Top 10 linebackers of the decade

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As the decade comes to a close, we’re creating some Top 10 lists for 2010 to 2019. Up next, our Top 10 linebackers.

1. Luke Kuechly: There aren’t convenient counting stats to appreciate how good he is at his job. Linebackers with large numbers of tackles sometimes play on defenses which can’t get off the field, giving them more opportunities to pile up stats which may or may not mean anything. But Kuechly defines the middle linebacker position in the modern game, with his combination of athleticism, preparation, and instincts. He has the ability to cover tight ends (like Rob Gronkowski), and play in the box. The 2013 defensive player of the year has been to seven Pro Bowls over the last decade.

2. Von Miller: Paired with DeMarcus Ware to lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl title, one of the truly special tandems the game has seen. His 105.0 sacks this decade are more than any player in the league over that span. He has just 7.0 this year heading into Week 17, and unless he gets three more against the Raiders, it would be just his second single-digit sack season. He also has 26 forced fumbles in his career, and remains one of the players opponents have to account for on every snap.

3. Chandler Jones: Only Miller has more sacks over the last 10 years than the Cardinals’ pass-rusher, whose 96.0 sacks are tied with J.J. Watt at the top of the list, when you start counting in 2010. He has 19.0 sacks and eight forced fumbles (so far) this year, and it’s not like he’s never put up numbers before. He had 17.0 sacks for the Cardinals in 2017. While he was always a good player with the Patriots (and had much more team success), he has blossomed into a playmaker during his time in the desert.

4. DeMarcus Ware: Much like Julius Peppers on the lineman list, Ware gets some credit because he achieved at such a high level for two decades. He was an All-Decade player in the 2000s for the Cowboys, and had 74.0 sacks from 2010 to 2016. He helped the Broncos win a Super Bowl, with their defense dragging along the husk of Peyton Manning. He finished his career with 138.5 sacks, which is eighth on the all-time list. Everyone ahead of him other than Peppers is already in the Hall, and those two will join quickly upon being eligible.

5. Clay Matthews: Matthews could have probably put up bigger numbers for himself, but he kept doing things that benefitted the Packers. A natural outside linebacker, he was often tasked with moving inside in Green Bay, showing the kind of versatility that not many players have. He still had 81.5 sacks this decade, and could still add to that total with the Rams.

6. Bobby Wagner: He’s been paired with Kuechly since they walked into the league together in 2012, and reasonable minds could argue about their relative standings on lists like this one. Wagner’s probably played with a better grade of talent around him, and was part of a Super Bowl champion with the Seahawks.

7. Ryan Kerrigan: His inclusion above better-known players might raise some eyebrows. But the numbers alone make a strong case for the Washington pass-rusher. He has 90.0 sacks this decade, and only Miller, Jones, J.J. Watt, and Cameron Wake have more over that span. It’s a shame his talents are wasted playing for one of the league’s truly dysfunctional franchises, which has only played in two playoff games (losing both) and finished above .500 three times in a decade. His team’s a mess, but he’s very good.

8. Navorro Bowman: Was a four-time All-Pro, and part of one of the great defenses of the decade. He got caught in a regime change in San Francisco that saw him exiled to Oakland, but when he was well, he was one of the best players at his position.

9. Khalil Mack: Believe it or not, there was a team recently which decided they couldn’t use this guy. All he’s done in his career is collect 61.5 sacks and 20 forced fumbles in six seasons, and the Bears are glad to have him. He’s still adding to those numbers, and should for years as part of a Bears defense which is built around him.

10. Patrick Willis: Like his old 49ers teammate Bowman, Willis would be much higher on this list if not for injuries. He also suffered for timing, as he played just four full seasons this decade. But over the course of his career, he was a six-time All Pro seelction, who covered all the ground. He was Kuechly, maybe better, but with worse luck.

103 responses to “Top 10 linebackers of the decade

  1. Hightower basically won 2 Super Bowls for the Patriots. Tackled Beast Mode on the play before the interception and Sacked Ryan in the Falcons game.

  2. So Terrell Suggs is not one of either the top 10 linemen or LBs.

    Great lists (yes, that’s sarcasm).

  3. Really wish you would have done this as “interior defensive lineman”, “pass rushers” and “tackle linebackers”. Chandler Jones, Mack, Ware, etc all spent more time playing on the defensive line than a linebacker spot…

  4. So the Patriots have played in 5 of this decade’s 10 Super Bowls, and didn’t place a single player on top 10 Offensive Line, Defensive Line, and now Linebacker???

    They must really suck?

  5. tinye67 says:
    December 26, 2019 at 9:05 am

    Clay Matthews is the most overrated player of the decade.
    __________

    Not quite sure how 81.5 sacks for an edge rusher in the 3/4 defense is considered overrated.
    It’s one thing to dislike a player, but please provide an ounce of context for your opinion.
    Clay was relentless with his speed, non-stop motor and effort.
    Perhaps you should actually poll some of the QBs he’s hunted down the past decade and see what they think.

  6. I know Donta Hightower has been injured a couple seasons, but his impact on the Patriots defense over this decade has been stellar. Not only have the Pats had some of the best defenses of the decade (which have been worse when he’s injured) but he has basically dominated in every deep playoff run for them this decade AND he’s made significant game changing superbowl plays (the tackle on Marshawn BEFORE the Butler INT; the sack/fumble on Matt Ryan that sparked the 28-3 comeback; and he could’ve/should’ve been named MVP of the Rams game). Such high impact and performance in high leverage moments makes him deserving of being a top ten LB of this decade.

  7. That’s abysmal, Wagner at #6?

    he has only ever had 1 other guy beside him at LB the whole time ( KJ Wright ) who was any decent

    Sorry but Wagner is the best on this list, not just a homer statement this, most reasonable minded football fans could see this argument too

  8. Clay Matthews?

    Another insulting anti-Pats list. How Hightower, Mr. February, is not on this list or any list, is preposterous.

    It’s insulting to utter the words, “Ryan Kerrigan”, and pretend Hightower is irrelevant running the most complex D in the league.

    Keep it up, people. Keep disrespecting NE. You’ll never get it.

  9. tinye67 says:
    December 26, 2019 at 9:05 am
    Clay Matthews is the most overrated player of the decade.

    81 19 Rate This

    ————————-

    The Troy Polomalu of linebackers, no doubt.

    Lots of hair and flair, lacking substance in overall play.

  10. lemmetalkwouldya says:
    December 26, 2019 at 9:24 am
    So the Patriots have played in 5 of this decade’s 10 Super Bowls, and didn’t place a single player on top 10 Offensive Line, Defensive Line, and now Linebacker???

    They must really suck?

    16 6 Rate This

    —————————–

    It’s getting absolutely ridiculous. The built-in jealousy and hate is off the charts.

  11. I think PFF gets it right by putting all of the “edge defenders” (OLD/DE) in the same category. Interior defenders and edge defenders is what all defensive lines have in common no matter if it’s an odd or even front.

  12. jluckow says:
    December 26, 2019 at 9:23 am
    Really wish you would have done this as “interior defensive lineman”, “pass rushers” and “tackle linebackers”. Chandler Jones, Mack, Ware, etc all spent more time playing on the defensive line than a linebacker spot…

    +1

    Comparing pass rush linebackers to 4-3 weakside linebackers is like comparing Aaron Jones to Aaron Rodgers and asking “who is the better back?”

    Lavonte David should absolutely be on this list, but in his position he doesn’t get the glamour stats like sacks.

  13. Huge Packer fan here, and I couldn’t stand Clay Matthews. He was an unnecessarily dirty player that for some reason, never had the reputation of being one. Finally in his last season with GB, it caught up to him and he contributed to a few losses by late hits on the QB. Other than that, he was a flashy, showboating player that did nothing but touch the QB on the arm while he was being dragged to the ground by a DT, get credit for a 0.5 sack, and then flex his muscles while the announcers crooned over the wonder that is Clay. Even his big play in the Superbowl, our DT had blown up the line and got to the RB first. Clay was just on mop up duty there.

    The Smith brothers have come in, and 8 games in, they already made me forget entirely about Clay’s career.

  14. There is no perfect list. This one sure isn’t, but who could come up with a perfect list of top 10?

  15. lemmetalkwouldya says:
    December 26, 2019 at 9:24 am

    So the Patriots have played in 5 of this decade’s 10 Super Bowls, and didn’t place a single player on top 10 Offensive Line, Defensive Line, and now Linebacker???

    They must really suck?
    ___________

    But, I thought it was all about Brady winning those Super Bowls, after all, he’s the GOAT and all that.
    You can’t have it both ways.

  16. 9. Khalil Mack: Believe it or not, there was a team recently which decided they couldn’t use this guy

    Believe it or not, there was a team that decided they couldn’t use Chandler Jones, who ranks number 3 on your list. At least the Raiders got some serious draft capital and turned that first pick into the likely OROTY. Also, I’m pretty sure the Raiders are playing for a possible playoff spot this weekend while Mack and company are playing for a draft pick. Oh wait….

  17. “Believe it or not, there was a team recently which decided they couldn’t use this guy”

    Really?!?!
    Maybe there was a team who didnt wanna give him the world without having the pieces in place to help him win ballgames. The same team that won 6 games with him two years ago and has won 7 without him this year and a chance for 8. The Patriots do this kinda thing ll the time and it never gets mentioned because they keep winning by investing in quality “role players” and a sprinkle of studs.

  18. The Raiders should have tried to sign Khalil Mack after his 3rd year, not his 4th.
    They got a lot of draft picks for him and saved an enormous salary.
    It’s not clear they didn’t come out close to break even on taht.

  19. Whoa there….where is Mr. February? Hightower has dominated three Super Bowls and it would have been four if he had played against the Eagles. He can stop the run, drop back and cover, set the edge, or rush the passer when called on.There is more to linebacking than rushing the passer. Wagner and Kuechly are no brainers.

  20. 9. Khalil Mack: Believe it or not, there was a team recently which decided they couldn’t use this guy

    Believe it or not, there was a team that decided they couldn’t use Chandler Jones, who ranks number 3 on your list. At least the Raiders got some serious draft capital and turned that first pick into the likely OROTY. Also, I’m pretty sure the Raiders are playing for a possible playoff spot this weekend while Mack and company are playing for a draft pick. Oh wait….

    Couldn’t agree more. It’s the mediots and the Raider Haters that keep pushing this false narrative. Those who actually know a little about football and can offer an unbiased opinion actually understand that Oakland came out on top in that trade. What has Mack done in the win column for the Bears? Jacobs (taken with draft pick from Mack) has had a huge impact while Mack is game planned for, double teamed and taken out of games. Just look at the stats, he has disappeared for weeks at a time. He posted a big GOOSE EGG against the Raiders in London.
    Bears need a QB but have no draft picks. Also are strapped financially because a third of their cap is going to Mack. Raiders on the other hand have 2 1sts, 2 3rds and plenty of cap room with a young talented team on the rise moving into a state of the art stadium.
    Oh yeah, how are the Cowboys doing with Cooper? Are they going to pay top dollar to a WR who was on the bench on 4th and Goal with game on the line to end their season?! And the still have Dak to pay?
    LMAO

  21. Any top ten list of LBs or DL that does not include Sizzle is worthless. Thought you guys knew football ???

  22. Matthews took himself out of many important games at key times. Not to mention the stupid penalties he has committed that either cost games & kept drives going.

  23. tylawspick6 says:
    December 26, 2019 at 9:54 am
    tinye67 says:
    December 26, 2019 at 9:05 am
    Clay Matthews is the most overrated player of the decade.

    81 19 Rate This

    ————————-

    The Troy Polomalu of linebackers, no doubt.

    Lots of hair and flair, lacking substance in overall play.

    ————————————

    Troy Polomalu made incredible circus catch interceptions, the type that Rodney Harrison could only dream of making.

  24. Why did they group all the linemen and linebackers together like they are the same? Von Miller should have been compared to Julius Peppers over Luke Kuechly. If you are grouping OLB and ILB or Tackles and Centers you might as well group TE, RBs and WRs together as well.

  25. Your comments about K Mack .. “Believe it or not, there was a team recently which decided they couldn’t use this guy.” is a bit misleading when you consider this that the Raiders have a rookie (not a $150 mil contract) who has the same amount of sacks and almost twice the TFL’s, with far less snaps on a terrible defense. Obviously the stat line doesn’t show everything a player does in a game and their overall impact, but Mack’s production has been significantly replaced and the Bears now have the burden of Mack’s bloated contract and minus 2 #1’s. Good luck signing their QB and any other impact players going forward. Just win baby!

  26. 1.This list should be either expanded or there should be a separate list for
    pass rushers and true linebackers.
    2. Bobby Wagner should be higher on the list.
    3.To the comment that describes Clay Mathews “ as lacking substance in overall play”
    I disagree, Mathews does not lack substance’s
    4.Hightower deserves to be on this list.
    5.If you include Bowman and Willis on this list Sean Lee should be on as well.
    14 interceptions is very high for a linebacker. Picks impact games. Lee has as many as Eric Berry. Yes, he has been injured
    but he is still playing and was all pro in his 7th year. Willis played essentiallly 7 years
    Bowman essentially played 5 years in San Francisco and one year in Oakland where he played in only 10 games.
    It would be interesting to see Lee play in the 3-4 where he is protected .
    6. Kuehly is good.He has always had an outstanding d-line in front of him,,,,….but Bobby Wagner is better.
    7. Suggs should be on list he impacted games with late sacks.

  27. Patrick Willis is a potential 1st baller HOF and was far superior to #1 on your list. Bowman, was playing like a HOF and was the best linebacker in the league until his horrific knee injury.
    Many DL on this list and some who flat-out don’t belong on here!

  28. DolFan says:
    December 26, 2019 at 10:09 am
    No Brian Urlacher or Zach Thomas?“

    Read much? It’s top linebackers of the decade. Thomas last played in 2009. Try and follow along.

  29. steelercrazy says:
    December 26, 2019 at 11:19 am
    …………………..
    Troy Polomalu made incredible circus catch interceptions, the type that Rodney Harrison could only dream of making.
    —————————————-

    Not sure why you are apparently trying to criticize Rodney Harrison, who had more career regular season interceptions than Polamalu (as well as more regular season tackles, and sacks than Polamalu, not to mention…more career playoff interceptions than Polamalu, and had more playoff tackles than Polamalu, and had more playoff sacks than Polamalu, in fewer playoff games than Polamalu.

    Both were very good NFL safeties, some might argue HOFers, and there is nothing wrong with that.

  30. Was the Sean Lee suggestion a joke? Cowboys fans are seriously whacked out of their mind. Sean Lee had 1 or 2 good years and has been injured since. Last 2 years he has been a backups lmao
    I’ve lived in DFW my whole life and can attest…they’re all delusional.
    Last week there was super bowl talk again(after the Rams win) and then….the Eagles lol

  31. Wow, a top-10 linebacker list of the decade and no Dont’a Hightower? The most impactful, game-changing linebacker in the post seasons of this decade. The man who kept Beast-Mode out of the end zone in SB49. The man who strip-sacked Matt Ryan in SB51 to start the biggest comeback in SB history. The man who had Jared Goff peeing down his leg for most of SB53.

    As far as “lists of the decade” go, I would not include this one.

    Some list.

  32. steelercrazy says:
    December 26, 2019 at 11:19 am
    tylawspick6 says:
    December 26, 2019 at 9:54 am
    tinye67 says:
    December 26, 2019 at 9:05 am
    Clay Matthews is the most overrated player of the decade.

    81 19 Rate This

    ————————-

    The Troy Polomalu of linebackers, no doubt.

    Lots of hair and flair, lacking substance in overall play.

    ————————————

    Troy Polomalu made incredible circus catch interceptions, the type that Rodney Harrison could only dream of making.

    7 5 Rate This

    ——————–

    That’s because when he wasn’t always out of position, he was needing to make those attempts to cover up for being so out of position.

    NE used to rope a dope this guy into a pretzel. He was horrible in coverage. Absolutely horrible.

    He was a pure in the box safety who played downhill. He had long hair and a funny name, while playing in Pitt, so he was automatically overrated like Clay Matthews was in GB.

    Two totally overrated USC players.

  33. So the Patriots have played in 5 of this decade’s 10 Super Bowls, and didn’t place a single player on top 10 Offensive Line, Defensive Line, and now Linebacker???

    ———————————

    Problem is, Belichick lets most of his stars walk or trades them before they hit the market. Most of them end up on mediocre teams that had cap space at the time.He kept Devin McCourty and Donta Hightower because the took less money to stay.

    I’m surprised Hightower didn’t make the list. Honestly, I would put Kyle Van Noy on it as well for all the clutch plays he has made in New England.

  34. Clay Matthews is the most overrated player of the decade.
    __________

    Not quite sure how 81.5 sacks for an edge rusher in the 3/4 defense is considered overrated.
    It’s one thing to dislike a player, but please provide an ounce of context for your opinion.
    Clay was relentless with his speed, non-stop motor and effort.
    Perhaps you should actually poll some of the QBs he’s hunted down the past decade and see what they think
    ———————

    He has spent his career getting base blocked by tight ends. Way below average vs. run game. Is that enough context? I could keep going if you want.

  35. I think Von Miller should be number one. Luke may have had a better decade overall, but Von was so dominant when he willed his team to a Super Bowl title in 2015.

  36. It’s amazing what a 3-4 defense does do the word/position of “linebacker”. Von Miller, Chandler Jones, Clay Matthews, Demarcus Ware…they are not linebackers. Their contributions to the game are that as of a defensive end. No one would know their names if they actually played a linebacker role. That’s just the truth, so why are they on this list? Eric Kendricks, Sean Lee, there are just two names snubbed from this list of “linebackers” because you chose to include defensive ends.

  37. Nobody will ever mistake me for a Bears fan. The Bears represent the Packers biggest rival…and I respect that organization and all they are. Their fans are FIBs and all that…but to leave Uhrlacher off that list, a Hall of Famer no less, is laughable.

    Additionally, if you’re bagging on Matthews, you are too young to remember his first 7 or 8 seasons so, go to your room.

  38. Big oversight on Hightower, for sure. Hey, Ty Law…BB has always praised Troy Polomalu and yet you trash him. What gives?

  39. Usually Right says:
    December 26, 2019 at 12:22 pm
    Clay Matthews is the most overrated player of the decade.
    __________

    Not quite sure how 81.5 sacks for an edge rusher in the 3/4 defense is considered overrated.
    It’s one thing to dislike a player, but please provide an ounce of context for your opinion.
    Clay was relentless with his speed, non-stop motor and effort.
    Perhaps you should actually poll some of the QBs he’s hunted down the past decade and see what they think
    ———————

    He has spent his career getting base blocked by tight ends. Way below average vs. run game. Is that enough context? I could keep going if you want.
    _____________

    Matthews getting base blocked by TE’s.
    Please, early in his career, the majority of TEs couldn’t contend with his leverage and speed. Try again.

    Average against the run game? He was a 3/4 edge rusher, it’s the reason he was drafted, and for the most part it’s the way the Packers played him.
    It’s also the reason he made this list.

    Look, if you have a problem with the way PFT has grouped some of these positions that’s one thing, but you simply can’t argue with his overall production in harassing opposing quarterbacks over the last decade.

  40. Patriots played in four SB so far this decade. Hightower did not play in the one they lost.

    1. Dead shoulder, but still gamely stopped Marshawn at the 1.
    2. Strip sack of Ryan to start the serious comeback while still 16 points down in 4th quarter.
    3. Overpowered Rams RT several times in SB53. Stuffed the run all game.

    When he’s healthy he is not flashy but his presence is unmistakeable.

    Long-locks Matthews is good – but barely qualifies for this list. And ahead of Mack? Please.

  41. lemmetalkwouldya says:
    December 26, 2019 at 9:24 am
    So the Patriots have played in 5 of this decade’s 10 Super Bowls, and didn’t place a single player on top 10 Offensive Line, Defensive Line, and now Linebacker???

    They must really suck?
    ———————–

    No, they CHEAT!……any other questions?

    Go Hawks!

  42. “Bobby Wagner is……#6? Clay Matthews is…….#5? Damn y’all.”

    Clay Matthews was a truly impact player earlier in his career and he has 8 sacks this year. He should have won DPOY in 2010; he played better than Troy Polamalu for sure.

    Wagner has more tackles; you get that at ILB, but Clay has big sack numbers, 3 defensive TDs, and 17 FF, including in the Super Bowl.

  43. For the Wagner Kuechly debate

    tackles tackles for loss INT Sack Pass Def. Forced Fumbles Fumble Recovery QB hits Games
    BW 1133 58 10 19.5 47 5 9 64 118
    LK 1115 74 18 12.5 65 7 9 30 117

    I don’t think Wagner’s extra 18 tackles and 7 sacks compare to the impact that Kuechly has on his team. Wagner is a better pass rusher, Kuechly is better in both coverage and playing the run. Both are great, Luke is better.

  44. Don’t Hightower is a HUUUGE omission.

    As an aside, he did not play long enough in this decade, and his career ended in 2013, but Jonathan Vilma was a game changer for the Saints D at MLB.

  45. Don’ta. Sorry for the misspell.

    Agree with the posters re Navarro Bowman. Justin Smith was a D-Lineman if I’m not mistaken, but he was an absolute beast. The 2011 divisional playoff with the Saints was one of the best games of my lifetime, and I have been watching NFL since 1962

  46. Suggs. Defensive player of the year in 2011. SB champ 2012. More pro owls and sacks than Matthews Hightower missing. Dumb list

  47. Look, if you have a problem with the way PFT has grouped some of these positions that’s one thing, but you simply can’t argue with his overall production in harassing opposing quarterbacks over the last decade.
    ————
    Try again.
    Doesn’t qualify him as a top ten Lb of the last 10 years.

  48. Suggs not being on the list is obviously a huge joke. He had 80 sacks as the edge setter for the Ravens along with the 2011 DPOY award and a Super Bowl title.

    Conversely, there is zero argument to be made for Patrick Willis being on the list. He was essentially done after 3 post prime years in the 2010s.

  49. I find it pretty confusing that people who know football are still taking shots at the Raiders for trading Khalil Mack with the benefit of hindsight now (number 9). Implying the Raiders thought they “couldn’t use” him is either pretty ill-informed or just ignoring reality. They could certainly use him (still can) but they made the determination that the cost to keep him was simply too high to be able to build anything resembling a competitive roster around him (particularly with Carr’s contract).

    Beyond that, the team that couldn’t use him currently has the same record as the team that paid him nearly quarterback money (6/141). Although still a very good player, he’s failed to reach double digit sacks this year and since signing his mega deal has just about the same number of sacks as journeyman Shaq Barrett (21 to 19.5) who’s made just $5M over those 2 years. The Bears are now a mediocre team with no quarterback and can’t afford one because of the Mack deal, which is precisely what Gruden was proactively trying to avoid. Gruden now has the benefit of great draft capital to try to keep the team moving in the right direction.

    I get that the Raiders are a joke and I even get why some (many) ripped the trade at the time it happened. But with the facts we have now to randomly reference that trade in a condescending way just seems lazy and unnecessary.

  50. Clay Matthews was overrated his entire career. Sure, he’d have a strip sack once in a while but he was burnt toast on soooo many plays over the years, and he’s a cheap shot artist to boot.

  51. Willis and bowman were both better than keuchely. There is no way either of those two would have any part of a 31st ranked defense. For all the athletic splash plays he has made, I’ve seen keuchley get fooled and get gashed for big plays.

  52. This is a tough list to compare pass rushers and insideinebackers together. But if I’m comparing inside guys I’d take Willis then Wagner then Bowman (although his 2012-2013 was better than any stretch by any of the backers or anybody else in the history of football for that matter. He simply tackled everything that was near or even far from him and did short of the sticks and immediately. His forced turnovers in the playoffs and other big games was on a historic pace. The refs screwed him over on three of those most notably the Bradshaw fumble forced to get the niners the nfc championship win over NYG , and the Russell Wilsonn goalline interception that he lost his leg and career ripping out of kearse’s hands and securing.) then Luke K. 4th on that list.

  53. Bobby Wagner doesn’t get a lot of attention because he has a boring name, a boring haircut and plays in South Alaska. Still, people pretending to be professionals should know better.

  54. So the Denver Bronco’s snubs continue. Are you kidding me? Luke should be at the bottom of the top 10! So he’s having a bit of a down year due to Chubb being out. But please – who wrecked the Super Bowl with the Panthers & Luke? If you were starting a team who would you pick Von Or Luke?

  55. I know you are going for LBs who played in a majority of the decade but just to be contrary, i feel I mus point out that the best LB to PLAY in this decade is Ray Lewis.

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