This debate has been seriously contested since James Harrison won the Defensive MVP in 2008 over DeMarcus Ware. The battle has raged on, and here we are three years later looking at the same thing. However, there is a new twist in 2011, another linebacker has emerged over the past three years that could be better than them all. His name is LaMarr Woodley, and he also plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Before you write this off as a homer article, read the entire thing. I will be making cases for Ware, Woodley, Harrison and a select few other outside linebackers. At that point it is up to the Bleacher Report Community to decide which linebacker they want (or two that they want).
There are others to be mentioned too. Terrell Suggs is scary good. Clay Matthews has the NFL bloodlines and the pedigree.
DeMarcus Ware is a beast. At 6'4" 257 lbs, Ware is a physical specimen with an insatiable appetite for quarterbacks.
In 2008, Ware made his mark on the NFC in hopes of winning a DPOY award. He had posted 20 sacks to go along with 84 tackles and six forced fumbles. His presence on the football field is terrifying for both quarterbacks and left tackles that are to slow to keep him off the edge.
This isn't to say that Ware is a one trick pony either.
Not only can he beat you to the outside with his speed, but he'll use his strength to over power even the strongest of offensive lineman. Double team him? Sure, but allow someone else to run freely to the quarterback.
Ware makes the whole defense better. Since 2005, he has played in every game the Cowboys have played in.
95 Games Started
25 Forced Fumbles
20 Pass Defense
The youngest of this group and comes with the NFL bloodlines that can't be ignored; Clay Matthews is a force to be reckoned with.
Already an All-Pro and two time All Star, Matthews is wreaking havoc in the NFC and the NFL just as much as any other player on this list. At 24 years old, he's almost three years younger than LaMarr Woodley; he'll be doing this for years to come.
28 Games Started
90 Solo Tackles
3 Forced Fumbles
11 Passes Defensed
When LaMarr Woodley was drafted in the second round of the 2007 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, he wasn't even the best linebacker they drafted that year (Lawrence Timmons was the first round pick).
Woodley is anything but second fiddle anymore. He is one of the, if not, the best pass rusher in the NFL.
At 6'2" 265 lbs, Woodley is smaller than Ware but bigger than Harrison. He possesses the speed, strength, and finesse that it takes to play a 3-4 outside linebacker. When he rushes the quarterback, there is usually no getting away.
In the playoffs, Woodley becomes even scarier. In seven playoff games, Woodley has 11 sacks, and has recorded at least one in every game (two sacks in four of seven).
The thing about Woodley that is even more promising is that he is only 26 years old. He has another five to six years of quarterback crushing ahead of him, and arguably his best years.
47 Games Started
7 Forced Fumbles
12 Passes Defensed
While T-Sizzle's sack totals have never been out of this world (only three seasons of double digit sacks out of nine years), he has to be considered as one of the most feared outside linebackers in the league.
The Ravens are known for their hard hitting defense and ferocious tackling, and Suggs epitomizes that attitude.
109 Games Started
360 Solo Tackles
18 Forced Fumbles
38 Passes Defensed
A Silverback: adult males, range in height 1.65–1.75 metres (5 ft 5 in–5 ft 9 in), and in weight 140–200 kg (310–440 lb). Occasionally, a silverback of over 1.8 metres (5 ft 11 in) and 230 kg (510 lb) has been recorded in the wild.
The Silverback: 6'0" 242 lbs, quarterback crushing specimen, often seen roaming Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA.
The Silverback, also known as James Harrison, is the most feared outside linebacker in the NFL today. While he may not have the prototypical stature for a 3-4 linebacker, Harrison has he superhuman strength to toss left tackles, and the speed to run by them.
Once a Steelers (and Ravens) cast off, Harrison plays with a very large chip on his shoulder and plays with that tenacity on every down.
His presence is so daunting that protection usually slides to his side, opening up room for the Steelers favorite "Inside Line Backer Twist".
Pass coverage? I'll show you this piece of evidence.
71 Games Started
25 Forced Fumbles
19 Pass Defense
No, Ray Lewis isn't left off this list because I'm a Steelers fan. If this was a Top 10 Linebacker conversation, Lewis would easily be in the top five.
This discussion is purely for pass rushing linebackers, and I mean no disrespect to Dwight Freeney, Jared Allen, John Abraham, Julius Peppers, or Tamba Hali. All these guys are great in their own rite, but not playing linebacker (with the exception of Hali who I believe has now made the switch).
So, lets discuss this Bleacher Report community: who is your pick? On this pick or not, I'd love to hear your thoughts!