Some call it a dying position, but inside linebacker is as important as ever. Who rank among the very best in the NFL?
#10 – Karlos Dansby – Cleveland Browns
He may go to the highest bidder but Karlos Dansby always earns his money. Since entering the league in 2004 he has been one of the most dependable and consistent playmaking interior linebackers in football. His 2013 campaign may have been his best with 122 tackles, 6.5 sacks and four interceptions including two touchdowns.
#9 – Jerrell Freeman – Indianapolis Colts
So many NFL fans don’t know about Jerrell Freeman and that is a shame. It didn’t take him long at all to emerge as one of the best linebackers in the game both against the run and pass. In just two seasons he has amassed 271 tackles, 7.5 sacks, three interceptions and seven forced fumbles. The kid makes plays. Period.
#8 – Stephen Tulloch – Detroit Lions
Looking back this may end up being one of the best free agent signing the Detroit Lions have ever made. The day they added Stephen Tulloch was the day their defense became respectable. A vacuum tackler with excellent durability, he has averaged over 110 tackles since 2009 and is always around the football.
#7 – Bobby Wagner – Seattle Seahawks
The secondary and the pass rush get all the glory for the Seattle Seahawks but it’s guys like Bobby Wagner who do the dirty work. Despite missing two games last year he still notched 120 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions and he was a key figurehead in their run to the Super Bowl title. A true rising star.
#6 – Paul Posluszny – Jacksonville Jaguars
He may have been dealt a raw deal when he ended up with the Jacksonville Jaguars but that hasn’t stopped Paul Posluszny from becoming a Pro Bowler. In fact he has more tackles (420), sacks (7) and interceptions (7) in three years with Jacksonville than he did four previous seasons with Buffalo.
#5 – Derrick Johnson – Kansas City Chiefs
Being a Pro Bowl regular is pretty much a sign a guy is pretty good. Derrick Johnson is that guy for the Kansas City Chiefs. Stuck in purgatory since 2005, NFL fans have finally gotten to see how good the inside linebacker really is as the team has begun to win. He flies everywhere on the field, can blitz and is sneaky good in coverage.
#4 – Kiko Alonso – Buffalo Bills
Few were more of a revelation in 2013 than Kiko Alonso. Starting from day one as a rookie, the Buffalo Bills middle linebacker showed he belonged by piling up 159 tackles, two sacks and four interceptions. He also had more than a few highlight reels plays that showcased his instinct. With experience building, he is only getting better.
#3 – Patrick Willis – San Francisco 49ers
Rightly considered the heir apparent to Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, Patrick Willis is the gold standard of inside linebackers. He’s tough, productive, a great leader and been to every Pro Bowl since 2007. On top of that his defenses have ranked among the best for years. If not for some injury problems of late he might rank higher.
#2 – NaVorro Bowman – San Francisco 49ers
That and “having” to play right next to a guy that is even better. While Willis gets the notoriety as the leader of the San Francisco 49ers, NaVorro Bowman is the bigger playmaker. Over the past three seasons he has more tackles, sacks and the same number of interceptions as Willis. The knee injury he suffered in the NFC championship does threaten to drop him down the ranks though.
#1 – Luke Kuechly – Carolina Panthers
Winning Defensive Player of the Year should pretty much guarantee Luke Kuechly the top spot, right? The kid is an absolute nightmare for offenses to deal with. In two years he already has 320 tackles and six interceptions, proving his amazing versatility. His arrival changed the landscape of the Carolina Panthers defense, and there is no higher praise than that in the NFL.