Mountain West Football: 2023 Post-Spring Practice Linebacker Rankings

Mountain West Football: 2023 Post-Spring Practice Linebacker Rankings

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Mountain West Football: 2023 Post-Spring Practice Linebacker Rankings

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5. Wyoming

High ranking: 1st | Low ranking: 11th

Projected depth: Easton Gibbs, Shae Suiaunoa, Connor Shay, Cole DeMarzo, Nic Talich, Read Sunn

There’s a case to be made that Gibbs and Suiaunoa were the busiest pair of linebackers in the country last year: Among the 26 Group of 5 linebackers who played at least 800 snaps in 2022, Wyoming’s duo was one of five within that cohort. It might sound strange to say considering they combined for 194 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks, but there may still be plenty of growth left for the pair of juniors.

If, that is, they remain in the starting lineup. Shay turned a lot of heads in the spring and could make a significant play for more time on the field as a result. Given defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel’s track record, the odds look good that they’ll figure out how best to deploy their productive athletes and remain as dangerous as ever.

4. Fresno State

High ranking: 1st | Low ranking: 12th

Projected depth: Levelle Bailey, Malachi Langley, Raymond Scott, Tanner Blount, Tyler Mello, Phoenix Jackson, Tuasivi Nomura

This unit got overshadowed a little by an excellent secondary and strong individual performances on the defensive line, but the whole was greater than the sum of its parts and the Bulldogs return every major player for 2023.

Bailey’s decision to return for a super senior season was a big one: He led Fresno State with 88 tackles a year ago and paced all Mountain West linebackers in passes defended after tying for the conference lead in 2021. Langley, his primary running mate, is a savvy defender in his own right who snagged two interceptions and set a career high in tackles while Blount, Jackson, and Scott (when healthy) provided useful depth. While the stats don’t jump off the page, these linebackers will be key to holding onto last season’s second-half gains.

3. Air Force

High ranking: 2nd | Low ranking: 9th

Projected depth: Bo Richter, Alec Mock, Johnathan Youngblood, Matthew Malloy, Jalen Mergerson, Cole Palmer, Osaro Aihie

No Vince Sanford or TD Blackmon? No problem. As usual, the Falcons look ready to restock the cupboard with a healthy dose of veteran production to lead the way. Mock missed two games to injury last season but led the team in tackles per game and, according to Pro Football Focus, is the highest-graded returner in this group (76.9) while Richter started both inside and outside and seemed primed to take on Sanford’s mantle as a pass rusher as he was credited with 11 hurries on only 334 snaps throughout 2022. If younger contributors like Palmer and Aihie are ready to take on larger roles, this defense could just as good as last year’s.

2. San Diego State

High ranking: 1st | Low ranking: 5th

Depth chart: Cooper McDonald (SLB), Zyrus Fiaseu (MLB), Cody Moon (WLB), Brady Anderson, Vai Kaho, Trey White

This ranking might come as a surprise after the Aztecs lost Caden McDonald, Seyydrick Lakalaka, and Michael Shawcroft to graduation, but the younger McDonald and Fiaseu split time at the SAM position in 2022 and Moon represents one of the most significant in-conference transfers anywhere in the Mountain West. Kaho and White both got to play a bit last season, as well, so the major question facing this group is who will be able to step up and contribute to the front six’s pass rush.

That was a job done primarily by Shawcroft and Caden McDonald over the last few seasons (20.5 sacks from 2020-22), but with the loss of big contributors on the defensive line, too, they’ll need every last bit they can get from this refreshed unit.

1. Boise State

High ranking: 1st | Low ranking: 5th

Projected depth: Demitri Washington (EDGE), DJ Schramm (LB), Andrew Simpson, Dishawn Misa, Ty Tanner, Gabe Hunter, Kivon Wright

It was big news in January when eight Broncos announced their intent to return as super seniors in 2023 and no unit benefitted more from that collective decision than this one. Washington has been just fine off the edge for a defense that ranked 35th in the country with a 7.6% sack rate, though the pressure may be on to increase his production with the departures of both George Tarlas and Ezekiel Noa.

In the middle, Schramm had a monster all-conference year in which he led the Broncos with 107 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss and, per Pro Football Focus led the Mountain West with 59 stops. Simpson and Hunter each had their moments in the sun, as well, and they’re joined now by the Boston College transfer Wright and Misa, who took a redshirt in 2022 but came to Boise as the top recruit in that year’s class. The more things change, the more they stay the same on the blue.



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