Top 100 NFL Players by Position: 4-3 Middle Linebackers

Movie Quote of the Day:

“You probably get this a lot. This isn’t the real Caesar’s Palace, is it?”

– Alan Garner, The Hangover (2009)

NFL analysts, experts, players, etc. have been releasing their own rankings for the top players in the NFL. The NFL Network just released their Top 100 that is voted on by the players. Also, Mike Miller at Bleacher Report has been coming out with his own rankings of the Top 1,000 players in the NFL.

I decided to create my own version of this, but I’m going to put it together by position (except punters and fullbacks because nobody cares about them) and it’ll only be 100 players. I’m not even sure I can name 1,000 people that I know in the real world let alone the NFL. I’m also going to add honorable mentions and what I like to call the “Rising Star” of each position. Another thing I added when creating these lists is that the players have to currently be on a team. No free agents.

Today involves the 4-3 middle linebackers. There’s not much of a difference between a 4-3 middle linebacker and a 3-4 inside linebacker. The only difference is that there’s only one middle linebacker on the field, whereas there’s two inside linebackers on the field at the same time. A 4-3 middle linebacker’s job is to stop the run and help out in pass coverage. They’re tackling machines, and they rarely get sacks. Here’s my list:

Rising Star: Tahir Whitehead, Detroit Lions

2014 stats: 86 total tackles and two interceptions

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Whitehead got his turn to be the starting middle linebacker for Detroit last season when the original starter, Stephen Tulloch, tore his ACL. The former fifth round pick had a pretty good season last year. He’s had limited playing time prior to last season, he only has 20 total tackles in his NFL career prior to last year. I expect him to have more playing time after his solid performance last season, and compete for the starting job.

Honorable Mention: Rolando McClain, Dallas Cowboys

2014 stats: 81 total tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, and two interceptions

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McClain struggled during his time with Oakland earlier in his career, but turned a corner last year. Dallas acquired McClain last year after Sean Lee tore his ACL during OTA’s, when McClain hadn’t played football since the end of the 2012 season. McClain performed very well as Lee’s replacement. He played so well that he was named as a Pro Bowl alternate last year. He also re-signed with Dallas in the offseason and will remain at his starting spot at middle linebacker. He has 327 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles in his career.

Top 5 4-3 Middle Linebackers:

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5. Koa Misi, Miami Dolphins

2014 stats: 64 total tackles and one sack

Misi moved to middle linebacker last year after spending his previous four years on the outside. Despite missing five games due to injury, he had a pretty good season and showed promise at the position. His production has increased the last three seasons. Misi has 260 total tackles, 12 sacks, and two forced fumbles so far in his career. With Ndamukong Suh added to the defensive line in Miami that should leave some opportunities for Misi to make plays.

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4. Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots

2014 stats: 53 total tackles and one sack

Mayo has only played 12 games in the last two seasons because of injuries. Mayo tore his pectoral muscle and missed 10 games in 2013, and tore his patellar tendon last season and missed 10 games again. Prior to that, Mayo was a 2x Pro Bowler (2010 and 2012) and was First-team All-Pro in 2010. Both the Associated Press and the Pro Football Writers of America named him Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008. Mayo has 756 total tackles, 10 sacks, three interceptions, and eight forced fumbles in his career. The reason why he’s not higher in because of his issues with injuries.

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3. James Laurinaitis, St. Louis Rams

2014 stats: 109 total tackles and 3.5 sacks

Laurinaitis is completely underrated amongst the NFL. He hasn’t received any NFL honors other than Rams Rookie of the Year (2009). I think every team in the NFL would take him in a heartbeat if he was available, he’s a great run stopper. Laurinaitis has started every game since getting drafted and has collected over 100 tackles in every season. In his six seasons, he has 743 total tackles, 15.5 sacks, nine interceptions, and a forced fumble.

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2. Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

2014 stats: 104 total tackles and two sacks

Wagner is the definition of a hidden gem. He was only a two-star recruit coming out of high school and went to Utah State. By the time he left Utah State he was a second round draft pick. Wagner missed five games last season and still recorded over 100 total tackles. That alone should speak volumes to Wagner’s talent. He finally got the credit he deserved, and made the Pro Bowl and was named First-team All-Pro last season. Wagner has 364 total tackles and nine sacks in his three NFL seasons.

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1. Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers

2014 stats: 153 total tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble, and one interception

Calling Kuechly a tackling machine is an understatement. I know that I called J.J. Watt the best defensive player in the NFL, but I might have to reconsider. I think I’ll have to go: 1A. Watt, 1B. Kuechly. He’s the first player since Lawrence Taylor to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons. Kuechly is a 2x Pro Bowler (2013 and 2014) and a 2x First-team All-Pro in the same years.

Kuechly has recorded over 150 total tackles in every season he’s been in the NFL. He’s also never missed a game. Kuechly has 473 total tackles, six sacks, and seven interceptions in three seasons. He has a nose for the football and is one of the smartest football players I’ve ever seen. He’s the best middle linebacker in the NFL by a mile and he’s the leader of Carolina’s defense. I can already tell he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer, if he stays healthy.

All stats from: http://www.nfl.com/stats/player
Tomorrow: Tight Ends

Thanks for reading

Shane Price
Follow me on Twitter – @priceisright53

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