Linebackers are crucial to being able to stop the run and play in coverage. Which ones have proved they are the best at doing those things?
1. Bobby Wagner
Bobby Wagner is the best and most complete player on this list. He truly has zero weaknesses in his game. He can attack downhill quickly, he is elite in coverage, he has sideline-to-sideline speed, and he gets everyone lined up very well. Wagner has been consistent, and always stays healthy. He truly does everything well, and he is setting himself up to be a Hall of Famer.
With Wagner wanting big money next year from Seattle or any team, Wagner will be motivated to play well in 2019. This may be Wagner’s last big contract, and with C.J Mosley getting paid 85 million, Wagner will only want and demand more from potential suitors.
2. Luke Kuechly
Like Wagner, Luke Kuechly does everything very well. He is fast, elite in coverage, and gets downhill quickly. Kuechly rarely ever misses tackles as well. He nearly is the perfect linebacker and has been amazing ever since he was a rookie.
The only problem with Kuechly is that he has major troubles staying healthy at times. Kuechly has missed games before, and Wagner hasn’t missed much time. With that factor in mind, that is why Wagner is better than Kuechly. Still, if Kuechly puts the top-notch playmaking on display for 16 games, he could retake the mantle of the number one linebacker spot again in 2019.
3. Darius Leonard
Even though Leonard was only a rookie a season ago, he absolutely dominated in the games he played in. Leonard was a tackling machine, posting up 163 tackles, seven sacks, and two interceptions. He filled up the box score every single week and transformed the Colts defense, just in his rookie season.
Leonard would be higher on this list potentially, but he is just short. Leonard does have some more questions about his coverage ability than Wagner or Kuechly, but they aren’t concerning enough to be lower on this list. Still, Leonard is a monster tackler, and will only continue to improve in 2019.
4. Deion Jones
Jones may be lower on some peoples’ list, but I have high praise for Jones. He may be the fastest linebacker I have ever watched in my life. He truly has sideline-to-sideline speed and can get vertical in a blink of an eye. His coverage abilities may be the best on this list. He can play zone, or cover any tight end or running back out of the backfield. He isn’t no slouch against the run either though. Jones quickly shoots gaps and collects many tackles for loss.
Jones needs to stay healthy in 2019 though. He is in a contract year, and he desperately wants to get paid by the Falcons. If he can stay healthy, expect All-Pro level production from Jones in 2019. The question with him has never been talent. It is whether he can hold up for 16 games in a season.
5. C.J. Mosley
After getting paid handsomely by the New York Jets this offseason, Mosley has very high expectations for his 2019 season. He needs to be the undisputed leader of this defense in 2019, who is able to line everyone up in Gregg Williams’ new, complex 3-4 defensive scheme. He also needs to be the leader of the defense. After having veterans be the leader of the defense in the past, Mosley now is that veteran for his new team.
Still, Mosley is a great player. He is awesome against the run, and not too shabby in coverage either. He also is a great blitzer who can collect many sacks over the course of a season. The Jets have craved linebacker help for years, and they need an identity on defense. With Mosley, they finally get one that can transform their unit.
6. Leighton Vander Esch
Vander Esch, alongside Darius Leonard, was a rookie in 2018. Vander Esch did everything well for the Cowboys, such as tackling, shooting gaps, and his coverage abilities were strong as well. With Sean Lee missing games due to injuries, Vander Esch stepped in and dominated in his snaps.
While he is good at everything, he isn’t as good at these things as his fellow linebackers. He is just a tier below them in about every skill for a linebacker. Vander Esch was just a rookie, and he will continue to climb up this list. Since Sean Lee isn’t the leader of the linebacker unit for the Cowboys anymore, they need a new leader, and Vander Esch should fill that role.
7. Jaylon Smith
Alongside his fellow Cowboy linebacker Vander Esch, he and Smith form an elite linebacker duo. Together, they are the best linebacker tandem in football. Smith provides a lot of similar elements to his game as Vander Esch, but he is really good in coverage. He is fluent and has enough speed and size to keep up with most players.
Smith is really solid, he just needs to continue his progression in his career. If he can keep improving, then Smith will only climb up this list. Also, Smith is in that contract year, and he will want to get paid a lot of money next season. The Cowboys should look to keeping Smith long term, as he and Vander Esch give them the most formidable linebacker duo the NFL has seen since Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman.
8. Eric Kendricks
Kendricks has been really good since coming into the league. He has always been a tackling machine since coming to Minnesota, while also being a three-down linebacker. There is nothing on the football field Kendricks can’t do. Still, last year, Kendricks had a down year. A lot of the Minnesota defense was like that, but it was noticeable from Kendricks.
For him to get back near the top of the rankings, he needs to flash more consistent play in 2019. The Vikings have lost a lot of depth on their defense, so they will need guys like Kendricks and Xavier Rhodes to prove that they are still at the top of the league, or else their contracts don’t look as great ass they did.
9. Blake Martinez
One of the league’s most underappreciated talents, Martinez has been a tackling monster since coming into the league. Martinez rarely misses tackles, and he has given the Green Bay Packers a linebacker talent that they haven’t had in many years. He is a complete linebacker as well, being able to play all three downs flawlessly.
I don’t have anything major for Martinez to improve upon, he should just try and stay at this level. He has been playing top football for a few seasons, so as long as he can keep that up, he will continue to be in the top 10.
10. Danny Trevathan
Trevathan possibly had his best season a year ago. He was dominant against the run, getting downhill and attacking well. He also plays coverage at a high level as well. He, alongside Roquan Smith, form one of the best duos in the league, right behind the Cowboys.
There were reports that the Bears were considering moving on from Trevathan, due to cap reasons. This should only motivate him to continue to play at a high level, as he may need to play well to get one more contract.
- Sean Lee
- Nigel Bradham
- Roquan Smith
Lee is still really good, but he just never stays healthy at all. He always misses at least a quarter of the season due to lower body issues. Bradham has been really consistent, he hasn’t pushed up the tier list yet though. Smith was solid last season, don’t be surprised if he makes the Pro Bowl and this list next season.