In football, there is a mystical thing on defense called the ‘green dot.’ The signal-caller and leader of the defense usually wear that green dot to get play calls from the defensive coordinator. But the guy who wears that dot is almost always the heart and soul of the defense. The de facto leader from the group of 13-14 guys that gets regular playing time on defense. Some guys are terrific, but to make a list such as the All-Decade team, you have to be exemplary. That does not mean your team has been among the best in the nation; no, you have to be phenomenal. So, I did a stat and film deep dive to dissect this list and make it as accurate as possible. And without further ado, here are my top five inside linebackers from the decade.
5. Utah State ILB Bobby Wagner (2008-2011)
This one is probably a surprise given Wagner’s accolades in college. Everyone knows how great Bobby Wagner has been for the Seahawks, but his college career goes far more under the radar. It was not like Wagner came out of nowhere as some raw prospect that the Seahawks just happened to churn out. No, Wagner was a stud for the Aggies in Logan. He was a three-time All-WAC selection from 2009 through 2011 and was named the North’s best player at the 2012 Senior Bowl.
Wagner racked 445 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, and was the leader of the Aggies defense from his Sophomore season on. The tackles jump out at you, but Wagner’s tape was what proved to me that he deserved to be on this list for his excellence at the collegiate level. Every single game you watch, he stood out, but even more importantly, Wagner played his best against better competition. On the tape, he was everywhere. No one else stood out quite like Wagner. He flew around the field. He was just faster than everyone else, as a linebacker, that is. There should be no shock that he racked up so many tackles with his freakish athleticism. And more so, had Utah State been good while Wagner was there, his college career would be far more revered. He indeed had one of the most underrated careers of the decade.
4. Nebraska ILB Lavonte David (2010-2011)
David was a pretty unreal player in college. The guy was a straight-up playmaker. As a linebacker, he had eight pass deflections as a freshman. As a Sophomore, he had three forced fumbles and two interceptions. That does not even take into account his 285 tackles, 11.5 sacks, and 24.5 tackles for loss throughout his two-year career for the Cornhuskers. To say the least, it is not a shock that David has had such a prolific NFL career in Tampa Bay.
David was fast, but more importantly, he was great in coverage for the Cornhuskers. The middle of the field was always dangerous with David there, and he made some crushing hits over the middle of the field too. You rarely see a linebacker so prolific, but David was just that for Cornhuskers, and it is why he finds a spot on this list. He is not only one of the best of the decade, but the two-time All-American is one of the best of BCS-era.
3. Alabama ILB C.J. Mosley (2010-2013)
For his four-year career at Alabama, Mosley evolved from a key role player to the leader of the charge for back-to-back national championships for the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2012 and 2013. Mosley racked up 213 tackles in those two national championship years, and he wore the green dot both of those years for Nick Saban’s defense.
While Mosley might not have the eye-popping stats that guys like David or Wagner have Mosley’s leadership and presence alone require him to be on this list. Everyone feared Mosley over the middle of the field just because he was a playmaker. Seventeen pass deflections and five interceptions in coverage show off that he was more than just an enforcer who could hit hard. He was not only a sure tackler that was everywhere; this was a three-down linebacker that was the heart of some of the most revered Alabama teams in recent memory. Leaving Mosley off this list when he was just that good and commanded that much respect from opponents would be a travesty. And the 2013 Butkus Award Winner and two-time All-American rightfully finds his spot on the list here.
2. Notre Dame ILB Manti Te’o (2009-2012)
Te’o is the guy who was the closest defensive player in recent memory to win the Heisman Trophy. Ndamukong Suh almost did it in the previous decade, and Te’o was the runner up in the 2012 season. That season Te’o took home the Walker Camp, Chuck Bednarik, Maxwell, Bronko Nagurski, Butkus, and Lombardi awards. Te’o had an insane seven interceptions his Senior season.
Over the course of his four-year career at Notre Dame, Te’o was an All-American only once but racked up 437 tackles and 34 tackles for loss as the leader of the Fighting Irish defense from his Sophomore year on. A lot of people consider him to be one of the best inside linebackers in college football history, and while his special 2012 season was fantastic, there is somehow one guy to me that was better than him. And why is that? It is because while Te’o was a great football player and a game-changer, he did not have that sixth sense that exceptional football players have. My number one pick did have that.
1. Boston College ILB Luke Kuechly (2009-2011)
Kuechly was a special player from the very first time he stepped on a field at Boston College. He had an absurd 183 tackles in his Sophomore year and 191 in his Junior season. Throughout his three years of being the leader of the Eagles defense, he had 532 tackles, 35.5 tackles for loss, and seven interceptions.
Kuechly was a two-time consensus All-American and won the Butkus Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, and Lott Trophy in 2011. His film was the most impressive part of his resume, still. He would sniff out plays that took him out of his responsibility, and it was impressive to watch. He took away routes that should have been wide open, he closed on ball carriers incredibly fast, and he covered receivers like he was a box safety. Kuechly was a phenomenal player, and if I had to make an all-time list, he would make my top ten for inside linebackers in college football history. No one else deserves the top spot more than Kuechly.