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Best Linebackers of All Time

Top Ten Greatest NFL Linebackers of All-Time

Yes! The list is debatable because there have been so many greats, so don't crucify me if your guy didn't make my top 10 best linebackers of all time list! This article was written in 2014, so please also excuse the absence of any big-name LB's that have shown up after that time period. Enjoy!

By Loot, College Football Handicapper,

1. Lawrence Taylor: Statistics only tell a small part of the story. Taylor was a uniquely-gifted player. Not only was he the greatest linebacker of all-time--there are crazier things to say than that he was the greatest football player who ever lived. His motor was incredible and his pass-rushing abilities were undeniable. The ten-time all-pro registered double-digit sacks in 7 straight years. Taylor was the most intimidating force ever seen on the defensive side of the ball.

2. Dick Butkus: If he is the second-best linebacker of all time, it’s not by much. Many make a very salient case that it is in fact Butkus who deserves the top spot. He very well could have been the most feared player of all-time. A lot of those Bears teams he played on weren’t very good defensively, allowing opponents to key in on Butkus. It didn’t matter, as Butkus rampaged over opposing offenses, before a knee injury cut his career short after 9 seasons.

3. Junior Seau: An irrepressible spirit on the field, Seau was relied upon like few players have. The Chargers’ teams of those years wouldn’t have had many good seasons if not for Seau single-handedly shutting teams down, especially on third down. When Seau filled a gap, you weren’t getting through-no matter what. His energy was off-the charts and his sense of urgency was uncanny, as he had an innate sense of when to play his best. He will be missed.

4. Ray Lewis: One of the more versatile guys on this list. Lewis had all the tools and unleashed them on the NFL for 15+ glorious years. He could stop the run with aplomb and was a heck of a cover guy when called upon. On top of that, Lewis is deadly-smart, able to mentally pick apart teams. Name any adjective you would associate with a good linebacker and Lewis has it.


5. Jack Ham: Being a champion has to account for something and with four Super Bowl rings, Ham has the credentials. As an individual player, he was a wickedly fierce and smart force on the field. He accounted for 53 turnovers in his career and his list of individual and team honors are too numerous to name. One of the greatest outside linebackers who ever lived.

6. Chuck Bednarik: Has there ever been a player who epitomized what being a football player is all about. Bednarik embodies football. He makes John Wayne look like Andy Cohen. The 10-time All-Pro selection hit like a ton of bricks. His tackle knocked Frank Gifford out for a year-plus and probably abbreviated his career. The league’s last two-way player was one of the best.

7. Mike Singletary: Is there a player besides Singletary who you would rather watch on NFL films? Singletary was the heart and soul of one of the greatest defenses of all-time, captaining the Chicago Bears’ defense for a dozen years. In their Super Bowl season of 1985-1986, he won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, which is really saying something considering the quality of that defense. Whatever he lacked in size, he made up for in intensity and quick wits.

8. Ray Nitschke: From 1958-1972, Nitschke was a steady presence in the Packers’ defense. In those early Super Bowls and the last of the NFL Championship games, Nitschke always played his best game in the biggest moments. He had a tough life and seemed irritated about it, taking it out on opponents. The old films of a toothless Nitschke mauling people on the frozen Green Bay tundra are images that are impossible to forget.

9. Willie Lanier: Not that you want to take a hit from any players on this list, but getting put down by Lanier was a painful experience indeed. The former Kansas City Chiefs middle linebacker, like many greats on this list, always went a step beyond in the biggest games, as his performances in playoff games, and Super Bowl IV in particular, were of-the-charts. A high-contact hitter, Lanier was unquestionably one of the greatest ever.

10. Jack Lambert: In a lot of ways, Lambert was the face of the famed Pittsburgh Steelers “Steel Curtain” defense. He was gritty, determined, and better than his individual parts would suggest. Lanky for a linebacker at around 220 pounds, he made up with it with a never-say-die spirit and the grit that matched the city of Pittsburgh itself. Fast for a linebacker, he was good at pass defense and one of the more tenacious players in the history of the NFL.

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