NFL 2023-24 Position Group Rankings: Linebackers

Photo Cred: PFF

We’re a few short weeks from the 2023-24 NFL season, and the excitement is building as the preseason is in full swing. I’m diving into each position group, from the quarterbacks to the kickers, and ranking them before the season kicks off in Kansas City on Sept. 7. Today, we moved to the second level of the defense. Let’s look at the linebackers.

1. San Francisco 49ers

The best linebacking core in the NFL is by the unquestioned best linebacker in the NFL: Fred Warner. Warner is a flat-out superstar, a linebacker who runs like a wide receiver. This allows him to blanket running backs, tight ends, and even wide receivers in coverage, all while being an elite run defender. It’s not often that a middle linebacker is one of the most fun players to watch in the league. Warner’s ability to quarterback one of the league’s elite units and be a consistent game-wrecker is critical. His running mate, Dre Greenlaw, is coming off a career season in 2022, landing the Niners comfortably in the top spot.

San Francisco 49ers roster: LB corps is NFL's best Photo Cred: USA Today

2. Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens’ midseason trade for Roquan Smith completely changed the calculus for this Baltimore defense. Smith is a physical specimen who runs sideline to sideline, and when he meets a ball carrier, they’ll know about it. He is an enforcer against the run and very smart in coverage while excelling as a blitzer. Smith’s presence also alleviated the pressure on young Patrick Queen, who settled into the number two role very nicely over the back half of the season. A full offseason together should only help this duo, and they should be among the NFL’s elite this season.

3. Chicago Bears

The Bears went all-in on this group, and it’s a great one on paper. They took Tremaine Edmunds from Buffalo, and T.J. Edwards from Philadelphia are coming off stellar seasons leading good defenses. Edmunds is one of the best coverage linebackers in football, while Edwards excelled in all facets last season. There’s no continuity with this group, but there’s no doubt they have the talent to be an elite unit.

4. Indianapolis Colts

Part of this ranking is me betting on Shaquille Leonard getting healthy and back to his game-wrecking ways. When he’s right, Leonard is a turnover machine with a nose for the football, picking off passes and forcing fumbles left and right. In 2021, he forced seven fumbles and picked off four passes. Leonard will start alongside E.J. Speed, who filled in admirably in Leonard’s absence last year.

5. New Orleans Saints

For this Saints group to live up to this ranking, Pete Werner will need to play much more like his 2021 self than he did last season, but they should put together a good unit either way. Much of the heavy lifting for this group comes from Demario Davis, one of the elite defensive players who can do it all at the position. He can cover a back out of the backfield, fit a run and make the tackle for no gain, chase down a ball carrier on the sideline, or blitz and put pressure on the quarterback. Davis has played the fourth-most snaps of any linebacker over the past five seasons and has played them all at a prominent level.

Saints' Duo Rated Among NFL's Best - Sports Illustrated New Orleans Saints News, Analysis and More

Photo Cred: SI

6. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals’ linebacker duo of Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson has some continuity after playing together for a few years. Both are exceptionally good, with Wilson playing close to the line of scrimmage, blitzing, and filling gaps in the run game, while Pratt specializes in pass coverage. The Cincinnati defense is tied by their two leaders in the middle.

7. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins have a unique set of linebackers. Jerome Baker and Elandon Roberts excel as blitzers and pass rushers, allowing Vic Fangio to use them uniquely. Baker is a well-rounded player, producing in all facets of the position. The Dolphins also made a splash by adding former Titans linebacker David Long, who had an excellent season in 2022 and should form one of the most consistent duos in football with Baker.

8. New York Jets

The Jets linebackers struggle a bit in pass coverage, but they are fast and physical and are another unit that loves to play downhill. C.J. Mosley had a strong 2022 in the middle of the Jets’ defense after up-and-down seasons. The other starter, Quincy Williams, is a heat-seeking missile who loves to hit and hit hard. This group is a bit vulnerable but will set the tone every week.

9. Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have quietly built a promising group on the defensive side of the ball, and their linebacking core is at the center of it. Shaq Thompson is a Panthers veteran who has been a starter caliber for many years. Next to Thompson is one of the most underrated linebackers in the game: Frankie Luvu. If you don’t know the name, you should get familiar. Luvu is a menace in the box, stuffing runs and putting pressure on the quarterback at will, leading this Panthers linebacking core to a top-10 spot.

10. New England Patriots

The Patriots may not be the juggernaut they were with Tom Brady at the helm, but Bill Belichick keeps churning out elite defenses, and he has the talent to do so again. Ja’Whaun Bentley was quietly playing at a Pro Bowl level a season ago, and his running mate Jahlani Tavai, was not far behind. This may be the most unsung unit on this Pats defense, but it still is more than capable of getting the job done.

Ja'Whaun Bentley: News, Stats, Bio & More - NBC Sports Photo Cred: NBS Sports

11. Denver Broncos

The Broncos linebackers don’t get a ton of shine, but they are quietly a steadily above-average unit. Neither Alex Singleton nor Josey Jewell is a superstar, but both are rock-solid and add value in the run-and-pass game. Denver also spent a day two pick on Arkansas prospect Drew Sanders, who should add some athleticism and some burst to this group. Sanders already picked up an interception in the Broncos’ preseason victory over the Rams.

12. Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City is paying their top dogs a lot, leaving them to fend for the other positions in the draft. They have done very well with that strategy in recent years, and there may be no better example than their linebacking core. 2021 second-rounder Nick Bolton is the star, already proving to be a good linebacker and one of the biggest hitters in football. Bolton is complemented by 2020 second-rounder Willie Gay Jr., who excels much more in coverage. This combo proved vital in the Chiefs’ Super Bowl run last season and should only improve with more experience in 2023.

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay comes into 2023 with the same combo of talented backers with different styles. Lavonte David is as consistent as they come, always in the right spots and producing at an elite level year in and year out. On the other hand, Devin White is much younger and much more volatile. While he excels as a blitzer, White is wildly inconsistent and gets lost on more than a few occasions. If White can steady his performance like he did for much of the Bucs’ Super Bowl-winning 2020-21 campaign.

14. Buffalo Bills

Buffalo will miss Tremaine Edmunds, who is off to Chicago after a successful stint in Buffalo. Replacing him will be a challenge and is the reason the Bills land outside the top 10 on this list. But Matt Milano is back and is still one of the most underrated players in the NFL. Milano is a strong run defender, but his coverage ability is unmatched.

15. Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks are bringing back a franchise legend in Bobby Wagner after his short stint with the Rams, but the franchise’s all-time tackles leader adds more than just sentimental value. While he’s not what he used to be, Wagner is still one of the most secure tacklers in football and one of the smartest at that. He will pair with Jordyn Brooks, a young linebacker raised in the Wagner mold and is a good run defender in his own right. The Seahawks took a chance on former Steeler Devin Bush to fill their third spot; Bush is a great athlete for the position but struggled to settle into a consistent role in Pittsburgh.

Rams sign Bobby Wagner, future Hall of Famer, to five-year deal - CBS Los Angeles

Photo Cred: CBS News

16. Green Bay Packers

Can De’Vondre Campbell return to his incredible 2021 form? That may be the biggest question for the Packers’ linebacker core heading into this season. Campbell (understandably) took a dip last year after his outlier year a few seasons ago but was still more than serviceable in the middle of the Green Bay defense. Alongside him, Quay Walker looks to be steadier in year two but really needs to shore up his production against the run.

17. Cleveland Browns  

Browns have the tools to excel at linebacker; now it’s about displaying their strengths. Former Notre Dame star Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is among the most athletic linebackers in football, offering an excellent complement to Sione Takitaki and Anthony Walker. The three have grappled with injuries, making staying healthy a priority.  

18. Jacksonville Jaguars 

Veterans Foyesade Oluokun and Chad Muma are back for Jacksonville in 2023 after a consistent year in 2022. They are solid in the run game but occasionally struggle in coverage. The group’s volatility is attributed to second-year player Devin Lloyd. Lloyd possesses good athleticism and playmaking ability, but during his rookie year, he struggled at times. If Lloyd can enhance his consistency on a play-to-play basis, he could make substantial progress in his second season. 

19. Dallas Cowboys 

Leighton Vander Esch leads the linebacker core. He’s a proficient coverage linebacker who stabilizes the group when fit. The Boise State alum has participated in 31 games over the past two seasons after injury-laden years in 2019 and 2020, which is positive news for the Cowboys. Prior to 2022, the Cowboys also acquired Anthony Barr to strengthen the linebacker unit; the combination of Barr and Vander Esch bestows Dallas with one of the league’s most experienced linebacker groups. 

20. Houston Texans 

The Texans enter 2023 with a trio of dependable veterans who complement each other well to complete their linebacker unit. Denzel Perryman is the enforcer in the middle but has struggled with health issues throughout his career. Cory Littleton will partner with Perryman, an excellent athlete at the position who excels in coverage. Rounding out the group is Christian Kirksey, with former Alabama standouts Christian Harris and Henry To’oTo’o also prepared to contribute.  

Houston Texans training camp 2023: Denzel Perryman's beanie and Deadpool visor among highlights of day 2 - ABC13 Houston

Photo Cred: ABC

21. Minnesota Vikings 

The Vikings lost longtime staple Eric Kendricks in the middle, but Jordan Hicks returns for another season in Purple. Hicks performed admirably against the run the previous season, while his coverage skills occasionally lagged, but he still compiled a solid campaign. Alongside Hicks, likely to start, is either veteran Troy Reeder or Brian Asamoah. Asamoah displayed promise last season, albeit in limited appearances, while Reeder joined from Los Angeles.  

22. Arizona Cardinals 

One of the few promising positions on this struggling Cardinals roster is linebacker. Though unproven, this group has the potential to blossom this year. First-round pick Zaven Collins possesses elite physical attributes, and his performance began to improve in late 2022. Next to him is a new addition, former Eagle Kyzir White, coming off a strong season; he is a versatile and well-rounded linebacker. If Collins doesn’t make a leap; White will elevate the group’s baseline.  

23. Detroit Lions 

The Lions have effectively blended veteran leadership with youthful talent at linebacker, with Alex Anzalone returning to start once more as the senior figure in Detroit. Malcolm Rodriguez started 15 games as a rookie in 2022 and delivered a commendable performance. This group received a boost from rookie first-round pick Jack Campbell. He was the premier linebacker in college football in 2022, displaying exceptional coverage skills and prowess in run defense.  

24. Los Angeles Chargers 

If Kenneth Murray Jr. can establish greater consistency and address his run defense issues, this could evolve into a proficient linebacking duo. Murray’s slight build has resulted in vulnerability against inside tackles and significant struggles against the run. While he remains an adept coverage player, his one-dimensional skillset necessitates a new addition. Eric Kendricks compensates where Murray falls short. The bright side is that Kendricks has been, and continues to be, one of the foremost run stoppers in football at middle linebacker, enhancing the core of this Chargers defense in his inaugural season in Los Angeles. 

25. New York Giants 

The Giants bolstered a former weak point by adding ex-Colt Bobby Okereke as their starting middle linebacker in 2023. Okereke proved himself a dependable starter last season, amassing 151 combined tackles while standing in for the injured Shaquille Leonard. Following Okereke, the Giants remain thinly staffed. Projected starter Jarrad Davis is sidelined by a knee injury. Okereke will need to shoulder most of the load for this unit.  

Bobby Okereke confident he can fix Giants' inside linebacker mess

Photo Cred: NY Post

26. Washington Commanders 

The Commanders’ linebacker situation hinges on whether former first-rounder Jamin Davis can mature in 2023. His success could elevate this unit; otherwise, the low ranking on this list would prove accurate. The Commanders brought in former Seahawk Cody Barton to play alongside Davis—a capable but occasionally inconsistent player. 

27. Philadelphia Eagles 

It’s unusual to see any facet of the stacked Eagles roster ranked so low. That’s the outcome when both starters from the prior season have departed. Kyzir White and T.J. Edwards excelled for Philly last year but left in free agency. Former Georgia standout Nakobe Dean now steps in. Although undersized, a glance at his Georgia performance demonstrates his impact. Dean possesses exceptional speed and a penchant for pursuing the ball, offering star potential if his body holds up against the run.  

28. Pittsburgh Steelers 

This is decidedly not the linebacker corps of yesteryear for the Steelers. The tandem of Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts constitutes a moderately experienced yet unremarkable pairing in the middle. Holcomb battled to remain on the field last season, and Roberts heavily relied on blitzing. He’ll be a reliable starter capable of strengthening an already impressive defense. 

29. Tennessee Titans 

The Titans bid farewell to David Long, their standout linebacker in 2022, leaving a vacuum of experience. They acquired former 49er Azeez Al-Shaair, a promising run defender, though he only saw limited action in San Francisco. He’s likely to take on a more prominent role as the top linebacker. Monty Rice, a 2021 third-round selection, is anticipated to feature after appearing in 13 games for Tennessee the prior season.  

30. Atlanta Falcons 

The Falcons possess a group that could surpass expectations. They recruited Kaden Elliss from New Orleans after a strong season, particularly near the line of scrimmage and as a pass rusher. Next to Elliss, Troy Andersen might be a player to monitor in Atlanta. Andersen is still adapting to the position after playing quarterback and running back in college at Montana State. With an improved understanding of the game in his second season, he possesses elite physical attributes for a quality linebacker.  

Report: Falcons Sign Former Judge Memorial High Standout

Photo Cred: USA Today

31. Los Angeles Rams 

The Rams welcome back Ernest Jones at linebacker in 2023, furnishing them with a dependable starter in the heart of the defense. The departure of Bobby Wagner leaves a significant void beside Jones. Beyond Jones, the Rams’ most seasoned linebacker is Christian Rozeboom, who has participated in just ten career snaps. While Jones should stabilize Sean McVay’s defense, the remaining middle linebacker spots remain unpredictable.  

32. Las Vegas Raiders 

The year 2023 poses a challenging situation for linebackers for the Raiders, as they lack notable talent. Not only do they lack stars, but they also lack linebackers established as reliable starters. Third-year player Divine Deablo possesses the potential for a breakthrough but projecting too much from someone with only 13 career starts is ambitious. 

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