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A look at the top-ranked linebackers in history

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Ernie Sims (left)
Ernie Sims (left) (AP Images)

The off-season is a time for reflection, and at we thought it would be interesting to take a look at our highest-ranked players in history by position. Today, we look at the linebackers, led by the only one to ever take the No. 1 recruit prize.


Ernie Sims - No. 1, 2003

Recruiting: Sims picked Florida State, but there were a lot of rumors that Georgia could sneak in and land his commitment. As Sims tells it, Auburn was the other major player in his recruitment.

Overview: Sims’ best season in Tallahassee was his sophomore year, when he finished with 86 tackles along with 4.5 sacks. He left Florida State early and he was the ninth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Sims finished his NFL career with more than 600 tackles. He hasn’t been in the league since 2014.

Farrell’s take: Sims was a special prospect back in the day, a kid who could have easily played running back as much as linebacker. He wasn’t the tallest or longest linebacker, but he was quick twitch and hit like a truck. His career at FSU was solid, but not great, but he was still a first-rounder and had a nice NFL career.

Curtis Grant, No. 2, 2011

Curtis Grant
Curtis Grant (AP Images)

Recruiting: Grant committed to Ohio State and then-coach Jim Tressel on National Signing Day over Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and others.

Overview: The former five-star linebacker had two impressive seasons at Ohio State, but went undrafted in 2015. Grant bounced around to five NFL teams before signing with the New York Giants in 2017, but he was carted off the field in Week 2 with a knee injury.

Farrell’s take: I’m scratching my head on this one, because Grant was an absolute beast in high school. He had size, length and the ability to cover a ton of space. I saw him have at least 20 tackles in one high school game I scouted and his instincts were impressive. Then he went off to Ohio State and busted out. It’s one I just can’t figure out.

Jaylon Smith - No. 3, 2013 

Recruiting: In the summer before his senior season, Smith committed to Notre Dame over Ohio State.

Overview: In three seasons at Notre Dame, Smith finished with 284 tackles but in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State he tore his knee ligaments. Considered a top first-round draft pick, the Dallas Cowboys took him in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He missed his entire rookie season, but had an impressive showing in 2017.

Farrell’s take: Smith was like a daddy long legs. He was so long and gangly with a great frame to fill out when I first saw him. This allowed him to cover so much space and be very effective in pass coverage. I remember him at our first Five-Star Challenge as the only guy who could cover freak tight end O.J. Howard and knew he was special then. His career was a great one and his horrible injury in the Fiesta Bowl was tough to watch, but it’s good to see him recovering.

Keith Rivers - No. 5, 2004 

Keith Rivers
Keith Rivers (AP Images)

Recruiting: From Lake Mary, Fla., Rivers committed to USC in early January of his senior season and said he had always been leaning toward the Trojans. Florida and others were also in contention.

Overview: In four seasons at USC, Rivers had 215 tackles. The ninth overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, Rivers was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals. He finished his pro career with 291 tackles, mainly with the Bengals, before going to the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills. He retired with the Dallas Cowboys in July 2015.

Farrell’s Take: Rivers was a beast and hit like a truck. He covered a ton of ground, was very explosive taking on blocks and could get skinny when needed. He was one of the more athletic linebackers I’ve ever seen, and his commitment to USC was a big blow to the in-state programs. His career at USC and in the NFL showed how good he was.

Rey Maualuga - No. 5, 2005 

Rey Maualuga
Rey Maualuga (AP Images)

Recruiting: Maualuga committed to USC over Oregon in mid-January of his senior season. Nebraska was also in his top three, but the Huskers were dropped prior to his commitment to the Trojans.

Overview: Maualuga tallied 273 tackles and nine sacks in four seasons with the Trojans and then he was a second-round draft pick by the Cincinnati Bengals. In his NFL career that spanned from 2009 to 2017, Mauluga had 607 tackles, but he was released by the Dolphins in November of last season after being arrested for battery.

Farrell’s take: One of the biggest linebackers to make the list, he was an absolute monster, but moved like a smaller prospect. He took on blockers as well as anyone and was a big hitter. It’s no surprise that he had a very good career at USC and a long NFL tenure.

Sergio Kindle - No. 5, 2006 

Recruiting: In April of his junior season, Kindle selected Texas over LSU, Texas A&M and Oklahoma. The Tigers were in second place, but leading up to his decision, Kindle made it clear the Longhorns would be tough to beat.

Overview: Kindle finished with 151 tackles and 16.5 sacks in four years at Texas, but there were also some injuries and an off-the-field incident during his time in Austin. He was a second-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens, but shortly after being drafted he was injured during a fall at a home in Austin. He was out of the NFL in two years.

Farrell’s take: Kindle was a lean, athletic and fast linebacker who could get after the passer as an excellent blitzer. Many felt he was one of the best players to come out of Texas in a few years (since Vince Young) and he was expected to have an amazing career. Injuries hurt his progress, but he still showed off his talent quite a bit.

Ben Davis - No. 5, 2016 

Recruiting: Davis committed to Alabama over rival Auburn, which hosted Davis on the final weekend before his decision. Georgia, LSU and Notre Dame were other contenders.

Overview: A redshirt sophomore with the Crimson Tide, Davis should be competing for more playing time this season.

Farrell’s take: So far, this one is tough to figure, as Davis was a huge and active linebacker out of high school who could run plays down or handle them at the point of contact. The fact that he hasn’t cracked the starting lineup speaks to the depth of Alabama, but also perhaps to overrating him out of prep. Time will tell if he can live up to this billing.

Micah Parsons - No. 6, 2018 

Micah Parsons
Micah Parsons (Nick Lucero/

Recruiting: Parsons was an early Penn State pledge, but he decided to back off that commitment and consider other programs. Ohio State was considered a serious contender, but the Buckeyes backed off after self-reporting violations after Parsons met Kirk Herbstreit and Eddie George on the "College Gameday" set during his visit. Oklahoma, Georgia, Nebraska and Alabama were also involved.

Overview: The five-star could also play defensive end, but is expected to play linebacker to start for the Nittany Lions in his freshman season. The coaching staff experimented with him at middle linebacker and he can also move outside.

Farrell’s Take: Parsons is one of the most athletic linebackers I’ve seen and one of the best getting after the passer. Playing as a defensive end for much of his high school career, he’s great with his hand in the dirt, but he also showed how well he can move from sideline to sideline. He can play any linebacker position and should be a freak in college.

Willie Williams - No. 6, 2004 

Willie Williams
Willie Williams (AP Images)

Recruiting: After taking official visits to Miami, Auburn, Florida and Florida State, Williams decided to stay local and committed to the Hurricanes. He transferred to a junior college in California and then to Louisville, Glenville State and finally Union College, an NAIA school in Kentucky. Things went further downhill for Williams after that, as he was convicted of second-degree burglary charges in 2010, which resulted in a 15-year prison sentence.

Overview: According to a report in Bleacher Report, Williams’ expected release date is in January 2023.

Farrell’s take: Williams was a great talent out of high school, and he became famous because of his recruitment and the way it was followed by the national media. From hot tubs to fire extinguishers, Williams was always up to something off the field, and it’s still surprising he didn’t have a great career.

Rahshaun Smith - No. 6, 2016 

Recruiting: Early in his recruitment Smith committed to Clemson, but months later backed off that pledge. The Tigers stayed seriously involved with the five-star linebacker, along with LSU, Auburn, Oregon and others. He re-committed to Clemson in January, shortly before signing day.

Overview: After redshirting in his true freshman year, Smith finished with 14 tackles and an interception and played mainly on special teams in his redshirt freshman season.

Farrell’s take: Smith, like Davis, hasn’t found his niche in college just yet but he will. He was big, athletic and very aggressive coming out of high school and could play inside or outside linebacker. He’ll make a big impact soon enough.