Top 5 Gators linebackers of past decade

Florida defensive end Jabari Zuniga (92) and linebacker David Reese II (33). [Cyndi Chambers/Gainesville Sun Correspondent]

By / Gator Wire

The linebacker position is the anchor of the defense, so it’s no wonder that Florida, which was defined by strong defense throughout the 2010s, was loaded with talent at the position during the last decade.

Regarded as the defensive counterpart to the quarterback, linebackers must be versatile, with the awareness to read offensive looks and the ability to stuff the run while also covering tight ends and slot receivers alike.

It’s hard to narrow the best of those players down to five, but here’s our most valiant attempt to do so. First, though, an honorable mention.

Honorable Mention – Michael Taylor Jr. (2010-14)

Taylor Jr. primarily played for former coach Will Muschamp after signing with Urban Meyer in the 2010 recruiting class. He redshirted his first year and saw action in every game over the next two years, though he only made two starts in that time frame.

But by his final two seasons, Taylor was a key element of Florida’s defense, becoming a starter and defensive team captain. He was one of the team’s biggest leaders throughout the Muschamp era, winning the defensive Most Spirited Award twice. He concluded his UF career with 194 total tackles (14.5 for loss), two sacks and two interceptions.

No. 5 – Jelani Jenkins (2009-12)

Jenkins played under both Meyer and Muschamp, and after redshirting his first year in 2009 (playing in two games and registering two tackles), he became a starter at middle linebacker as a redshirt freshman, a position he would hold for the final three seasons of his college career.

He was very productive from 2010-11, totaling 76 and 75 tackles in each of those two seasons, respectively. His final season in 2012 was off to a promising start, but a thumb injury caused him to only appear in nine games and limited his production to 29 tackles. After totaling 182 tackles and three interceptions as a Gator, he entered the draft after his redshirt junior year, and he played in the NFL from 2013-17.

If it weren’t for injuries, Jenkins could be higher on this list. Still, his time in Gainesville was noteworthy and deserving of recognition here.

No. 4 – Alex Anzalone (2013-16)

Another player who was limited in college by injuries, Anzalone’s placement here may be a bit of a head-scratcher if you just looked at his collegiate numbers. He appeared in just 33 games in four years, totaling 75 tackles and three sacks.

Those stats are rather pedestrian, but when he was on the field, Anzalone was visibly dominant. He became a starter during the 2015 season and was off to a solid start before suffering a shoulder injury in the second game that ended his season. His final year in 2016 was dominant, though. He had 53 tackles and three sacks in eight games, anchoring a defense that, when healthy, was one of the best in the country. Injury trouble struck again late in the season though, and Anzalone missed the final four games of the season.

His production may have left much to be desired, but his talent and dominance when in the game was apparent. Since leaving Florida, Anzalone has continued to struggle with injuries but has been a solid starter for the Saints when healthy.

No. 3 – Jarrad Davis (2013-16)

Davis may not have been a top recruit, but he became one of the more memorable Florida players in recent history. He saw significant action in his underclassmen years in 2013 and 2014 before becoming a starter and one of the better linebackers in the SEC as an upperclassman.

His best season came in 2015, where he played in 14 games and started 12 for a suffocating Gators defense. He totaled 98 tackles and 3.5 sacks that year and followed it up with another solid year in 2016, though he was limited to just nine games with injuries.

Davis finished his UF career with 201 tackles and 5.5 sacks, and that was good enough to get him drafted in the first round by the Detroit Lions. After making the All-Rookie team in 2017 and following it up with a relatively successful 2018 season, he was injured after 11 games last year. His future with the team is in jeopardy, as it declined to pick up his fifth-year option.

No. 2 – Jon Bostic (2009-12)

Bostic’s time in Gainesville overlapped with Jenkins, but unlike Jenkins, Bostic became a key player on Florida’s defense immediately, totaling 18 tackles as a freshman in 2009. He started in six games the following season and became a full-time starter by 2011.

He led the team with 94 tackles that season, totaling 10 tackles for loss and three sacks, as well. His senior year in 2012, he was actually less productive, managing just 68 tackles, 6.5 TFL and three sacks again, though he did notch two interceptions. But after the season, he received his first all-conference recognition, being named to the All-SEC Second Team.

One of the most productive linebackers of the decade, Bostic totaled 237 tackles and 7.5 sacks in 51 games (32 starts). He was selected in the second round of the draft by Chicago and has since been a journeyman in the NFL, playing for five other teams. He currently plays for the Washington Redskins.

No. 1 – David Reese II (2016-19)

This may surprise some of you, as the most recent UF linebacker graduate joins the rankings at the top. But Reese II was extremely productive in his four years at Florida.

He appeared in every game as a true freshman in 2016 and even became a starter after the injury to Davis. He finished the year with 49 tackles.

Despite coming off offseason surgery in 2017, it became the most productive year of Reese II’s UF career as he totaled 104 tackles, 1.5 sacks and an interception. After missing the first three games of his junior season in 2018, he started every game the rest of his career, anchoring a very solid Gators defense in coach Dan Mullen’s first two years.

When it was all said and done, Reese II concluded his time at Florida with 324 tackles, 19.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks. Leading players on this list in tackles in just 46 games and 38 starts is the primary reason he gets the edge over Bostic.

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