NFL Free Agency Speculation: Power Ranking the Top Available Linebackers

Mark Pare@NEPats17Correspondent IIMay 20, 2011

NFL Free Agency Speculation: Power Ranking the Top Available Linebackers

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    NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 24:  Will Witherspoon #92 and Stephen Tulloch #55 of the Tennessee Titans celebrates in the fourth quarter during the NFL game against the Philadelphia Eagles at LP Field on October 24, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Titans won
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    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)

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 02:  Stewart Bradley #55 of the Philadelphia Eagles takes the field during player introductions against the Houston Texans at Lincoln Financial Field on December 2, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    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. 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)

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    ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 31:  Head coach Jack Del Rio and Kirk Morrison #55 of the Jacksonville Jaguars look on from the sideline against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on October 31, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    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)

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    TAMPA BAY, FL - CIRCA 2010:   In this handout image provided by the NFL, Quincy Black of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL football team is seen posing for a portrait taken in 2010 in Tampa Bay, Florida. This image reflects the Tampa Bay Buccaneers active rost
    Handout/Getty Images

    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)

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    ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 27:  Stephen Nicholas #54 of the Atlanta Falcons walks off the field during the first half of the game against the New Orleans Saints at the Georgia Dome on December 27, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Imag
    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    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)

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    LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 15: Rocky McIntosh #52 of the Washington Redskins celebrates after sacking Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles on November 15, 2010 at FedExField in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    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)

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    SAN DIEGO - OCTOBER 24:  Kevin Burnett #99 of the San Diego Chargers waits for the snap against the New England Patriots at Qualcomm Stadium on October 24, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Harry How/Getty Images

    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)

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 12:  James Anderson #50 of the Carolina Panthers intercepts a pass intended for Ahmad Bradshaw #44 of the New York Giants on September 12, 2010 at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim M
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    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)

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 31:  Manny Lawson #99 of San Francisco 49ers celebrates as he sacks Kyle Orton #8 of Denver Broncos during the NFL International Series match between Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers at Wembley Stadium on October 31, 2010 i
    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    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)

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    ORCHARD PARK, NY - OCTOBER 10: Paul Posluszny #51 of the Buffalo Bills lines up against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Ralph Wilson Stadium on October 10, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York. Jacksonville won 36-26. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    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)

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    NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 02:  Stephen Tulloch #55 and Will Witherspoon #92 of the Tennessee Titans amp up the crowd during an exhibition game against the New Orleans Saints at LP Field on September 2, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Grant Halver
    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    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.