Capable linebackers are becoming a rarity in the modern NFL, which is why the best LBs in the league provide even more value than they did before. With fewer linebackers on the field, it’s imperative that the ones that play every down have the ability to stop the run, cover the pass, and blitz the quarterback.
Those that can do all three of those tasks can lay claim to the title of being the top linebacker in the NFL. Different LBs will contribute in varied ways, however, which is why it’s never simple to put together a ranking of the best LBs in the NFL.
Nevertheless, we’ll start with the most complete player in the league — and the best LB in the NFL — and go from there.
Who’s the Best Linebacker in the NFL?
San Francisco 49ers LB Fred Warner has the top argument for being the best linebacker in the NFL. Warner, a 2018 third-round pick out of BYU, immediately made an impact in San Francisco and continues SF’s streak of high-level linebacker play, following in the footsteps of Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Chris Borland, and more.
Warner is phenomenal in coverage, playing with excellent instincts, athleticism, and a deep understanding of what NFL offenses are trying to do. He pairs his excellent range with strength in the running game and is the rare coverage LB who has the ability to take on blocks from fullbacks while still squeezing running lanes.
On top of that, Warner has better instincts than almost everyone at the position. He finds himself sprinting to the running back before the handoff but still finds ways to avoid getting fooled by play-action. Warner really is the ideal linebacker, and his range of play is astounding.
Rest of the Top 10 Linebackers Ranked
2) Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There are several veteran linebackers near the top of this year’s list, and a big reason why is that top-tier LBs need good game sense above all else. Still, a baseline level of athleticism and physicality is a requirement for the position. It looked like Lavonte David had lost some of that last year and was on the decline.
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In 2022, he bounced back in a big way and continues to play his extraordinarily physical brand of football while still demonstrating the necessary range to be an effective coverage linebacker.
3) Shaquille Leonard, Indianapolis Colts
After missing the 2022 season due to injury, Shaquille Leonard will be ready to take his place among the top linebackers in the NFL in 2023. His ability to create turnovers without losing his position as a run-stopper or coverage defender is rare in the NFL, and his absence was felt throughout the Colts defense last year.
Though he’s slightly less consistent than other top-five linebackers from play to play, his value is tremendous, especially if he can keep forcing turnvoers.
4) Matt Milano, Buffalo Bills
It took a while for the national media to catch up to how good Matt Milano has been for the Buffalo Bills, but he rose to prominence in the middle of what might have been his best year. Milano was a former safety before switching to linebacker in college, and it shows. He’s a coverage specialist that has added run-stopping chops to his game.
He even has the rare ability to track tight ends deep in man coverage or as the hole player in Tampa 2, something not expected of many linebackers despite the emphasis on coverage in the modern game. Milano is also a capable blitzer and demonstrates enough power to bowl over running backs and enough finesse and agility to get by offensive linemen.
While Milano still needs to be protected a little bit in the run game, when he has clearance from the defensive line in front of him, he can be a wrecking ball.
5) Demario Davis, New Orleans Saints
One of the most underrated linebackers of the past several years, Demario Davis’ late-career emergence as an elite LB has been fun to watch. He’s been a little bit dependent on good play from the defensive line in front of him, but he has the ability to fully integrate explosiveness with the ability to read opposing offenses.
Earlier in his career, Davis had primarily been a run-stuffing, gap-shooting linebacker that had some trouble with landmarks in zones and overrunning plays. But now, he plays a more disciplined style of football that still allows him to make big hits in the running game, get to the hole quicker than the RB, and squeeze lanes to force ball carriers into other defenders.
In pass coverage, Davis’ ability to read offenses has allowed him to finally channel his athleticism into becoming a short-area zone maven, making it nearly impossible for crossers and checkdowns to get much done.
6) Bobby Wagner
It defies belief that Bobby Wagner could continue playing at this level at his age, but he’s finding ways to make a big impact, and not just as a run-stuffer or blitzer. Wagner remains a coverage machine and does a great job getting his hands on the ball.
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In 2022, he added to the Rams’ formidable pass rush as an excellent blitzer, and, along with Davis, was among the off-ball pressure leaders in the NFL. Wagner has a good sense of how to attack guards as a blitzer and stimulate pressure well enough to enable other pass rushers on the defensive line.
7) Dre Greenlaw, San Francisco 49ers
Rounding out the best LB duo in the NFL, Dre Greenlaw supplements Warner’s unreal coverage skills with his remarkable play against the pass. Another converted safety, Greenlaw adds even more speed to the 49ers’ defense with remarkable range.
Not only does this allow him to shut down some of the secondary receiving options NFL offenses will bring to the table, but it gives the 49ers incredible flexibility in how they call coverages.
Both of San Francisco’s linebackers have the ability to go deep in coverage or defend an enormous range underneath, which means that either one of them can be manned up against tight ends and running backs or sent into zone landmarks far away from where LBs are typically lined up.
That flexibility is part of the reason the 49ers have the best defense in the NFL. Greenlaw doesn’t trigger quite as quickly as Warner but might make up for it by being a bit more physical in the run game. In either case, both are enormous assets in both phases of the game.
8) Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Cleveland Browns
In the past, safety conversions to linebackers didn’t always produce success. Part of the reason for that was the willingness and instinct (or lack thereof) of safety converts to enter the fray and deliver a hit. Owusu-Koramoah, one of several safety-type linebackers on this list, proves that tendency is no longer a big concern.
Owusu-Koramoah hits hard and fast, though he’s primarily a coverage defender with run-stopping ability rather than the other way around. Still, the difference in both aspects of the Browns’ defense was notable when he was out. With the 2023 season ahead of him, he can hopefully put together another healthy year that should cement him among the league’s top linebackers.
9) T.J. Edwards, Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles’ defense was remarkable in 2022, and though one can give a lot of credit to the secondary and defensive line, the linebackers did good work keeping the team consistent from down to down.
T.J. Edwards has made up for his average athleticism with elite diagnosis skills and does a great job in every asset of play. While not an elite player in any one facet, he’s does everything that’s asked of him, whether that’s covering RBs in man coverage, playing a middle zone, or rushing the passer.
Edwards has been a beacon of consistency in the run game as well, something Philadelphia needed throughout their run at a ring, as their defensive line dealt with injuries and focused more on pass rush than run defense.
10) Roquan Smith, Baltimore Ravens
Roquan Smith had been a great player in Chicago but seemingly declined a little bit every year. After being traded to the Baltimore Ravens, it seems like he’s revived his career.
Smith plays like a classic WILL LB and does an excellent job sifting through the trash to make plays in the running game without being a liability when blocked up by a fullback or tight end. He shines, however, as a coverage defender.
Smith can freelance a bit more than other linebackers because of his excellent eyes and athleticism, allowing him to close down on plays where his coverage assignment isn’t even the target. He also does a great job keeping in phase against tight ends and occasionally occupying deep zones.
If he finds a way to continue playing like this going forward, Smith could rise up the rankings.
Linebacker Rankings | 11-32
11) Nick Bolton, Kansas City Chiefs
12) Tremaine Edmunds, Buffalo Bills
13) Frankie Luvu, Carolina Panthers
14) Eric Kendricks, Minnesota Vikings
15) De’Vondre Campbell, Green Bay Packers
16) C.J. Mosley, New York Jets
17) Devin White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18) Foyesade Oluokun, Jacksonville Jaguars
19) Bobby Okereke, Indianapolis Colts
20) Quincy Williams, New York Jets
21) Germaine Pratt, Cincinnati Bengals
22) Willie Gay Jr., Kansas City Chiefs
23) David Long Jr., Tennessee Titans
24) Patrick Queen, Baltimore Ravens
25) Jerome Baker, Miami Dolphins
26) Shaq Thompson, Carolina Panthers
27) Logan Wilson, Cincinnati Bengals
28) Cole Holcomb, Washington Commanders
29) Alex Singleton, Denver Broncos
30) Malcolm Rodriguez, Detroit Lions
31) Ja’Whaun Bentley, New England Patriots
32) Josey Jewell, Denver Broncos