No. 96: James Morris, No. 44, LB, Iowa
2011 Stats: 110 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one INT
Morris was Iowa's leading tackler last season with 110 (fifth in the Big Ten in tackles per game), and his instincts at middle linebacker are some of the best in the conference. He's fast for the position, which gives Iowa's defense some versatility as he moved to outside linebacker to finish last year. He's back at MLB this season.
Morris is "only" 6'2" and 230 pounds, and often in his first two seasons he played small, too; his tackle numbers are high enough and his tackling ability is sure enough, but he can get swallowed up in the run game pretty easily, and he's not strong enough to prevent yards after contact on a consistent basis. Also, he's basically a non-factor in pass coverage, and that's a stark contrast to the better linebackers Iowa has had recently.
110 tackles should be a baseline prediction for Morris, who should be even better prepared for the rigors of the physical Big Ten offensive fronts. Where Morris should really show improvement, though, is in his pass defense; if he can work better in space, Iowa can stop third-and-long more reliably and turn an extra game or two in its favor.
Count on that happening.