NFL Free Agency Speculation: Power Ranking the Top Available Linebackers
The men that stand in at linebacker have arguably the toughest job on the football field (on the defensive side, that is). That is because they must adapt to any situation thrown at them, whether it is covering the QB and helping clog the middle for an inside run, or having to cover some of the more fierce slot-receivers in the game.
Most of the guys at this position are the leaders of their defensive corp. Ray Lewis in Baltimore is an obvious example and, when we look back, Tedy Bruschi with New England is another one. They have the best eyes and have a better idea of what play might be coming up, and call the audible.
The free agency period may not be upon us as of yet, due to the ongoing labor issue, but here are my power rankings of 10 players at the linebacker position who could be available when that free agency period finally comes.
10. Stewart Bradley (Philadelphia Eagles)
Bradley came back a little groggy after missing the entire 2009 season with a torn ACL. He will be a hot commodity for any team willing to take a chance on him. In 2010, he tacked on 60 tackles, one sack, an interception and nine pass deflections.
However, that torn ACL will continue to drop his value as he previously tore his left ACL in college.
WalterFootball.com reports that he will be moving to strong side linebacker in 2011 if he re-signs with Philadelphia which, at this point, could be his best option as he continues to recover from his injury problems.
9. Kirk Morrison (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Morrison fell off the wagon a bit after he was traded from Oakland to Jacksonville. He did play some good football, recording 89 tackles in 2010.
Knowing what he is capable of on the field, brings him into the top 10. But his drop off from achieving career numbers in Oakland (133 tackles in 2009; 135 in 2008, among the top echelon of tacklers in the NFL) brings him to the nine spot.
Expect him to leave Jacksonville and go somewhere out west. Oakland would be great if they are willing to spend the money on a guy who once deflected 10 passes in 2007.
8. Quincy Black (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Before he fractured his forearm, Black played some great football for Tampa Bay's new look defense. He is an excellent pass-rusher and recorded a respectable 61 tackles after playing in 11 games in 2010.
Tampa is on the rise and can use all the help they can get in a competitive NFC South. Black will probably come back to the team and, at age 27, he could grow with the team and perhaps get a Super Bowl out of it if the Bucs keep up their strong rebuild.
7. Stephen Nicholas (Atlanta Falcons)
Nicholas was a beast for Atlanta last season and played a role similar to Quincy Black of the Buccaneers but, with the success of the Falcons, comes a boost for Nicholas in these power rankings.
He did have a slight drop off from 2009 where he achieved career highs in tackles (80) and sacks (three) but he has been a consistent performer, especially playing two-down football.
He may just stay put in Atlanta but, if he does go anywhere, he could end up in the New England area—the place that gave his infant son, Stephen Jr., a heart transplant in 2008. Nicholas knows the area well after traveling back and forth every week. In my opinion, he would benefit in that city on both a personal and professional level.
The question from that would be if Belichick would offer him a contract— but it would be nice and I am only speculating at this point.
6. Rocky McIntosh (Washington Redskins)
McIntosh achieved a career high in tackles with 110 and that was for a Redskins defense that was in their first year playing the 3-4. That system didn't catch on this season and, with a Redskins team looking to rebuild, look for McIntosh to be leaving the U.S. Capital.
He could have some more success playing in a 4-3 somewhere and, with his consistency, could be an underrated signing this free agency period.
5. Kevin Burnett (San Diego Chargers)
Since leaving Dallas, Burnett's numbers have jumped exponentially. He has shown his ability in San Diego as a proven starter in the NFL and will get a few looks from NFL teams in free agency.
In 2010, he recorded 95 tackles and six sacks, both a career high (his career high in Dallas was 53 tackles in 2007 and two sacks in 2008), and had two interceptions, one for a TD. He has had the benefit of excelling after Shawne Merriman was sent to Buffalo and, considering how much faith the Chargers had in Burnett after his days in Dallas, don't be surprised if he stays put in San Diego.
4. James Anderson (Carolina Panthers)
Anderson is another player on the rise. If Carolina decides to part ways with their third-round selection from 2006, he will be a great addition.
He completed 130 tackles and 3.5 sacks and, just like many people on this list, was a flickering bright spot on a team that didn't do so well.
Anderson has proven that he can play in all situations and is on pace to become an outstanding strong side linebacker for years to come.
3. Manny Lawson (San Francisco 49ers)
Lawson opens up plenty of options for teams. He played at defensive end in college so, if he doesn't work out at linebacker, he can be moved around.
As a linebacker, Lawson is known for his speed and athleticism and is another young guy who can use a change of scenery to learn new things. He falls down the list a bit for his lackluster pass-rushing ability but the other aspects of his game bring him up the list.
He has looked strong since coming back from a torn ACL a couple years back, and could benefit from playing on a team with a 4-3 defense.
2. Paul Posluszny (Buffalo Bills)
Posluszny is a dynamo and can use a change of scenery after excelling on an otherwise abysmal team.
He had 151 tackles in 2010 and, at 26 years old, could still fit into the Bills plans but that have yet to be determined. Along with Marcell Dareus, Posluszny is part of a core in Buffalo that spans Leodis McKelvin, Terrence McGee and the veteran Shawne Merriman.
I don't see Posluszny going anywhere but, for speculation purposes, if he enters the free agent market, he will be highly sought after for his leadership skills and his ability to create turnovers—he just has to stay off the injured reserve list.
1. Stephen Tulloch (Tennessee Titans)
Tulloch is a player who constantly improves every year. He is probably the best rush-defender on the board at this point and can definitely improve chemistry and be a force.
Sure, he is a smaller guy but he can pack a punch. He had 160 tackles last season and, at 26 years old, there is plenty of time left for him to transform into an even greater defensive threat in the NFL.
Look for him to sign with a contender and be a major contributor to that team as early as this fall.