Best of the decade: MLBs

This is the 12th in a series of articles ranking Tennessee's best players of the decade 2000-2009. Today's focus: Middle linebackers.

1. JEROD MAYO: Incredibly versatile, this 6-2, 235-pounder could've lined up at any of the three linebacker spots and still been the best player on the field each Saturday. After some injury problems early in his career, he started at weakside linebacker in 2006, then flourished at middle linebacker in 2007. Mayo recorded 83 tackles as a sophomore, with a three-sack game vs. California. He posted a mind-boggling 140 stops as a junior, earning All-SEC honors. His career numbers show 236 tackles, 6.5 sacks and an interception. Bypassing his senior year, he was selected by New England with the 10th pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and is widely viewed as a budding star.

2. KEVIN SIMON: A broken ankle cost him all but four games of the 2002 season and a torn ACL cost him all but one game of the 2004 season. When healthy, however, Simon was a hoss. The 5-10, 225-pounder registered 115 tackles as the starting strongside linebacker in 2003, with a three-sack game vs. Marshall. He concluded his career with 88 tackles as the starting middle linebacker in 2005. Three knee surgeries kept Simon from fulfilling his promise but he was still a very talented and productive player. His career stats are virtually identical to Mayo's - 237 tackles, 5.5 sacks and an interception.

3. MARVIN MITCHELL: Like Mayo and Simon, Mitchell struggled with injuries - recording just 8 tackles as a freshman, 20 as a sophomore and 22 as a junior. Even so, the 6-3, 240-pounder was voted a team captain in 2006 as a senior and responded with a great season - 104 stops, 10.5 tackles for loss, a sack, 11 hurries and an interception. Although health problems limited him to 156 career tackles, he intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown. Selected in Round 7 of the 2007 NFL Draft, he recently completed his third season as a backup with the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

4. DOMINIQUE STEVENSON: A converted running back, he overcame a lack of instinct and technique on defense with sheer athleticism. Starting at middle linebacker in 1999, 2000 and 2001, he recorded 65 stops as a sophomore, 71 as a junior and 74 as a senior. The 6-0, 225-pounder's 231 career tackles included 6.5 sacks. He also intercepted two passes.

5. ROBERT PEACE: A starter in 2002 and 2003, he recorded 103 tackles as a senior. The 6-2, 240-pounder finished his career with 162 tackles and 3 sacks. Despite a solid career at UT, Peace is probably best known for marrying one of former head coach Phillip Fulmer's daughters.

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