The Dope 10: NFL LinebackersAugust 9, 2012
by: Julian Kimble.
Linebackers are arguably the most feared and dangerous defenders. They aren’t right up in a QB’s face from the snap like a defensive lineman, but they can be, because some linebackers are lightning quick, kind of like bulked-up safeties. There’s something very frightening about a dude who can hit stick you, cover an area, pick a pass off and chase somebody down. We recognize and respect that, so we put together this list of the 10 best linebackers in the NFL right now. Head below to find out who made the cut.
10. London Fletcher
Despite their struggles, the Redskins are pretty vicious at LB, and they’re led by this old guy. Fletcher has been thuggin’ since his days as a Ram, and still hasn’t lost a step at 37.
9. Brian Cushing
With the scandals and BS behind him, Cushing will look forward to bustin’ both AFC and NFC heads this season. He’s coming off an excellent season and a Pro Bowl snub, so look for the USC boy to be extra eager to lay people out in 2012.
8. Tamba Hali
It’s clear this dude is versatile: he was moved from defensive end to outside linebacker to accommodate a new scheme and he didn’t miss a beat. Expect him to do more damage during Romeo Crennel’s first full season as head coach.
7b. Von Miller
He’s only entering his second season, so we don’t want to get too high on the kid just yet, but he was problem as a rookie. You can guarantee that Elway is glad he wasn’t around when he was playing, and Peyton Manning is glad he’s a teammate now. Very bright future ahead for this guy.
7a. Derrick Johnson
The Chiefs have Hali, but this guy is no slouch either. What Hali does on the outside, Johnson does on the inside. It’s crazy that Johnson was almost labeled a bust, because now he’s leading a defense that’s a quiet force to be reckoned with. Like his teammate, he’ll benefit from a full year under Crennel.
6. Brian Urlacher
Another guy that’s getting up there in age, but is still every bit as menacing as he was in his youth. Don’t let the Old Spice commercials fool you. As long as Brian Urlacher is healthy and plays this season, he has a spot reserved for him on this list that nobody is about to dispute. Plus, if all else fails, he has Jenny McCarthy.
5. Clay Matthews
Come on now, it’s in his blood. Matthews is another USC boy who came into the league and made a name for himself, despite already having a reputable football name. While some of his numbers were down a little last year, he had a career high in interceptions, and the sting of losing in the playoffs when everyone (well, almost everyone) expected the Packers to win the Super Bowl again should be motivation to help the Packers D avoid giving up a record in passing yards allowed for a second straight season.
4. Ray Lewis
Crazy Ray is the ageless wonder. At 37, it’s remarkable that Lewis has managed to maintain such a high level of performance, and stay in such great shape. He’s a legend, and as long as he stays healthy, you can expect more on-the-field insanity from Lewis. With his partner in crime Terrell Suggs out, he’s gonna have to stay healthy.
3. DeMarcus Ware
I have zero love for the Cowboys (NFC East beef), but Ware is a monster, there’s just no denying it. You want to hate him because he’s a Cowboy, and it’s so easy, but you can’t because he’s just so good at what he does. He was only a half a sack away from being the first player in league history to have more than one 20 sack season, and the scary fact is that he could do it again.
2. James Harrison
There’s just no way that James Harrison and Roger Goodell like each other. They just can’t. There are reasons for why James Harrison enjoys being one of the most hated men in the NFL, aside from the fact that it’s clearly fun to him. Consider the fact that he almost didn’t make it in the NFL because at 6 feet (yeah right), he was considered too short to play linebacker in the league. A decade later, he’s a hitman, and one of the best in the league. You hate him, and he absolutely loves it.
1. Patrick Willis
It’s really simple: he’s an animal. Willis has been an All-Pro selection every season he’s been in the NFL, and he’s the only player to win the Butkus player twice—once in college and once as a pro. Strong and freakishly fast, he’s the motor behind the 49ers defense. He has an uncanny ability to seemingly be everywhere on the field, and could very well be on his way to becoming the next Ray Lewis. The Harbaughs love guys like Lewis and Willis, so it’s fitting that John has Ray and Jim has Patrick.