The linebacker, in most cases, is the quarterback of the defense. Middle linebackers are the center of a defense, so naturally, everyone listens to them. The linebacker is strong, fast, agile, hits well, and is the best tackler on the defense. A lot of times, like in the case of the Ravens with Ray Lewis, the linebacker is the heart and soul of the defense, even the entire team at times. Throughout the history of the NFL, there have been quite a few great linebackers, and the best five in my eyes are as follows:
5. Junior Seau (Chargers/Dolphins/Patriots)
He is one of so many great linebackers to come out of USC, maybe the best to come out of that university. Junior Seau was drafted by the Chargers 5th overall in the 1990 Draft, and was a tackling machine. He had 100+ tackles 7 times in his career. He was also pretty nice at causing turnovers, intercepting the ball 18 times, and forcing 11 fumbles. He was a member of two Super Bowl teams, but never won the big game. His career would consist of 12 Pro Bowls, 10 All Pro seasons, a 1994 AFC Player of the Year Award, a 2003 Linebacker of the Year Award, along with numerous other awards. Tragically, he died last year due to a self inflicted shotgun wound to the chest. He will be forever missed and deserves a bust in Canton one day.
4. Jack Lambert (Steelers)
He is yet another great defensive player to come out of the 1970s-1980s Steelers teams. Lambert is the greatest linebacker inn Steelers history, and that is a tough feat in itself, seeing all the greats to play in the Steel City. Lambert struck fear into the hearts of every QB in the league back then and was nearly unstoppable at times. Steeler fans will remember his rough, rugged face, which matched his style of playing. During his career, he got to the QB quite a bit, but when he played, sacks weren’t a stat yet. He ended with 28 INTs as a linebacker as well. He is one of so many Steelers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and his legacy lives on to this day in Pittsburgh.
3. Dick Butkus (Bears)
Everyone knows Dick Butkus. Awards are named after him, there are constant references to him, and he is considered by quite a few people, especially in the Chicago area, as the all time greatest linebacker. Butkus was another star on another completely dominating defense, like a lot of the great linebackers. He, like Lambert, and again like so many of the great linebackers, he played before sacks were recorded as a stat, but he could be an all time leader in that category if the stat was kept back when he played. In his eight seasons, he racked up 22 INTs. His eight seasons were enough to earn him a bust in Canton, and the linebacker position will always bring up his mention for as long as there is football to talk about.
Feb 3, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis warms up before Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
2. Ray Lewis (Ravens)
When you think of Ray Lewis, what do you think of? Chances are you think of one of, if not the most intense player to ever play the game of football. As the inspirational and emotional leader of the Baltimore Ravens, Ray Lewis redefined the linebacker position. He was a true multi-talented athlete, excelling in tackles, as well as sacks, interceptions, and forcing fumbles. He is the only player to have 40 sacks and 30 interceptions in his career. He has been Super Bowl MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, 2000s All Decade Team, multiple time Pro Bowler and multiple time All-Pro. He retired this past year, after his Ravens won the Super Bowl, so he went out on top. He is the greatest linebacker in the past 20 years and will be a First Ballot Hall of Famer.