Top 10 Linebackers of All Time - Most Talented Evergreen Talents
by Krishika M
Updated Jun 21, 2023
Top 10 Linebackers of All Time
The position of linebacker in the National Football League (NFL) has seen the rise of exceptional athletes who have left an indelible mark on the game. These linebackers have displayed a combination of athleticism, skill, and intelligence, solidifying their place as some of the greatest defensive players in NFL history. Here is the list of the top 10 linebackers of all time:
Ivan Pace Jr.
Ivan Pace Jr.
Best NFL Linebackers of All Time
From their ability to shut down running backs and tight ends to their knack for sacking quarterbacks and forcing turnovers, these top 10 linebackers of all time have set the standard for excellence at their position. They have showcased their versatility, leadership, and game-changing abilities, making them iconic figures in the annals of NFL history.
Their impact on the game transcends individual statistics, as they have shaped the way linebackers are perceived and the expectations placed upon them. As we delve into their remarkable careers, we witness the mastery of their craft, the intensity of their play, and their unwavering commitment to the pursuit of greatness.
These linebackers have earned their place among the legends of the game, forever etching their names in the pantheon of NFL greatness.
1. Drew Sanders (Arkansas)
Drew Sanders, hailing from Arkansas, is a standout athlete in the position of middle linebacker. Standing at an imposing 6-4 and weighing 235 pounds, he possesses the ideal physical attributes for his role. Notably, Sanders has showcased his versatility by excelling in edge rushing, accumulating an impressive 9.5 sacks during the previous season.
One of his defining qualities is his exceptional ability to cover the field from sideline to sideline. Sanders possesses remarkable speed and agility, enabling him to make plays across the entire width of the football field. Additionally, he has proven to be adept at shedding blocks when defending against the run, displaying his strength and technique.
Although he only had one season as a starter, Sanders made an impact following his transfer from Alabama. This limited experience as a starting player indicates his untapped potential and room for growth in the future. It is clear that he possesses significant upside and possesses the opportunity to develop into an even more formidable player.
While Sanders demonstrates proficiency in many areas, there is room for improvement in his recognition of play-action fakes. Enhancing his ability to read and react to such deceptive plays will be beneficial in becoming a more well-rounded linebacker. With further refinement in this aspect, Sanders has the potential to become an even more dominant force on the field.
2. Trenton Simpson (Clemson)
Trenton Simpson, a player from Clemson, stands at an impressive 6-2 and weighs 235 pounds. What makes Simpson particularly valuable is his versatility in a position-less defense, allowing him to line up on either the weak side or the strong side of the formation.
One of Simpson's standout skills is his exceptional coverage ability against tight ends. He possesses the skill set to match up against tight ends more effectively than most safeties, showcasing his agility, speed, and coverage instincts. This makes him a valuable asset in defending against tight end receptions.
Furthermore, Simpson's athleticism and speed allow him to excel in other defensive roles as well. He is a formidable force when blitzing the quarterback or spying on a mobile quarterback due to his quickness and ability to close the distance rapidly. This versatility adds an extra dimension to his game and makes him a dynamic defender in multiple situations.
However, one area where Simpson can improve is his tackling. Occasionally, he struggles with missed tackles, which can be attributed to taking poor angles when pursuing the ball carrier. By refining his tackling technique and ensuring he takes better angles, Simpson can become a more reliable tackler and minimize potential defensive breakdowns.
3. Jack Campbell (Iowa)
Jack Campbell, hailing from Iowa, is an exceptional linebacker with an imposing stature, standing at 6-5 and weighing 247 pounds. He has earned prestigious accolades such as the Campbell Trophy, often referred to as the academic Heisman (with no relation), and the Butkus Award, recognizing him as the nation's top linebacker.
One of Campbell's greatest strengths lies in his reliability as a tackler. His ability to consistently bring down opponents with sure tackling makes him a dependable presence on the field. Additionally, Campbell possesses remarkable instincts that allow him to anticipate the direction of plays, particularly on screen passes.
This enables him to position himself effectively and disrupt the intended targets, showcasing his ability to read the game and react swiftly.
However, one aspect where Campbell may be lacking is burst and explosiveness. As a result, he may not accumulate significant production behind the line of scrimmage. While he excels in tackling and positioning himself in the right places, his lack of burst limits his ability to generate tackles for loss or get to the quarterback with regularity.
Despite this limitation, Campbell's strengths as a reliable tackler and his exceptional instincts make him a valuable asset on any defensive unit. His ability to read plays and disrupt screen passes adds an extra layer of defensive prowess. With his accomplishments and skills, Campbell has proven himself as a standout linebacker deserving of recognition and respect.
4. Henry To’oTo’o (Alabama)
Henry To'o To'o, who played for Alabama, is a skilled linebacker standing at 6-1 and weighing 227 pounds. He primarily operates on the weak side of the defense and excels in coverage, making him a valuable asset in pass defense.
To'o To'o is known for his disciplined approach, ensuring that he does not allow big plays by making assignment errors. While he may not be known for making flashy or dynamic plays, his consistency and reliability in executing his responsibilities are commendable. He understands the importance of his role in preventing opponents from capitalizing on blown assignments, thus contributing to the overall stability of the defense.
Throughout his career, To'o To'o has displayed adaptability and growth. In the previous season, he showcased a more physical style of play, often engaging in the box to support the run defense. This versatility highlights his ability to adjust his playing style based on the team's needs and demonstrates his willingness to contribute in different aspects of the game.
Furthermore, To'o To'o's leadership qualities are highly regarded. He is often described as a "coach on the field," indicating his ability to effectively communicate and direct his teammates on defensive assignments. His understanding of the game and ability to make quick decisions contribute to the cohesion and effectiveness of the defensive unit.
5. Daiyan Henley (Washington State)
Daiyan Henley, a player from Washington State, stands at 6-1 and weighs 225 pounds. He is known for his active presence on the field, consistently contributing across multiple statistical categories in the box score. Henley's impressive numbers include 106 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception.
One of Henley's standout qualities is his fearlessness when crashing running lanes as a wrap-up tackler. He displays great determination and technique in bringing down ball carriers, often making impactful tackles to disrupt opposing offenses. His ability to consistently wrap up and secure tackles demonstrates his reliability as a defensive player.
While Henley has shown promise as a tackler, his coverage ability is still a question mark. This is partly due to his relative newness to the position and defense as a whole. As he continues to gain experience and develop his skills, there is room for growth in his coverage techniques and understanding of defensive schemes.
Additionally, Henley's versatility extends to special teams, where he serves as a core contributor. His athleticism and willingness to contribute in various facets of the game make him a valuable asset on special teams units, further solidifying his role within the team.
Daiyan Henley's active presence on the field and ability to fill up the box score with tackles, sacks, forced fumbles, and interceptions make him an impact player on the defensive side of the ball. While he still has room to improve in coverage due to his relatively recent transition to the position, his fearlessness, wrap-up tackling skills, and contributions on special teams make him a valuable asset for Washington State.
6. Dorian Williams (Tulane)
Dorian Williams, a player from Tulane, possesses an impressive track record as a dominant linebacker throughout his collegiate career. Standing at 6-1 and weighing 228 pounds, he has accumulated remarkable statistics, including 302 tackles, 27 tackles for loss, and 9.5 sacks, during his three-year tenure as a starter.
However, it is worth considering the level of competition he faced, which may have been relatively inferior compared to that of other programs.
One aspect that raises questions about Williams' transition to the NFL is his ability to consistently fight off blocks at the professional level. While he has displayed dominance in college, it remains to be seen if his size and strength will enable him to shed blocks effectively against more formidable offensive linemen and blockers in the NFL. This will be a crucial aspect of his game to watch for in terms of his success at the next level.
Nevertheless, Williams possesses coverage traits that make him versatile enough to handle big slot receivers. His skills in coverage provide him with the ability to match up against larger, more physical targets in the passing game. This versatility adds value to his profile as a linebacker, as he can effectively contribute in both run defense and pass coverage situations.
Ultimately, Williams' transition to the NFL will depend on how well he adjusts to the heightened level of competition and his ability to maintain his nose for the ball. While his dominant college performance indicates promise, it is crucial for him to demonstrate that he can replicate his success against higher-caliber opponents.
With his coverage traits and potential to contribute in various roles, Williams has the opportunity to carve out a successful career in the NFL if he can adapt to the increased challenges that lie ahead.
7. Noah Sewell (Oregon)
Noah Sewell, who played for Oregon, is an imposing linebacker with a stature of 6-1 and 246 pounds. He is notably the younger brother of Peneii Sewell, who was selected as the seventh overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Sewell's performance experienced a significant decline in 2022 compared to his standout season in 2021. While he recorded 114 tackles and 4.0 sacks in 2021, his numbers dropped to 56 tackles and 1.5 sacks in the following year. This decline raises some concerns regarding his production and impact on the field.
One area of concern for Sewell is his speed and agility. These concerns were exposed during his 2022 season, suggesting potential limitations in his ability to keep up with faster and more agile opponents. These concerns may have contributed to his diminished performance and reduced productivity.
However, Sewell showcases his strength and force when shedding blocks, particularly when charging downhill. His ability to use his power effectively to disengage from blockers allows him to make plays against the run. This aggressive approach and physicality add a dynamic element to his game.
Despite the challenges faced in 2022, it's important to note that Sewell is still a young player with room for development. With proper coaching and continued growth, he has the potential to refine his speed and agility while building upon his strengths as a forceful block-shedder.
8. Ivan Pace Jr. (Cincinnati)
Ivan Pace Jr., a player from Cincinnati, stands at 5-10 and weighs 231 pounds. He made a significant impression during the Senior Bowl, showcasing his skills and potential at the collegiate level.
In his lone season with the Bearcats after transferring from Miami-Ohio, Pace Jr. delivered an exceptional performance. He became the only college player to achieve an impressive combination of 20 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, and three forced fumbles during the season. These statistics highlight his ability to disrupt opposing offenses and create turnovers.
One of Pace Jr.'s notable strengths is his explosiveness off the snap, often described as "shot out of a cannon." His quickness and burst allow him to penetrate the offensive line and apply pressure on the quarterback or disrupt running plays. This trait contributes to his effectiveness as a playmaker on the field.
However, there are areas where Pace Jr. can improve. He has displayed a tendency to bite on play fakes, which can leave him out of position and susceptible to being deceived by opposing offenses. Additionally, over-pursuit is another area where he can refine his game. Striking a balance between aggressive pursuit and maintaining discipline in assignments will be important for him to enhance his overall effectiveness.
While Pace Jr. has showcased his abilities and potential, these areas of improvement need to be addressed in order for him to reach his full potential as a linebacker. With proper coaching and focus on refining his instincts and discipline, he has the opportunity to further develop as a well-rounded defensive player.
9. Nick Herbig (Wisconsin)
Nick Herbig, hailing from Wisconsin, is an impressive linebacker with a height of 6-2 and a weight of 240 pounds. His family ties to the NFL include his brother, Nate, who is an offensive lineman at the professional level.
Herbig has made a name for himself as a stand-up edge rusher, showcasing his skills by accumulating an impressive 20 sacks over his last 24 games. This demonstrates his ability to consistently disrupt opposing quarterbacks and apply pressure on passing plays.
While Herbig has excelled as a pass rusher, he may face challenges in setting the edge against the run. This aspect of his game needs improvement, as he can struggle to hold his ground and maintain his position when defending against rushing plays. Enhancing his ability to set the edge effectively will be crucial for him to become a more complete defender.
Additionally, Herbig's game could benefit from the ability to roam freely on the field rather than frequently disengaging from blocks. By developing his instincts and decision-making skills, he can better navigate through traffic and make plays with greater efficiency.
Despite these areas for improvement, Herbig's pass-rushing abilities and productivity are evident. If he can address his issues in setting the edge and enhance his decision-making on the field, he has the potential to contribute not only as an edge rusher but also as a versatile defender who can move inside when needed.
With proper development and coaching, Herbig can continue to make strides in his game and become a formidable force on the defensive side of the ball.
10. Dee Winters (TCU)
Dee Winters, who played for TCU, is a versatile linebacker who can be deployed both inside and outside. Despite his slightly undersized frame, standing at 5-11 and weighing 227 pounds, Winters compensates with his quick first step, enabling him to make up for his size disadvantage.
Winters' explosive initial burst allows him to overcome his smaller stature and make a significant impact on the field. When he builds up momentum and squeezes through a gap, ball-carriers can feel the force of his hits. This highlights his ability to generate power and deliver impactful tackles, even against larger opponents.
In zone coverage, quarterbacks often targeted Winters' area underneath. This suggests that they may have perceived it as a potential vulnerability in his game. However, it's important to note that being targeted in zone coverage can also be a testament to the level of respect opponents have for his overall abilities. It indicates that quarterbacks are mindful of his presence and attempt to exploit potential weaknesses in his coverage skills.
In summary, Dee Winters is a dynamic linebacker who can be utilized in various positions on the field. His quick first step compensates for his smaller size, allowing him to make an impact as a tackler. While he may face some challenges in zone coverage, his ability to draw attention from opposing quarterbacks underscores his overall capabilities as a versatile chess piece on the defensive side of the ball.
Top 10 Best NFL Linebackers of All Time
In this list of standout linebackers, the first-ranked player is Drew Sanders from Arkansas, who possesses ideal physical attributes and excels in edge rushing and field coverage. Trenton Simpson from Clemson stands out for his versatility in a position-less defense and exceptional coverage ability against tight ends.
Jack Campbell from Iowa is recognized for his reliability as a tackler, exceptional instincts, and disruption of screen passes, though he may lack burst and explosiveness. Henry To'o To'o from Alabama is known for his disciplined approach, reliability, and leadership qualities on the field, particularly in pass defense.
Daiyan Henley from Washington State showcases active presence, fearlessness in tackling, and versatility in special teams. Dorian Williams from Tulane boasts impressive statistics, but questions arise regarding his ability to shed blocks against higher-caliber opponents. Noah Sewell from Oregon, despite a decline in performance, demonstrates strength in shedding blocks and aggressiveness in run defense.
Ivan Pace Jr. from Cincinnati impresses with explosive speed off the snap but needs improvement in play recognition. Nick Herbig from Wisconsin excels as a pass rusher but faces challenges in setting the edge against the run. Finally, Dee Winters from TCU compensates for his size with a quick first step and impactful hits, while also drawing attention in zone coverage.
Top 10 Linebackers of All Time - FAQs
The top 10 linebackers of all time include iconic players such as Lawrence Taylor, Dick Butkus, Ray Lewis, Derrick Thomas, Jack Lambert, Mike Singletary, Junior Seau, Ray Nitschke, Bobby Bell, and Chuck Bednarik, among others.
The top 10 linebackers were evaluated based on their individual accomplishments, impact on the game, statistical achievements, leadership qualities, longevity, and overall dominance at their position.
Lawrence Taylor is widely regarded as one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history. He revolutionized the position with his exceptional speed, agility, and relentless pass-rushing abilities.
Ray Lewis was known for his exceptional instincts, leadership, and passion for the game. His ability to read plays, deliver bone-crushing hits, and inspire his teammates made him a force to be reckoned with.
While it is difficult to predict the future, there are several outstanding linebackers in the NFL today who have the potential to join the ranks of the all-time greats.