Our positional NFC West rankings continue at the linebacker position. A black and blue division that is filled with aggressive play, I have identified five players that stand out from the rest of the bunch at the linebacker position. Whether playing a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, I have analyzed five players that not only possess a relentless motor but make plays sideline-to-sideline every time the lights come on.
And while the upcoming season will likely be without arguably two of the best at their positions in San Francisco 49ers ILB NaVorro Bowman (as he recovers from a torn ACL/MCL) and Arizona Cardinals MLB Daryl Washington for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, I left them off the list, as Bowman will not be playing until mid-season at best, while Washington was suspended for the entire season. So without further ado, my top five linebackers in the NFC West are.
1. ILB Patrick Willis (San Francisco 49ers)
Analysis: Willis will be playing a new role in 2014 as he will be inserted as the “Mike” linebacker. A position that requires a more sideline-to-sideline presence while lining up over the tight-end, Willis should have more opportunities to make plays this upcoming season. A true warrior down in the trenches, Willis continues to be the best linebacker in the game as I predict him to win Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2014.
2. OLB Aldon Smith (San Francisco 49ers)
Analysis: Smith will an all likelihood be suspended for part of the 2014 season due to his recent off-field incidents but that won’t stop him from making our list. The best pure pass-rusher in the NFL, Smith will once again lead the team in sacks while providing the pass-rush presence that will be needed heading into the playoffs. A sack machine as Smith recorded 42 sacks in 43 career games, it’s no wonder he cracks our list at No. 2.
3. OLB Alec Ogletree (St. Louis Rams)
Analysis: I knew this guy was something special coming out of the University of Georgia. A tackling machine with the versatility to match, Ogletree has been nothing short of spectacular during his rookie season. A season that saw him record 117 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one interception returned for touchdown (98 yards), and six forced fumbles, the guy simply knows how to make plays. So what’s in store for his sophomore season? It can only get better with a full year under his belt.
4. OLB Ahmad Brooks (San Francisco 49ers)
Analysis: The most underrated player as he’s often overlooked by his teammates, Brooks has steadily become the rock at the linebacker position. From his durability to making clutch plays in the fourth-quarter, Brooks is the epitome of the word underrated. And while he was selected as a second-team All-Pro in 2013, Brooks should push for the first-team this time around as Smith will once again be suspended for part of the 2014 season. In 2013 Brooks had a career-season as he finished with a career-high in tackles (60), sacks (8.5) and pass break-ups (7).
5. MLB Bobby Wagner (Seattle Seahawks)
Analysis: This was a close call between him and Rams MLB James Laurinaitis but Wagner wins out. In Wagner’s Super Bowl season he had 120 tackles, 5.0 sacks, and two interceptions. Not to mention, Wagner is all over the field against the 49ers as he recorded a whopping 17 tackles in two games last season, do not be surprised if Wagner has an even better year in 2014 as he continues to be one of the best young linebackers in the game.