Inside and middle linebacker have been positions which have changed drastically.
With the increase in popularity of the 3-4 defense the true Mike linebacker has seen its presence in the league decrease. Not only are teams playing more 3-4 but 4-3 defenses are changing as well.
With teams passing more the true run stuffing Middle linebacker has nearly disappeared in favor of more athletic middle linebacker who are better in coverage, and can provide sideline to sideline run support. Often times the linebacker who would have been the Mike is being moved to the strong side in a modern 4-3.
Top Ten Middle and Inside Linebackers
10. Karlos Dansby
Dansby is a solid all-around player with no glaring holes. He does not have any one area in which he could be considered the best in the league, but with no real weakness its hard not to put him on the list.
9. Lofa Tatupu
Tatupu is the heart of the Seahawks defense. He spent most of last season injured but is back on the field this year. He reads the field well, and makes strong instinctive plays. He also has good size at 250 pounds.
8. Bart Scott
Bart Scott plays Linebacker with attitude. He is aggressive and loves contact. Scott has always had the benefit of playing next to great 'backers and has managed not to be too overshadowed by them because of his own stellar play.
7. David Harris
Harris is a solid tackler and a tough player. He sees the field well and makes plays. Harris entering his 5th season out of Michigan and made the transition to the NFL very fast. His smart play and playmaking abilities made him an effective player from day one.
6. Jonathan Vilma
Vilma is one of the smartest linebackers in the league if not the smartest. He makes great audibles for the Saints defense, and is a good player himself. Sometimes Vilma does get himself out of position against the run and that is what keeps him out of the top five.
London Fletcher plays good football. He rarely if ever gets out of position. Plays with good technique and his experience is what makes him so good. He is able to cover for his athletic shortcomings with his experience and knowledge.
4. DeMeco Ryans
Ryans has good strength, great vision, and is an elite tackler. He does a good job cutting through the traffic and getting to the ball to make plays.
3. Jon Beason
Beason is fast, tough, strong, and smart. He has all of the necessary characteristics in a good middle linebacker. Beason is certainly in the discussion for the No. 1 spot and it was hard not to put him there.
2. Patrick Willis
The man is unbelievable. He is big, strong, agile, fast, and tough. He makes plays all over the field, all game long. He has hall of fame caliber talent no doubt. If he continues playing like he has so far in his career there is no doubt he will be in Canton. It was hard keeping Beason out of the top spot, but even harder to keep Willis out.
1. Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis is undoubtedly one of the top Inside linebackers of all time, if not the top man. He has everything one could ask for in an Inside linebacker.
He is an absolute animal on the field, and a great leader. On top of that, he has good speed, great strength, and a love of hurting other people. His physical skills have declined with age, and Willis is probably the better athlete at linebacker at this point.
Lewis' experience is what keeps him at the top of the list. Wherever he may have declined physically, has been covered by his knowledge of the game.