As we continue out “Most Underrated Series” we move forward to which UCLA Football linebacker plays the most vital role without much fanfare as the Bruins look to finally win the PAC-12.
2015 was a rough year for the UCLA Football team on defense. They had to overcome the loss of stud defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes as well as their top corner Fabian Moreau. However the greatest loss their defense faced was also their best player on the team in Myles Jack.
Moreau and Vanderdoes return to the team this year but the defense has to move forward without the now Jacksonville Jaguar, Jack.
The good news there is that Jack’s injury forced the linebacking corps to grow up quickly and guys who were hard pressed for playing time suddenly found themselves in the spotlight. One player who despite taking on a larger role still isn’t receiving as much attention as he should is Isaako Savaiinaea.
Coming into last year Savaiinaea was kind of on the bubble among the linebackers. He was seen as a downhill thumper but a liability in coverage and given the passing nature of the college football, that was a problem. It did seem like his playing time was going to be limited over the 2015 season.
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Fast forward to Jack’s injury and Savaiinaea stepped up in a major way but even before that he was proving that he could adjust his play and compensate for lack of elite speed by being fundamentally sound.
Against BYU he was a terror with 14 total tackles and 1.5 sacks. He followed that up with 15 tackles against Arizona St. He likely would have had over 80 tackles last season had he not been injured in what appeared to be a questionable play towards the end of the Cal game. Just to put that in perspective, he had eight tackles in 2014.
Looking forward to the 2016 season plenty of focus has been given to the talented incoming freshman and last year’s breakout star, Jayon Brown. Savaiinaea was outshone by Brown but that’s just part of what makes him our most underrated linebacker. The media is concerned with how UCLA will replace Jack or how quickly the freshmen get up to speed but their worries should be settled given the rock solid Hawaiian they have just lurking in the shadows.
Next week we will take a look at an underrated defensive back as we continue our list of underrated players at each position. Was Savaiinaea your choice as well or was there another linebacker you thought should get the honor? If so let us know below or on Twitter.