Sun Belt in career tackles. At his current underclassman rate of over nine tackles per game, London will move into first place on the list, becoming the conference's career leader, before the midway point of this upcoming season. Additionally, it's very likely that he will join the exclusive 450-tackle club, a select collection of defenders that has only a dozen members over the last 15 years.

London is the prototype, returning a league best 13.5% run stop percentage, among linebackers, not to mention PFF’s highest coverage grade. Daniels, meanwhile, offers high end pass rush potential, tallying the most pressures in the Sun Belt last year at the position. These two also ended up first and second in the Sun Belt in tackles last year, with 109 and 108, respectively. Troy obviously has a top notch duo and Georgia Southern has a couple of guys ready to make the leap, but until proven otherwise this is clearly the top inside linebacker duo in the conference.

Second Tier

-Tajhea Chambers, Arkansas State (0.5)

Chambers is the lone Sun Belt returnee that meets the second tier threshold, and does so by only the thinnest of margins, although Troy’s Justin Whisenhunt was very close. That said, OAYP’s perceived lack of depth could in part be attributed to the sheer dominance at the top hurting everyone else’s marginal ratings.

Nevertheless, Tajhea Chambers earned his placement, finishing with 76 tackles, 7.5 for a loss, 12 run stuffs, a fumble recovery that he took back 34 yards to paydirt, and the second highest coverage grade among returning SBC linebackers. After missing most of 2017, he now has a full season of upper echelon play under his belt, and the potential is there for a Bryan London-esque final two years to his career.

Potential Breakout Star

-AJ Smiley, Troy (0.72)

For all of Troy’s losses, both to graduation and the transfer portal, there’s still a ton to like about what they return on defense. Aside from the aforementioned Martial and Whisenhunt, A.J. Smiley could be poised to break through after serving in more of a reserve capacity throughout his career, to date. A special teams demon and rotational piece in 2018, Smiley recorded two tackles for loss, a sack, and 3.5 run stuffs despite a limited sample size. Now a senior, the unexpected loss of Tron Folsom has opened the door for Smiley to go out with a bang.

Full Marginal OAYP Rankings for Qualifying Sun Belt Linebackers

1. Carlton Martial, Troy (1.88)
2. Bryan London, Texas State (1.42)
3. Jordan Fehr, App State (1.19)
4. Nikolas Daniels, Texas State (1.09)
5. Tajhea Chambers, Arkansas State (0.5)
6. Justin Whisenhunt, Troy (0.48)
7. Chris Harris, Georgia Southern (0.39)
8. Jacques Boudreaux, Louisiana (0.33)
9. Rashad Byrd, Georgia Southern (0.26)
10. Chase Day, ULM (0.08)
11. Teddy Gallagher, Coastal Carolina (-0.09)
12. Nick Mobley, South Alabama (-0.31)
13. Rashaad Harding, ULM (-0.58)
14. Cortez Cisco, ULM (-0.65)
15. Ed Curney, Georgia State (-0.82)
16. Ferrod Gardner, Louisiana (-0.84)
17. Silas Kelly, Coastal Carolina (-1.27)
18. Michael Makins, Coastal Carolina (-1.5)
19. Trajan Stephens-McQueen, Georgia State (-1.55)

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP