2024 MAC LB Rankings: Miami Duo Matt Salopek and Ty Wise Lead the Second Level

    Linebackers have a three-pronged job, having to blitz, defend the run, and cover. The 2024 MAC LB Rankings highlight the best of the best.

    Outside of the elite and those who rack up 100s of tackles, linebackers rarely receive the flowers they deserve. That changes with the 2024 MAC LB Rankings, as there are several players worth knowing entering the season.

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    MAC 2024 LB Rankings

    10) Joseph Sipp Jr., Bowling Green Falcons

    Joseph Sipp Jr. had his moments of looking like a true sophomore in his first season as a starter, but he ultimately held his own alongside Darren Anders. He’s still growing into his 6’0″ and 220-pound frame, but he flashed patience, active feet, and the ability to slip blocks at the last second.

    Quicker processing will come with experience, and Sipp could take a leap next season.

    9) Marc Pretto, Northern Illinois Huskies

    Fresh off a 75-tackle (7.5 for loss) true sophomore season at Fordham, Marc Pretto transferred to Northern Illinois to help fill the holes left by the departures of Tyler Jackson and DaRon Gilbert. At 6’2″ and 220 pounds, Pretto is built like a safety and moves like one.

    But don’t let the wrong impression enter your mind; Pretto uses his speed to his advantage against the run, knifing through gaps and meeting RBs in the hole.

    8) Dakota Cochran, Central Michigan Chippewas

    A similarly sized player as Pretto, with only one collegiate season separating them, Dakota Cochran is primed for a bigger role in 2024. Justin Whiteside and Kyle Moretti are gone, forcing the 6’2″ and 225-pound defender into the LB1 role.

    Some tackling inconsistencies have held Cochran back as a run defender, but he makes up for it in coverage, as he was near flawless outside of allowing a 35-yard touchdown in Week 4 against South Alabama last season.

    7) Antavious Fish, Akron Zips

    Standing 5’11” and 235 pounds, Antavious Fish is an absolute unit from the second level. His athletic limitations hold him back in coverage, but he crashes down with force and is a sure tackler.

    MORE: Could More Teams Join UMass in the MAC?

    After posting 95 tackles in 2024, Fish could feasibly surpass the century mark in Year 3 with the program after transferring from Coffeyville Community College prior to the 2022 season.

    6) Daniel Bolden, Toledo Rockets

    Toledo only had two linebackers that saw serious snaps last season: Daniel Bolden and Dallas Gant. Coming over from Ohio State, Gant made the All-MAC first-team in his one and only year with the Rockets, leaving Bolden as the leader of the unit entering 2024.

    As a sixth-year senior, Bolden is a veteran coming off a 94-tackle campaign. He missed the 2022 season due to injury, so being another offseason removed from rehab should only raise expectations.

    5) Keionté Newson, Ball State Cardinals

    Ball State likes to get creative with their linebackers, and Keionté Newson is no exception. In his first year as a starter, he put up 81 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, two pass deflections, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

    Newson’s 6’2″ and 210-pound frame is light in the box, but the extra athleticism offers room for error and the ability to carry routes vertically that other LBs aren’t able to.

    4) Bryan McCoy, Akron Zips

    Fish is the enforcer for the Zips, while Bryan McCoy flies around the field. He registered 94 tackles as a true sophomore last season, making his presence felt in all phases. Yet, McCoy is particularly strong against the ground game — turn on the tape vs. Miami (OH) to see a run-defending demon.

    3) Red Murdock, Buffalo Bulls

    Although Red Murdock is no Joe Andreessen or even a Shaun Dolac, he’s a damn fine linebacker. He forced four fumbles last season and flashed as a pass rusher — a role Buffalo would be wise to use him in more often. He’s only a redshirt sophomore, meaning there’s a lot of room to grow from an already impressive foundation.

    2) Ty Wise, Miami RedHawks

    In other positional rankings, I’ve erred on the side of combining some players in an effort to sneak in other noteworthy athletes. That simply can’t be the case with the top two names on the 2024 MAC LB Rankings, as were it not for Matt Salopek’s existence, Ty Wise would be the LB1 in the conference.

    Wise bided his time during his first two collegiate seasons at Indiana, then missed the second half of 2022 due to injury. But in his first fully healthy starting campaign, he exploded for 122 tackles, nine TFLs, eight sacks, one INT, six pass deflections, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.

    His 6’2″ and 240-pound vessel of destruction is difficult for offenses to game plan against, especially due to his second-level teammate…

    1) Matt Salopek, Miami RedHawks

    Matt Salopek may not have the same God-given physical traits as Wise, but he makes up for it in his intangibles and football IQ. He is the first Miami defender to generate 100+ tackles in three straight years since 2002-2004 and could become the first to reach four straight.

    KEEP READING: 2024 MAC QB Rankings

    If the tackle numbers didn’t make it clear, Salopek is a three-time All-MAC member and earned MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2023. While Wise will spend some time on the defensive line, Salopek will provide his coverage prowess in the slot. There is little Wise can’t do and even less that Salopek can’t remedy.

    2024 MAC LB Rankings | 11-20

    11) Jadin Dolphin, Northern Illinois
    12) Shammond Cooper, Akron 
    13) Corban Hondru, Miami
    14) Dion Crawford, Buffalo 
    15) J.T. Killen, Eastern Michigan
    16) Mason Woods, Kent State
    17) Christian Fuhrman, Northern Illinois
    18) K’Von Sherman, Toledo
    19) Zion Fonua, Eastern Michigan
    20) Armahn Hale, Kent State

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