Outside linebacker vary wildly between scheme, but the stars always stand out in the NFL anyway. Who are the very best?
#10 – Brian Orakpo – Washington Redskins
The test of many great players is to overcome injury and regain their original, dominant form. Brian Orakpo endured that trial for the Washington Redskins in 2013 and passed. Despite putrid coverage from his secondary he produced 10 sacks and his first career interception.
#9 – Tamba Hali – Kansas City Chiefs
Few players have given the hard luck Kansas City Chiefs fans reason to cheer the past few season. Tamba Hali is one of the happy exceptions. Since 2010 he has averaged double digit sacks and only missed three games in his entire career. At age 30 he has some good seasons left.
#8 – Vontaze Burfict – Cincinnati Bengals
Finding great players sometimes takes a leap of faith. The Cincinnati Bengals took one when they picked up Vontaze Burfict in undrafted free agency. All he’s done since is make 298 tackles and notch four sacks in two seasons. He led the NFL in the former last year and is getting better each week.
#7 – Terrell Suggs – Baltimore Ravens
Nobody has helped the Baltimore Ravens maintain defensive excellence more over the past decade than Terrell Suggs. Three of the last four seasons have produced double digit sacks and his timely return in 2012 from an Achilles injury sparked their run to a Lombardi trophy.
#6 – Robert Mathis – Indianapolis Colts
It really doesn’t seem to matter if it’s defensive end or outside linebacker, Robert Mathis was born and bred to sack quarterbacks. His 19.5 sacks last season were best in the league. He has 111 total for his career. With six Pro Bowls to his credit, it might not be long before the Hall of Fame talk begins.
#5 – Lavonte David – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Forget what he can do. Is there anything Lavonte David can’t do. The young linebacker was absolutely everywhere for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013. For the season he posted 145 tackles, seven sacks and five interceptions. Such versatility is hard to come by and David is only going to get better now that Lovie Smith is in charge.
#4 – Clay Matthews – Green Bay Packers
The injury concerns are becoming a problem, as are the inconsistency. Clay Matthews is undoubtedly the best defensive playmaker the Green Bay Packers have and when healthy is a top NFL pass rusher. Yet having missed 11 games over the past four season, he must prove he can stay on the field and produce to regain the top spot.
#3 – Justin Houston – Kansas City Chiefs
It’s amazing to think Tamba Hali isn’t even the best pass rusher on his own team. The Kansas City Chiefs have an even better one in Justin Houston who has 21 sacks over the past two years. This in spite of missing five games. At age 25 his prime is approaching and there isn’t much offensive tackles can do to stop him.
#2 – Von Miller – Denver Broncos
He might be number one on the list if he had either kept out of trouble or not injured his knee. That is how good Von Miller is. Missing seven games hasn’t stopped him from posting a double digit sack average over his first three seasons for the Denver Broncos and overshadows how good he is against the run.
#1 – Aldon Smith – San Francisco 49ers
The major difference between #2 and #1 is the simple fact that Aldon Smith stays healthy. He, like Miller, has off-the-field issues of his own but he’s such a beast on it for the San Francisco 49ers that he claims the top spot anyway. With a ridiculous 42 sacks (47.5 counting the playoffs) in three years, he is the best there is at outside linebacker in the NFL.