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Blog Entry

Position rankings: 4-3 outside linebackers

Posted on: July 6, 2010 12:08 pm
Edited on: July 6, 2010 12:19 pm

Josh Katzowitz and Andy Benoit resume their debate, with today’s focus on 4-3 outside linebackers.

Josh Katzowitz’s top five

5. Geno Hayes, BuccaneersB. Cushing (US Presswire)

4. Julian Peterson, Lions

3. Daryl Smith, Jaguars

2. Lance Briggs, Bears

1. Brian Cushing, Texans

Last week, we talked about outside linebackers who play the 3-4. Now, it’s the 4-3 linebackers’ turn. Despite the fact he violated the steroids policy and won’t be around for the first four games of the Texans season – personally, I think the voters should have stripped away his NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award as well – Cushing was phenomenal last season. He’s extremely well-rounded – he can rush the passer, play the run and drop into coverage with aplomb – and he’ll be a great foundation for Houston in the years to come. Hopefully, his pituitary gland won’t give him any more problems in the future.

Briggs had another Pro Bowl season, but he missed too many tackles last year. He still plays with speed and strength and is still a top-notch OLB. Smith is coming off a career season (106 tackles) when Jacksonville experimented with a 3-4 scheme, but with the Jaguars going back to the 4-3 and moving Smith to the strong side, it’ll be interesting to see how the change affects him and whether he drops back into the 70-80 tackle range. Peterson is getting older and losing a step, but he’s still more than solid. I’m not sold fully on Hayes, but he had a nice season last year, and Tampa Bay expects big things in his third season.

I thought about adding Keith Bulluck – who’s 33 – but the fact he’s coming off an ACL surgery and that, you know, he hasn’t been claimed off the free agent market dampens my enthusiasm for him.

Andy Benoit's top five

5. Chad Greenway, Minnesota Vikings

4. David Hawthorne, Seattle Seahawks

3 Brian Cushing, Houston Texans

2. Lance Briggs, Chicago Bears

1. Jon Beason, Carolina Panthers

We’re in agreement on Cushing and Briggs. Cushing has been a star since day one. Of course, we’ll have to see how explosive he is now that he’s not juicing (presumably). Lance Briggs has terrific speed, plus he’s strong enough to play in traffic.

My guess is you’re considering Beason a 4-3 MLB. He’s been the best 4-3 MLB in the league the past few years, but it’s looking like the Panthers will foolishly slide him to the weak side to replace the injured Thomas Davis in 2010. I figure Beason will be a demon at weakside linebacker, too – it’s the position he played at Miami. If he’s a WLB in ’10, where do you rank him?

Hayes is up-and-coming, but he needs to learn to get off blocks before I consider him top five. Peterson has been a non-factor in Detroit, which is almost like being dead. Smith is just too plain for me. His tackle numbers were good in part because the players around him stunk. Put Smith next to a Ray Lewis or a Bart Scott and you’d never notice him again.

Regarding the guys rounding out my list…Greenway is a playmaker when he can trust those around him. He’s especially effective in coverage. I’m taking a risk by going with the undrafted Hawthorne, mainly because his NFL experience is at middle linebacker and it’s not a 100 percent guarantee he’ll even start ahead of Leroy Hill in Seattle this year. But I’ve seen enough of Hawthorne on film to feel comfortable here. Hawthorne is instinctive, nimble and punishing at the point of contact. He regularly infiltrated opponents’ backfields last season.

Josh’s rebuttal

You’re absolutely right on Beason. If he does move to the weak side – and it’s still not certain – he automatically moves to No. 2 on my list. I still like Cushing a little bit better, but that could change on next year’s list, because of the chemical questions you mentioned. Greenway, aside from his coverage skills, seems run of the mill to me, and it’s not clear whether Hawthorne, who had a breakout last season, will even start this year – depending on what happens with Leroy Hill. He’s almost the Omar Infante of your list.

Andy’s final word

I didn’t realize how few elite 4-3 OLB’s there are until we did this list. The best athletes used to be weakside linebackers. Now, they’re 3-4 outside linebackers. (Or, sometimes, strong safeties.)

(Other positions: Safety | Cornerback | 3-4 Scheme Outside Linebacker | Punter | Kicker )

--Josh Katzowitz and Andy Benoit

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Since: Jan 12, 2010
Posted on: July 6, 2010 3:48 pm

Position rankings: 4-3 outside linebackers

Lance Briggs is a BEAST.

I watch this guy every Sunday. An absolute beast of a linebacker. He would be a superstar if Chicago wasnt playing lousy.

Cushing should NOT be on this list. He is a steroid user, first of all. And secondly, he has only played one season. It takes a few good years of consistantly playing at a high level to be considered among the game's best. Lots of guys have 1 great year and never duplicate it. We will see how he plays without the roids.

Keep an eye on that Chicago defense this year. Briggs, Urlacher, Peppers, Tommie Harris..all healthy for once. Could be top 5. Which would be keeping the pace with Green Bay and Minnesota, who both have stud defenses.

Since: Jan 5, 2010
Posted on: July 6, 2010 3:26 pm

Position rankings: 4-3 outside linebackers


Since: May 19, 2007
Posted on: July 6, 2010 1:55 pm

Position rankings: 4-3 outside linebackers

Really? Is this honestly the best has to offer, or just the best you guys could bother to dig up? Lance Briggs deserves to be top two on the list every time. Cushing was caught using steroids (say what you want about NFL players in general, this guy was caught) and has only played a year (a year on steroids). Sure, he did well last year. But do we place him at 1st (or even top 3) becasue of one juiced year?? That's ridiculous. Outside of that, Josh puts Smith at 3rd... and then supports his choice by saying that he finally did well in the 3-4, and will now be going back to the 4-3. So, we have a guy that never really thrived in the 4-3, but makes the top 3 because of his performance in the 3-4? What a reach.

Andy then tops his list with a fantastic 4-3 MLB who could possibly be switching to OLB. Possibly? And yet he tops the list... He then goes on to list Hawthorne at 4, supporting it with his eye-witness opinions (the most valid kind of support, which I appreciate). But, of course, he could possibly be starting this year. How does a guy who cannot win a starting spot on his own team make the top 5 at the position when reviewing the entire NFL?

Either these lists are especially horrible, or the NFL has no strong players at the position, as Andy suggested. Seeing as how some of the players listed here cannot even win the starting position on their own teams, I'd say, with little doubt, that these lists are horrible. Good for you guys, getting this kind of job, but there isn't a whole lot of quality in these articles at all.

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