PFN Iconic

Best NFL Linebackers of All Time: Lawrence Taylor, Ray Lewis Headline Top 10

Who are the best NFL linebackers of all time? We offer our top 10, which include legends such as Lawrence Taylor, Ray Lewis, and Dick Butkus.

For whatever reason, linebackers don’t get enough love when people talk about NFL defenses. Cornerbacks and edge rushers generate most of the headlines — and get the biggest contracts. But make no mistake: Strong, versatile linebacking play is non-negotiable if you want a great defense.

With that said, who are the best NFL linebackers of all time? We came up with the top 10, along with six honorable mentions.

10 Best NFL Linebackers of All Time

Honorable mentions: Junior Seau, Bill George, Chuck Howley, Chuck Bednarik, Brian Urlacher, Ray Nitschke

10) Bobby Bell

Some probably believe that Bobby Bell should be higher on this list, but No. 10 feels about right.

One of the most physically imposing players of his era, Bell played for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1963 through 1974. He was a dominant force in the AFL and played at the same level in the NFL, finishing his career with nine Pro Bowl nods and six first-team All-Pro selections.

Bell, the 1969 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award winner, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.

9) Mike Singletary

The 1980s Chicago Bears rostered many great defensive players, but Mike Singletary might have been the best of the bunch.

Famously intense, Singletary won two NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards and finished his career with 10 Pro Bowl nods, one first-team All-Pro selection, and one Super Bowl title. Singletary was also remarkably durable, missing just six games over the final 10 seasons of his career.

8) Jack Ham

Jack Ham was one of the most complete linebackers in NFL history and a key member of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty.

Fast and versatile, Ham forded 53 turnovers during his career — the most of any linebacker in history. He racked up four Super Bowl titles, eight Pro Bowl nods, and six first-team All-Pro selections during his illustrious career.

7) Ted Hendricks

This might be a controversial choice, as some probably have Ted Hendricks just outside their top 10. Regardless, he’s one of the best NFL linebackers of all time.

Outrageously tall for the position at 6-foot-7, Hendricks was nicknamed “The Mad Stork.” He won four Super Bowls across 15 seasons for the Baltimore Colts, Green Bay Packers, and Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, and finished his career with eight Pro Bowl selections. He also played in a staggering 215 consecutive games.

6) Derrick Brooks

One of the best defensive players of the 1990s and 2000s, Derrick Brooks is also one of the greatest linebackers of all time.

Brooks famously didn’t miss a single game during his 14-year career while starting 221 of 224 contests. He rarely left the field for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including in 2002, when he won NFL Defensive Player of the Year and led the Bucs to a Super Bowl title. The Hall of Famer finished his career with 11 Pro Bowl selections.

5) Derrick Thomas

Another legendary Chiefs linebacker, Derrick Thomas finishes five spots ahead of Bell.

Thomas is one of the best pass-rushing linebackers of all time and holds the Chiefs’ all-time sack record with 126.5. Thomas also forced 41 fumbles and recovered 19. He was all over the field.

Thomas didn’t win a Super Bowl, but he earned nine Pro Bowl selections and a spot in the Hall of Fame.

4) Jack Lambert

Another member of the legendary “Steel Curtain” Pittsburgh defense, Jack Lambert is just a few spots better than Ham. What a linebacking duo.

Lambert, the leader of the defense, was famous for his versatility and toughness — and his toothless snarl. A four-time champion, he racked up nine Pro Bowl nods and six first-team All-Pro selections. He also posted multiple interceptions in eight of his 11 seasons.

3) Ray Lewis

Say what you will about Ray Lewis and his off-field issues. But when he was on the field, Lewis was one of the best and most feared linebackers in football history.

Relentlessly intense and passionate (occasionally to a fault), Lewis was the NFL’s best linebacker for a large chunk of his career. He was the face of the Baltimore Ravens and a key contributor to two Super Bowl-winning teams. With seven first-team All-Pro selections and one Super Bowl MVP on his résumé, Lewis belongs in the No. 3 spot on this list.

2) Dick Butkus

If it weren’t for Lawrence Taylor, Dick Butkus would probably be the consensus best NFL linebacker of all time. He certainly was the best of his era.

Notoriously fierce and fearless, Butkus was the Bears’ hard-nosed leader from 1965 to 1973. He finished top five in MVP voting three times and earned five first-team All-Pro selections. Had it not been for a serious knee injury he suffered at 28 years old, Butkus would’ve had an even longer and more decorated career.

1) Lawrence Taylor

Bill Belichick believes Lawrence Taylor is the obvious choice for the greatest defensive player in NFL history. That’s good enough for us.

Let’s do some bulletpoints:

  • Hall of Famer
  • 10 Pro Bowls
  • Eight first-team All-Pro selections
  • Two-time Super Bowl champion
  • 1986 MVP
  • Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award winner
  • 1981 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award winner
  • 142 sacks, including 20.5 in 1986
  • Nine interceptions

The list goes on and on. Taylor was the face of the New York Giants throughout the 1980s and could wreck a game by himself. There’s never been anyone else like him.

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!