Top 2015 All-America candidates: Linebackers

Ben Liebenberg/NFL
Jaylon Smith was selected as Notre Dame's defensive player of the year last season.

Preseason All-American teams are similar to preseason top-25 rankings in that neither guarantees success. However, these are not pointless, as the lists can help college football fans get ready for the upcoming season by letting them know the best players and teams to look forward to this fall.

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And after a few months without football, I think fans are ready to ingest any available information to get ready for the upcoming season.

So, here are my early favorites to capture top FBS All-American honors at the end of the 2015 season, as well as others likely to be in the hunt for the top spots if they can step up their games this fall. I'll be taking a look at each position, continuing today with linebackers.

Early favorites

Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame: Smith has already won the Butkus Award as the nation's top high school linebacker -- now he's looking to win the Butkus Award that goes to the top collegiate linebacker. While he doesn't have exceptional size (6-foot-2, 235 pounds), Smith is an excellent tackler. Few can match his quickness to the ball and he has great natural instincts. He stepped into the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2013 and was a finalist for the Butkus Award in 2014 as he led the Irish with 112 stops and nine tackles for loss.

15 for '15:
CFB 24/7 counts down the best of what college football has to offer in varying categories for 2015.

Eric Striker, Oklahoma: The appropriately named Florida native was included on some All-America lists last season because he consistently attacked the backfield (17.5 tackles for loss, 9 sacks) as an edge rusher and run defender. Striker isn't the biggest linebacker in the country (6-0, 223) but he uses his nose for the ball to beat blockers to the ball and packs a wallop when he arrives.

Scooby Wright III, Arizona: It is simple: Wright (6-1, 246) is a great football player. Though not a tall, long prospect like others listed here, his nose for the ball and explosion on contact are both fundamentally sound and fun to watch. Wright, the consensus All-America selection and winner of the Nagurski, Lombardi and Bednarik Awards in 2014, finished near the top of the FBS rankings in tackles (163), tackles for loss (29), sacks (14), and forced fumbles (six). He can punch off blocks inside to get to running backs, spin off blocks on his way to the quarterback as an outside rusher, or explode through gaps on stretch plays to track down ball carriers trying to get outside. In short, he does it all.

Others in the hunt

Leonard Floyd, Georgia: Floyd was the Bulldogs' Defensive MVP and an honorable mention All-SEC pick in 2014. He's looking for even bigger things this season. He's accumulated 18 sacks over the past two seasons by using his flexible, long frame (6-4, 231) to win the edge as well as chase down plays from behind. Adding more strength for his junior season should make him even more dangerous.

Myles Jack, UCLA: As a productive Pac-12 linebacker who also regularly lines up at running back, Jack (6-1, 232) is following in the footsteps of 2015 first-round pick Shaq Thompson. Jack earned second-team all-conference honors on defense in 2014 (88 tackles, eight for loss, seven pass deflections) while also contributing 113 yards and three rushing touchdowns. Amazingly, he won Pac-12 awards for Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year in his first season in Westwood (75 tackles, seven rushing touchdowns). Jack is actually more athletic than Thompson, as Jack can move well in slot coverage as well as attack the line of scrimmage.

Darron Lee/Joshua Perry, Ohio State: One of the All-America spots could prove to be a toss-up between teammates Perry and Lee. Perry (6-4, 254) led the Buckeyes with 124 tackles, 8.5 for losses, in his second year as a starter while Lee (6-2, 235) proved more explosive in his return from an injury-shortened redshirt freshman season, recording 16.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 2014. With Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington up front, both Lee and Perry are free to flow to the ball -- and have the talent to take advantage of opportunities.

Reggie Ragland, Alabama: Ragland (6-2, 252) waited his turn to lead the 'Bama defense, making an impact on special teams coverage units while Adrian Hubbard, Nico Johnson, and C.J. Mosley led the charge in 2012 and 2013. SEC media felt his strong play between the tackles (95 tackles, 10.5 for loss) didn't allow for much of a drop-off for the Tide; they voted him first-team All-SEC last season.

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