Pac-12 Top Returning Linebackers

Pac-12 Linebackers

Top Pac-12 Returning Linebackers

Of the returning position players in the Pac-12 Conference, the linebacker group could be one of the strongest. Several teams in the conference have landed some of the top linebackers in the transfer portal this off season. Depth at the position and the emergence of young talent will be on display at some of the conference’s premier universities. The skill position players in the conference have drawn a lot of attention of late. However, the Pac-12 returning linebackers will be a sneaky-good group. These names could very well show up on All-American ballots following the 2022 season. 

Honorable Mention: Darius Muasau – UCLA

One of the top projected Pac-12 linebackers for this season is Hawaii transfer Darius Muasau. He joins the UCLA program that recently announced their move to the Big Ten conference beginning in 2024. At 6’-1” and 230 pounds, Muasau brings a solid frame with him to Los Angeles. He has developed into one of the top pass rushing linebackers in the country, and will help the Bruins immediately in the middle of their defense. 

Muasau was a two-star recruit out of Mililani, Hawaii who spent the 2019 through 2021 seasons with the Rainbow Warriors. As a true freshman, he played in all 15 games and finished third on the team with 61 tackles. In 2020, he was named to the All-Mountain West First Team and was an honorable mention on Phil Steele’s All-American ballot. Muasau ranked fifth nationally in tackles per game with 11.8 and surpassed 100 total tackles in the COVID-shortened season. Last year, Muasau was among the best linebackers in the country. He forced five fumbles, made 109 tackles, and returned an interception for a touchdown. For the second season in a row, Muasau was named to the First-Team All-Mountain West. 

UCLA is getting one of the premier linebackers in the transfer portal this season. He was upgraded from a two-star high school recruit to a four-star transfer with a 0.900 rating according to 247Sports. Pro Football Focus gave him a 91.5 pass rushing grade last season, the best of any returning linebacker in the country. Muasau looks to be named to the All-Conference First Team for a third season in a row. He could very likely show up on All-American ballots this winter. Since he is transferring from an out-of-conference school, he gets honorable mention status. 

Number Three: Eric Gentry – USC

USC has gained a lot of talent in the transfer portal this offseason. They landed some big names all over the field including linebacker Eric Gentry who transferred in from Arizona State. Gentry earns the third-best returning linebacker in the Pac-12 ahead of the 2022 season. At 6’-6” and 200 pounds, the Philadelphia native brings a lot of upside potential to the Trojans’ defense.

Embed from Getty ImagesLast season in Tempe, Gentry was a true freshman who saw the field in 12 games. He recorded 45 tackles and 18 stops. Pro Football Focus gave him a 72.8 overall defensive grade, good for second-best in the conference among returning players. In over 340 snaps, Gentry was credited with just five missed tackles last season. That mark is tied for fourth fewest among all Pac-12 linebackers in 2021. As a true freshman, that stat is quite impressive and indicates he has the physical traits of a linebacker with room to grow into his body. His performance as a freshman earned him a spot on the First-Team Freshman All-American team. He was the first Sun Devil freshman to earn that achievement since 2018.

Gentry’s size and athleticism makes him an incredible addition to the USC defense. In addition to his physicality, he has the length to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. The former three-star recruit has been upgraded to a four-star in the transfer portal. Gentry excels in coverage schemes as well. According to Pro Football Focus, Gentry has a 74.3 overall coverage grade which puts him at the top of the Pac-12’s returning linebackers. USC is getting a linebacker who has shown immense potential in just one season of Pac-12 football. 

Number Two: Edefuan Ulofoshio - Washington

The Huskies received some solid talent at linebacker in the transfer portal this off-season. However, their best player at the position, and second best of the Pac-12 returning linebackers is former walk-on Edefuan Ulofoshio. The Anchorage, Alaska native attended Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas before earning a spot on the Huskies roster. 

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Ulofoshio’s freshman season was 2018 when he forced a fumble on his first collegiate play. He redshirted the remainder of the season and produced a strong 2019 campaign. He played in all 13 of Washington’s games, and started the final three. The former walk-on earned the 12th Man of the Year Award following the 2019 season, and headed into 2020 with steam. Despite the four game schedule, Ulofoshio managed to gather 51 tackles and earned an 87.8 defensive grade and a 97.3 pass rushing grade according to Pro Football Focus. Those ratings were third and first ranked in the country at his position, respectively. Last season, Ulofoshio played in just six games before suffering a season-ending arm injury. Before the injury, he tallied 53 tackles and 18 stops. 

Though Ulofoshio is the second best returning linebacker in the conference, injury stands in his way for the 2022 season. After working through his injury last season, Ulofoshio injured his knee during winter workouts this past offseason. He did not participate in spring practice, and will likely miss the first few weeks of the upcoming season. Ulofoshio is athletic in the middle of the defense and has great length and closing speed. He has great awareness and can diagnose plays at the point of attack. He is a downhill defender and shows great physicality in his tackling technique. The second-best linebacker in the conference has potential to make a huge impact on the Washington defense this fall.

Number One: Noah Sewell - Oregon

Oregon may have the best linebacker room in the conference, and a top-five group nationally. The linebackers are led by redshirt sophomore Noah Sewell, who is the top-rated returning linebacker in the Pac-12. Sewell gathered 114 tackles last season, four sacks, and an interception while earning a 88.6 pass rush grade according to Pro Football Focus. His pass rush rating is fourth best at his position among all returning players in the country. 

His freshman season was the COVID-shortened year, but he played in all seven of the team’s games. Following the year, he earned First Team All-Freshman honors from nearly every media source and even appeared on Phil Steele’s All-Conference third team. Sewell continued to get better through his sophomore campaign in 2021. He was a Butkus Award semifinalist last season and made First Team All-Conference. 

Sewell’s outlook for the 2022 season is among the best of any players at his position nationwide. The former five-star recruit excels in the middle of the defense, showing great closing speed and the ability to track down an elusive quarterback. Sewell is 6’-3” and 251 pounds, but has great quickness, and can run a 4.60 second 40-yard dash. For a true MIKE linebacker, he works well between the tackles, but can also drop back into coverage with his speed. Oregon’s head coach Dan Lanning comes from a defensive background. In his first year in Eugene, he will get to coach the top returning Pac-12 linebacker and likely a first round selection.

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