Ranking The Top 121 Linebackers From a Mathematical Perspective

Recently, we’ve gone over who rates out as the best interior defenders and edge rushers in the NFL. Now, we’ll complete our deep dive in the front seven, this time looking at the top linebackers in the NFL. As football continues to evolve into a spread-out passing game predicated on speed, the value of the linebacker position, especially their ability to stop the run, has gone down. Still, it’s very useful for a team to have an athletic linebacker who can help shut down the passing game over the middle of the field, and today, we’ll see who are the best players at doing that.

  • Pro Football Focus assigns players with a grade from -2 to 2 for each pass-rush snap, which paints a great picture of how effective a pass rusher they area. Their overall grade is known as their Pass-Rush Grade
  • Pro Football Focus’ Coverage Grade does the same, but this time is based on how linebackers fare in coverage during every coverage snap.
  • Pro Football Focus’ Run-Defense Grade accomplishes the same feat, but for rushing plays.
  • Pro Football Focus’ Tackling Grade also accomplishes the same feat, but for tackling.
  • Run-Stop Rate is the percentage of times a linebacker stops a run for a loss of yards- when they are able to “blow up” a rushing play.

Each player was assigned a percentile rank in these statistics, based on their mean production over the past two seasons, and with a slight weight towards the 2019 season. Then, their overall grade was compiled using the following formula, relying on the more stable metrics and making the ability to affect the passing game a high priority:

(.6xCOVGrade)+(.1xPRGrade)+(.05xTCKGrade)+(.21xRDGrade)+(.04xRS%)

Now, let’s see who the numbers say are the best 121 linebackers in the NFL!

TIER 1

wagner
Photo Cred: Tacoma News Tribune

#1: Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks (Overall Grade: 92.3)

Now that Luke Kuechly has retired, Bobby Wagner can now hold the honor as the consensus top linebacker in the NFL. In 2017 and 2018, the 29-year-old averaged a coverage grade, tackling grade, run defense grade, and overall grade over 90, while he also was a very effective pass-rusher. However, after signing a new $54 million extension, he disappointed last season, as his coverage grade dipped to 62. If Seattle’s defense is going to be better next season, they’ll need him to rebound.

#2: Demario Davis, New Orleans Saints (Overall Grade: 91.1)

For the first five years of his career, Demario Davis was an average-at-best player, and until last year, he was mostly known for his run defense. However, he evolved into a completely different player last season, and arguably should’ve been in the conversation for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Between his 88.3 coverage grade and 30 pressures, he clearly affected the passing game, and continued to be very effective working downhill in the running game. His energy and pursuit ability are super fun to watch, and he’ll be the anchor of the Saints defense before entering free agency next offseason.

#3: Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts (Overall Grade: 89.55)

When the Colts drafted Darius Leonard at the top of the second round in 2018, many criticized the pick greatly. However, in the end, general manager Chris Ballard has been able to get the last laugh. Although his production slightly declined last season as he dealt with injuries, he ranks in the 90th percentile in coverage and run defense over the past two seasons, and has even more room to get better entering his third season.

#4: Alexander Johnson, Denver Broncos (Overall Grade: 89.2)

As a 27-year-old rookie, Alexander Johnson was a complete unknown entering last season. By Week 5, though, he earned a starting job in Vic Fangio’s defense, and from there, he never looked back. Although his main strength is his run defense (100th percentile), he’s also very solid in coverage (90th percentile), and expectations should be high for him moving forward. Fangio has always had a reputation for developing linebackers, and he’s found one of the better players at the position out of nowhere.

#5: Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Overall Grade: 87.1)

Few players have been more inconsistent on a year-to-year basis than Lavonte David, who seems to rotate between being an elite player and an average player. He’s gotten back on track in the past three seasons, however, including a standout performance in 2019. His 91.4 coverage grade led all linebackers, and I’m excited what he has in store in his second season in defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ system.

#6: Eric Kendricks, Minnesota Vikings (Overall Grade: 86.3)

For the first four seasons of his career, Eric Kendricks was always a solid contributor, but mostly an average player. That all changed last year, though, as he earned career-high grades in run defense (90.1) and coverage (82.5) by a wide margin, and the Vikings have to be thrilled to have him under contract for the next four seasons.

#7: Deion Jones, Atlanta Falcons (Overall Grade: 84.35)

In today’s game, teams are coveting undersized, athletic linebackers, and Deion Jones may be at the center of this revolution. He’s by no means a downhill thumper at 6’1″ and 227 pounds, yet his movement skills are exceptional. In his past two full seasons, the 25-year-old has graded out tremendously in pass coverage, which certainly compensates for his inconsistency as a run defender.

TIER 2

Seahawks Cowboys Football
Photo Cred: Cowboyswire.usatoday.com

#8: Jayon Brown, Tennessee Titans (Overall Grade: 84.1)

Despite being just a fifth-round pick in 2017, Jayon Brown has established himself as the top linebacker outside of the top tier. The 25-year-old has been a major asset for Tennessee with his ability to affect the passing game in coverage and as a pass rusher, while he has improved his run defense in every season of his career. He’s certainly one of the more underrated defensive players in the NFL.

#9: Bobby Okereke, Indianapolis Colts (Overall Grade: 84.05)

It’s safe to say that Chris Ballard knows who to scout linebackers; similarly to Darius Leonard, Bobby Okereke was seen as a reach when he was drafted in the third round, but the Stanford product looks to be the perfect modern-day linebacker. Although he wasn’t a consistent starter, he shined in pass coverage in his opportunities, and I’m hoping Indianapolis recognizes his talent, and gives him the starting job opposite of Leonard this season.

#10: Cory Littleton, Las Vegas Raiders (Overall Grade: 83.25)

To be frank, Cory Littleton has generally been an atrocious run defender. However, that doesn’t really matter, as he’s been a dynamic player in pass coverage (99th percentile), and is thus one of the more valuable players at the linebacker position. Compared to some of the other linebackers who signed this offseason for a similar price, he looks like a bargain at $12 million per season.

#11: Jaylon Smith, Dallas Cowboys (Overall Grade: 82.95)

The Cowboys chose to give Jaylon Smith a lofty extension after he shined in 2018, but was that the right decision. After missing the entirety of his rookie season recovering from a torn ACL, he’s been a very reliable player for Dallas, but his 2018 season looks like more of a fluke compared to his other two seasons. He’s a tremendous pass rusher with strong pursuit ability, but he really regressed in coverage last season.

12: Benardrick McKinney, Houston Texans (Overall Grade: 80.6)

Although he’s more of a thumping linebacker at 257 pounds, Benardrick McKinney is by no means a liability in coverage. In fact, he ranks in the 80th percentile in that regard, and prior to this season,  he was an elite run defender- he is also a sure tackler. He’s one of the few bright spots for the Texans defensively.

#13: Nick Kwiatkoski, Las Vegas Raiders (Overall Grade: 79.6)

The Raiders didn’t sign just one tier-2 linebacker to a team-friendly contract, but two. Prior to this season, Nick Kwiatkoski struggled to get playing time with the Bears, and even in 2019, was in and out of the starting lineup. He started from Week 10, though, and was an all-around player for them. The $7 million he’s getting paid per season is a relative bargain, and he complements Littleton tremendously as a much-more physical player.

#14: Isaiah Simmons, Arizona Cardinals (Overall Grade: 78)

Only a linebacker by name, I expect Isaiah Simmons to rank at the top of this list in a short time. Few players can run a 4.39 40-yard dash at 6’4″ and 240 pounds, and he has all the tools to completely neutralize an opposing team’s passing attack over the middle of the field. Whether it’s as a linebacker, box safety, free safety, or slot corner, he’s as versatile as it gets, and if used properly, is a generational player that you should want to build your defense around. He may have his growing pains as a rookie, but I still cannot believe the Cardinals were able to draft him with the 8th overall pick in the draft.

#15: Shaun Dion Hamilton, Washington Redskins (Overall Grade: 77.85)

If you believe in small sample sizes, then you need to keep a close eye on Shaun Dion Hamilton. In 387 snaps, he earned an 89.7 coverage grade, and really played well down the stretch. With a new regime in place, I’m not sure if he’ll get the bump in playing time that he deserves, but Redskins fans need to hope that head coach Ron Rivera doesn’t overlook the 24-year-old’s clear talent.

#16: Josh Bynes, Cincinnati Bengals (Overall Grade: 76.5)

For whatever reason, Josh Bynes continues to get passed on by almost every team. He was a free agent until Week 5 of last season, and this offseason, settled for a modest one-year contract with the Bengals. Yet, the 30-year-old has been one of the better linebackers  recently. He has always been a strong run defender, but he’s grown as a coverage player, and as long as Cincinnati starts him, they’ll get a major boost- their linebacker production has been amongst the league’s worst for years.

#17: Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas Cowboys (Overall Grade: 75.6)

Leighton Vander Esch or Darius Leonard? That was a highly-debated question after the 2018 season, and for the most part, Vander Esch was considered the better player. However, that no longer appears to be the case. Before missing the final six games of the season with a neck injury, the 23-year-old was a liability in run defense and much worse in pass coverage, and the Cowboys need the former first-round pick to rebound in his third season.

#18: Matt Milano, Buffalo Bills (Overall Grade: 73.9)

As I’ve emphasized multiple times, run defense is far less important for a linebacker than their coverage ability. Therefore, Matt Milano is one of the better linebackers in the NFL, despite the fact that he received a disastrous 39.2 run defense grade last season. The 25-year-old ranks in the 95th percentile in pass coverage over the past two seasons, and is someone that the Bills need to seriously consider signing to a contract extension.

#19: LJ Fort, Baltimore Ravens (Overall Grade: 72.95)

Similarly to Josh Bynes, LJ Fort was signed as a street free agent by the Ravens halfway through the NFL season, yet was able to step in and be a productive player for them. In fact, over the past two seasons, he’s been a solid player with no glaring weakness, and his pass-rush ability makes him a great fit for Baltimore’s defense.

#20: Vince Williams, Pittsburgh Steelers (Overall Grade: 72.45)

When Ryan Shazier went down with a serious back injury, there was a lot of pressure on the team’s other linebackers, mainly Vince Williams, to step in for him. For the most part, the 30-year-old has been an average player. Last season, though, he was much better when healthy, especially in coverage, which makes sense. The team added more linebacking talent, which put less pressure on him to carry the load. Hopefully, that improvement holds up, but at the very least, he’s a very effective pass rusher.

#21: Ja’Whaun Bentley, New England Patriots (Overall Grade: 71.95)

The Patriots have generally preferred bigger, thumping linebackers in their defensive scheme, and at 255 pounds, Ja’Whaun Bentley fits that mold. He hasn’t played a lot, but in 275 snaps this past season, he was solid in coverage and even had 7 pressures, and figures to play a larger role this season.

#22: Alex Anzalone, New Orleans Saints (Overall Grade: 71.9)

Coming out of the University of Florida, Alex Anzalone was seen as a player with injury concerns, and he’s now essentially missed two of the first three seasons of his career. However, in his only full season in 2018, he was a reliable player in coverage, and should get a chance to open the season as the Saints’ starting linebacker opposite of Demario Davis.

#23: Blake Martinez, New York Giants (Overall Grade: 71.75)

From the eye test, it’s really hard to justify this ranking for Blake Martinez. He’s a really stiff player that was constantly picked on last season, as he is someone who gets a lot of tackles based on his conservative style of play. At the same time, he also played in a very difficult scheme for him, as Green Bay mostly utilizes just one linebacker in their defense, which may be why he often looked uncomfortable. The 26-year-old has flashed the ability to defend the run and be reliable in coverage, but he just hasn’t done so in a specific season.

#24: CJ Mosley, New York Jets (Overall Grade: 71.7)

As the general manager of the Jets, Mike Maccagnan made countless of poor decisions that crippled the franchise. One of the worst ones, though, in my opinion, was him signing CJ Mosley to a five-year, $85 million contract. The 27-year-old is a solid player, but he was coming off of his worst season in coverage, and doesn’t stand out in any particular area. That’s generally not the type of player that you want to be a $17 million cap hit, especially at the linebacker position.

#25: Zach Brown, Free Agent (Overall Grade: 71.7)

As a player who is known to freelance, Zach Brown has had a tough time sticking on one team- he has played on four different teams over the past five seasons. He clearly wasn’t a fit in Philadelphia, as he really struggled all-around, but in 2018, he was fabulous in coverage (84.4 grade) and run defense (83.3). The talent is clearly there, but his style of play makes him a very inconsistent player, so I can understand why no one has signed him yet.

TIER 3

Steelers Chargers Football
Photo Cred: Steelers Wire

#26: Jamie Collins Sr., Detroit Lions (Overall Grade: 71.35)

After being a star player for the Patriots, Jamie Collins Sr.’s tenure with the Browns was extremely disastrous, but magically, he went back to producing when he was brought back by New England. Luckily for him, head coach Matt Patricia runs Bill Belichick’s multiple scheme, and will use him as a linebacker/edge hybrid. However, even if he was still with the Patriots, I’d be slightly worried about him- his abilities in coverage greatly decreased after the first six weeks of the season, in which all the teams he played had below-average offenses.

#27: Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots (Overall Grade: 70.45)

The Patriots haven’t been scared to let Collins Sr. leave in free agency multiple times, but they’ve made sure to keep Dont’a Hightower around. The 30-year-old’s production has dramatically decreased over the past two seasons, but he’s still in coverage and versus the run, even if his pass-rush ability has tapered down. He’s a free agent after this season, so it’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for him.

#28: Devin Bush, Pittsburgh Steelers (Overall Grade: 69.4)

The general belief is that both of the first-round linebackers from last year’s draft struggled, but in reality, Devin Bush was significantly better than Devin White, and appears to be a budding star. After a rough first three games, the 21-year-old progressed significantly and coverage, and he’ll only get better with more experience in zone coverage. His ceiling appears to be through the roof, and he’ll be a very key player for the Steelers defense with his elite physical traits.

#29: Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers (Overall Grade: 68.8)

There have been a lot of recent success stories with mid-round linebackers, and Fred Warner is one of them. Drafted in the third round in 2018, he was an immediate starter for the 49ers, and is coming off of multiple solid seasons. Although his run defense and tackling have been concerns, he’s an impactful player versus the pass with his coverage (76.4 grade) and pass-rushing ability (68.6 grade), and simply needs to work on his game-to-game consistency.

#30: Joe Schobert, Jacksonville Jaguars (Overall Grade: 68.5)

The Jaguars paid Joe Schobert over $10 million per year in free agency, which is not only a lot for a tier-3 linebacker, but also a strange move for a rebuilding team. The 28-year-old doesn’t provide much in run defense, and is a stiffer, unathletic player. In 2018, however, he was fantastic in coverage, and with his pass-rush ability, he’s a very useful player when he’s at his best. Now, Jacksonville just needs to hope that they get that peak production from him.

#31: Willie Gay Jr., Kansas City Chiefs (Overall Grade: 68)

If it wasn’t for character concerns, I’m convinced that Willie Gay Jr. would have been a first-round pick in this year’s draft. Isaiah Simmons rightfully steals the spotlight, but Gay Jr. also tested out tremendously at the combine, and he pairs his freakish athleticism would excellent coverage instincts. Sure, he may never be an adequate run defender, yet he has the same skills as the premier linebackers in the NFL.

#32: Avery Williamson, New York Jets (Overall Grade: 67.95)

After missing the entire 2019 season with a torn ACL, Avery Williamson will be a welcome addition in the Jets’ starting lineup. The 28-year-old’s coverage ability is roughly average, yet, for what it’s worth, he’s a standout run defender and a very capable tackler.  He would appear to be a solid fit in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ defensive scheme.

#33: Leon Jacobs, Jacksonville Jaguars (Overall Grade: 67.9)

Seen as a hybrid player coming out of Wisconsin, the Jaguars took a shot on Leon Jacobs in the seventh round of the 2018 draft. Since they suffered through many injuries at the linebacker position, though, Jacksonville had no choice but to start the 24-year-old from Week 12 to the rest of the season, and he delivered- he graded out as above-average in coverage and run defense. Hopefully, the Jaguars find a way to get him on the field this season.

#34: Jordan Hicks, Arizona Cardinals (Overall Grade: 67.7)

Although he always struggled with injuries, Jordan Hicks was always a fantastic player in coverage for the Eagles. In his first season with the Cardinals after signing a four-year contract, the 27-year-old managed to stay healthy, but he really struggled. Although he was used more as a pass rusher, his coverage grade (55.3) was easily the lowest of his career, and he didn’t have any particular standout game. On the bright side, though, if he can rebound in 2020, he and Simmons figure to be quite the tandem when it comes to limiting opposing team’s pass offenses over the middle of the field.

#35: Todd Davis, Denver Broncos (Overall Grade: 67.4)

Todd Davis has always been a great run defender, but his inconsistency from year-to-year in terms of coverage is frustrating. At his best, the 28-year-old is a really solid all-around player. However, he has received pass coverage of 61 or lower in three of the past four seasons, so Denver can only hope that he can be more than just an early-down linebacker for him.

#36: Eric Wilson, Minnesota Vikings (Overall Grade: 67.15)

He has no path to a starting job, so Eric Wilson will be stuck as the Vikings’ third linebacker that only plays in base formations. Still, though, Minnesota should seriously consider giving him more snaps. Not only is the 25-year-old productive as a pass rusher, but he’s also solid in coverage, and isn’t weak in any particular area. Essentially, he appears the be the player that the Vikings wanted Anthony Barr to be.

#37: Kyzir White, Los Angeles Chargers (Overall Grade: 66.55)

Seen as a hybrid linebacker/safety type coming out of West Virginia, Kyzir White would appear to be the perfect fit for the Chargers’ defensive scheme, which is able to slot in athletic, undersized players as well as any scheme. After missing most of the 2018 season with an injury, the former fourth-round pick was an effective weak-side linebacker for Los Angeles, particularly in pass coverage, and hopefully earned a starting role heading into next season.

#38: Nigel Bradham, Free Agent (Overall Grade: 65.5)

If you’re a general manager thinking about signing Nigel Bradham, you can’t expect him to make an impact in run defense. However, over the past four seasons, the 30-year-old has been one of the better coverage linebackers, and was an important part of the Eagles’ defense. They’ll definitely miss his presence in the middle of their defense.

#39: Thomas Davis Sr., Washington Redskins (Overall Grade: 65.4)

Although he’s 37-years-old and no longer the elite coverage linebacker he once was, Thomas Davis Sr. is still a really solid player. He’s coming off one of the worst seasons in his career, but now that he is reunited with head coach Ron Rivera in Washington, I wouldn’t be shocked if he reverts back to his 2018 form, in which he had a 74.4 coverage grade.

#40: Shaq Thompson, Carolina Panthers (Overall Grade:64.5)

Despite being an athletic player and a converted linebacker, Shaq Thompson has not been a very productive player in pass coverage. Therefore, the four-year, $54.2 million contract extension he signed with the Panthers isn’t good value for the team. At the very least, though, he has the athletic tools, as well as the pass-rush ability to be an interesting player for new defensive coordinator Phil Snow to try to get the most out of.

#41: Foyesade Oluokun, Atlanta Falcons (Overall Grade: 64.45)

The Falcons let De’Vondre Campbell leave in free agency, but they’re honestly upgrading at the linebacker position by slotting in Foyesade Oluokun. A former sixth-round pick out of Yale, he fits Atlanta’s typical mold of an undersized, athletic linebacker, and has been a decent player in both pass coverage and run defense over the past two seasons. It will be interesting to see how he fares as a full-time starter in 2020.

#42: BJ Goodson, Cleveland Browns (Overall Grade: 64.25)

Although BJ Goodson was the #2 linebacker for the Packers this season, Green Bay only uses one linebacker, so he only played 254 snaps. For his career, though, the 26-year-old was generally be a satisfactory all-around linebacker, and he’ll likely start for the Browns after signing a one-year contract with them.

#43: Dre Greenlaw, San Francisco 49ers (Overall Grade: 64.2)

It’s often very random as to which rookie linebackers play well out of the gate, as this is one of the most difficult positions to scout. Therefore, despite being a fifth-round pick, Dre Greenlaw fared well in a meaningful role for the NFC champion 49ers, earning a 66.1 grade in coverage. He and Fred Warner are a nice cover linebacker duo for San Francisco to build around.

#44: Anthony Walker, Indianapolis Colts (Overall Grade: 63.2)

As mentioned with Darius Leonard and Bobby Okereke, Colts general manager Chris Ballard has done a great job finding steals in the draft at the linebacker position, and Anthony Walker fits the bill. Drafted in the fifth round in 2017 out of Northwestern, he’s coming off of a career-best season in coverage, and although he was horrendous versus the run, has been solid in that department in the past.

TIER 4

College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU
Photo Cred: Ebony Bird

#45: Patrick Queen, Baltimore Ravens (Overall Grade: 63.1)

Many saw Patrick Queen as a blue-chip linebacker coming out of LSU, and although I was slightly lower on him than most, especially given the volatility of the linebacker position, I can’t deny his upside in coverage. He’s a dynamic player that reminds some of Deion Jones, and if he hits, he’ll be a very useful piece of a very deep Ravens defense.

#46: Akeem Davis-Gaither, Cincinnati Bengals (Overall Grade: 63.09)

Honestly, I don’t see much of a difference between Queen and Akeem Davis-Gaither, whom the Bengals drafted with the first pick of the fourth round. Similarly to Queen, the Appalachian State product is a bit undersized, yet he’s very athletic, and is an excellent pass rusher. He needs more experience in coverage and run defense, but he was a steal in the fourth round.

#47: Zack Baun, New Orleans Saints (Overall Grade: 63.06)

Some saw Zack Baun as a potential first-round pick, but he needed up falling to the third round, where the Saints traded up to select him. Although he’s a bit of an edge/linebacker tweener, he has the change-of-direction ability needed to stick at the linebacker position, so if all goes well, he can be a better version of Joe Schobert. If New Orleans is smart, though, he’ll play a limited role as a rookie so he can properly learn the nuances of the linebacker position.

#48: Reggie Ragland, Detroit Lions (Overall Grade: 63.05)

#49: Kwon Alexander, San Francisco 49ers (Overall Grade: 62.1)

The 49ers probably have little regrets about their actions during the 2019 offseason, yet if they could go back in time, I certainly believe they wouldn’t give Kwon Alexander a four-year contract worth $54 million. The 25-year-old is actually a really solid player in coverage, but even with that, he’s only a tier-4 linebacker. Simply put, his run defense and tackling have been consistently atrocious, and his injury history (hasn’t played 400 snaps in each of the past two seasons) is concerning. At this point, he’s the third-best linebacker on the 49ers’ roster.

#50: Kenneth Murray, Los Angeles Chargers (Overall Grade: 61.4)

The Chargers’ most significant pick in the 2020 draft came by making Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert the new face of their franchise, but they also traded back into the first round to select Kenneth Murray. When he’s at his best, Murray is an explosive downhill player with the size and athleticism that teams would kill for at the linebacker position. Yet, he is so unrefined in coverage, so his duties will need to be limited- that’s not the type of player you spend a second-round pick and third-round pick to secure the services of.

#51: Troy Dye, Minnesota Vikings (Overall Grade: 61.38)

It’s clear that teams tend to place too high of a priority in run defense and physicality at the linebacker position, which causes a solid player like Troy Dye to fall to the fourth round. Sure, his run defense leaves a lot to be desired, but he’s a more refined player in pass coverage than Murray and Queen; there certainly should have been a three-round gap between those two first-round picks and the Oregon product.

#52: Drue Tranquill, Los Angeles Chargers (Overall Grade: 61.35)

Between Kyzir White, Kenneth Murray, and Drue Tranquill, the Chargers suddenly have a lot of youth at the linebacker position. Tranquill, drafted in the fourth round of Notre Dame, has pretty productive in run defense and in pass coverage, and also got better as he earned more playing time.

#53: Logan Wilson, Cincinnati Bengals (Overall Grade: 61)

Before the Bengals drafted Akeem Davis-Gaither, they also brought in Logan Wilson with the first pick of the third round. Coming out Wyoming, the 23-year-old isn’t a great athlete, but he’ll be a really solid player in the NFL. His coverage instincts and run defense are both definitely above-average, and even if he’s not a star, he should be able to be an immediate starter for Cincinnati.

#54: Markus Bailey, Cincinnati Bengals (Overall Grade: 60.5)

Had it not been for injury concerns, Markus Bailey would have been drafted far later than the seventh round. In fact, I’m not sure there’s much of a difference, if any, between him and Wilson, but his recovery from a torn ACL will be the key.

#55: Joe Thomas, Dallas Cowboys (Overall Grade: 58.8)

#56: Anthony Barr, Minnesota Vikings (Overall Grade: 58.15)

Coming out of UCLA in 2014, Anthony Barr was seen as an edge rusher, but that didn’t stop the Vikings from taking him with the 9th overall pick. After a promising start to his career, in which he was a standout player as a pass rusher, run defender, and in coverage, the 28-year-old has hit a wall. Not only has he become a liability in pass defense, but he’s also coming of his worst season as a pass rusher, and tends to get picked on by smart defensive coordinators. The $67.5 million the Vikings are paying him is absurd, though it’s likely Minnesota cuts ties with him before he can live out that contract.

#57: Jordyn Brooks, Seattle Seahawks (Overall Grade: 58)

The Seahawks consistently surprise us with consensus reaches in the first round, and they didn’t fail to disappoint this year. Not only did they draft Jordyn Brooks, seen by most as a day-two player, but they passed on Patrick Queen to do so, and also drafted a player at a non-valuable position that wasn’t a huge long-term need. Brooks established himself as a violent downhill run defender at Texas Tech, but his coverage abilities leave a lot to be desired, and I’m not sure his upside is any higher than being a Avery Williamson-type of player.

#58: Dorian O’Daniel, Kansas City Chiefs (Overall Grade: 57.7)

#59: Danny Trevathan, Chicago Bears (Overall Grade: 57.2)

The Bears had a choice between Nick Kwaitkoski and Danny Trevathan, and, in my opinion, they made a massive mistake by choosing to extend the latter player. At his best, the 30-year-old Trevathan is an above-average run defender and solid coverage defender. However, his coverage ability was declined over the past two seasons, and at this point, he’s simply a serviceable starter. The three-year, $21.75 million contract he got from Chicago is certainly an overpay.

#60: Denzel Perryman, Los Angeles Chargers (Overall Grade: 55.8)

#61: Ben Niemann, Kansas City Chiefs (Overall Grade: 55.1)

#62: KJ Wright, Seattle Seahawks (Overall Grade: 54.35)

At his peak, KJ Wright was a very strong player for the Seahawks in pass defense, and he formed quite the duo with Bobby Wagner. Now 30-years-old, however, he’s coming off of his worst season, and when Seattle does use nickel formations, I expect Brooks to start; they use base defense a lot, though, so Wright will still be a starter for them.

#63: Kiko Alonso, New Orleans Saints (Overall Grade: 54)

#64: Nathan Gerry, Philadelphia Eagles (Overall Grade: 53.5)

#65: Mychal Kendricks, Seattle Seahawks (Overall Grade: 53.4)

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roquan
Photo Cred: Sports Illustrated

#66: Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys (Overall Grade: 53.05)

The face of the Cowboys defense for several years, Sean Lee is merely a role player at this point in his career, as he’s now 33-years-old, has struggled to stay healthy, and has seen his production decline. Still, he’s a decent cover linebacker and provides some nice depth and veteran experience for them.

#67: Jon Bostic, Washington Redskins (Overall Grade: 51.7)

#68: Wesley Woodyard, Free Agent (Overall Grade: 51.55)

#69: Roquan Smith, Chicago Bears (Overall Grade: 51)

Linebackers are so difficult to evaluate coming out of college; there are plenty of late-round success stories at the position, yet many first-round busts as well. Well, if Roquan Smith cannot develop in his third season, he may fall under the latter category. Drafted 8th overall in 2018, he looked like a can’t-miss prospect with sideline-to-sideline athleticism, but that hasn’t quite translated to the NFL. He had a solid rookie season, so the expectation was that he’d continue to progress in his second season. Instead, he had a below-average coverage grade (55) and run defense grade (53), and didn’t have any standout performances to provide excitement. It’s safe to say this is a critical season for his development.

#70: David Mayo, New York Giants (Overall Grade: 50.59)

#71: Nick Vigil, Los Angeles Chargers (Overall Grade: 50.5)

#72: Zach Cunningham, Houston Texans (Overall Grade: 49.95)

As evidenced by his 100th percentile rank in run-stop rate and 95th percentile rank in run defense grade, Zach Cunningham is a standout run defender. However, he has consistently been a liability in pass coverage, and Houston definitely made a mistake not trying to upgrade from him.

#73: Elandon Roberts, Miami Dolphins (Overall Grade: 49.9)

#74: Mailk Harrison, Baltimore Ravens (Overall Grade: 49)

Between Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison, the Ravens are hoping to have solidified their linebacking core for the future. Yet, I’m not sure Harrison will be a three-down player for them. He’s a nice downhill, thumping linebacker, but projects similarly to Cunningham with his issues in coverage.

#75: Jahlani Tavai, Detroit Lions (Overall Grade: 48.6)

A very surprising pick in the second round of the 2018 draft, the Lions are hoping that Jahlani Tavai can fill a similar role for them that Ja’Whaun Bentley has for the Patriots. However, the 23-year-old’s rookie season wasn’t very encouraging, and he really didn’t perform well in any particular category- he certainly underwhelmed as a pass rusher.

#76: Kamu Grugier-Hill, Miami Dolphins (Overall Grade; 48.45)

#77: Davion Taylor, Philadelphia Eagles (Overall Grade: 48.35)

The Eagles appear to be trending towards more of a “position-less’ defense, so if he reaches his upside, Davion Taylor will be a key piece for them. He is a super athletic player who even played a similar role to safety Malcolm Jenkins in college, and was someone that Pro Football Focus’ analytic staff was really high on. Nevertheless, he has a long ways to go before he can maximize on his potential; he has a limited experience playing football, so he’s more of a developmental project.

#78: Jerome Baker, Miami Dolphins (Overall Grade: 48.3)

After a solid performance to start his career, expectations were high for Jerome Baker, a 2018 second-round pick out of Ohio State. It’s unclear what went wrong, but it’s safe to say he didn’t reach those expectations. The 23-year-old’s progression in coverage was stunted, while his run defense fell of a cliff, and he received a very subpar Pro Football Focus grade of 46.1. Hopefully, he can rebound for Miami, but after they signed several linebackers, he may just not be a fit for head coach Brian Flores’ defense- that Patriots-style defensive scheme generally prefers bigger linebackers.

#79: Patrick Onwuasor, New York Jets (Overall Grade: 47.8)

#80: Myles Jack, Jacksonville Jaguars (Overall Grade: 45.65)

After a productive start to his career, the Jaguars felt comfortable signing Myles Jack to a four-year, $57 million extension. However, without Telvin Smith, he had a far greater reasonability last season, and he failed miserably. He graded out as a below-average player in every category, especially in pass defense (46 coverage grade), and missed the final five games of the season due to injury. Luckily for him, the addition of Joe Schobert may lessen the load for him, so he may be able to get back to track in 2020.

#81: Sam Eguavoen, Miami Dolphins (Overall Grade: 45.4)

#82: Josey Jewell, Denver Broncos (Overall Grade: 44.45)

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tremaineedmunds
Photo Cred: WKBW

#83: Kevin Minter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Overall Grade: 44.26)

#84: Will Compton, Free Agent (Overall Grade: 44.05)

#85: Rashaan Evans, Tennessee Titans (Overall Grade: 43.3)

If anyone wants to know why I’m perhaps lower on Kenneth Murray than others, they can look at Rashaan Evans as a prime example of what could go wrong. He was someone that couldn’t handle complex coverage assignments coming out of Alabama, and so far, he hasn’t progressed at all. In fact, after received a 40.7 coverage grade and also struggling as a pass rusher, you’d be right to assume that the 23-year-old has actually be a liability in the middle of the Titans defense; they need him to improve drastically.

#86: AJ Klein, Buffalo Bills (Overall Grade: 43)

#87: Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Detroit Lions (Overall Grade: 42.9)

#88: Tremaine Edmunds, Buffalo Bills (Overall Grade: 42.6)

There seems to be a general belief that Tremaine Edmunds is a rising star at the linebacker position, and the “heart and soul” of the Bills defense. However, we cannot let his high tackle numbers and draft reputation sway us from acknowledging that he’s been a disappointment so far in his career. The former first-round pick’s lack of progression in coverage has been concerning, and he’s miles behind Matt Milano in terms of production with the Bills’ linebacking core. On the bright side, he is still only 22-years-old, so his development curve may come later than the average player- there is still hope for him to rebound.

#89: James Burgess, New York Jets (Overall Grade: 42.3)

#90: Blake Cashman, New York Jets (Overall Grade: 42.05)

#91: Mark Barron, Pittsburgh Steelers (Overall Grade: 40.35)

#92: Jatavis Brown, Philadelphia Eagles (Overall Grade: 37.65)

#93: Alex Ogletree, Free Agent (Overall Grade: 37.5)

#94: Kenny Young, Los Angeles Rams (Overall Grade: 37.05)

#95: Germaine Pratt, Cincinnati Bengals (Overall Grade: 36.8)

Although his overall numbers would suggest he was a disappointment, I’m still optimistic about Germaine Pratt’s future outlook. In the final six games of the season, he improved dramatically as a coverage player and run defender, even though he received an overall grade of just 51.2 for the whole season.

#96: Cole Holcomb, Washington Redskins (Overall Grade: 36.7)

It appears the Redskins will give Cole Holcolmb the chance to start this season, but, in my opinion, that would be a mistake given some of the other players on the roster. Although the 23-year-old was solid in run defense as a rookie, yet he was disastrous in pass defense, so he cannot play more than in obvious running situations.

97: Deone Bucannon, Atlanta Falcons (Overall Grade: 35.45)

#98: Tahir Whitehead, Carolina Panthers (Overall Grade: 35.05)

#99: Preston Brown, Free Agent (Overall Grade: 34.6)

#100: Jermaine Carter, Carolina Panthers (Overall Grade: 34.4)

#101: Duke Riley, Philadelphia Eagles (Overall Grade: 34)

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devinwhite
Photo Cred: buccaneers.com

#102: Raekwon McMillan, Miami Dolphins (Overall Grade: 33.7)

At 248 pounds, Raekwon McMillan does have the size to play in head coach Brian Flores’ multiple defensive scheme in Miami. Yet, that can only get him so far, as he’s been in the 10th percentile in coverage, so he’s not a very useful player even if he’s a reliable run defender.

#103: De’Vondre Campbell, Arizona Cardinals (Overall Grade: 33.6)

Campbell once was an intriguing player after a productive sophomore season, but in the two seasons since then, he has been a complete liability as a coverage player. I still cannot believe the Cardinals gave him $6 million on a one-year deal, and were planning on him being a starter before lucking into Isaiah Simmons.

#104: Devin White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Overall Grade: 32.4)

Similarly to Tremaine Edmunds, the public seems to believe that Devin White has a very productive rookie season- he had 68 tackles in 13 tackles. Yet, as illustrated by his below-average grades in coverage, run defense, and tackling (13 missed tackles), he certainly didn’t play like the 5th overall pick in the 2019 draft. Fortunately, he showed improvement down the stretch, so I expect him to fly up these rankings in the future.

#105: Darron Lee, Free Agent (Overall Grade: 32.3)

A former first-round pick, Darron Lee has been a below-average player in three of the four seasons he’s been in the NFL, and was a non-factor for the Chiefs this season. He showed a glimmer of hope with his elite 84.8 coverage grade in 2018, however, so some time should try to extract that production out of him.

#106: Anthony Hitchens, Kansas City Chiefs (Overall Grade: 32.3)

Speaking of struggling linebackers who were on the Chiefs last season, Anthony Hitchens’ five-year, $45 million contract he signed two years ago has to be among the worst contracts in the NFL. In his two seasons with Kansas City, the 27-year-old has been an absolute liability, as he just doesn’t have the coverage ability to stick in the modern NFL.

#107: Christian Kirksey, Green Bay Packers (Overall Grade: 32)

In the first two seasons of his career, Christian Kirksey showed a lot of promise for the Browns after being drafted in the third round in 2014. However, in the four seasons since then, the 27-year-old has been a subpar player all-around, particularly in coverage, and he’s barely played over the past two seasons. His athleticism would theoretically make him a decent fit in Mike Pettine’s one-linebacker defensive scheme in Green Bay, but I’m not too confident in his ability to fill that role.

#108: Jordan Evans, Cincinnati Bengals (Overall Grade: 31.65)

#109: Damien Wilson, Kansas City Chiefs (Overall Grade: 29.1)

#110: Jarrad Davis, Detroit Lions (Overall Grade: 28.9)

Going back to Kenneth Murray and Rashaan Evans, and the theme of first-round linebackers who can’t handle high-level coverage duties, that flaw has severely limited Jarrad Davis. The 25-year-old has earned an overall grade below 52.5 in each of the first three seasons of his career, and, for the most part, has been an all-around liability.

#111: Haason Reddick, Arizona Cardinals (Overall Grade: 28.4)

If you’re going to draft a linebacker high in the draft, it’s best to do so with a player that has experience playing the position. However, if you’re going to take a hybrid player, you need to have a spelled-out role for him, and Haason Reddick hasn’t gotten that luxury from the Cardinals. Although he stood out as an edge rusher at Temple, Arizona was adamant of converting him to linebacker, and the results haven’t been pretty. Not only has he struggled with traditional linebacker responsibilities, but he hasn’t even produced consistently as a pass rusher. For his sake, I really hope a team like the Patriots or Dolphins, who know how to use players with his type of skill set, acquires him and tries to revive his career.

#112: Najee Goode, Jacksonville Jaguars (Overall Grade: 28)

#113: Nicholas Morrow, Las Vegas Raiders (Overall Grade: 25.3)

#114: Austin Calitro, Jacksonville Jaguars (Overall Grade: 22.3)

#115: Joe Walker, Arizona Cardinals (Overall Grade: 22.5)

#116: Neville Hewitt, New York Jets (Overall Grade: 22.3)

#117: Reuben Foster, Washington Redskins (Overall Grade: 20.5)

There were concerns about Reuben Foster’s character heading into the 2017 draft, but the 49ers still took him at the end of the first round. After an extremely productive rookie season, the 26-year-old was awful in his second season, and was cut loose after another off-the-field incident. Then, he tore his ACL before he could play a game for the Redskins, so we have no idea what to expect from him in 2020. If he’s as good as he was in 2017, he’ll rank in the top-15 or top-20 of this list moving forward.

#118: Mack Wilson, Cleveland Browns (Overall Grade: 20.4)

With 63 tackles, many may see Mack Wilson’s rookie season as a success. Sure, it was nice to see him earn a starting spot after being drafted in the fifth round, but that says more about the Browns’ talent at linebacker than anything else. Not only was the 22-year-old atrocious in coverage and run defense, but he showed little signs of improvement, and I wouldn’t trust him with a starting role, considering the lofty expectations Cleveland should have heading into next season.

#119: Donald Payne, Jacksonville Jaguars (Overall Grade: 19.55)

#120: Troy Reader, Los Angeles Raiders (Overall Grade: 12.6)

#121: Quincy Williams, Jacksonville Jaguars (Overall Grade: 12.5)

 

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