Perhaps no position in professional sports requires such a focus on destruction as the position of NFL linebacker. When coming up with this list of the best NFL linebackers of all time I got a new appreciation for just how tough and mean the men who excel at this spot are. Counting down the top 10 NFL linebackers of all time is tougher than picking the greatest NFL quarterbacks, or the best NFL running backs ever because, unlike those positions, stats are only a small part of the story. Instead, grit, brute strength, determination and pain tolerance are some of the hallmarks of the greatest linebackers ever. Read on to see who made the list.
10 – Derrick Thomas
This incredible athlete played his entire career for the Kansas City Chiefs before losing his life in a tragic car accident. Despite his relatively brief career few can dispute that he is one of the greatest linebackers to ever play the position. He holds the single game record for quarterback sacks with 7 and he holds the career NFL record with 45 career forced fumbles.
9 – Sam Huff
I’m going old school with my number 9 pick on the list of the top 10 NFL linebackers of all time. Sam Huff played for the Giants and Redskins in the 50s and 60s and pound for pound was one of the hardest hitters the game of football has ever seen. He played an amazing 150 straight games, and had 30 career interceptions.
8 – Roy Winston
This guy threw one of the most brutal hits in NFL history when he absolutely demolished Larry Csonka of the Miami Dolphins. Csonka literally crawled off the field screaming, sure he had broken his back. It turned out he was uninjured, but the amount of pain he was in gives tribute to just how devastating Winston’s hit was. He starred for the Vikings in all 4 Superbowl appearances, but sadly never won the big game.
7 – Junior Seau
This guy was one of the greatest tacklers in NFL history, and had over 1,800 career tackles to his credit to go along with 56.5 sacks. He spent the bulk of his career starring with the San Diego Chargers before moving on to the Miami Dolphins where his career derailed with a series of injuries. He finished his career with the New England Patriots, playing his final game in the 2009 season. Sadly he committed suicide in 2012 at the age of just 43.
6 – Ray Nitschke
When it comes to the greatest linebackers in NFL history the ability to channel anger towards one’s opponents has always been the hallmark of these intense football players, and Ray Nitschke played the position as angrily as anyone in NFL history. He punished anyone who got in his way during his 15 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, and he was the linchpin of a defense that helped the Packers to 5 NFL Championships and the first two Superbowls.
5 – Ray Lewis
Has there ever been an NFL player at any position with as much passion or intensity as Ray Lewis? This 2 time defensive player of the year and Superbowl 2000 MVP was not only a dominant player in his own right, he had the rare ability to inspire and improve the play of his teammates. An easy pick for a high spot on the list of the top 10 NFL linebackers in history.
4 – Mike Singletary
The anchor of the 1985 Chicago Bears, who arguably had the greatest NFL defensive line of all time, Mike Singletary was quite simply a tackling machine. Despite the punishment he heaped on his opponents with 1,488 career tackles this incredible athlete only missed 2 games. In 1985 the man called Samurai Mike led his team to a crushing 46-10 victory over the New England Patriots in Superbowl XX tying a Superbowl record with 2 fumble recoveries. Easily one the greatest NFL linebackers ever.
3 – Jack Lambert
Speaking of great team defenses, the Steel Curtain of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers could challenge the 85 Bears for the title and Jack Lambert was the key to that great defense. Lambert had almost 1,500 career tackles in helping the Steelers to 4 Superbowl championships in the 70s, and was named to 9 consecutive Pro Bowls. An absolute monster that is only slightly edged out for the top 2 spots of the top 10 NFL linebackers of all time.
2 – Dick Butkus
Another guy that can challenge for the title of hardest hitter in NFL history, nobody played the linebacker position with more ferocity than Dick Butkus. He went to the Pro Bowl 8 consecutive times, and was one of the most feared defenders of all time. Sadly multiple knee injuries would cut short his career and possibility his shot at number one on this list.
1 – Lawrence Taylor
It takes an absolutely amazing athlete to edge out NFL legends like Jack Lambert and Dick Butkus for the number one spot on the list of the best NFL linebackers of all time, and that is exactly what Lawrence Taylor was during his NFL playing days. He revolutionized the position and his speed and versatility forced opposing teams to adjust their whole offensive formation to deal with him. He finished his incredible career with 2 Superbowl Championships, and an NFL MVP award, a rarity for a defensive players. He totaled more than 1,000 tackles and had a whopping 142 sacks. One of the greatest players at any position in NFL history.