The linebacker position is special. These athletes are not only required to step up physically in the run game, but cover weapons in the passing game as well. Maybe the position isn't valued like it used to be, but these guys are the extra blitzers, the extra men in coverage, and they must have the ability to do everything that falls in between.
Below, we will rank the NFL's top 10 linebackers entering 2023. To create this list, we took into consideration basic statistics, Pro Football Reference/Stathead's Approximate Value, PFF grades and a guess on how the player will perform moving forward. A couple things to note here: 3-4 OLBs do not appear on this list, as they are "pass rushers." You know, players like T.J. Watt or Haason Reddick. Additionally, we are taking last year's No. 1 linebacker Micah Parsons off the list since it appears he will be playing more pass rusher now. With all that said, let's jump in.
10. Nick Bolton
Nick Bolton of the Kansas City Chiefs had an impressive second NFL season, as he racked up a whopping 180 combined tackles (second among all players), two sacks and three passes defensed to go along with his first two career interceptions. Bolton could have won Super Bowl MVP, as he recorded nine combined tackles and a fumble recovery he took back for a 36-yard touchdown. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo called Bolton his quarterback, and says he's on his way to NFL stardom.
"I love him," Spagnuolo said of Bolton after Super Bowl LVII, via NFL.com. "I think people should recognize (him). He's gonna be a good player for a long time."
9. Dre Greenlaw
The San Francisco 49ers have a dynamic duo at linebacker with Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner. Greenlaw missed the majority of the 2021 campaign due to injury, but still recorded 21 combined tackles and a pick six in just three games played. In 2022, he absolutely exploded. In 15 games, Greenlaw recorded a career-high 127 combined tackles, two forced fumbles, six passes defensed and an interception. He went through a wild streak from Weeks 11-15, where he either had an interception, forced fumble or recovered a fumble in five straight games. Greenlaw also had 26 combined tackles in three playoff games before San Francisco was ousted from the postseason by the Philadelphia Eagles.
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Greenlaw is athletic and has a nose for the big play. Operating in a defense like the 49ers' can make life easier at times, but it also means Greenlaw is likely underrated. Just 26 years old, this upcoming season could be his best if he can remain healthy.
8. Tremaine Edmunds
This physical specimen inked a Chicago Bears in March, which was the second-richest free-agency deal any defender signed this offseason. The former Buffalo Bill recorded 102 combined tackles, one sack, seven passes defensed and an interception in 2022. He led the team in tackles despite missing four games. Tremaine Edmunds has recorded at least 100 combined tackles in all five of his NFL seasons, which is tied for the fourth-longest active streak in the NFL. His 81.9 PFF grade was the fifth-highest among linebackers last season.with the
Edmunds is just 25 years old, and it's fair to wonder if his best football is ahead of him now that he's teaming up with Matt Eberflus.
7. Matt Milano
Matt Milano has been right around the top 10 for years now, but there's no denying him a place on this list after 2022. In 15 games played, he recorded 99 combined tackles, 1.5 sacks, three interceptions, a career-high 11 passes defensed and led the Buffalo Bills in tackles for loss with 12. Milano was named a First Team All-Pro and Pro Bowler for the first time in his career, and received a this offseason. Milano and T.J. Watt are the only players in the NFL with 25 or more tackles for loss and multiple interceptions since the start of the 2021 season.
6. Shaquille Leonard
Shaquille Leonard played in just three games last season due to a back injury and concussion, but he's still a top linebacker in the game. In 2021, Leonard had the second-best season of any linebacker, per Stathead's AV tool. He recorded 122 combined tackles, four interceptions and eight forced fumbles, which led the league. Leonard registered a 91.1 PFF run defense grade, which ranked second among all defenders in 2021.
It is scary that Leonard had to deal with a nerve issue. Hopefully he can be the same player that burst onto the scene in 2018 and led the league in tackles as a rookie, but we don't know if that will happen. That's why it was tough to decide where to place him on this list.
5. Demario Davis
Demario Davis has long been a top 10 linebacker in the NFL, and it's frightening how he's gotten better as he's gotten older. Last year at age 33, Davis recorded 109 combined tackles, a career-high 6.5 sacks, six passes defensed and an interception. He's been an All-Pro four years in a row now, and actually earned his first Pro Bowl bid in 2022.
Davis' 82.7 PFF grade ranked fourth-highest among linebackers last year, and he has registered at least 100 combined tackles in each of the last six seasons. That's the third-longest active streak in the NFL. The New Orleans Saints defense would look a lot different if it were not for him in the middle.
4. Lavonte David
Lavonte David is another one of the league's savvy veteran players who continues to make an impact even after reaching age 30. Last year, David recorded 124 combined tackles, three sacks, five passes defensed and also registered the third-highest PFF grade among linebackers (85.1). In 11 NFL seasons, he's failed to reach 100 tackles in just two of them. A three-time All-Pro, David isn't done just yet. Todd Bowles will rely on him to captain the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense while the offense attempts to figure out what life without Tom Brady will look like.
3. Bobby Wagner
Someone forgot to tell Bobby Wagner he's "old." He registered the top PFF grade among linebackers last season with a 90.7. The Los Angeles Rams did not have a great season in 2022, but Wagner did. He racked up 140 combined tackles, a career-high six sacks and two interceptions while earning All-Pro honors for the ninth time. Wagner has now recorded at least 104 combined tackles in each of his 11 NFL seasons. It goes without saying that's the longest active streak in the NFL, and the second-longest streak since 2000 (London Fletcher, 14).
Wagner is one of the best defensive captains out there, and people have been attempting to predict his downfall for years now. Welp, it hasn't happened yet, and there's no reason to predict it will in 2023 with him returning to Seattle to lead a defense that is improved.
2. Roquan Smith
The Baltimore Ravens sent the Bears a second-round pick and fifth-round pick for star linebacker Roquan Smith at the trade deadline last year, and they are sure happy they did. In 17 total games for the Ravens and Bears, Smith recorded a career-high 169 combined tackles (third in the NFL), 4.5 sacks, six passes defensed and three interceptions.
Smith improved the Baltimore defense in a big way -- and the stats prove it. In Weeks 1-8 without Smith, the Ravens allowed 22.9 points per game and 364.3 total yards per game. In Weeks 9-18 with Smith, those numbers dropped to 14.7 points per game and 288.8 yards per game. Smith also helped drop the Ravens' yards allowed per rush number from 4.4 to 3.5.
This offseason, Smith agreed to a Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis. The 26 year old was a First Team All-Pro for the first time in his career, and made his first Pro Bowl.that made him the highest-paid linebacker in NFL history. Last year, he became just the third player in the last 30 seasons to record 150 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions in a season, joining
1. Fred Warner
Fred Warner didn't have a monster campaign in 2021 after being named a First Team All-Pro the year prior, but he certainly returned to form in 2022. The BYU product recorded 130 combined tackles, two sacks, a career-high 10 passes defensed and an interception this past season. Warner's 85.7 PFF grade ranked second behind the legendary Bobby Wagner, and he has now recorded at least 118 combined tackles in each of his five NFL seasons. Warner is a two-time First Team All-Pro, and two-time Pro Bowler.
Warner is the kind of well-rounded linebacker you want captaining your defense, but I think what establishes him as No. 1 is his ability in coverage. Warner is undoubtedly one of the best cover linebackers in the NFL. Usually a linebacker lining up against a running back or slot receiver spells mismatch. Not when we're talking about Warner.