25 Best Linebackers Of All-Time

25. Bobby Bell

Bobby Bell was a speedy, multi-talented athlete on the gridiron who axed offensive players as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. The 6-foot-4, 228-pound Bell was a three-time Pro Bowler who procured the NFL Defensive Player of the Year trophy in 1969. Bell also played a vital role in the Chiefs’ 23-7 upset victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. Bell, who collected 26 interceptions and eight touchdowns over 168 games, became a Hall of Famer in 1983.

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24. Zach Thomas

Although relatively small in height, Zach Thomas was huge on the gridiron. The Miami Dolphins chose the 5-foot-11, 242-pound Thomas out of Texas Tech with the 154th selection in 1996. Thomas gleamed from the outset in the Sunshine State and was voted the AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year. The gritty Texan proceeded to become a five-time first-team All-Pro and he made seven Pro Bowl squads. Thomas, a member of the 1990s All-Decade Team, has a decent chance to become a Hall of Famer.

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23. Greg Lloyd

Greg Lloyd was a terrifying man both on and off the field. The Pittsburgh Steelers obtained the 6-foot-2, 228-pound Lloyd out of Fort Valley State with the 150th pick in 1987. After a ho-hum rookie campaign, Lloyd developed into a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro. The 1994 AFC Defensive Player of the Year retired with 397 tackles, 54.5 sacks, 24 forced fumbles and 11 picks. Lloyd was named to the Steelers’ All-Time Team in 2007.

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22. James Harrison

James Harrison was an incredibly menacing and intimidating man on the gridiron. The 6-foot, 255-pound Harrison, an undrafted ballplayer out of Kent State, signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2002. “Deebo” gained experience in the Steel City and ultimately matured into a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro. Of greater significance, Harrison was an indispensable part of two Super Bowl-winning squads. Harrison, who retired on April 16 with 793 tackles, 84.5 sacks and 34 forced fumbles, is a borderline Hall of Famer.

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21. Ted Hendricks

Ted Hendricks was a tackling machine for most of his 15-year NFL career. The Baltimore Colts chose the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Hendricks out of Miami with the 33rd pick in 1969. “The Mad Stork,” an eight-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro, was named to the league’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. Hendricks, who won one Super Bowl as a Colt and three championships with the Oakland Raiders, secured a place in Canton, Ohio, on August 4, 1990.

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20. Cornelius Bennett

Cornelius Bennett was a badass Bill in Buffalo. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Bennett, a three-time first-team all-American at Alabama, notched 1,190 tackles, 71.5 sacks, seven interceptions and 31 forced fumbles over 206 games in the NFL. Bennett’s accomplishments were recognized and he made the league’s 1990s All-Decade Team and the Bills’ 50th Anniversary squad. It is simply ludicrous that the 53-year-old Bennett is not in the Hall of Fame.

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19. Nick Buoniconti

Nick Buoniconti was a golden Irishman at Notre Dame. However, deemed too diminutive to compete in the NFL, the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Buoniconti wasn’t drafted until the Boston Patriots took him with the 102nd pick in 1962. Buoniconti proved naysayers wrong and immediately excelled in Beantown. Buoniconti eventually relocated to Miami where he helped guide the Dolphins to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1972 and 1973. Buoniconti, a member of the Patriots’ Hall of Fame and the Dolphins’ Honor Roll, secured a place in Canton, Ohio, on August 4, 2001.

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18. Patrick Willis

The only thing that could stop Patrick Willis was a bum toe. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Willis, who the San Francisco 49ers grabbed out of the University of Mississippi with the 11th selection in 2007, was golden from the get-go and he procured Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. The tough Tennessean proceeded to become a seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro. Regrettably, due to the aforementioned ailment, a 29-year-old Willis permanently shelved his cleats on March 10, 2015. Willis should eventually gain a place in Canton, Ohio.

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17. Terrell Suggs

Terrell Suggs continues to play at a high level in Baltimore. The Ravens took the 6-foot-3, 265-pound Suggs out of Arizona State with the 10th pick in 2003. Since relocating from Tempe to Charm City, “T-Sizzle” has become a seven-time Pro Bowler who secured Defensive Player of the Year accolades in 2011. Moreover, Suggs had a tremendous impact on the Ravens’ 34-31 conquest of the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. The 35-year-old Suggs, who currently has 842 tackles, 131.0 sacks, seven interceptions and 33 forced fumbles, is destined for Canton, Ohio.

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16. Pat Swilling

Like Rickey Jackson, Saints linebacker Pat Swilling made life hard for opponents in the Big Easy. The Saints drafted the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Swilling out of Georgia Tech 60th overall in 1986. Swilling, a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro, was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1991. A member of the Saints’ Hall of Fame, Swilling amassed 490 tackles, 107.5 sacks and six interceptions over 185 contests.

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15. DeMarcus Ware

DeMarcus Ware had an unmatched presence on the gridiron for much of his 12-year career in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys drafted the 6-foot-4, 258-pound Ware out of Troy University 11th overall in 2005. Ware was huge in the Big D and he became a seven-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro there. One day after getting released by the Cowboys, on March 12, 2014, the league’s two-time sacks leader signed a three-year contract worth $30 million to join the Denver Broncos.

Ware’s apex as a professional likely occurred when he overpowered the Carolina Panthers’ linemen during the Broncos’ 24-10 triumph in Super Bowl 50 on February 7, 2016. Ware, who recorded 654 tackles, 138.5 sacks, three picks and 35 forced fumbles in 178 contests, is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.

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14. Harry Carson

Because of Lawrence Taylor’s absolute brilliance, Harry Carson’s feats in the swamps of Jersey are sometimes overlooked. Nonetheless, the 6-foot-3, 237-pound Carson is one of the preeminent linebackers in NFL history. Carson, a nine-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro, was especially lauded for his incredible abilities as a run-stopper. The South Carolinian was also a key part of the Giants’ squad that outplayed the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI. Carson, a member of Big Blue’s Ring of Honor, became a Hall of Famer in 2006.

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13. Kevin Greene

Kevin Greene was the embodiment of a bruiser on the gridiron. Coming out of Auburn, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Greene was badly underrated and he wasn’t selected until the Los Angeles Rams obtained him with the 113th pick in 1985. The 1996 Defensive Player of the Year quieted his critics and produced for all four franchises that employed him. Greene, who tallied 773 tackles and 160.0 sacks, was voted to the league’s 1990s All-Decade Team. Greene entered the Hall in 2016.

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12. Bill George

Yes, the Chicago Bears’ organization is akin to a linebacker factory. The Bears drafted Bill George out of Wake Forest with the 23rd choice in 1951. The 6-foot-2, 237-pound George, an eight-time first-team All-Pro selection who made the 1950s All-Decade Team, helped the Bears’ defense maul the New York Giants’ offense en route to a 14-10 triumph in the 1963 NFL Championship Game. George, who tallied 18 picks over 173 contests, was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1974.

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11. Brian Urlacher

Brian Urlacher is the most beloved Chicago Bear since Walter Payton. Chicago selected the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Urlacher out of the University of New Mexico with the ninth choice in 2000. A member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade squad, Urlacher amassed 1,353 tackles, 41.5 sacks and 22 interceptions over 182 games as a Bear. Urlacher’s achievements on the gridiron were recognized — he made eight Pro Bowl teams and was a four-time first-team All-Pro. Urlacher became a Hall of Famer on August 4.

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10. Jack Ham

The Steelers chose the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Ham out of Penn State with the 34th pick in 1971. The six-time first-team All-Pro proved to be an irreplaceable Steeler who helped the organization collect four Vince Lombardi trophies in the 1970s. Ham, who recorded 32 picks and two scores over 162 games, was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on July 31, 1988.

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9. Rickey Jackson

Former Saints star Rickey Jackson was a hard man to handle on the gridiron. The 6-foot-2, 243-pound Jackson, who the Saints drafted out of Pittsburgh with the 51st pick in 1981, was a six-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro. Jackson, who compiled 1,173 tackles, 128.0 sacks, eight interceptions and forced 40 fumbles, is a member of the Saints’ Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor. Jackson also reached the pinnacle of his profession when he gained a spot in Canton on August 7, 2010.

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8. Junior Seau

Junior Seau was one of the most overpowering and distinguished linebackers to ever play football. The San Diego Chargers drafted the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Seau out of USC with the fifth selection in 1990. As a member of the Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, the decorated Trojan was an eight-time first-team All-Pro who was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year 1992.

A 43-year-old Seau, who retired in January 2010 with 1,849 tackles, 56.5 sacks, 18 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles, fired a fatal gunshot into his chest on May 2, 2012. Seau was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in August 2015.

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7. Mike Singletary

Mike Singletary was the most monstrous member of the Chicago Bears’ famed Monsters of the Midway in the 1980s. The 6-foot, 230-pound Singletary, who the Bears drafted out of Baylor University 38th overall in 1981, was a 10-time Pro Bowler, eight-time first-team All-Pro, and two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Furthermore, “Samurai” captained history’s premier defense and ensured that the Bears mauled the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX. Singletary, who notched 1,488 tackles, 19 sacks and seven picks, became a Hall of Famer on July 30, 1998.

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6. Derrick Brooks

Derrick Brooks was an invaluable part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ vaunted defense in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The 6-foot, 235-pound Brooks, an 11-time Pro Bowl selection and five-time first-team All-Pro, was voted to the league’s 2000s All-Decade Team. More important than individual accolades, the famed Seminole helped the Bucs thrash the Oakland Raiders 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII. Brooks, who recorded 1,715 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 25 interceptions and 24 forced fumbles, was enshrined in the Hall of Fame on August 2, 2014.

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5. Ray Lewis

Legendary Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis is an extremely polarizing figure off the field. Conversely, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Lewis was also an exceptionally disruptive force on the gridiron. In 17 years as a Raven, Lewis made 13 Pro Bowls and seven first-team All-Pro squads. Moreover, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year led the Ravens to Super Bowl titles in 2000 and 2012. Lewis, a member of the league’s 2000s All-Decade Team, was immortalized in Canton on August 5.

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4. Dick Butkus

Yes, Dick Butkus has a funny name. Regardless, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Butkus was nothing to joke about on the gridiron. The Chicago Bears selected Butkus out of Illinois with the third pick in 1965. “The Enforcer” was a feared hitter who made eight Pro Bowls and six first-team All-Pro squads. Butkus, who amassed 22 interceptions and 27 fumble recoveries over 119 games, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

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3. Derrick Thomas

Derrick Thomas mortified opposing offensive coordinators for 11 seasons as a Kansas City Chief. The Chiefs selected the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Thomas out of Alabama with the fourth choice in 1989. Thomas immediately proved himself in the Show Me State and clinched Defensive Rookie of the Year accolades.

Moreover, Thomas became a nine-time Pro Bowler who made three first-team All-Pro squads. The iconic pass rusher earned a spot on the league’s 1990s All-Decade Team and was inducted into the Hall of Fame on August 9, 2009. Tragically, Thomas passed away at age 33 on February 8, 2000.

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2. Jack Lambert

The Pittsburgh Steelers acquired the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Lambert out of Kent State with the 46th pick in 1974. Lambert proved to be an unstoppable figure in the Steel City and he made the league’s 1970s and 1980s All-Decade squads and earned a spot on its 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. The rugged Ohioan, who helped the Steelers clinch four Vince Lombardi trophies in the 1970s, became a first-ballot Hall of Famer on August 4, 1990.

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1. Lawrence Taylor

Lawrence Taylor redefined the linebacker position and remains its gold standard. The New York Giants drafted the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Taylor out of North Carolina with the second overall pick in 1981. L.T. manhandled offensive linemen from the get-go and was named the NFL 1981 Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Taylor continued to wreak havoc in the swamps of Jersey and he won the Defensive Player of the Year award on three occasions in the 1980s. Taylor, a member of the league’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team who recorded 132.5 sacks over his 13-year career, became a Hall of Famer on August 8, 1999.

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