Vote: Who Is the Best Linebacker in Patriots History?

Vote: Who Is the Best Linebacker in Patriots History?It looks like Jerod Mayo will be playing in New England for the foreseeable future, as the young linebacker has signed a five-year contract extension. And if he continues on the path he's already set out on, there's a chance he could be recognized as one of the franchise's all-time great linebackers when all is said and done.

It's still early in Mayo's career, but the potential is obviously there. The former 10th overall pick was named the 2008 AP Defensive Player of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl and as a First-Team All-Pro last season. His leadership and importance to the New England defense is undeniable.

By locking Mayo up through the 2017 season, the hope is that he will soon be mentioned along with some of New England's other great defenders. And while he might not be worthy of that distinction just yet, it's still fun to look back the Patriots' rich linebacker history.

You could look all the way back to the 70s and 80s, when Steve Nelson was tearing it up for the Pats' D. Nelson was selected to three Pro Bowls during his 14-year tenure in New England, which spanned 1974 to 1987.

But the Patriots' excellence at the position only picked up from there.

Playing alongside Nelson from 1982 to 1987 was Andre Tippett. Tippett's career, which ran from '82 until 1993, featured five Pro Bowl selections. He was also named First-Team All-Pro twice, and he was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008. Tippett registered a career-high 18 1/2 sacks in 1984, and followed up with a 16 1/2-sack encoure in 1985.

Following Tippett's retirement, the 1990s were Willie McGinest's time to shine. McGinest was selected to two Pro Bowls as a member of the Patriots, as he evolved into one of the game's premier pass-rushing linebackers. His 78 career sacks with the Pats ranks third in franchise history.

McGinest signed with the Cleveland Browns prior to the 2006 season, but his legacy was cemented in New England, where he helped guide the Pats to three Super Bowl victories. He even recorded 4 1/2 sacks in the Patriots' 28-3 victory over the Jaguars in the 2005 wild card game, which is an NFL postseason record.

Tedy Bruschi may not have been the pass-rushing force that McGinest was, but he impacted the game in other ways and his leadership was undeniable. The consummate pro, Bruschi showed immense professionalism throughout his 13 seasons in New England, while also becoming one of the game's more versatile linebackers. Like McGinest, Bruschi was a member of all three of the Patriots' Super Bowl-winning teams, even getting selected to the Pro Bowl in 2004.

Mayo's poise, intelligence and athleticism make him a candidate to perhaps surpass a couple — if not all — of these guys as the franchise's best linebacker somewhere down the road. Until then, though, who should we consider the best of the best?

Who is the best linebacker in Patriots history?

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