2024 Big Ten LB Rankings: Iowa’s Jay Higgins Highlights the Second Level

    Linebackers are tasked with filling gaps, dropping into coverage, and blitzing up the middle -- the top of the 2024 Big Ten LB Rankings can do it all.

    Linebackers can be hard to analyze due to the roles they are asked to play in their schemes, but elite talents make plays no matter where they are on the field. The 2024 Big Ten LB Rankings cast a light on the second-level defenders gearing up to stunt offenses this season.

    Big Ten 2024 LB Rankings

    10) Kobe King, Penn State Nittany Lions

    Twin brother of Green Bay Packers seventh-round pick CB Kalen King, Kobe is also an impressive athlete. King does most of his damage against the run, as you’d expect from an LB listed at 6’1″ and 250 pounds.

    With Abdul Carter moving to the edge full-time, there will be more pressure on King to contribute as a blitzer and cover man, and he has the functional athleticism to do both.

    9) Jeffrey Bassa, Oregon Ducks

    Entering his senior season, Jeffrey Bassa has started at least seven games every year of his collegiate career at Oregon, which is impressive in its own right. But what has been most compelling to watch is his growth since his freshman campaign.

    Bassa will allow receptions into his coverage, but pass catchers won’t get much more after that. Plus, he has shored up his technique as a tackler and is a weapon blitzing off the edge and up the middle.

    8) Jailin Walker, Indiana Hoosiers

    At 6’1″ and roughly 220 pounds, Jailin Walker is a tad light, but he has the change of direction and short-area burst to negate his lack of size. He freely flows between gaps and can lay the boom over the middle and when crashing downhill. The jump from James Madison to Indiana will likely cause some growing pains, but Walker should hit the ground running.

    7) Cody Simon, Ohio State Badgers

    Cody Simon has been a mainstay at the second level for the Buckeyes the last three seasons and is slated to be a full-time starter this year. He is relatively inexperienced in coverage, but Ohio State can rely on his tackling and vision against the run to slow an offense’s march to the end zone.

    6) Mohamed Toure, Rutgers Scarlet Knights

    After starting at EDGE in 2022, Mohamed Toure moved to LB in 2023 and shined. He used his pass-rushing experience to deadly effect as a blitzer and cut down on his missed tackles significantly.

    MORE: 2024 Big Ten Weekly Football Schedule

    Linebacker is a very instinctual and film-based position, but Toure had no issue standing out his first year at the second level. Expect even more disruptive plays from him in 2024.

    5) Xander Mueller, Northwestern Wildcats

    To get an idea of how impactful Xander Mueller can be, watch his games against Iowa, Purdue, and Illinois last season. He improved as a tackler from 2022 but still misses a bit more than you’d like.

    Nonetheless, Mueller he is a hard-nosed defender who sets the tone for the unit. Adding to his allure, he snatched three INTs last season by keeping his eye on the QB and floating to empty spots in zone.

    4) Sonny Styles, Ohio State Buckeyes

    The Buckeyes are moving Sonny Styles and his 6’4″, 230-pound frame to linebacker after he started at safety last season. The move should prove beneficial, as Styles’ physicality and ability to sniff out runs is best utilized closer to the line of scrimmage.

    Styles’ athleticism should only help him neutralize larger threats in coverage, though we’ll need to see it first before ranking him any higher.

    3) Nick Jackson, Iowa Hawkeyes

    One of the most experienced LBs in the nation, Nick Jackson has started the last four seasons, with the first three at Virginia. He rarely whiffs on tackles and has the athleticism to operate out of the slot. An iron man who is reliable in all facets, Jackson is only overshadowed by his teammate and a new Wolverine.

    2) Jaishawn Barham, Michigan Wolverines

    As a true freshman, Jaishawn Barham racked up 58 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, and four sacks for Maryland. Now at Michigan, the 6’3″ and 248-pound linebacker looks more like an edge rusher with the explosiveness and strength to make an impact at the point of contact.

    KEEP READING: 2024 Big Ten WR Rankings

    He is still expanding on his prowess in coverage, but he should do just that with the Wolverines.

    1) Jay Higgins, Iowa Hawkeyes

    Jay Higgins is exactly what you want from the linebacker position. He is a solid athlete, a sure tackler, disciplined, and has a nose for the ball. He compiled a country-leading 171 tackles as a full-time starter last season while blitzing effectively and having a good feel in zone coverage.

    2024 Big Ten LB Rankings | 11-20

    11) Tyreem Powell, Rutgers
    12) Jestin Jacobs, Oregon
    13) Aiden Fisher,
    Indiana
    14) Kydran Jenkins, Purdue
    15) Jordan Turner and Wayne Matthews III, Michigan State
    16) Carson Bruener and Alphonzo Tuputala, Washington
    17) Dominic DeLuca, Penn State
    18) Oluwafemi Oladejo and Kain Medrano, UCLA
    19) Ernest Hausmann, Michigan
    20) Eric Gentry and Easton Mascarenas-Arnold, USC

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