B.J. Goodson, Clemson (6-0, 250): In his first season as a full-time starter, Goodson was the Tigers’ leading tackler with 108. He finished second with 59 solo stops, third with 14 tackles for losses, third with 5.5 sacks. He added two interceptions, three pass breakups and one forced fumble. Goodson started six times as a junior and contributed 34 tackles and three fumble recoveries. Like former Clemson and Steelers standout Levon Kirkland, Goodson is from Lamar, S.C., a community with less than 1,000 residents. It has one traffic light, one grocery store and one bank — and more than a handful of NFL players. “I might have been 3 years old, but Levon Kirkland was the first football player I had ever heard of by name. To have him represent our town was big,” said Goodson, who has sought advice from Kirkland and wore his No. 44. Despite leading the ACC’s top defense in tackles, Goodson was a second-team all-ACC pick by the media and a third-team choice by the coaches. “That hurt me a little bit,” Goodson said, “but players don’t get to vote.” He took out his anger on Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl by piling up 19 tackles.
Myles Jack, UCLA (6-1, 245): Underclassman. As a junior, Jack played in three games before he tore the anterior meniscus in a knee at practice. With that, he dropped out of school to focus on his rehab and the NFL. “He’s way above track in his rehab,” said Brett Fischer, who’s overseeing Jack’s training and serves as the Arizona Cardinals’ physical therapist. “When I gave his stats to the doctor, he couldn’t believe it. The leg that Myles had surgery on is bigger than the one that didn’t, which is unheard of.” Jack had an amazing true freshman season in 2013. As if his 75 tackles, two interceptions and team-high 11 passes defensed weren’t enough, he carried the ball 38 times for 267 yards and seven touchdowns. Jack was an honorable-mention All-American, a Freshman All-American, a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award (most versatile player) and the Pac-12’s Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year. As a sophomore, he was second-team all-Pac-12 for the second consecutive season with 88 tackles, including eight for losses, plus seven passes defensed. He added 113 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, including a spinning 28-yard score vs. Washington. When he was 10, Jack’s mom struck up a conversion with his football-mad son: “Myles was the kid who would round up all the kids in the neighborhood to play football. They’d be in the backyard every day. We had a discussion one day when I was in the kitchen washing dishes. I asked him, ‘Hey Myles, what if I said you couldn’t play football anymore because it’s dangerous? Maybe stick to basketball? How do you feel about football?’” Jack’s answer? “I’m going to play it for the rest of my life.” In 2015, coach Jim Mora from Jack from the outside to middle linebacker so opponents couldn’t run away from him. “My freshman year, I was just out there having fun," Jack said. "Now I'm on this poster and that poster, everybody knows my face. Everyone is watching.”
Jordan Jenkins, Georgia (6-3, 257): Jenkins recorded 59 tackles, with four sacks and 10.5 for losses, plus 12 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles as a senior. As a junior, he was Georgia’s Most Improved Player with 70 tackles, five sacks and 9.5 tackles for losses. In 45 career starts, Jenkins registered 205 tackles, 19 sacks, 40 TFLs and six forced fumbles. He was called “The Freak” at Harris County (Ga.) High School. Before he was “The Freak,” there was a freak accident when he was 12 that left him with four-and-a-half fingers on his right hand. “It was like the day after Christmas, the first year [I lived] in Georgia, 2006, and I was stomping down on the garbage. The garbage can slipped out from under me, I fell and hit a rail, and it just cut me. It took it clear off right at the knuckle.” Alabama recruited Jenkins but Jenkins didn’t recognize coach Nick Saban.
Deion Jones, LSU (6-1, 219): Jones started only as a senior, but what a season it was. Jones led the Tigers with 100 tackles and 13.5 tackles for losses as he was named a finalist for the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation’s top linebacker. Of his 100 tackles, 57 were unassisted and five were for sacks. He added three pass breakups, two interceptions and one forced fumble. In his previous three seasons, he had a combined 65 tackles and no sacks. "I've never been down about not starting, but it definitely makes you a little hungrier because you want to play a big role on defense. Now I feel like it's a blessing to finally be in the spot. It's a humbling experience to understand that it takes the mental aspect of the game, too, if you want to play a bigger role. It's not just about being fast and being physical. You've got to listen to coaching and learn what the coaches are teaching.” He was the lightest linebacker at the Senior Bowl but packed a punch. “Debo” Jones — aka “Taz” Jones — is the son of a former cab driver and a Subway restaurant manager. “Deion” is for his father’s favorite football player, Deion Sanders. “Debo” is for his dad’s favorite players, Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson. Their child’s path to the NFL is “surreal,” his mom said.
Darron Lee, Ohio State (6-1, 235): Underclassman. Lee played only two seasons, piling up 146 tackles, 11 sacks and three interceptions during that span. In 2014, he helped the Buckeyes win the national title with 81 tackles (54 solos), 7.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for losses, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. In 2015, Lee recorded 66 tackles (36 solos), 4.5 sacks, 11 TFLs, one interception and two forced fumbles. As a 4-year-old, Lee’s first foray into athletics came on the soccer field. It didn’t exactly go to plan, though. Lee’s mom Candice, a news anchor at NBC4 in Columbus, said she learned that he was competitive, but she also learned that she needed to find a new sport to serve as an outlet for his energy. “I’ve seen that (competitiveness) in Darron since he played soccer at age 4. He didn’t like losing, he didn’t like the idea of not scoring and he was almost impossible to deal with when they lost,” she said. “We knew soccer was not Darron’s sport because he wanted to touch the ball. That fall was so miserable because he would leave the field in tears, I was in tears and I finally said, ‘OK, this is not your sport.’” At New Albany (Ohio) High School, he was a quarterback and all-state cornerback. “What I’ve enjoyed most about this experience is being able to hit people as opposed to getting hit all the time,” Lee said in 2014. “It’s been a really great experience. I’ve got my brothers with me to make it a smoother transition. As Coach Meyer says, I don’t know what I don’t know yet, but we’ll get there and be able to make plays.”
Cory Littleton, Washington (6-3, 226). Littleton was an honorable mention on the all-Pac-12 team as a senior with career-high totals of 65 tackles (39 solos), 11 tackles for losses and six sacks. He had 37 tackles as a junior, playing mostly as a reserve, and 62 tackles, five sacks and 10 TFLs as a starter as a sophomore.
Steve Longa, Rutgers (6-1, 228): Underclassman. Longa was a three-year starter who broke 100 tackles in each of those seasons. In 2015, Longa tallied 117 tackles (career-high 74 solos) with two sacks, five tackles for losses and two forced fumbles to earn third-team all-Big Ten. Longa contributed 102 tackles as a sophomore and career highs of 123 tackles, three tackles, 7.5 TFLs and four passes defensed as a Freshman All-American. His three-year total was 342 tackles, 17 TFLs and five forced fumbles. Longa was born in Cameroon. His father, Etienne, was a professional soccer player for 13 years. Later, in 2002, he moved to the United States for political reasons. He left his family behind. "We didn't know how he was doing," Steve said. "We just heard him on the phone once a week. Sometimes not. We kept going and just did what we had to do and work through every obstacle.” In March 2007, Etienne brought his family with him to the U.S. Longa, who grew up playing soccer, began playing football as a high school freshman. “I was terrible. If I had to rank myself 0-10, I was probably a zero.” That changed, obviously. The tackling machine was the “heart and soul” of the Rutgers defense. And now, he’s headed to the NFL. “Everyday, I wake up and thank God for all these blessings,” Longa said. “I wake up everyday and I play football and I’m healthy. I love what I do, I love this place and I love my teammates.”
Curt Maggitt, Tennessee (6-3, 256): Maggitt missed all of the 2013 season (torn ACL) and most of the 2015 season (chipped hip bone) due to injuries. In between, he was second-team all-SEC in 2014 with 48 tackles, including 11 sacks and 15 tackles for losses. He finished the season on a torrid pace, with eight sacks in the last six games. It’s no wonder he finished better than he started. Maggitt went 659 days between games. Entering this season, Maggitt said he felt like the “old man” of the program. He started at linebacker as a true freshman in 2011. In November 2012, he suffered a torn ACL, which kept him out of the following season. Entering the 2015 season, he had minor shoulder surgery. This season was obviously frustrating for the team leader. "I try to be (defensive line coach Steve Stripling's) little intern to the best of my ability. Since I’m off the crutches, I’m very active." Maggitt’s brother, Roosevelt, was a defensive end at Iowa State and spent this year as a graduate-assistant coach at Houston.
Tyler Matakevich, Temple (6-0, 233): Matakevich is the most decorated player in Temple history. His 493 career tackles are a school record. As a senior, the consensus All-American piled up 126 tackles and career highs of four sacks, 15 tackles for losses and 10 passes defensed. He won the Chuck Bednarik Award and Bronko Nagurksi Trophy, which honor the nation’s top defensive player, was named American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and was a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award, which honors excellence on and off the field). Matakevich had at least 101 tackles in all four seasons — just the seventh player in FBS history with 100-plus tackles in all four seasons. In 2013, he had a whopping 99 solo stops en route to a career-high 137 tackles. In 2015, he had more sacks and passes defensed (2.5 and eight, respectively) than he had in his previous three seasons combined. How is he always around the ball? “It's not something I think about all the time. As much as people always say it, I'm not thinking about it. It's just something that happens.” All of that production came from a player who had all of one scholarship offer from a FBS-level school because he missed his senior season at St. Joseph High School in Trumbull, Conn., because of a broken foot. “He went from being in the top three players in the state to having the phone stop ringing,” said his father, Dave Matakevich. “Just about everybody stopped calling and for a child that age, that is hard to comprehend.”
ALSO IN THIS SERIES
Outside linebackers, Part 1
Outside linebackers, Part 2
Outside linebackers, Part 3 (FREE)
Inside linebackers, Part 1
Inside linebackers, Part 2 (FREE)
Defensive ends, Part 1
Defensive ends, Part 2
Defensive tackles, Part 1 (FREE)
Defensive tackles, Part 2 (FREE)
Defensive tackles, Part 3 (FREE)
Offensive tackles, Part 1
Offensive tackles, Part 2
Offensive guards, Part 1 (FREE)
Offensive guards, Part 2 (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 1 (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 2 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 1 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 2
Wide receivers, Part 3
Wide receivers, Part 4 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 1 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 2
Running backs, Part 3
Quarterbacks, Part 1 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 2 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 3 (FREE)
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.