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Best Returning Big Ten Linebackers

Next up in our best returning player series is the best returning Big Ten linebackers for 2023. A young gun and a veteran top our list.

As we move through our series highlighting the best-returning players, we have been looking at the Big Ten. Most recently the best returning Big Ten quarterbacks. When fans think of the Big Ten they often think of strong defense, particularly at the linebacker position. Historically, Big Ten schools recruit very well at the linebacker position and those prospects often turn into NFL draft picks. The 2019 NFL Draft saw former Michigan linebacker Devin Bush Jr selected 10th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2021 Penn State’s Micah Parsons was selected 12th overall by the Cowboys. At NFL Honors for that season, he received AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. This most recent draft was Michigan again with David Ojabo being selected by Baltimore in the second round. So, who are the next NFL hopefuls and best returning Big Ten linebackers for 2023? Let’s find out.

Best Returning Big Ten Linebackers

#5: Bryce Gallagher, Northwestern

Northwestern at the #5 spot might seem interesting, but Bryce Gallagher was very productive last season and is poised to have another great year in 2023. Gallagher led the Wildcats in solo tackles (58) and total tackles (100) last season. In addition to being the leader in tackles, the redshirt senior had five tackles for loss, one-and-a-half sacks, one interception, and one forced fumble. He started and played in 11 games for Northwestern in 2022 and has been on the rise throughout his entire career. Gallagher might not be flashy, but he is productive which is how he made our list.

He’s not alone at the linebacker position for Northwestern, an honorable mention to this list has to be Xander Mueller. Mueller was right there with Gallagher in 2022, tallying 87 total tackles and disrupting the opposing backfields for 10.5 tackles for loss. The Wildcats linebacker group is solid heading into 2023 even if other areas of the team need some work.

#4: Ernest Hausmann, Michigan

It would be very strange if Michigan was not on this list for 2023. The Wolverine linebackers have had success in the NFL Draft the last few seasons and even with departures, this team has options. Ernest Hausmann comes to Michigan after spending one season at Nebraska. Therefore, our #4 was almost not on the list. If he would’ve transferred outside of the Big Ten then he may not have been featured in the Best Returning series at all.

For the struggling Cornhuskers a season ago, Hausmann was a bright spot. As a freshman, he appeared in all 12 games for Nebraska and got the starting nod in seven of those. On a struggling squad, he tallied 36 solo tackles and 54 total tackles. He also had two tackles for loss, one sack, and a fumble recovery. Under Michigan Defensive Coordinator Jesse Minter, Hausmann should increase production in 2023 even in a deep linebacker group. This room has a lot of experience entering 2023 and Hausmann should fit right in.

#3: Maema Njongmeta, Wisconsin

Based on recent draft picks having a Wisconsin Badger in the top five is kind of an anomaly, however, Wisconsin is historically a Big Ten powerhouse with old-school Big Ten abilities. Often the leader of the Big Ten West, this team is trying to get back into the mix with the conference leaders. Having a strong defense as the Big Ten moves to a different schedule model will help with that.

Maema Njongmeta earned his #3 spot on the best-returning Big Ten linebackers list. The 2022 season was his first with meaningful snaps. He played in all 13 games for the Badgers and tallied 12.5 tackles for loss, three-and-a-half sacks, and one interception. Njongmeta led the Wisconsin defense with 95 total tackles last season. He finished the 2022 season strong with seven tackles and a tackle for loss in the Bowl win over Oklahoma State. The redshirt senior will look to continue his dominant 2022 performance this season.

#2: Abdul Carter, Penn State

Abdul Carter wears the number 11 for the Nittany Lions, which is saved for Penn State greats at the linebacker position. LaVar Arrington, NaVorro Bowman, and Parsons all wore the iconic Penn State number. Carter is only entering his sophomore season with the Nittany Lions but as a freshman, he tallied 56 total tackles. In addition to 10.5 sacks, six-and-a-half sacks, and two forced fumbles. Among all FBS freshmen, he finished third in tackles for loss and tied for third in sacks. He led the Penn State defense and finished fourth in the Big Ten in sacks despite only starting six games in 2022. Along with a healthy Curtis Jacobs, who is another honorable mention, the Penn State linebacker group is poised for another strong season in 2023.

#1: Tommy Eichenberg, Ohio State

Ohio State has been known for its offensive production in recent years, however, Tommy Eichenberg is the best returning Big Ten linebacker for 2023. The redshirt senior brings a wealth of experience to the group, edging out the young Carter for the top spot. In 2022 he was named first-team All-Big Ten and was a Butkus Award semi-finalist. Eichenberg played in 13 games for the Buckeyes last season. Further, this was his second season playing in all 13 games. He has been very reliable for Ohio State and has managed to stay healthy. Something that is key moving into 2023.

Eichenberg was nearly unstoppable in 2022. He amassed an impressive 120 total tackles and 12 for loss. In addition, the Ohio State graduate also tallied two-and-a-half sacks, one pick-six, and three passes defended in 2022. This production is why he is at the top of our best-returning Big Ten linebackers list for 2023.

 

Next up in our best returning player series is the best returning Big Ten linebackers for 2023. A young gun and a veteran top our list.

Photo courtesy: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

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