Ranking the NFL's Top Seven Linebackers
The storied history of NFL linebackers includes gridiron gladiators such as Lawrence Taylor, Dick Butkus, Ray Lewis, and Mike Singletary.
With middle linebackers often described as the "quarterback of the defense" and the increased usage of the 3-4 style, a strong linebacking corps is vital to the success of the defensive unit as a whole.
Let's take a look at the best in the business.
7. LaMarr Woodley
Since being drafted out of Michigan with the 46th overall pick in 2007, Woodley has improved each season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He became the first player in NFL history to have three consecutive multi-sack playoff games on his way to a Super Bowl.
Woodley finished 2009 with 13.5 sacks and was named to his first Pro Bowl.
6. Brian Urlacher
While some may argue that the 11-year veteran is past his prime, I'd be willing to bet that this dude will be back with a vengeance after suffering a season-ending injury in the Bears' first game last season.
The six-time Pro Bowler and Defensive Player of the Year in '05 is still a beast and will combine with the stellar Lance Briggs, who just missed making this list, to form one of the strongest linebacking corps in the league yet again.
5. James Harrison
Harrison provides inspiration for all the college football players who fail to get selected in the NFL Draft.
Signing with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent, Harrison has gone on to win two Super Bowls and has been selected to the Pro Bowl three times, taking home Defensive Player of the Year honors in '08.
He combines with Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, and company to form the best linebacking corps in the NFL.
4. Terrell Suggs
During the offseason, Suggs became the highest paid linebacker in NFL history when the Ravens gave him $63 million ($38 million guaranteed) to keep him in Baltimore.
He has not missed a single game during his six-year career, in which he has amassed 53 sacks and forced 19 fumbles.
At only 26, his best years could very well still be ahead—a scary thought for opposing offenses.
3. Jon Beason
Beason is a tackling machine with remarkable sideline-to-sideline speed.
While he may not boast the high sack numbers of others ranked below him in this list, Beason had a Panthers-record 169 tackles in '09 after recording 138 in '08.
Beason will only continue to improve and should be a perennial Pro Bowler for years to come.
2. DeMarcus Ware
Perhaps the most dynamic defensive player in football, Ware is a straight-up terror for opposing offenses. He tied an NFL record by recording a sack in 10 straight games on his way to a 20-sack season in '08.
In addition to his outstanding sack totals throughout his career, DeMarcus has been destructive against the run and pass, forcing 23 fumbles with 18 passes defended.
In phenomenal physical condition at 27, there's no reason Ware shouldn't continue his dominance for the next few seasons.
1. Patrick Willis
This cat is simply a tackling machine. 240 pounds of pure muscle, Willis flies around the field making plays by the Bay.
As his teammates with both the Niners and at Ole Miss will attest to, he makes everyone around him better. He's posted over 140 tackles in each of his three seasons in the league, including a ridiculous 174 in his rookie year.
A Pro Bowler every year he's been in the NFL, I can't envision a season in his career where he will fail to be among the elite linebackers in the game (barring injury).
Point blank, Willis is the best in the business.