With a sense that this damn lockout is on the verge of ending, we’re speeding these things up. Let’s face it, ranking players at each position was work stoppage filler, and we’re excited to get back to stuff that sort of actually, you know, matters.
Today, we look at the NFL’s top 10 inside linebackers as of right now. It’s a position that doesn’t get a lot of attention nowadays, so the pickings were a little slimmer than we would’ve liked, but the list contains a handful of 20-somethings who give the term “mike linebacker” hope for the future.
Quarterbacks (May 9)
Running backs (May 13)
Receivers (May 17)
Tight ends (June 1)
Offensive tackles (June 9)
Guards (June 14)
Centers (June 17)
Pass rushers (June 24)
Run stoppers (June 28)
1. Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers
Mr. Consistent has been in on nearly 600 tackles four years into his tremendous career. He can also rush the quarterback and is strong in coverage, but no one can cover the field like the 26-year-old Mississippi product. He’s on a Hall of Fame track.
2. Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots
He rarely if ever misses tackles, which is even more incredible considering how many plays he’s in on. Mayo led the league with 114 solo tackles in 2010, earning his first All-Pro honor at the age of 24.
3. Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
It feels weird putting a 36-year-old here, mainly because these are power rankings and guys this age are supposed to be well past their prime. But Lewis continues to impact the game the same way he did a decade ago. He still brings the wood about 100-odd times a year and hasn’t missed a game in three seasons.
4. Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears
He’s more of an all-or-nothing linebacker, which is why there are some years in which Urlacher hasn’t deserved to make lists like these. But in 2010, he balled out.
5. Jon Beason, Carolina Panthers
Beason’s numbers dipped in his fourth season, but I’m actually amazed by how effective he was despite being surrounded by a slew of injury replacements and generally bad players.
6. Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh Steelers
I don’t care how good the system is. I don’t care how strong his teammates are. No inside linebacker was better in coverage in 2010 than Timmons. He’s not a pass rusher, but he handles running backs and tight ends like an All-Pro.
7. Jonathan Vilma, New Orleans Saints
It’s possible that there isn’t a middle linebacker in football with more responsibilities than Vilma, who has adapted to the changes introduced by Gregg Williams and become one of the most versatile defensive players in the league.
8. Derrick Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs
The former first-round pick finally broke out with a tremendous 2010 season. He’s always been fantastic in coverage, but he started actually making tackles as well last year, and that’s why he’s become a top-10 inside linebacker.
9. James Farrior, Pittsburgh Steelers
A jack of all trades defender who doesn’t get enough credit and, despite being 36, seems to have quite a lot of gas left in the tank.
10. Bart Scott, New York Jets
Another guy who just doesn’t miss tackles. Scott is the primary reason why opposing running backs go to the New Meadowlands to die. David Harris puts up better numbers, but Scott has a bigger impact on the game.