NFL Top 10 Inside Linebackers 2011

June 30, 2011 by

After reviewing the 2010 film and taking the rest of recent history into account, here are the top 10 inside linebackers in pro football heading into 2011.

Friendly Disclaimer: The following list is influenced largely -– but not strictly -– by film study of all 32 teams from the 2010 season. Stats weren’t acknowledged, but players with poor numbers generally don’t make top 10 lists anyway. Vague enough for you? Criteria for Top 10 lists tend to be. That’s why most of you will have no trouble finding some disagreement with what you’re about to read.
(Last year’s ranking in parenthesis.)

10. Jonathan Vilma, Saints

Not especially fast or strong, but when he’s unblocked, he’s as good as anyone.

9. London Fletcher, Redskins

Still voracious and tenacious and whatever form of “cious” you can use to express admiration for a first-class veteran.

8. Ray Lewis, Ravens

Decline has become noticeable, though instincts, high football IQ, textbook fundamentals and great teammates still allow him to shine.

7. Bart Scott, Jets

A somewhat nasty player whose versatility is critical in Rex Ryan’s scheme.

6. Brian Urlacher, Bears

More of a super cog than a superstar at this point (and that’s not nearly as big an insult as it sounds).

5. Karlos Dansby, Dolphins

Though not a tremendously physical player, one of the best tacklers in the game. Quick burst and fluid athleticism made him a playmaker worthy of that mega contract last season.

4. Lawrence Timmons, Steelers

The most explosive, athletic inside linebacker in football. A much, much better blitzer than his sack numbers suggest. Poised to become Pittsburgh’s best linebacker (if he isn’t already).

3. Jerod Mayo, Patriots

Prolific tackler. Patience and diagnostic skills amplify his “good but not great” speed. Can fill against the run and survive well enough in coverage.

2. Jon Beason, Panthers

Instincts are strong from anywhere on the field. Is a ferocious sideline-to-sideline competitor.

1. Patrick Willis, 49erspatrickwillis_display_image

The gap between him and Beason is as big as the gap between any top two players on any of these lists.

On the cusp:

E.J. Henderson, Vikings; Gary Brackett, Colts; Stewart Bradley, Eagles; James Farrior, Steelers

Dropped from list

DeMeco Ryans, Texans (6)

David Harris, Jets (9)

Ryans injured his Achilles last October. Harris must get quicker at shedding blocks.

Young player who could burst onto next year’s list…

James Laurinaitis, Rams

Took a quantum leap his sophomore season both in awareness and athletic output. Solid first-and second-down player who also hunts up receivers in coverage extremely well.

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