Top 10 middle linebackers of all time

Who is the best linebacker of all time?

By: Brock Wells

The middle linebacker position has provided NFL fans with some of the greatest players in the history of the league. Middle linebackers are often seen as the “quarterback of the defense,” and having a great one can be the difference between a fair defense and a great defense. Some of the greatest middle linebackers in league history are also the most fearsome players to ever take the field. (Keep in mind that sacks, before 1982 are ‘unofficial’ and tackles, weren’t recorded until 1994.)

10. Sam Huff

Sam Huff played 13 seasons in the NFL, eight with the New York Giants and five with the Washington Redskins. He won an NFL Championship with the Giants in 1956, a season in which he finished third in voting for United Press International’s Rookie of the Year Award. He was also a first-team All-Pro selection twice, in 1958 and 1959.

Sam Huff Career Stats:

  • Interceptions: 30
  • Fumble recoveries: 17
  • Sacks: 29

9. Bobby Wagner

Bobby Wagner has been one of the best linebackers in the NFL for almost a decade at this point, winning a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks in 2013. He’s been nothing but consistent since those days of Seahawks dominance in the league. He led the league in combined tackles in 2016 and 2019, and in solo tackles in 2017. He’s a four-time first-team All-Pro selection.

Bobby Wagner Career Stats (* = as of Week Two 2022):

  • Interceptions: 11
  • Forced fumbles: 6
  • Fumble recoveries: 9
  • Sacks: 25.5
  • Combined tackles: 1,397*
  • Solo tackles: 827*

8. Nick Buoniconti

Nick Buoniconti played 14 seasons in the NFL, seven with the Boston Patriots and seven with the Miami Dolphins. He won two Super Bowls with the Dolphins, in 1972 and 1973. He was a five-time first-team All-Pro selection, including in four consecutive seasons between 1964 and 1967 during his Patriots tenure.

Nick Buoniconti Career Stats:

  • Interceptions: 32
  • Fumble recoveries: 6
  • Sacks 24

7. Brian Urlacher

Brian Urlacher played 13 seasons in the NFL, all with the Chicago Bears. He won both the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Award and the AP Defensive Player of the Year Award, in 2000 and 2005 respectively. The four-time first-team All-Pro led the NFL in solo tackles in 2002 with 117 and yards recovered from fumbles in 2001 with 101.

Brian Urlacher Career Stats:

  • Interceptions: 22
  • Forced fumbles: 11
  • Fumble recoveries: 16
  • Sacks: 41.5
  • Combined tackles: 1,361
  • Solo tackles: 1,046

6. Ray Nitschke

Ray Nitschke played 15 seasons in the NFL, all with the Green Bay Packers. In that time, his teams won five league championships, including the first two Super Bowls in 1966 and 1967. The two-time first-team All-Pro selection was one of the staples of the great Packers teams of the NFL Championship/early Super Bowl eras of the league.

Ray Nitschke Career Stats:

  • Interceptions: 25
  • Fumble recoveries: 23
  • Sacks: 16

5. Luke Kuechly

Luke Kuechly played just eight seasons in the NFL, all with the Caroline Panthers, retiring while still in his athletic prime. He won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Award and the AP Defensive Player of the Year Award in back-to-back seasons in 2012 and 2013. He also twice led the league in combined tackles in 2012 and 2014.

Luke Kuechly Career Stats:

  • Interceptions: 18
  • Forced fumbles: 7
  • Fumble recoveries: 9
  • Sacks: 12.5
  • Combined tackles: 1,092
  • Solo tackles: 690

4. Mike Singletary

Mike Singletary played 12 seasons in the NFL, all with the Chicago Bears. He was a seven-time first-team All-Pro selection, and the leader of the 1985 Bears defense, commonly remembered as one of the top defenses in the history of the league. He won AP Defensive Player of the Year that season, an award he won again in 1988.

Mike Singletary Career Stats:

  • Interceptions: 7
  • Fumble recoveries: 12
  • Sacks: 19

3. Jack Lambert

Jack Lambert played 11 seasons in the NFL, all with the Pittsburgh Steelers. During his tenure, the Steelers won four Super Bowls and were the defining franchise of the 1970s. He was a five-time first-team All-Pro selection and a winner of the AP’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year accolades.

Jack Lambert Career Stats:

  • Interceptions: 28
  • Fumble recoveries: 17
  • Sacks: 23.5

2. Dick Butkus

Dick Butkus played nine seasons in the NFL, all with the Chicago Bears. He was such a great player that he overshadowed the struggles of the team throughout his tenure. No playoff appearances and no Defensive Player of the Year accolades doesn’t dampen the career of this all-time great player.

Dick Butkus Career Stats:

  • Interceptions: 22
  • Fumble recoveries: 27
  • Sacks: 11

1. Ray Lewis

Ray Lewis, alongside Dick Butkus and Lawrence Taylor, is arguably the scariest linebacker in the history of the NFL. His 17 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens are the stuff of legend. Not only did he forever define that franchise, he also won two Super Bowls and was a two-time AP Defensive Player of the Year Award winner and leading the league in combined and solo tackles three times each.

Ray Lewis Career Stats:

  • Interceptions: 31
  • Forced fumbles: 19
  • Fumble recoveries: 20
  • Sacks: 41.5
  • Combined tackles: 2,059
  • Solo tackles: 1,568

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