According to all pundits and the books are written about the game, American Football is equally dependent on offense and defense. However, the reality is quite different. In this pass-happy era of the NFL, the defensive side of the game does not get the attention it deserves. Every time the opposition quarterback thinks about launching the ball deep into the half, a defender is waiting to subdue that threat. And there is no position bigger than the Linebacker when it comes to the defense.
Over the years, linebackers have quietly slipped under the radar when it comes to recognition and fame. However, they hold one of the most influential positions in the field. They have the responsibility of leading the defense and stopping the opposition from causing any problems. Generally, players with burly frames and good game awareness are entrusted with the role of an LB gear.
With the advent of a new NFL season on the horizon, we will take a look at some of the greatest linebackers in the history of the league.
#10. Bobby Bell
The Kansas City Chiefs will forever be indebted to the football legend Bobby Bell and his accomplishments. Never one to hog the limelight, Bell was a quiet assassin in the way he went about his game on the field. In his prime, he was as solid as a rock and didn’t let anyone get past him with ease.
His tall build and nimble movements were the key factors that made him menacing for the opposing offense. Bell was so prolific that other coaches had to form a separate set of plays to isolate him and stifle his threat. Nevertheless, he still managed to emerge victoriously. These achievements fetched him a boatload of personal accolades as well as a Hall of Fame induction in 1983.
It is safe to say that Bobby Bell was an inspiration to many generations who wanted to emulate his style and determination.
#9. Derrick Brooks
The name Derrick Brooks is associated with technical brilliance and sheer tenacity. A fighter in the truest sense of the word, Brooks was a man gifted with all the talents required to form a dominating linebacker. It is hard to comprehend the amount of authority and respect he commanded while being one of the defensive players, playing in the Bucs outfit.
In a career spanning 13 years, Derrick Brooks was as good an LB as anyone else. The speed with which he took on runners and the surety in his tackles has seldom been replicated. He played a pivotal role in the 2003 season that culminated with the Buccaneers winning the Super Bowl.
A tackling maestro, Brooks recorded more than 1700 tackles during his career and was responsible for 49 turnovers. These achievements of his mandated an immediate Hall of Fame inclusion which he received in 2014.
#8. Junior Seau
A part of the modern greats, Junior Seau was one of the most prolific linebackers of his generation. Leading the defence of three different outfits during a career is not a simple task. However, Seau managed to pull that off with remarkable ease and a simplistic approach to his craft. He had a certain coolness about the way he functioned which made his performance seem effortless.
The reason behind this might have something to do with his exceptional game awareness and calm temperament. There was rarely an occasion where Seau lost his composure. Even in the most intense games of his career, Seau was cool and collected; and that showed in the way he took on opponents.
However, his calm demeanour shouldn’t be mistaken for a reluctance in tackling. Junior Seau is one of the hardest tacklers to ever grace the game. With 1849 tackles to his name, he was considered a defensive menace during his prime.
In an unfortunate turn of events, Junior Seau tragically committed suicide at the age of 43, three years before his Hall of Fame inclusion in 2015.
#7. Jack Ham
No linebacker list is complete without mentioning the name of Jack Ham. A true pioneer of the defender’s art, Ham was simply a joy to watch when it came to taking down opponents and stifling opposition plays. “Dobre Shunka”, as he was affectionately called since childhood, was the epitome of speed and agility. Combine that with perfect game awareness, and you have a player that is hard to elude.
Jack Ham was part of the iconic Steelers team during the 70s and was influential in helping the franchise win four Super-Bowls during his tenure. He was also awarded as the defensive player of the year in 1975, which is considered his greatest season.
Ham has many records that are associated with him. However, there is none greater than the 53 forced turnovers he has to his name. That is the most number of turnovers by an LB in the history of the NFL and will take some beating.
There is no doubt about the fact that Jack Ham is a Steelers legend and his Hall of Fame induction in 1988 will be proof of his contribution to the game.
#6. Derrick Thomas
It has to be admitted that the Kansas City Chiefs have a rich history of producing some of the greatest defensive talents in the league, and Derrick Thomas was no different. The perfect combination of class and brute force, Thomas was a dangerous element in the Chiefs defence for a long time. If it weren’t for his untimely death at the age of 33, we surely would have seen the storied career of an all-time great.
In his 10 seasons for the franchise, Derrick Thomas was the perfect example of dedication to his craft and a fierce competitor. The Cheifs faithful remember him as a player who was sure in tackling and had an innate sense of the game.
Derrick Thomas was included in the Hall of Fame in 2009 in remembrance of his impact on the Kansas City Chiefs as well as the entire league.
#5. Jack Lambert
Jack Lambert is one of those players whose name is eternally etched into the history of the NFL. When you win four Super Bowls and have 2 DPOY titles to your name, it becomes really hard to ignore your impact on the game as a whole. Lambert was a part of the iconic “Steel Curtain” that had stalwarts like Jack Ham present. No wonder they were an all-dominating force.
Lambert arguably had a more important role than Ham because he was a middle linebacker. As the middle LB, he had to conduct both sides of his defense while being a scrappy player in the centre-field. Jack did so with a calm temperament and never let his opponents off the hook.
Many analysts believe that Lambert was made to look good by his teammates. However, you don’t get included in the NFL Hall of Fame for nothing. He was a true pioneer of the art and paved the way for many linebackers who succeeded him.
#4. Mike Singletary
Such was the brilliance of Mike Singletary during his playing days that his name became a benchmark for new LBs. An all-time Bears great, Singletary was known for his tremendous athleticism and of course, his brutal tackles. Many of the players who faced him admit that he was one of the hardest hitters during his prime.
The Chicago Bears team of 85 won the Super Bowl in a way that many would not have expected. They were heavily reliant on their defense and Singletary in particular. “Samurai Mike” delivered on the day and was able to stifle the Patriots’ offense with ease.
Some sources admit that Mike Singletary was also in the MVP discussion instead of the impact he made on the league. He was very dominant in the way he went about his game and never look nervous on the field.
#3. Dick Butkus
Many of the present-day NFL fanatics might not have heard of Dick Butkus, but he was a legend in his class. In an era where the league was heavily tilted towards the physical aspect of the game, Butkus ushered in a new style that eventually became the norm. It has to be said that he was one of the pioneers of the defensive style that we today.
To honour his contribution, the NFL decided to name the defensive player of the year award after him. Butkus was deceptively quick and could annihilate his opponents if they came in his path. He is one of the rare breeds of players who were able to win the DPOY 2 years in a row.
Dick Butkus was inducted into instead of all of Fame in 1978 instead of his dedication to the craft and sheer tenacity with which he took to the field.
#2. Ray Lewis
When your career spans 16 years with a single franchise, you know that you’ve achieved something great. That is exactly what Ray Lewis did with the Baltimore Ravens across his long career. One of the greatest linebackers to ever grace the game, Lewis won two Super Bowls with the Ravens. Moreover, he was also adjudged as the MVP in Super Bowl XXXV.
Lewis was one player who could change the direction of the game single-handled while staying on defense. He had the authority and command over his teammates to motivate them and create a visible impact on the locker room. That is why Ray Lewis was such a potent weapon. Some critics do not like him because of his attitude and his frequent altercations with referees and opponents. However, that can not diminish his greatness whatsoever.
Ray Lewis will always be one of the players who ushered in a new era as far as middle linebackers are concerned. He showed the league that skill can be coupled with game awareness and grit in a way that the world had never seen before.
#1. Lawrence Taylor
When it comes to picking the greatest linebacker in the history of the NFL, there is no doubt about the fact that Lawrence Taylor will always bag the top spot. Never one to hog the limelight, Taylor quietly went about his job and let his stats and performances do the talking for him. In his 12-year-long career, he rose through the ranks and made a name for himself.
Other than being supremely talented, Lawrence Taylor was also an imposing presence on the field. Never one to back down from a challenge, he fought valiantly against every opposition irrespective of the flow of the game. This quality of his mad Taylor made him the only player to ever receive the MVP award despite playing defence.
With numerous personal accolades to his name, Taylor also won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants and was included in the hall of fame in 1999. It has to be said that Lawrence Taylor has been the most impactful LB in the history of the NFL.
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