2022 WVU Linebackers Preview

wvu linebackers preview

2022 WVU Linebackers Preview

After covering each offensive position group from quarterback to offensive line, we switched our Spring preview focus to the defense last week by looking at the defensive line. Unfortunately, just a day after publishing, the defensive line preview became dated. Mountaineer fans learned Akheem Mesidor entered the transfer portal. As a result, we could see any of our position group previews change at any moment. Nonetheless, Spring camp moves forward with the remaining players. We provide our 2022 WVU linebackers preview here.

Starting With The Losses

Yes, the Mountaineers lost some pieces from its linebacker corps to the transfer portal. No, it does not make the position group worse as a whole. Here’s why. Listening to the staff interviews during Spring, their comments make something clear. WVU looks to add speed and length to its entire defense through targeted high school and transfer market recruiting. Over the last several years, they have done just that.

Most of the losses, to be fair, have been young depth pieces that have not been able to crack the two-deep. Those players include Tavis Lee, Devell Washington, Eddie Watkins, and James Thomas. The other two losses were not terribly surprising. Those include Josh Chandler-Semedo and Vandarius Cowan. The latter looked promising early, but he never quite gelled into the defense for any number of reasons. When he saw the field, he displayed flashes of productivity, but he never saw the field on a consistent basis.

Semedo seems like a big loss at first blush. He finished third on the team in tackles in 2020 and led the team in tackles in 2021. That said, most of his damage came three to seven yards past the line of scrimmage. Of his 174 tackles over the last two seasons, only nine-and-a-half of those came behind the line of scrimmage (about five percent). Compare that to the gold standard of WVU linebackers over the last decade: David Long. Almost 20% of his tackles in his senior season came behind the line. Semedo was, on the whole, less disruptive than we would expect from a “highly coveted” linebacker transfer.

Longer And Faster

The starting lineup will look different in 2022. Indeed, we project the starters as Lee Kpogba at Mike linebacker, Lance Dixon at Will linebacker, and Jared Bartlett at Bandit.

By all accounts, Kpogba, a late-blooming but uber-talented athlete, joins the Mountaineers after playing over 220 snaps at Syracuse and taking a year at the junior college level to fill out. Kpogba rose through the ranks as an outspoken and natural leader in Winter workouts, and he will look to test that quality on the field this Spring. He has a longer frame than Chandler-Semedo, and he flies around the field more efficiently.

Last season, Exree Loe and Dixon battled all season for the snaps at the Will linebacker spot. Loe carried the majority of the snaps playing 40% more snaps than Dixon. Dixon, still a raw, young talent, was nearly as productive as Loe in far fewer snaps. One thing fans overlook about Dixon is this: 247Sports’ internal recruiting rankings graded Dixon as a five-star, 98-rated linebacker prospect. They ranked him as the best outside linebacker in the Class of 2019 and the 13th-best overall. Not bad for a late convert from safety to linebacker. Dixon was still learning his responsibilities last season, but he looks poised to make a huge leap in 2022.

Finally, Bartlett returns to man the Bandit spot. His unique combination of length, speed, and strength saw him transform into a disruptive force on the outside last season. We expect that growth to continue next season.

Plenty Of Depth To Contribute

Beyond the starting three, the Mountaineers feature a surprising level of depth at linebacker. That includes Loe, who will likely continue to split snaps with Dixon in his final season. Loe contributed nearly 1,000 snaps of experience.

Lanell Carr enters his redshirt freshman season (with the added COVID year) with nearly 150 snaps under his belt. Jairo Faverus and Ja’Corey Hammett join him as returning young depth pieces.

West Virginia added Jasir Cox through the transfer portal from North Dakota State, who could split time between linebacker and Spear safety. The Mountaineers also added four-star linebacker Travious Lathan and linebacker Raleigh Collins through high school recruiting this season. This trio, however, will not arrive until after Spring.

The room is surprisingly deep in the face of questions by fans during this offseason about skill and depth at the position. Remember that WVU sometimes plays with just two linebackers, and they ask their spear safety to man the third spot at times. They also look to add more four-down looks on the defensive line. In a full 4-2-5 look, the Mountaineers need three linebackers to contribute. They will enter the 2022 season with a full three-deep here. That first line is particularly promising. As such, we conclude our 2022 WVU linebackers preview with this: we have every reason to believe that the linebacker corps will represent a surprisingly potent strength for the Mountaineers’ defense.

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