We all know some of the big name linebackers in the NFL, such as Ray Lewis, James Harrison and Patrick Willis, but which teams can boast a set of starting linebackers who work cohesively and terrorize opposing offenses?
It takes a special group of players to form a great linebacking corp, and this slideshow examines the five best linebacking corps in the NFL.
CHICAGO BEARS: Many may find it shocking that the duo of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs didn't break the top five for best linebacking corps, but they were narrowly beaten and must settle for an honorable mention. Although they are some of the most heard-about linebackers, production shows that the Bears linebackers are not quite good enough for the top five.
MIAMI DOLPHINS: Cameron Wake and Karlos Dansby make for a great team, and with Koa Misi they combined for an impressive 21.5 sacks last season. However, none of the linebackers recorded over 100 tackles and none of them were able to pick off a pass, so until they become more complete linebackers they won't quite make this list.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Jerod Mayo had a monster season last year, recording an absurd 175 tackles. The Patriots defense is young and promising and may be one of the top defenses in the league these next few seasons, but no other linebacker was able to record over 63 tackles or play half as well as he did, which shows the Patriots have a great linebacker, but not one of the top linebacking corps.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Jonathan Vilma is always called the quarterback of the defense, and with good reason. He and Drew Brees command the New Orleans Saints and led them to win after win, and a Super Bowl ring. However, Jonathan barely posted above 100 tackles and the actual production of the linebackers leaves them out of the top five.
The argument could be made that the Carolina Panthers linebackers don't belong in the top five with the elites, but James Anderson and Jon Beason quietly combined for over 250 tackles last year as well as 4.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and a pair of interceptions. The third linebacker, Dan Connor, also adds a sack and 47 tackles to this already lethal pair.
Unfortunately, the impressive seasons enjoyed by Jon Beason and James Anderson were overshadowed by the emergence of Charles Johnson and the failures of the Carolina offense. The Panthers linebackers are definitely among the elites in the NFL, despite being on the team which won only two games last year and scored only 17 total touchdowns.
Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes are like Batman and Robin. Patrick Willis is widely recognized as the best middle linebacker in the league right now (and with good reason), while Takeo Spikes puts up impressive numbers right alongside him.
The two of them, along with Manny Lawson, recorded 296 tackles, 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and four interceptions, showing that this linebacking corps is well rounded, productive, and by far the most dominant of the NFC West.
Although the linebackers of the Panthers and 49ers were stuck on teams that combined for only eight wins last season, the top three linebacking corps all reside on teams that made the playoffs last season.
The winners of Super Bowl 45 boast the third best linebacking corp in the league along with their rings. Clay Matthews is a QB's nightmare, recording 13.5 sacks and two forced fumbles last season as well as a 62-yard pick six.
Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk both broke 100 tackles and combined for 3.5 sacks of their own and two forced fumbles. This well-rounded group also has five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns of 32 and 62 yards. The dominance of the Packers 'backers helped carry them to a Super Bowl win despite many injuries and helped players like Charles Woodson and B.J. Raji shine.
Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Jameel McClain are a group of defenders no one looks forward to playing. Ray Lewis recorded 139 tackles last season, and he makes every single one hurt. The linebackers also sacked opposing QBs 14 times, 11 of which came from Terrell Suggs, one of the league's premier pass-rushers.
However, an all too often overlooked stat of good linebackers is the good old-fashion tackle, and the three, along with Dannell Ellerbe, also posted over 300 tackles, showing their ability to keep opposing offenses under control.
The defense that allowed no TDs off of turnovers and only 27 TDs to opposing offenses is built around its explosive linebackers, led by future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, one of the greatest to play the game.
Although the Ravens have some truly terrifying players suiting up for them, their AFC North rivals have the edge in the linebacker department.
James Harrison may complain about the league cracking down on hard hits, but the fact that he is now public enemy No. 1 and everyone labels him as a dirty player really helps this group of linebackers. After all, who wants to go into a game knowing that four enormous, nasty players are waiting for their opportunity to strike?
Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior, James Harrison, and La'Marr Woodley combined for 394 tackles, 29.5 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, and six interceptions, blowing away the other linebackers on this list. Harrison and Woodley terrorize opposing backfields with their aggressive style and explosive speed while Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior form a solid brick wall from sideline to sideline.
There are many impressive linebacking corps in the NFL, but none come close to matching the Pittsburgh Steelers.