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Updated: The Three Best Linebackers the Bearcats Will Face in 2019

This year’s opponents have a ton of talent at linebacker which made it difficult to narrow the list down to three players.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 01 Villanova at Temple Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This has been a real challenge. Each one of these “Three Best” articles has plenty of players who have to settle for an honorable mention but trying to pick the three best linebackers has been an exercise in indecision because of the incredible surplus of talent and proven production among the linebackers on the rosters of this season’s opponents for the Cincinnati Bearcats. As a perfect example, first-team all-American Athletic Conference linebacker Shaun Bradley from Temple is just an honorable mention in this final draft (Or not. See update below). Sorry for the spoiler. Obviously this is far from a scientific process and we may be able to look at this post and laugh at how wrong I was by the end of the season, but for now, here are the three best linebackers the Bearcats will face in 2019.

Honorable Mention - Shaun Bradley (Temple), Cooper Edmiston (Tulsa), Keisean Lucier-South (UCLA), Krys Barnes (UCLA), Tuf Borland (Ohio State), Myles Reid (Miami-Ohio), Omari Cobb (Marshall), Aaron Ramseur (East Carolina), Bruce Bivens (East Carolina), Omar Fortt (UConn), Nico Sawtelle (USF)

Malik Harrison - Ohio State

Harrison had a breakout year for the Buckeyes in 2018. He tied with Jordan Fuller for the team-lead in tackles (81) but didn’t stop there, finishing with 8.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and three quarterback hits. Since he focused on getting into the backfield, you might think that Harrison would have a little more difficulty when covering potential pass-catchers, but you would be wrong. He tallied four pass breakups and an interception to go along with his impressive tackle for loss production. Harrison earned himself an All-Big Ten honorable mention for his trouble but he’ll likely receive a promotion to the first or second team this year. UC’s staff knows all about how good Ohio State linebackers can be and they’ll have to make sure the Bearcats are ready for such a challenge on Sept. 7.

Nate Evans - UCF

With just one more tackle last season, Evans would have reached the century mark. Just because he came up short in that regard does not mean he wasn’t one of the top linebackers in the AAC and the country as a whole. A first-team all-conference selection for the league champion Knights, Evans supplied plenty of tackling power, pressure (10 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks) and plays on the ball (four pass breakups, two fumble recoveries). He is the type of player that is constantly around the action and makes opponents pay for calling plays that end up in his vicinity. Surprisingly, Evans had a rather mediocre performance against the Bearcats last season, finishing with five tackles. However, they would be foolish to think that will happen again when UCF visits Nippert Stadium on Oct. 4.

Bryce Huff - Memphis

You may be wondering how Huff, who was a second-team all-league linebacker for the Tigers is on the list over Bradley. The answer comes down to Huff’s outrageously effective work in creating pressure last season. Huff ranked second in the conference in tackles for loss (19) and third in sacks (9.5). That type of production is difficult to ignore. His total tackle numbers may have been more pedestrian (49), but when you’re making plays in the backfield as often as he was, it’s difficult to fault Huff for having fewer tackles than everyone else. Huff also benefited from playing alongside fellow linebacker Curtis Akins last season, with Akins supplying 100 tackles. Now that Akins has graduated, Huff might take the lead a bit more as he will be tasked with leading Memphis’ defense and that includes the regular season finale against the Bearcats.

Update (7/30/2019): After earning a spot on the All-AAC second team at linebacker last season, Huff has been reclassified as a defensive end on Memphis’ roster for 2019. So we’ll have to call an audible and take him off the list and add ...

Shaun Bradley - Temple

Entering his senior season, Bradley was always going to be one of the best defenders the Bearcats would face in 2019. The 2018 all-AAC first team member is an exceptional tackler who finishes plays effectively. He had 78 total stops last season, including 51 solo efforts, which was in line with his production from 2017 (85 tackles, 51 solo tackles). Bradley has also displayed real talent in creating negative plays for opposing offenses, even if he only had four tackles for loss last season following a 2017 campaign when he had 10 such stops. Aside from his tackling work, which included a single sack last season, Bradley is able to make tons of plays in pass coverage as evidenced by his two interceptions and three passes defended from a year ago. Although he missed the cut in our initial ranking, nobody would have argued with his inclusion, and now he joins the list.