College News & Analysis

2022 College Football Preseason Rankings: Top 25 off-ball linebackers

Corvallis, Oregon, USA; Oregon State Beavers running back B.J. Baylor (4) is tackled by Washington Huskies linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio (48) during the first half at Reser Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to ramp up the preview for the 2022 college football season as Week 0 is just weeks away.

The 2022 PFF College Football Preview Guide has just dropped and in conjunction with that is an expansion of PFF’s preseason positional rankings that will be rollled out over the next couple of weeks.

Below are PFF’s picks for the top-25 off-ball linebackers entering the 2022 college football season along with some superlatives at the end, including the biggest projections and sleepers.

(Note: This has nothing to do with pro potential.)

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Rank Player, School
1 Edefuan Ulofoshio, Washington Huskies
2 Noah Sewell, Oregon Ducks
3 Trenton Simpson, Clemson Tigers
4 Carlton Martial, Troy Trojans
5 Ivan Pace Jr., Cincinnati Bearcats
6 Troy Brown, Ole Miss Rebels
7 Bumper Pool, Arkansas Razorbacks
8 Drake Thomas, NC State Wolfpack
9 Darius Muasau, UCLA Bruins
10 Jack Campbell, Iowa Hawkeyes
11 Mikel Jones, Syracuse Orange
12 Jestin Jacobs, Iowa Hawkeyes
13 Curtis Jacobs, Penn State Nittany Lions
14 Donavan Mutin, Houston Cougars
15 KD Davis, North Texas Mean Green
16 Charlie Thomas, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
17 Seth Benson, Iowa Hawkeyes
18 Eric Gentry, USC Trojans
19 Micah Baskerville, LSU Tigers
20 Josh Chandler-Semedo, Colorado Buffaloes
21 Stefon Thompson, Syracuse Orange
22 Nick Jackson, Virginia Cavaliers
23 Ventrell Miller, Florida Gators
24 Deshawn Pace, Cincinnati Bearcats
25 Mike Jones Jr., LSU Tigers

The Top Dog

1. EDEFUAN ULOFOSHIO, WASHINGTON HUSKIES

Even though he has played less than 300 snaps in each of the last three seasons, Ulofoshio has more than proven to be one of the best at the position. He began as a walk-on in 2018 before eventually earning playing time down the stretch in 2019, and he shined (210 snaps in the last five games). From there, he was limited to only four games in 2020 due to the pandemic and played six games in 2021 due to injury. He owns a 90.3 career PFF grade across 743 snaps with an 82.0-plus grade as a run defender, pass-rusher and coverage defender. Ulofoshio has attempted 148 tackles over that duration and missed only seven. Unfortunately for Ulofoshio and Washington, the off-ball linebacker will miss at least a few games of the 2022 season due to another injury that was suffered during conditioning, but head coach Kalen DeBoer is hopeful he can return for a portion of the year.


Biggest Projections

6. TROY BROWN, OLE MISS REBELS

Brown displayed top-notch coverage ability at off-ball linebacker for Central Michigan and now will try to do the same for Ole Miss. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound linebacker has made eye-widening plays on the ball over his career, as his 33 passing stops, 14 combined forced incompletions and interceptions, and 94.1 coverage grade since 2019 all rank top three among FBS off-ball linebackers. This addition for Ole Miss was one of the most under-the-radar pulls from the transfer portal during this cycle.

9. DARIUS MUASAU, UCLA BRUINS

Muasau is fresh off a breakout season at Hawaii, where he finished among the most productive off-ball linebackers at the Group of Five level. Muasau ranked 15th nationally in defensive stops this past year (51) and led the group in forced fumbles (five). His blitzing ability, in particular, is exceptional — Muasau racked up 37 pressures from 131 rushes en route to a 91.5 pass-rush grade. Watching him attack downhill is a sight to see. His new team, UCLA, owned the highest blitz rate in the Pac-12 by over eight percentage points (48%) last season, but there is a new defensive coordinator in town.

13. CURTIS JACOBS, PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS

Jacobs will anchor the Nittany Lions’ linebacking corps after it lost a couple of key starters. He held up well in his first year starting in 2021 considering his job and experience level with a 65.9 PFF grade. As he moves from more of an overhang to inside role in 2022, the former top-40 recruit is a candidate to take a step forward to top-tier status.


Biggest Sleepers

4. CARLTON MARTIAL, TROY TROJANS

Martial was a Trojans walk-on all the way back in 2017. He started his first game not too long after in 2018 and has since been one of the best at the position nationally. Martial has posted 90.9, 91.3, 82.4 and 81.8 PFF grades over the last four seasons — all ranked 12th or higher at the position in that respective season. He’s racked up 211 defensive stops over that entire span — more than anyone in the FBS. Martial may not look imposing at 5-foot-9, 216-pounds, but that small stature clearly hasn’t held him back.

15. KD DAVIS, NORTH TEXAS MEAN GREEN

Davis flirted with a couple of SEC programs during his short stint in the portal this offseason before opting to stay at North Texas. This is major for the Mean Green because the off-ball linebacker was one of the most productive at the position in 2021. Davis’ 68 defensive stops last year tied for the most among FBS off-ball linebackers. He’s also a highly-effective blitzer as his 88.6 pass-rush grade — which tied for 10th at the position in 2021 — can attest.

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