DeMarcus Ware, Clay Matthews, and the NFL's Top 10 Outside Linebackers
If you take a look at each of the successful NFL teams, one thing is common: They all have dominant pass rushing ability by their outside linebackers.
The Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints relied on defensive linemen Will Smith and Anthony Hargrove to carry them to victory, while the Colts relied on Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
But many teams are transitioning to the 3-4 defensive scheme, a front that relies on three down linemen with four linebackers behind them, one of them primarily used to pressure the quarterback.
This slideshow takes a look at the 10 most dominating outside linebackers in the league today, complete with video highlights of their monster hits!
Enjoy and feel free to debate who missed the cut, and who should be ranked lower or higher!
10. Tamba Hali: Kansas City Chiefs
Tamba Hali was selected with the 20th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, after he was named the consensus Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year as a member of the Penn State Nittany Lions.
His story is an incredible one, as he fled the war-torn country of Liberia at age 10.
Since entering the league, Hali has racked up 243 tackles, 30.5 sacks, and 15 forced fumbles. He is a cornerstone of a young and exiting defense that has led the Chiefs to a 3-0 record thus far.
No. 9 Clay Matthews: Green Bay Packers
After walking on to the USC Trojans football team in college, Clay Matthews III has made his presence felt as a disruptive pass rusher.
The Green Bay Packers saw his outstanding play and selected him in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He immediately made an impact in his rookie season, making the Pro Bowl after accruing 51 tackles and 10 sacks.
Matthews is not only a great pass rusher, but he excels in coverage and stopping the run. He is a focal point of the Packers new 3-4 defensive front, and will be a stud for years to come.
No. 8 Brian Orakpo: Washington Redskins
Brian Orakpo was selected with the No. 13 overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, after being an outstanding defensive lineman for the Texas Longhorns. In his college career he recorded 132 tackles, 22 sacks, 38 tackles for loss, 62 pressures, six passes broken up, six forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.
He now plays outside linebacker in the Redskins' new 3-4 defense, and has made an impact, racking up 11 sacks as a rookie in the 4-3. Now as a pass-rushing outside linebacker, Orakpo's potential his huge, as he is big, strong, and fast.
No. 7 Brian Cushing: Houston Texans
Amid the controversy surrounding Brian Cushing this past offseason due to illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs, he still looks to be one of the brightest outside linebackers of the future.
The Houston Texans used their No. 15 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft on the USC linebacker, who had an outstanding career in which he recorded 377 tackles, 18 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, 5 fumbles Recovered, and seven interceptions.
He was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year after making 133 tackles, four interceptions, and five sacks as a rookie.
Cushing is dominant in coverage, and has the ability to take over games on the defensive side of the ball. He is imposing at 6'3", 260 pounds, and will be a huge playmaker for years to come.
No. 6 Terrell Suggs: Baltimore Ravens
Despite being highly overshadowed by fellow Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs is one of the NFL's most feared outside linebackers.
Since coming into the league out of Arizona State eight seasons ago, he has made 446 tackles, 59 sacks, and 19 forced fumbles while intercepting five passes.
Suggs is huge, strong, and surprisingly stout in his coverage ability for his large 260 pound frame.
Suggs' versatility is what has given the Ravens one of the most feared linebacking corps in the entire NFL.
No. 5 Elvis Dumervil: Denver Broncos
Elvis Dumervil burst onto the scene last season after the Denver Broncos made the transition to the 3-4 defense.
At just 5'10", 248 pounds, Dumervil wasn't expected to make much of an impact, but he quickly made his name known around the National Football League, as he recorded 49 tackles and 17 sacks in the 2009 season.
On his career, Dumervil has made 129 tackles and 43 sacks, while forcing 10 fumbles in four seasons.
Dumervil will miss the 2010 season with a torn pectoral muscle, but he will be back pressuring quarterbacks in the 2011 season.
No. 4 LaMarr Woodley: Pittsburgh Steelers
LaMarr Woodley is only in his fourth season in the National Football League, but he has already dominated opposing offenses. Drafted in the second round out of Michigan, Woodley was the recipient of the 2006 Lombardi Award, and already has a Super Bowl ring.
In his three first seasons as a pro, Woodley recorded 136 tackles and 29 sacks, forced four fumbles, and intercepted a pass.
He is already on a great start to his 2010 campaign, making 11 tackles, two sacks, while forcing a fumble and an interception.
No. 3 Lance Briggs: Chicago Bears
Lance Briggs doesn't post huge sack totals, but he is a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators.
Along with Brian Urlancher, Briggs leads a dominating Chicago Bears linebacking corps.
He was only a third round pick out of Arizona, where he made over 300 tackles, but he is always making plays.
In his seven professional seasons, Briggs has made over 700 tackles, defensed 55 passes, recorded 8.5 sacks, and forced 11 fumbles while intercepting 10 passes.
No. 2 James Harrison: Pittsburgh Steelers
James Harrison is one of many outstanding football players to emerge out of Kent State. The seven-year veteran is a dominating pass rusher, and has made over 400 tackles, 41.5 sacks, forced 21 fumbles, and intercepted three passes, not counting his astounding 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals.
Harrison was a journeyman, and has found a niche by attacking quarterbacks. He is on a roll already this season, as he has made 23 tackles, three sacks, and forced two fumbles in his first three games.
No. 1 DeMarcus Ware: Dallas Cowboys
DeMarcus Ware is the best pass rusher in the National Football League. The Dallas Cowboys defense is designed around giving him opportunities to get to the quarterback.
He is explosive off the edge, a master of the "tomahawk chop," and constantly forces turnovers. He is extremely powerful, and constantly sheds blockers. He has had at least 10 sacks in four out of the last five seasons, including 20 in 2008.
On his career, Ware has 371 tackles and 68.5 sacks while forcing 23 fumbles. He is obviously the most dominating and feared outside linebacker in the NFL.