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The NFL's Top 50 Linebackers of the Modern Era

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The NFL's Top 50 Linebackers of the Modern Era
Karl Walter/Getty Images

With time to spare in the NFL offseason, I’ll take a look at the top 50 linebackers in the NFL in the modern era.

I’m only going to be looking at players drafted in 1970 or later. I personally think football before 1970 and after 1970 can be seen as two completely different games, in terms of its evolution. So while there were outstanding linebackers in previous years, like Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke, they will not be on this list.

I’ll take into account Pro Bowls, All-Pro’s (1st and 2nd team), stats, team success, player’s success, intimidation factor, and reputation, along with many other factors to make this list.

Also note that an asterisk (*) by the players name means they are still active today.

 

Honorable Mentions

These were the players who were great players, but not quite good enough to be placed inside the top 50.

James Farrior* (Jets/Steelers): Two-time Pro Bowler, one-time 1st Team All-Pro, one-time 2nd Team All-Pro

After being labeled a bust by many after his first four seasons with the Jets, Farrior broke out with the Steelers and became one of the most consistent players in the league.

Jason Gildon (Steelers/Jaguars): - Three-time Pro Bowler, one-time 1st Team All-Pro

Gildon was most known for his pass rushing ability, picking up 54 sacks in a 5 year span.

Lofa Tatupu* (Seahawks) : Three-time Pro Bowler, one-time 1st Team All-Pro

Lofa Tatupu didn’t take any time breaking into the NFL, making the Pro Bowl in his first three seasons. He recently missed most of last season with surgery. It will be interesting to see how he can recover.

Jeff Siemon (Vikings) : Four-time Pro Bowler

Siemon was always a good player, but never a great player. He was always good enough for Pro Bowls, but was never an All-Pro Player. Still, he was a very solid MLB for many years.

Bill Romanowski (49ers, Eagles, Broncos, Raiders) : Two-time Pro Bowler

Romanowski might be overrated because of his name, but there’s no doubt he was one of the most memorable and feared linebackers of the modern era. Most known for his antics like spitting in other player’s faces, Romanowski’s play sometimes gets overshadowed.

 

No. 50, Bryan Cox (Dolphins/Bears/Jets/Patriots/Saints)
(1991-2003)

*Three-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro.

Bryan Cox was an all-around package at linebacker. He was effective as a pass rushing OLB, tallying up 14 sacks in one season with the Dolphins, and as an inside run stopping linebacker with the Jets.

Cox was also a vocal leader of the teams he played for, directing his defenses to success.

He is most known for the neck plate he wore behind his head, but don’t let that distract you from his great play on the field.

No. 49, Vaughn Johnson (Saints/Eagles)
(1986-1994)
*Four-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro.

Johnson was most known for his days with the Saints. He was a very solid 3-4 ILB playing on one of the best LB Cores of all-time, the Dome Patrol.

Johnson wasn’t very flashy, but he was very solid all-around, which is why he sneaks onto the list.

Call it foreshadowing, but you will see some of his teammates higher up on this list.

No. 48, Terrell Suggs* (Ravens)
(2003-Present)
*Three-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Suggs is a pass rushing monster with the Ravens. He already has 57.5 sacks in his short career, along with 16 forced fumbles.

In 2008, Suggs even had two INT’s, both of which he returned for touchdowns.

Suggs will only continue to climb this list the longer he plays, since he’s in the middle of his prime right now.

 

No. 47, Fredd Young (Seahawks/Colts)
(1984-1990)
*Four-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro

Fredd Young went a little under the radar due to his short seven year career. But it was his style of play that made his career so short. Young was a fierce hitter, and would always stick his nose in the middle of the play.

For a four-year span with Seattle, Young was arguably the best Seahawks linebacker of all-time.

It’s too bad Fredd Young’s career had to end prematurely due to injuries. Regardless, he definitely deserves the respect for what he accomplished on the field.

No. 46, Jon Beason* (Panthers)
(2007-Present)
*One-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Beason may be the most controversial player on this list. But, there’s no doubt that he’s been one of the top linebackers in the NFL, and still is today.

Beason has only been in the league for three years now. But in those three years, he’s racked up 328 tackles and seven INTs, all while starting every game of his career.

It may be a bit early to put Jon Beason on this list, but I think his play warrants the selection. I think he’ll climb up this list further in the near future.

No. 45, Shawne Merriman* (Chargers)
(2005-Present)
*Three-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Shawne “Lights Out” Merriman was the face of NFL linebackers for a three year stretch. He was one of the most feared players in the game.

In 2007, he racked up a remarkable 17 sacks in only 12 games. Who knows how many he would’ve had if he played in the entire 16?

After a very bad injury in 2008, Shawne Merriman hasn’t been the same. He is still active, and is a starter, but he might be on his way out of San Diego.

Merriman still has the potential to be a great player again. He’s going into his first healthy season again in three years. We’ll have to see how he does, but he could either climb up or fall off this list based on his performance in 2010.

No. 44, Jessie Armstead (Giants/Redskins)
(1993-2003)
*Five-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Jessie Armstead was one of the most consistent linebackers on this list. He started all but one game in his last eight seasons, which is very impressive for a linebacker.

Armstead didn’t particularly stand out at anywhere, but he wasn’t a weak link anywhere either.

He made five straight Pro Bowls, but the reason he doesn’t rank higher on this list is because he was never a feared player like his teammate Michael Strahan was, and his stats just aren’t good enough.

No. 43, Keith Brooking* (Falcons/Cowboys)
(1998-Present)
*Five-time Pro Bowler
*Two-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Keith Brooking has been one of the most consistent linebackers of all-time. He just goes out every week and hustles.

Over his career, Brooking has racked up 962 tackles and 12 INT’s. He was a tackling machine for the majority of his career.

Brooking was the face of the Falcons defense for nearly a decade, and is a well-rounded player.

No. 42, Chip Banks (Browns/Chargers/Colts)
(1982-1992)
*Four-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st team All-Pro

Chip Banks was another linebacker that was solid at everything, but not great at anything. He was very solid in coverage, good against the run, and had no real weaknesses.

Banks was a player that any coach would want on their team. He was a hard worker, good tackler, and had great hands.

No. 41, Mo Lewis (Jets)
(1991-2003)
*Three-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro

Mo Lewis was another very consistent and solid player. Over the course of his career he racked up over 1,000 tackles, 52.5 sacks, and 14 INTs, all of which are very good numbers.

Lewis, playing alongside Bryan Cox, led a very good Jets team to the closest they’ve been to a Super Bowl since they won Super Bowl III. He took them to the AFC Championship game in 1998, where they fell victim to John Elway’s Super Bowl winning Broncos. They surrendered only 20 points in that game, and seven of them were off a blocked punt.

Lewis wasn’t as vocal as Cox, but his play was a little better, and lasted for a longer period of time.

Lewis’ most notable accomplishment may be starting the Tom Brady era by knocking out Drew Bledsoe on a roll out, giving Tom Brady his first ever NFL action.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNzd9Xd0who

No. 40, Bryce Paup (Packers/Bills/Jaguars/Vikings)
(1990-2000)
*Four-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro

Bryce Paup was an outstanding pass rusher in the 1990’s. His best season was his first year with the Bills where he had 17.5 sacks, 70 tackles, two INTs, and three forced fumbles.

Paup was a complete linebacker, who was especially great at rushing the passer.

No. 39, Peter Boulware (Ravens)
(1997-2005)
*Four-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Peter Boulware was the pass rusher alongside Ray Lewis. He was Terrell Suggs before Suggs got to Baltimore.

Boulware had at least seven sacks every year he played other than his last season in the NFL. His high sack number was 15 in 2001, a year that he didn’t even get voted into the Pro Bowl.

Boulware gets overlooked a lot playing because of playing with Ray Lewis, but he was a key component in that dominating Ravens defense of the early 2000’s.

No. 38, Chad Brown (Steelers/Seahawks/Patriots)
(1993-2007)
*Three-time Pro Bowler
*Two-time 1st Team All-Pro

Chad Brown played a very long NFL career, especially for a linebacker. In that career he played both 4-3 OLB and 3-4 ILB.

Brown was a very versatile linebacker. He was a good pass rusher, having at least 5.5 sacks in 10 straight years, but he was also good against the run and in coverage.

No. 37, Wilber Marshall (Bears/Redskins/Oilers/Cardinals/Jets)
(1984-1995)
*Three-time Pro Bowler
*Two-time 1st Team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Wilber Marshall was one of the greatest pass coverage linebackers of the modern era. He had five INT’s in a season twice in his career.

Marshall wasn’t just a pass coverage linebacker though, he also racked up 1,020 tackles during his 11 year NFL career, along with 24 forced fumbles.

Wilber Marshall had the whole package. His best days were with the Bears and Redskins, but he had an impact everywhere he went.

No. 36, Jeremiah Trotter (Eagles/Redskins/Bucs)
(1999-2007 & 2009)
*Four-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Jeremiah “The Axeman” Trotter has been a very recognizable name over the past decade. He led the Eagles in tackles in his time with the team.

Trotter was a complete, all-around linebacker. He could do it all. He was very athletic, a great tackler, and he could cover. Anything you asked him to do, he would do.

He was also a big hitter and very intimidating on the field of play. His swinging the axe celebration sums up his style of play and tenacity on the field.

No. 35, Lance Briggs* (Bears)
(2003-Present)
*Five-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Lance Briggs may be overshadowed by Brian Urlacher, but don’t forget how great of a player Briggs has been for the Bears.

Briggs has made five straight Pro Bowls for the Bears, and that streak still continues.

Briggs does a lot of pass coverage with the Bears, and has had 53 passes deflected already in his career. He’s also had at least 83 tackles in every year other than his rookie season.

Briggs should only continue to move up this list, as he takes over as the star linebacker spot in Chicago.

No. 34, Julian Peterson* (49ers/Seahawks/Lions)

(2000-Present)
*Five-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Julian Peterson has had a very well-rounded NFL career to this point, and it’s still going on.

Peterson is another versatile linebacker who has played both inside and outside linebacker. He has played the role of pass rusher and coverage linebacker in his career, and has excelled at both.

He should still improve this season with Ndamukong Suh in front of him to help free him up.

No. 33, Al Wilson (Broncos)
(1999-2006)
*Five-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Al Wilson was an outstanding MLB for the Broncos. He was a tackle machine and a very big hitter.

Wilson doesn’t have the career numbers because his career was so short, but there’s no doubt when he was playing he was the most feared player on the field.

No. 32, John Offerdahl (Dolphins)
(1986-1993)
*Five-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

John Offerdahl may have had the shortest NFL career on this list, but he made the most of it.

Offerdahl was a blue collar type of player who was an even better person off the field. He would give it his all on every single down of every single play.

Although he only played three full seasons, he made five Pro Bowls. He even made the Pro Bowl in a year that he only started eight games and also a year in which he only started nine games.

He was the type of player that you would want your kids to look up to. He left everything he had on the field of play, and even though he was a tenacious player on the field, he was one of the most genuine and nice guys off the field.

No. 31, Tom Jackson (Broncos)
(1973-1986)
*Three-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Most people know Tom Jackson as the commentator working with Chris Berman. But, if you didn’t know, Jackson was once an outstanding linebacker for the Denver Broncos’ “Orange Crush” defense.

Jackson was the vocal leader of that defense. He was also the fastest linebacker of the bunch and excelled in pass coverage.

In 1976, Jackson had seven INTs. That’s right, seven. The next year, he followed it up with four more interceptions.

Jackson was not just a coverage linebacker, he was also a good pass rusher and a very hard worker off the field. He always tried to better himself and did it effectively.

No. 30, Matt Blair (Vikings)
(1974-1985)
*Six-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro

Matt Blair was a very intimidating linebacker, and helped the Vikings get to two Super Bowls in his career.

Blair was outstanding in coverage, along with being a great tackler. He also played two different positions, playing ILB and OLB for the Vikings in his career.

No. 29, Joey Porter* (Steelers/Dolphins/Cardinals)
(1999-Present)
*Four-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro
*Three-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Joey Porter may be the most vocal linebacker on this list. He tried to get in your head before you even took a step on the field of play. He may be one of the most hated players, but man can he play football.

Porter is mostly known as a sack master. He’s had 92 sacks and 23 forced fumbles so far in his career. The 2008 season was his best sack season with 17.5.

Porter will try to continue his success in Arizona and continue to climb up this list.

No. 28a, Pat Swilling (Saints/Lions/Raiders)
(1986-1998)
*Five-time Pro Bowler
*Two-time 1st Team All-Pro
*Two-time 2nd Team All-Pro

The second member of the Dome Patrol comes off the board at No. 27.

Pat Swilling was an outstanding pass rusher in his career, totaling up 107 sacks in his career and 101.5 sacks in a 10 year period throwing out his rookie year and last season of his career. That’s over 10 sacks per season, which is outstanding.

Swilling was the best pass rusher of the Dome Patrol, but he also forced 36 fumbles to go along with all the sacks. That’s an amazing number as well.

No. 28b, Sam Mills (Saints/Panthers)
(1986-1997)
*Five-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro
*Two-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Mills, along with Swilling, was another member of that Dome Patrol defense.

Mills was more of the tackler of the bunch, racking up 1,142 tackles in his career. But Mills did much more than that. He was also a good pass rusher, and a good coverage man as well.

Mills was more of a complete player than Swilling, although the two are too close to separate one from the other.

No. 26, Cornelius Bennett (Bills/Falcons/Colts)
(1987-2000)
*Five-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro

Cornelius Bennett was just a great all-around player. He did everything.

He had over 1,000 tackles, over 70 sacks, and over 30 forced fumbles in his career. Those would be accomplishments by themselves, let alone all together.

No. 25, Karl Mecklenburg (Broncos)
(1983-1994)
*Six-time Pro Bowler
*Three-time 1st Team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Karl "The Albino Rhino" Mecklenburg was the definition of a blue collar player. He was selected late in the 12th Round, and nobody expected much out of him. But he proved them wrong and was a key piece on the Broncos Super Bowl winning team.

Mecklenburg finished his career with 79 sacks, which is great for an ILB, and also ranks 2nd all-time in Broncos history. He also had at least 99 tackles in seven years of his 12 year career, which is outstanding.

Mecklenburg was never a cocky player, but just a guy who would show up on Sundays. Even now, you can tell what kind of person he is by his charity work with the REACH Foundation that he started. Any coach would be lucky to have a player like Karl Mecklenburg on their roster.

No. 24, Leslie O’Neal (Chargers/Rams/Chiefs)
(1986-1999)
*Six-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Let me start out by saying that yes, I know that he was only a linebacker for half his career and DE the other half. That’s fine, he played enough linebacker to be considered this high.

Leslie O’Neal was a sack machine in his career. He had eight seasons with 10+ sacks. He finished his career with 132.5 sacks. That’s an outstanding number.

His sacks are the main reason he’s this high, but he was also a great all-around player. As also playing DE should tell you, he was very versatile and could play many different positions.

O’Neal should get more recognition as one of the best pass rushers to play the game.

No. 23, Isiah Robertson (Rams/Bills)
(1971-1982)
*Six-time Pro Bowler
*Two-time 1st Team All-Pro
*Three-time 2nd Team All-Pro

When you see a list of greatest linebackers, Isiah Robertson very rarely even gets brought into the discussion.

Robertson is one of the most underrated players in NFL history. I think that’s largely due to the NFL not keeping sacks and tackles numbers during his career.

Isiah Robertson, nicknamed “The Playmaker”, was known for coming up with the big plays in the biggest games. He played in 10 playoff games and had two INTs and three fumble recoveries in them.

Robertson was one of the NFL’s most athletic linebackers. He ran a 4.6 40 yard dash, which is outstanding for a linebacker, especially at that time period.

Use Isiah Robertson’s name in a talk of most underrated players of all time, and you’ll impress your fellow football fans.

No. 22, Chris Spielman (Lions/Bills)
(1988-1997)
*Four-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro
*Two-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Chris Spielman was a tackle machine during his 10 years in the NFL. He racked up a staggering 1,181 tackles, and 1,131 of them in his first nine seasons.

Spielman had seven straight 100 tackle seasons, and did it eight out of nine years. That’s amazing consistency.

No. 21, Patrick Willis* (49ers)
(2006-Present)
*Three-time Pro Bowler
*Two-time 1st team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

The best LB in the NFL today comes in at No. 21.

Patrick Willis has made the Pro Bowl and an All-Pro team every single year he’s been in the NFL. He’s been amazing.

He has already had three 100 tackle seasons in his first three years, and also has already forced 10 turnovers (four INT’s, six forced fumbles).

Patrick Willis is everything you look for in a linebacker. He has speed, size, toughness, instincts, vision, patience, and football smarts.

Willis could potentially end up in the top 10, or even top five of this list by the time his career is over.

No. 20, Keith Bulluck* (Titans)
(2000-Present)
*One-time Pro Bowler
*One-time 1st Team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Many of you will say that Keith Bulluck is way too high. Some of you will say he’s too low. But before you come to a conclusion, let's take a look at the facts.

Keith Bulluck WAS the Titans defense, and has been every year he’s been there. He was the only good player (other than Albert Haynesworth, but even he was only good for 2-3 years) on a generally bad defense and team.

Bulluck was one of the best pass coverage linebackers in NFL history. He could play zone and man. You could stick him on any TE in the league, even some slot receivers, and he would take them out of the game.

Coverage was definitely Bulluck’s claim to fame, but he was also good at other things. Bulluck was an outstanding tackler, and was great at run support too.

He came one tackle short from having five consecutive 100 tackle seasons in 2004, which is saying a lot, since he was the guy taking up blockers most of the time as well.

If Bulluck played on a better team, I believe his stats would be much better and his accomplishments would be a lot more.

No. 19, Harry Carson (Giants)
(1976-1988)
*Nine-time Pro Bowler
*Three-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Harry Carson was an outstanding linebacker who played alongside Lawrence Taylor. He led the team in tackles five of the 11 season he played for them.

Bill Parcells considered Carson the best all-around linebacker he ever coached, which is very high praise from someone who has coached a ton of linebackers in his day.

Carson did most of the dirty work in that linebacking core. He took up blockers and threw his body around a lot. He had an outstanding attitude and would do anything to get his team a win.

No. 18, Andre Tippett (Patriots)
(1982-1993)
*Five-time Pro Bowler
*Two-time 1st Team All-Pro
*Two-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Andre Tippett may have been outshined by Lawrence Taylor playing basically the same position at the same time frame, but there’s no mistaking what Tippett did on the field.

In 1984 and 1985, Tippett put up two of the best back to back seasons recording 18.5 and 16.5 sacks in them. He was a dominating force in the NFL during that stretch of time.

Tippett finished his career with 100 sacks. He had less than seven sacks in a season only once.

Tippett was a big reason to why so many teams value pass rushing OLBs in today’s game.

No. 17, Brian Urlacher* (Bears)
(2000-Present)
*Six-time Pro Bowler
*Four-time 1st Team All-Pro

Brian Urlacher is one of the greatest linebackers of this decade. He has done it all for the Bears with his pass coverage, run support, and blitzing.

In 2006, he had an amazing season and won defensive MVP, which is a very high honor that most players on this list never achieved.

Urlacher was the leader of those great Bears defenses of the 2000’s, including when they got to the Super Bowl only to lose to Peyton Manning and the Colts.

No. 16, Robert Brazile (Oilers)
(1975-1984)
*Seven-time Pro Bowler
*Two-time 1st Team All-Pro
*Four-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Robert "Dr. Doom" Brazile is another one of those underrated linebackers. He played for a bad team with not much of a surrounding cast, but still excelled.

Sacks and tackles weren’t recorded until late in his career, but he was a great pass rusher and all round linebacker.

He could do it all. He wasn’t great at one aspect but was equally as good at everything he did.

Brazile might not get the credit because of the team he played for, but he was an outstanding player.

No. 15, Zach Thomas (Dolphins/Cowboys)
(1996-2008)
*Seven-time Pro Bowler
*Five-time 1st Team All-Pro
*Two-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Zach Thomas is exactly what you want in a player and a linebacker. He may have been undersized, but he made up for it with his mind and his hustle.

Thomas did everything you asked out of a linebacker. He was always around the ball. He finished his career with 1,106 tackles and 627 assisted tackles as well.

He also finished his career with 17 INT’s.

Thomas was one of the most instinctive linebackers of all-time. It seemed like he knew where the ball was going at all times.

Zach Thomas would be the perfect linebacker, no matter what style of defense you play.

No. 14, Hardy Nickerson (Steelers/Bucs/Jaguars/Packers)
(1987-2002)
*Five-time Pro Bowler
*Two-time 1st team All-Pro
*Two-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Hardy Nickerson makes it this high on the list mainly because of one ridiculous season he had.

In 1993 as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers middle linebacker, Nickerson piled up an astounding 214 tackles. That is just unheard of.

Nickerson wasn’t just a one hit wonder though. Over his career, he totaled 1,271 tackles, 12 INT’s, and 19 forced fumbles.

Hardy Nickerson may not have the name recognition as many of the other linebackers on this list, but he deserves to be this high.

No. 13, Greg Lloyd (Steelers/Panthers)
(1988-1998)
*Five-time Pro Bowler
*Two-time 1st Team All-Pro

As part of the Steelers “Blitzburgh” defense in the 90’s, Greg Lloyd was a speedy, “undersized” pass rusher.Sometimes, he would use his size to his advantage to disguise where he was coming from.

Lloyd had 54.5 sacks and 11 INT’s in his career, but the most remarkable number was his 35 forced fumbles.

During the five year stretch from 1991-1995 where he made five consecutive Pro Bowls, Lloyd was one of, if not the, most dominating linebackers in the NFL.

Lloyd will always be remembered as the lightning quick pass rusher from the Blitzburgh days.

No. 12, Randy Gradishar (Broncos)
(1974-1984)
*Seven-time Pro Bowler
*Two-time 1st Team All-Pro
*Three-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Randy Gradishar played along with Tom Jackson in the Denver Broncos “Orange Crush” defense.

Gradishar was the silent assassin of the team. He wasn’t very vocal, but his play did all the talking for him.

Over his nine-year career, he had 2,049 tackles, although this number is solo and assisted because he played before solo tackles were an official stat. Still, it’s an amazing number.

He also had 20 INT’s, three of which he returned for touchdowns.

Randy Gradishar may be the single-most deserving player of a spot in Canton.

No. 11, Kevin Greene (Rams/Steelers/Panthers/49ers)

(1985-1999)
*Five-time Pro Bowler
*Two-time 1st Team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Kevin Greene was a mad man in a football uniform. He may have actually been crazy.

That’s the type of player you want on your team, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Greene was one of the best pass rushers of all-time, recording 160 sacks in his career. He had ten seasons with 10+ sacks. He was close to averaging a sack per game, which is an amazing number.

Greene and Greg Lloyd made one of the best pass rushing duos in NFL history with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Greene led the way in the pass rushing department.

Kevin Greene will always be known as one of the craziest and talented pass rushers in NFL history.

No. 10, Junior Seau (Chargers/Dolphins/Patriots)
(1990-2009)
*Twelve-time Pro Bowler
*Six-time All-Pro 1st Team
*Three-time All-Pro 2nd Team

Playing 20 seasons in the NFL is amazing at any position. Being a linebacker makes that feat that much more impressive.

Seau was the definition of consistency. He was never the most athletic player on the field, but he was always the hardest working. He would always be found around the ball, and around the play.

Junior Seau finished his career with 1,524 tackles, the highest total on this list.

Seau is one of the Chargers' all-time great players, and will go to Canton five years after he retires like he should.

No. 9, Derrick Brooks (Bucs)
(1995-2008)
*Eleven-time Pro Bowler
*Five-time 1st Team All-Pro
*Four-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Derrick Brooks may be the most accomplished linebacker on this list. Eleven Pro Bowls. Nine All-Pro’s. Defensive MVP in 2002. Super Bowl winner. There’s not much Brooks doesn’t have.

Brooks is most known for his coverage ability in the Bucs cover-two scheme. In his time in the NFL, he intercepted 25 passes and returned six of them for touchdowns with three of those in 2002 alone.

Brooks wasn’t just a pass coverage linebacker, but he also played the run well. He had 1,301 tackles and 25 forced fumbles in his career.

The only reason Brooks isn’t higher up on this list is because he had a fantastic surrounding cast which includes, most notably, Warren Sapp taking up blockers on the line.

Brooks was the leader of that defense, but his surrounding cast was just too good to rank him higher.

No. 8, Demarcus Ware* (Cowboys)
(2005-Present)
*Four-time Pro Bowler
*Three-time 1st team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Demarcus Ware has only played five seasons in the NFL, but already he’s one of the best of this era.

Ware has made four consecutive Pro Bowls and has had three consecutive All-Pro seasons. And he's still going.

You might be thinking “Top 10 already?” But look at his numbers.

In only five seasons, Ware’s already totaled up 64.5 sacks, including 20 in 2008. That’s nearly 13 sacks per season.

Ware is not just an outstanding pass rusher though. He’s also great against the run and is a turnover forcing monster.

Already in his career, Ware has forced 23 fumbles. He’s on pace to not only break, but shatter the NFL record of 41.

Although still early in his career, Demarcus Ware deserves to be this high on the list.

No. 7, Rickey Jackson (Saints/49ers)
(1981-1995)
*Six-time Pro Bowler
*Five-time 2nd Team All-Pro

The leader of the Dome Patrol comes in at No. 7. Rickey Jackson could do it all.

Jackson was most notable for being a pass rusher, but he really did it all.

Jackson tallied up 128 sacks in his career, but even that’s not his most impressive number. Jackson had 40 forced fumbles, just one short of the NFL record. He also had 1,173 tackles in his career.

Rickey Jackson was one of the fastest linebackers in the game, but he was also one of the hardest hitters. He was unstoppable in goal line situations especially.

Rickey Jackson doesn’t always get the credit he deserves, but he’s a top 10 linebacker of the modern era.

No. 6, Jack Ham (Steelers)
(1971-1982)
*Eight-time Pro Bowler
*Six-time 1st Team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Jack Ham might be the best coverage linebacker of all-time. His 32 career INTs lead the way for linebackers.

Ham is the only linebacker other than Tom Jackson to have seven INTs in a single season.

Ham had outstanding speed. He was said to have the fastest 10 yard burst of any player on the team, and that included receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, and runningback Franco Harris.

Jack Ham had the whole package as a linebacker.

No. 5, Jack Lambert (Steelers)

(1974-1984)
*Nine-time Pro Bowlers
*Seven-time 1st Team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Jack Lambert was the teammate of Jack Ham who took the inside linebacker duties. Lambert is said by many to be the best inside linebacker of all-time.

Lambert’s best season was in 1976, where he won the Defensive Player of the Year award.

Lambert and Ham also won four Super Bowls with the Steelers in the 1970s playing in the “Steel Curtain”.

Lambert wasn’t just great on the inside, he was an outstanding coverage linebacker. He totaled 28 INTs in his career while he also racked up 1,045 tackles.

That Steelers linebacking core could easily be the best of all-time, and it was led by Jack Lambert and Jack Ham.

No. 4, Derrick Thomas (Chiefs)

(1989-1999)
*Nine-time Pro Bowler
*Two-time 1st Team All-Pro
*Three-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Derrick Thomas was on pace to absolutely shatter NFL records before his tragic death in 2000. In only 11 seasons, Thomas had 126.5 sacks, and an NFL record 41 forced fumbles.

Thomas never had less than seven sacks in a season in his entire career, and only had less than eight sacks in one season.

Thomas is also third all-time in safeties and fumble returns for touchdowns. He knew how to make big plays.

Derrick Thomas still holds the NFL record for most sacks in a single NFL game with seven, against the Seattle Seahawks in 1990.

The thing about Derrick Thomas that is the most remarkable was how nice of a person he was off the field.

There was a story of someone meeting Thomas at the Pro Bowl for no longer than 10 minutes. The next year at the Pro Bowl, Thomas remembered him by name. That truly shows what kind of person he was off the field.

Thomas' remarkable personality was also recognized by being awarded the Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award in 1993.

Thomas was the best linebacker of the 1990’s, and one of the best pass rushers of all-time.

No. 3, Mike Singletary (Bears)
(1981-1992)
*Ten-time Pro Bowler
*Seven-time 1st Team All-Pro
*One-time 2nd Team All-Pro

When you ask who is the greatest MLB of all-time is, many people jump straight to Dick Butkus. The player that gives Butkus the most competition in that category would be Mike Singletary.

Mike Singletary was the leader of the most dominating defense the NFL has ever seen—the 1985 Bears.

Singletary was a leader, not only vocally, but by example. He had 885 career solo tackles, which is impressive on a defense filled with swarming the ball, shown by his 1,488 career tackles.

Mike Singletary had the whole package. He did anything the Bears asked of him, especially stuffing the run.

Mike Singletary is one of three players on this list to win Defensive Player of the Year twice in his career. He did it once in 1985 and again in 1988.

No. 2, Ray Lewis* (Ravens)
(1996-Present)
*Eleven-time Pro Bowler
*Seven-time 1st Team All-Pro
*Two-time 2nd Team All-Pro

Ray Lewis is the highest-ranked active player on this list, and the top middle linebacker on it.

Ray Lewis came into the league and dominated right away. He has been one of the most intimidating players in the NFL his entire career.

Lewis was the leader of the 2000 Super Bowl winning Ravens team. This team was widely regarded as having one of the best defenses of all-time. The defense was ranked right up there along with the 1985 Bears, and Steelers teams of the 1970’s.

Ray Lewis is another one of the three players on the list to win Defensive Player of the Year twice in his career. He did it in 2000 and again in 2003.

Lewis’ stats at this point of his career are 1,349 tackles, 36.5 sacks, and 28 INT’s. Those are remarkable numbers, especially when he is still going strong.

Ray Lewis is the top MLB of the modern era and is easily the linebacker of the 2000’s.

No. 1, Lawrence Taylor (Giants)
(1981-1993)
*Ten-time Pro Bowler
*Eight-time 1st Team All-Pro
*Two-time 2nd Team All-Pro

If you havn’t guessed it by now, Lawrence “LT” Taylor is my top linebacker of the modern era.

Taylor changed the way football is played today. Not only did he change the way defenses are run, but he changed the way offensive schemes are run as well. He was also the first player to have a TE or RB used for chip blocking on, and overall changed the way offensive lineman block.

LT finished his career with 142 sacks, averaging nearly 11 sacks per season. If you take away his last three seasons, where he was slowing down, he averaged 12.4 sacks per season, which is just remarkable.

LT was the most intimidating player ever to put on an NFL uniform. He was one of a kind and will always be remembered as one of the best linebackers of all time.

 

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