NESN.com is breaking down the NFL’s best positional groupings on both sides of the football, ranking teams in order of worst to first.
On Thursday, we rank the best linebacker corps in the NFL.
Of note, this is not a ranking of the best individual linebacker, as teams were evaluated on the overall position, including both inside and outside linebackers. The top six (for 4-3 defenses) or eight (for 3-4 defenses) linebackers on each team’s depth chart, courtesy of ESPN, were included.
32. Cleveland Browns: (B.J. Goodson, Mack Wilson, Sione Takitaki, Jacob Phillips, Jermaine Grace, Tae Davis)
Without experience, athleticism or depth, the Browns have a huge hole in the middle of the field.
31. Carolina Panthers: (Shaq Thompson, Tahir Whitehead, Jermaine Carter, Chris Orr, Andre Smith, Jordan Kunaszyk)
With the retirement of longtime Panther Luke Kuechly, Carolina will have a lot of production to make up for.
30. Los Angeles Rams: (Samson Ebukam, Micah Kiser, Troy Reeder, Leonard Floyd, Natrez Patrick, Travin Howard, Kenny Young, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo)
The Rams could be in for a rough go after the departures of Cory Littleton (to the Las Vegas Raiders) and Clay Matthews (free agency), who were both key contributors in 2019.
29. Cincinnati Bengals: (Germain Pratt, Josh Bynes, Logan Wilson, Markus Bailey, Jordan Evans, Austin Calitro)
With a great defensive line and good secondary, the Bengals will look to make up for the void they have at linebacker. The rookie Wilson will be one who’s called on to step up.
28. Washington Redskins: (Thomas Davis Sr., Jon Bostic, Reuben Foster, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Jared Norris, Cole Holcomb)
If Foster, who suffered a bad knee injury last May and missed the 2019 season, is able to return, the ‘Skins may be able to salvage an otherwise bad linebacker group. Their most productive piece would be a 37-year-old Davis.
27. Philadelphia Eagles: (Nathan Gerry, Jatavis Brown, Alex Singleton, Duke Riley, T.J. Edwards, Davion Taylor)
The Eagles have a good front seven, just none of them are linebackers.
26. New York Giants: (Markus Golden, David Mayo, Blake Martinez, Lorenzo Carter, Kyler Fackrell, Josiah Tauaefa, Ryan Connelly, Chris Peace)
The Giants made a good move signing Martinez in free agency but they don’t have much else at the position.
25. Kansas City Chiefs: (Willie Gay Jr., Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, Ben Niemann, Dorian O’Daniel, Darrius Harris)
Have you noticed the Chiefs opt for as few linebackers as possible on the field at once? Yeah, it’s because it’s not a strength of theirs.
24. Detroit Lions: (Jamie Collins Sr., Jarrad Davis, Reggie Ragland, Christian Jones, Jahlani Tavai, Jalen Reeves-Maybin)
Signing ex-Patriot Collins in free agency certainly will help the group, but Davis doesn’t offer much of a complement inside.
23. Green Bay Packers: (Preston Smith, Christian Kirksey, Oren Burks, Za’Darius Smith, Greg Roberts, Ty Summers, Kamal Martin, Rashan Gary)
When healthy, Kirksey is an above-average starter at the position, and Smith is coming off a career year (12.0 sacks, 56 tackles) in his first season in Green Bay.
22. Los Angeles Chargers: (Denzel Perryman, Kenneth Murray, Drue Tranquill, Uchenna Nwosu, Kyzir White, Nick Vigil)
The Chargers have a flurry of playmakers both in the front seven and secondary, which makes the linebacker group remaining OK all the more important. The first-rounder Murray will have a say in that.
21. Baltimore Ravens: (Matthew Judon L.J Fort, Patrick Queen, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser, Otaro Alaka, Chris Board, Pernell McPhee)
The Ravens grabbed Queen to be their linebacker of the future. Judon is a solid player off the edge, too.
20. Atlanta Falcons: (Danta Fowler Jr. Deion Jones, Foyesade Oluokun, Deone Bucannon, LaRoy Reynolds, Edmond Robinson)
The combination of Jones, an elite coverage linebacker, and Fowler, an exceptional pass rusher, will be needed to help an Atlanta defense that has holes elsewhere.
19. Las Vegas Raiders: (Nick Kwiatkowski, Cory Littleton, Nicholas Morrow, Marquel Lee, Nick Usher, Kyle Wilber)
The Raiders made their group much stronger this offseason with the additions of Littleton and Kwiatkowski.
18. Arizona Cardinals: (Chandler Jones, Jordan Hicks, Isaiah Simmons, Devon Kennard, Haason Reddick, Dennis Gardeck, De’Vondre Campbell, Kylie Fitts)
With the All-Pro Jones leading the pass rush, both Hicks and the No. 8 overall pick Simmons might prove to be impactful players off the ball.
17. Jacksonville Jaguars: (Myles Jack, Joe Schobert, Cassius Marsh Sr., Leon Jacobs, Shaquille Quarterman, Quincy Williams)
Jack would be a better fit on the outside, but that would require the Jaguars to move to a 3-4 defense. Either way, he and the newly-added Schobert (formerly of Cleveland) will make for a solid pair.
16. New England Patriots: (Chase Winovich, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Dont’a Hightower, John Simon, Anfernee Jennings, Terez Hall, Cassh Maluia, Josh Uche)
The Patriots moved on from a lot — Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts — at the position. But with the veteran Hightower and talented Bentley as three-down players in the middle, along with Winovich and Simon on the outside, we’re just not willing to completely overlook the group.
15. Denver Broncos: (Von Miller, Alexander Johnson, Todd Davis, Bradley Chubb, Jeremiah Attaochu, Josh Watson, Josey Jewell, Malik Reed)
Miller and Chubb are another combination on the outside which simply is too good to overlook. Johnson is a rising star at inside linebacker.
14. Houston Texans: (Whitney Mercilus, Benardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham, Brennan Scarlett, Chris Landrum, Dylan Cole, Tyrell Adams, Jonathan Greenard)
McKinney and Cunningham are both good inside, while Mercilus off the edge complements the pass rush.
13. Buffalo Bills: (Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds, A.J. Klein, Corey Thompson, Tyler Matakevich, Vosean Joseph)
Edmunds could be on his way to developing into one of the better inside linebackers in all of football. Milano, who continues to develop alongside, is another very good talent.
12. New Orleans Saints: (Demario Davis, Kiko Alonso, Alex Anzalone, Craig Robertson, Zack Baun, Joe Bachie)
The 2019 first-team All-Pro Davis registered 100-plus tackles for the third consecutive year in 2019, and if Alonso can return to full health, the Saints might have a formidable pair.
11. Miami Dolphins: (Emmanuel Ogbah, Raekwon McMillan, Jerome Baker, Kyle Van Noy, Vince Biegel, Calvin Munson, Kamu Grugger-Hill, Shaq Lawson)
The Dolphins revamped the position with ex-Patriot Van Noy, Ogbah and Lawson on the outside to go along with McMillan and Baker on the inside.
10. Dallas Cowboys: (Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee, Joe Thomas, Justin March, Luke Gifford)
The threesome of a hopefully healthy Vander Esch, the 2019 Pro Bowler Smith and veteran Lee could be among the better three-man groups in the NFL.
9. New York Jets: (Jabari Zuniga, C.J. Mosley, Avery Williamson, Jordan Jenkins, Terrell Basham, B.J. Bello, Patrick Onquasor, Frankie Luvu)
The Jets may not have another position with as much depth as linebacker. Williamson and Mosley are a very good pair to patrol the middle, while Jenkins recorded 8.0 sacks off the edge in 2019.
8. Indianapolis Colts: (Darius Leonard, Anthony Walker, Bobby Okereke, E.J. Speed, Matthew Adams, Skai Moore)
The 2019 second-team All-Pro Leonard is elite, while Walker’s ability inside, especially in stopping the run, makes for a solid combination. It’s a very athletic group.
7. Seattle Seahawks: (Jordyn Brooks, Bobby Wagner, K.J Wright, Cody Barton, Ben Burr-Kirvin, Shaquem Griffin)
Wagner, a 2019 first-team All-Pro, is arguably the best middle linebacker in the league. Wright is a very good complement, as well, with the Seahawks having some depth pieces to go along with it.
6. Tennessee Titans: (Vic Beasley Jr., Jayon Brown, Rashaan Evans, Harold Landy III, Reggie Gilbert, David Long, Nigel Harris, Kamalei Correa)
Brown and Evans are both stars for the Titans. They’re featured heavily in blitz packages while still possessing the ability to stop the run, or stay stride-for-stride in coverage.
5. San Francisco 49ers: (Kwon Alexander, Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Joey Alfieri, Joe Walker, Mark Nzeocha)
The 49ers defense has an extensive list of strengths, and Warner in the middle of the field is one of them. He can get pressure off the edge, or go inside on a blitz all while being underrated in coverage. Alexander provides a strong complement with his ability in run support, as well.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: (T.J. Watt, Vince Williams, Devin Bush, Bud Dupree, Tuzar Skipper, Ulysses Gilbert III, Robert Spillane, Alex Highsmith)
Watt leads a group after earning first-team All-Pro honors as an edge rusher and second-team recognition as a linebacker. With Watt and Dupree on the edge, it’s an exceptional tandem outside. Bush is a good piece to have in the middle, too.
3. Minnesota Vikings: (Ifeadi Odenigbo, Eric Wilson, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Anthony Zettel, Ben Gedeon, Cameron Smith, Eric Wilson)
It’s arguably the best 1-2 punch in the league. The 2019 first-team All-Pro Kendricks is coming off a career year with his ability to support the run while continuing to develop in coverage. Barr is another standout who can do just about everything for the Vikings, getting pressure with a pass rush or dropping in coverage.
2. Chicago Bears: (Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Robert Quinn, Isaiah Irving, Josh Woods, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Barkevious Mingo)
The Bears have the perfect mix of inside-outside. Smith and Trevathan are both very good inside linebackers, controlling the middle of the field in both run support or pass coverage. All while Mack is arguably the best edge rusher in football, completely blowing up plays in the backfield and creating turnovers in the process.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: (Jason Pierre-Paul, Devin White, Lavonte David, Shaquil Barrett, Kahn Daniels, Kevin Minter, Jack Cichy, Anthony Nelson)
The Bucs have among the best all-around linebacking duos in the NFL. David is arguably the best at the position, playing both inside and getting after the quarterback (123 tackles) all while possessing an exceptional ability in coverage (seven PBUs, one INT in 2019). White is a second version of that, as he’s very good in coverage, all while firing through gaps and getting into backfield. They both have freakish speed and strength while 2019 Pro Bowler Barrett (19.5 sacks in 2019) and Pierre-Paul (8.5 sacks) on the outside will cause fits.