The Top 10 NFL Linebackers for 2021

Stoney Keeley continues his look at the NFL as the 2021 season approaches. Today, we're looking at the top 10 NFL linebackers.

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It’s summertime offseason content time! As the season approaches, I’m going to be taking a look at the landscape of the NFL, position by position, over the course of the next several weeks. We’ll be talking about the who’s who of the NFL in our own little version of the NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players” bit they do every year. Up next, we’re talking about the top 10 NFL linebackers for 2021!

I love me some good linebacking play. It’s like one of the oldest arts in football. Having a good inside linebacker to serve as the sort of “quarterback of the defense” gives you a piece to build a defense around, so it’s one of the most important positions on the field. AGH – I’m ready to run through a brick wall thinking about linebackers. Anyway…

Let’s get to some honorable mentions before we’re on to the top 10. Many will probably cite the absence of Devin White as a glaring omission from this list. But, I’d say “watch a little more of him than just that postseason run and get back to me.” I’ve felt lilke Deion Jones is perennially underrated, and is one of the best coverage linebackers in the league, but we’re starting to see that coverage ability slip just a bit. Zach Cunningham is overlooked…probably because he plays for the Houston Texans. Finally, I want to mention Dont’a Hightower, who is returning to action after opting out of 2020. If he’s the Hightower of old, he’s going to have a say in this top 10 discussion.

The Top 10 NFL Linebackers for 2021

10. Jayon Brown, Tennessee Titans – Y’all may call me a homer for this one, but when healthy, Brown does everything well and I think a lot of other NFL teams would kill to have a linebacker like him. He’s all over the field, sticking with guys in coverage, and he’s a bit underrated as a tackler. The health is the big question mark, but if he’s there, he can do it all.

9. Tremaine Edmunds, Buffalo Bills – Edmunds isn’t very high on the list of the analytics guys, and I admit that this ranking is more about projection than production (though Edmunds was selected for the Pro Bowl in 2020). But, this guy is a freak athlete that is an active tackler, and he’s young enough to still have a wealth of potential despite entering his 4th season in the league.

8. Blake Martinez, New York Giants – Signing Martinez paid off immediate and major dividends for the Giants. This guy is a tackling machine – whether it’s in the open field or at the line of scrimmage. Martinez will fly all over the place and just plain get stops. His 2020 was fun to watch, and I imagine he’ll build upon that in 2021.

7. Demario Davis, New Orleans Saints – 33 years old and one of the most reliable linebackers in the NFL – it’s amazing. This dude just doesn’t miss, and he’s as steady as they come no matter what he’s asked to do. He’s versatile, and he’s a leader for that stout Saints defense.

6. Roquan Smith, Chicago Bears – Smith has a knack for getting in the backfield and registering sacks and tackles for loss. He’s one of the most prolific tacklers in the league, and earned 2nd Team All-Pro honors by the AP for it. He’s also one of the best coverage linebackers in the league.

5. Eric Kendricks, Minnesota Vikings – Kendricks is a special piece at linebacker, and has been one of the best well-rounded linebackers in the league for some time now. But, what sets him apart from the rest is his play-making ability. He gets picks and he covers guys at an elite level.

4. Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts – Leonard has been an unstoppable force since entering the league in 2018, when he earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. He’s since been named 1st Team All-Pro twice, and been to two Pro Bowls. There’s no reason to think that, barring injury, Leonard won’t continue to be the best disruptor in the league at his position.

3. Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – No linebacker played more in 2020 than David, who played 1,338 snaps on defense. He is the prototypical linebacker that you can rush, you can put in space, or you can crowd up at the line to stop the run, and you can count on him to get the job done. His age is the biggest thing he has going against him, but damn…watch that Bucs postseason run and tell me this dude can’t still get out there and get it.

2. Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks – This one was a tough one to mull over, but I based it on this question – if you were starting a team today and had the chance to draft Wagner or Fred Warner, who would you draft? You’d draft Warner because he’s seven years younger than Wagner. That’s really all it comes down to for me. Wagner is still the premiere run defender at the position, is solid in the pass rush, and is top 10 in coverage – he still may be the most complete linebacker in the league.

1. Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers – With all due respect to Wagner, Warner has come up and taken the crown, in my opinion. He’s one of the most athletically gifted players at the position, and has been known for his superb coverage skills. The knock was always that he couldn’t stuff the run, but he’s gotten significantly better at that. Not only was he the #1 ranked linebacker by Pro Football Focus in 2020, but he had the 7th best grade against the run among linebackers that played at least 900 snaps. That’s improvement, and because of his rise to being a better all-around linebacker, I’m giving him the top spot for 2021. That, and the 1st Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl nods, of course.


Stoney Keeley is the Editor in Chief of The SoBros Network, and a Dogs Playing Poker on velvet connoisseur. He is a strong supporter of Team GSD, #BeBetter, and ‘Minds right, asses tight.’ “Big Natural” covers the Tennessee Titans, Nashville, Yankee Candle, and a whole wealth of nonsense. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley

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