Ranking the best linebackers before the 2022 NFL season


Linebackers are seen as the leaders of a defense.

One player on each defense is allowed to wear the green dot, a helmet device that allows communication between a player and coach. That responsibility often falls on middle linebackers

After relaying the play call to his teammates, off-ball linebackers can be responsible for defending the run, covering receivers or rushing the quarterback. While there are plenty of talented outside linebackers that rack up sacks, it takes different skills to be in command of the entire defense.

So, who’s the best off-ball linebacker in the NFL today? Here’s the top 10 entering the 2022 season:

1. Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers struck gold when they drafted Warner in the third round in 2018. Since entering the league, Warner has 118 or more total tackles in every season and was named First-Team All-Pro in 2020. Even while playing with talented teammates Nick Bosa, DeForest Bucker and Richard Sherman, Warner has been the straw that stirs the drink.

2. Shaquille Leonard, Indianapolis Colts

Leonard was drafted one round earlier than Warner in 2018, and he’s been equally impactful for the Colts. He led the NFL in tackles as a rookie, which gave him First-Team All-Pro honors. He earned the same accolade again in 2020 and 2021. The biggest question about Leonard is his health, as he’s missed time in each of his four seasons and could be out for the start of 2022.

3. Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys

The No. 12 pick in 2021, Parsons was the unanimous rookie of the year last season. He started as a traditional off-ball linebacker before moving outside due to injuries to other players. Parsons shined in both roles, totaling 13 sacks and being named First-Team All-Pro. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said Parsons will see time as both an off-ball linebacker and EDGE rusher in 2022.

4. Eric Kendricks, Minnesota Vikings

Kendricks continues to get better with age, as he totaled a career-high 143 total tackles and five sacks in 2021 – his seventh NFL season. In contrast to Parsons, Kendricks thrives in pass coverage. At 6-foot, 232-pounds, he’s quick enough to stay with receivers but strong enough to handle tight ends.

5. Demario Davis, New Orleans Saints

The 33-year-old Davis begins a string of veterans on this list. Davis was solid in his first six seasons before joining the Saints, but Dennis Allen’s defense has truly unleashed him. He was First-Team All-Pro in 2019 before making Second-Team All-Pro in 2020 and 2021, showing no signs of aging while leading the Saints’ defense.

6. Bobby Wagner, Los Angeles Rams

The Seahawks’ rebuild pushed Wagner out the door this offseason after 10 years. Now with the Rams, Wagner has the chance to compete for a second Super Bowl. Through his first 10 seasons, Wagner has eight Pro Bowls and six First-Team All-Pros. He also leads the league with 1,383 total tackles since 2012, 161 more than second-place.

7. Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Who has the second-most tackles since 2012, you ask? This guy. Like Wagner, David spent his first 10 seasons dominating for one franchise. The 32-year-old David will stick with the Bucs for 2022 after a slight regression last year. Still, the veteran is always in the right place and often capitalizes on any mistake by an offense.

8. Roquan Smith, Chicago Bears

Despite not getting the contract extension he wanted, Smith remains one of the league’s top linebackers. He was Second-Team All-Pro in 2020 and 2021, and the former first-rounder has never finished a season with less than 100 total tackles. Whether it’s from the Bears or someone else, Smith is sure to get paid next offseason when his rookie deal expires.

9. De’Vondre Campbell, Green Bay Packers

Campbell resurrected his career with the Packers in 2021 after five mediocre seasons with the Falcons and Cardinals. He was named First-Team All-Pro, totaling 146 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Campbell’s career season earned him a five-year, $50 million contract from Green Bay.

10. Matt Milano, Buffalo Bills

The Bills have stars all over their defense, but Milano is at the center of it all. He’s proven to be capable of defending both the run and the pass. Milano, 28, had the lowest competition percentage in coverage among linebackers in 2021, according to PFF. As Buffalo continues to chase a Super Bowl, Milano could become more of a household name.

Honorable mentions: Nick Bolton (Chiefs); Jordyn Brooks (Seahawks); Shaq Thompson (Panthers); Denzel Perryman (Raiders); Foye Oluokun (Jaguars)

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