Skip to main content

Around the League

Presented By

Tamba Hali, Justin Houston of Chiefs top LB rankings

Every Thursday, Chris Wesseling rolls out the power rankings for one specific NFL position.

Click here for our midseason report on the top five players from each position over the season's first half.

Coming off the Carolina Panthers' impressive victory over the San Francisco 49ers, we turn our attention back to the NFL's top linebacker duos.

This is not a fantasy football cheat sheet, nor is it an attempt to predict which players will finish with the best statistics at the end of the season. The premise is which linebacker duo I would want for the 2013 season. Although statistics, scouting reports and other factors, such as durability, were considered, the criteria primarily is based on game film from the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

1. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs

First and third in quarterback disruptions (combined sacks, hits and hurries), Hali and Houston are on pace to join Chris Doleman and Keith Millard of the 1989 Minnesota Vikings as the only duos in NFL history to combine for at least 35 sacks in a season. As the most effective bookend rushers in the league, Hali and Houston are the primary reason the Chiefs are No. 1 in scoring defense and sacks through 10 weeks.

2. Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers

What Kuechly and Davis give way to the Chiefs' tandem in pass-rushing ability, they make up for in top-notch coverage skills. Kuechly, the NFL's leading tackler since entering the league last season, looked like the best player on the field in Carolina's 10-9 victory at San Francisco. He's emerging as a legitimate candidate for Defensive Player of the Year honors.

In a telling statistic, the Panthers rank second in run defense and fourth in pass defense in the 21 games since Kuechly was insterted at middle linebacker. In the prior 21 games, they ranked 24th and 26th, respectively. Amazingly, Davis is playing at a Pro Bowl level despite a trio of ACL surgeries on the same knee.

3. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers

Willis and Bowman aren't as strong in coverage as the Panthers' duo, but they have top-of-the-line closing speed in the run game. The most decorated inside-linebacker pair in the league, Willis and Bowman have combined for seven first-team All-Pro selections.

4. Mario Williams and Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills

After a disappointing 2012 season under Dave Wannstedt, Williams has bounced back to be one of the NFL's most feared pass rushers in new coordinator Mike Pettine's aggressive hybrid scheme. He's in the top five in quarterback disruptions and sacks, while Alonso is second in tackles. As athletic as any middle linebacker in the league, Alonso is the favorite to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

5. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, Baltimore Ravens

Suggs shuts down the run as well as any outside linebacker. Dumervil has been among the NFL's most effective per-play pass rushers in a timeshare with Courtney Upshaw.

6. Von Miller and Wesley Woodyard, Denver Broncos

A year ago, Miller was the best all-around linebacker in the league, while Woodyard arguably was the top coverage linebacker. Their play has slipped a bit this season, but Miller and Woodyard still are an imposing tandem when they can get on the field together.

7. Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins

It seems that no defender has the instincts to shut down the screen game like Kerrigan, who bats down as many passes as any linebacker. Kerrigan, Orakpo, nose tackle Barry Cofield and a resurgent DeAngelo Hall have been the bright spots on an otherwise abysmal Redskins defense.

8. Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby, Arizona Cardinals

The NFL's fastest linebacker, Washington has been a terror as a blitzer and run defender since returning from suspension in Week 5. It's hard to find a more disruptive inside linebacker. Dansby has been more than solid in his return to Arizona.

9. Robert Mathis and Jerrell Freeman, Indianapolis Colts

Mathis is on pace for 24 sacks, which would break Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22.5. He's been the best player on a no-name defense that has exceeded expectations in outplaying the 49ers, Broncos and Seattle Seahawks this season. A godsend as the Colts' leading tackler since being signed away from the Saskatchewan Roughriders last year, Freeman is a testament to general manager Ryan Grigson's relentless scouting department.

10. DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch, Detroit Lions

Finally putting it all together after a few injury-marred seasons, Levy is leading the NFL with five interceptions. He's been a big-play machine this season. Tulloch has been enjoying a career year of his own while leading all inside linebackers in Pro Football Focus' ratings through 10 weeks.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" previewed "Thursday Night Football" and "stuck a fork" in the Bills' 2013 chances.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content