The linebacker position is one of the most important to an NFL defense. These players roam the heart of the field. They are tasked with one of the most difficult jobs in the game.
The sheer amount that linebackers are tasked with doing makes the position so difficult. They have to work in all three facets of defensive play: pass protection, pass-rushing, and run-stopping. Keep in mind, they also have to do this while likely being forced into a mismatch against either a speedy slot receiver or hulking offensive guard.
I’ll get to some outside linebackers when I take a look at EDGE rushers; this is all about the quarterbacks of the defense.
Top 10 Linebackers
10 | Myles Jack | Jacksonville Jaguars
Myles Jack is the last remaining player with the Jacksonville Jaguars from their dominant 2017 defense that led the team to the AFC Championship game. The 25-year-old has had a decline since his strong sophomore season. However, he is still one of the premier linebackers in the NFL.
Jack is a fierce competitor who has made his name in the run game. He routinely ends up in the upper third of his position in both tackles and assists. While he rarely gets to the quarterback, Jack isn’t a liability in coverage. He’s plucked at least one interception in each of the last four seasons.
9 | Deion Jones | Atlanta Falcons
Deion Jones and Jack have similar athletic builds, but fulfill different roles for their respective teams. Jones has shown the Atlanta Falcons that he is reliable in coverage and a weapon in the pass rush.
In 2020, Jones put together a strong addition to his resume. He forced three turnovers, had multiple pass breakups, racked up a handful of sacks, and hit the quarterback a half-dozen times.
8 | Darius Leonard | Indianapolis Colts
Darius Leonard is the heart and soul of the Indianapolis Colts defense. His overall ability in all three facets of the game makes him a fit in just about any defensive scheme. That said, the Colts use the best part of his game to perfection.
Leonard is solid in run prevention and coverage. But he is exceptional in the pass rush. He may not put up gaudy sack numbers, but he creates a ton of pressure from the interior, helping the Colts’ edge rushers break down the pocket more effectively.
7 | Blake Martinez | New York Giants
A new addition to Big Blue, Blake Martinez endeared himself to New York Giants’ fans in his first season. He is a hard-nosed, gritty middle linebacker that simply collects tackles like they’re stamps or trading cards.
Martinez earned his stripes with the Green Bay Packers and has been consistent throughout his career. He is solid in coverage and makes up for his lackluster pass rushing with stellar run defense. 2020 was his second straight, and third total, season with more than 100 tackles.
6 | K.J. Wright | Seattle Seahawks
K.J. Wright is a surviving member of the Legion of Boom and still is an impact player for the Seattle Seahawks. He is one of the more well-rounded linebackers in the league. He lines up in each of the main roles for a linebacker often and performs at each.
Wright won’t light up any stats boards, but he doesn’t have to. He plays a very steady, game in each role. He is excellent in coverage, gets to the ball carrier in run prevention, and can create chaos in the backfield. He had a pair of sacks, five pass breakups, and two turnovers this past season.
5 | Demario Davis | New Orleans Saints
Davis didn’t create any turnovers in 2020, but he was more than solid in everything he did. He had five sacks, nine quarterback hits, and a pair of pass breakups. His highest grade comes in pass rush, ranking fourth among inside linebackers.
4 | Eric Kendricks | Minnesota Vikings
Eric Kendricks was one of the more difficult players to place on this list. He doesn’t score well in run defense and even worse in pass rush, but he is one of, if not the best, cover linebacker in the league. With Kendricks on the field, the Minnesota Vikings essentially have an extra safety patrolling the defensive backfield.
In 2020, Kendricks had just another great season. He led all linebackers in interceptions and had four breakups. While he may be an average run defender, the value Kendricks brings in the passing game is almost unmatched.
3 | Lavonte David | Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Without Lavonte David, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may not have won the Super Bowl. David was instrumental in defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ scheme. David’s strength in run defense and coverage allowed Bowles to throw the house at opposing offenses with little reservation.
David was brilliant in coverage and man last season. He created four turnovers while leading the team in tackles. With David returning to the Bucs, the core of their defense will be strong yet again.
2 | Fred Warner | San Francisco 49ers
Fred Warner isn’t just one of the best young linebackers in the NFL; he’s one of the best in general. The 24-year-old is in his third year in the league with the San Francisco 49ers. He has quickly established himself as one of the best coverage linebackers in the game right now.
Warner is no slouch in run defense and pass rush. Just last year, he set a career-high eight quarterback hits. However, he makes his money in coverage. In 2020, Warner broke up four passes and had two interceptions. He’s also exceptional in making open-field hits, as he has never had fewer than 90 tackles in a season thus far.
1 | Bobby Wagner | Seattle Seahawks
Man, Bobby Wagner is just a great linebacker. He plays in all roles, and is, at the very least, solid at every one of them. The veteran Seahawk is entering his ninth year in the league and has shown no signs of diminishing.
Oddly enough, Wagner had one of his better years in 2020. He broke up seven passes and had seven total quarterback hits. Wagner may not have had any forced turnovers, but he had four sacks and totaled 121 tackles and 26 assists; just another dominant year in an incredible career.