Tuesday, November 13, 2018

TUESDAY TIDBITS: Team Pass Defense

By TJ Troup
Adrian Amos, leader of Bears secondary
Many times over the years have been challenged on why the defensive passer rating is such a key statistic. Though this stat has been an effective tool for me in explaining defensive success for teams; there are folks who refuse to get on board. That said, then there are folks who are just not going to enjoy the following.

Entering last Sunday's game against Detroit, the Bears led the league with a defensive passer rating of 80.5. A strong pass rush and pass defenders making plays limited Matt Stafford to a rating of 74.9; thus the Bears are still #1 in this category (79.8).

The bottom three teams in the league in this category are the Raiders, Buccaneers, and Lions. For now, let's hone in on Detroit. The Lions entered the game with a dismal rating of 112.5, and at half-time Trubisky had a perfect rating of 158.3 (he finished with 148.6).

The Lions had hope of contending this year, and Matt Patricia's background in New England was one of the reasons for that hope. He does not coach the secondary. Am not advocating that Brian Stewart be dismissed, yet after eight years away from the NFL and Detroit in last place he may want to get that resume out. Detroit now ranks 31st in the defensive passer rating category with a mark of 116.8. Ouch!

The Lions face strong passing attacks down the stretch and have a rematch with Chicago on Thanksgiving day. Detroit has won 19 of the last 28 games at home against the Bears. Will the Lions secondary again be shredded as out of position defenders chase Bear receivers after the catch? The passing game is the key component in the league, and that will continue.
Waterfield
That statement takes me to an anniversary that was not mentioned on Sunday. November 11th, 1945 and the Cleveland Rams are taking on the Packers in their quest to win their first division title. Rookie quarterback Bob Waterfield completed an 84-yard touchdown pass to All-League end Jim Benton in the Ram victory.

That completion was the longest in the league that year. How many times in the last 81 years has a rookie had the longest completion during the year you ask? Eleven times in NFL & AFL history.

Somewhat surprised that only three of the longest completions came in victories, but all three of those teams won the championship that year! Waterfield in '45, Jacky Lee in '60 with the Oilers, and the immortal Ed Rubbert with the 'Skins in '87.
Lujack
Waterfield was, of course, a two-way player in 1945 as a safety. He intercepted 3 passes in that game. We have had many rookies pilfer three passes in a game. A couple accomplished this feat in their very first game; Johnny Lujack in 1948 and Don Burroughs in 1955. Some of the men who did this are well known, and of course, some are just vaguely familiar.

Learned years ago that being the only man to accomplish something is significant, thus Bob Waterfield is the only rookie in league history to throw the seasons longest completion, and intercept three passes in the same game.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Aaron Jones: An Above Average Back

By Eric Goska

In the quest to stand out, Aaron Jones has squeezed more out of his opportunities than all but a very few.

Jones, the Packers second-year running back, ran around, through and away from the Dolphins Sunday at Lambeau Field. He logged a career-best effort that helped topple the visitors from Florida by a 31-12 count.

Jones, the 19th running back selected in the 2017 draft, captured 145 yards rushing on just 15 carries. He chipped in an additional 27 yards on three pass receptions.

For those armchair quarterbacks who had been clamoring for more of Jones, this display must have been satisfying. No. 33 took part in 39 of Green Bay’s 55 offensive plays (70.9 percent) making him the closest thing the team has to a featured back.

Jones took to the field on seven of the team’s nine drives. He carried at least twice on five of those advances, all of which produced points.

Green Bay and Jones got started early. The team moved 141 yards on 11 plays the first two times it had the ball. Jones accounted for 125 of that total on just seven touches.

Jones ripped off runs of 12 and 15 yards the first time out. He chipped in another 27 on two receptions before Aaron Rodgers capped that initial march with a 7-yard scoring pass to receiver Davante Adams.

The Packers’ second drive was all Jones. He zipped 67 yards through a gaping hole to the Miami 4-yard line. He added another two yards, then plowed into the end zone buried amid a scrum of humanity as Green Bay went up 14-3 at the start of the second quarter.

Jones helped out to a lesser extent after the Dolphins had closed to 14-12. He ran for 38 yards on six trips and had one catch for no gain as Green Bay scored on three consecutive possessions to put the game on ice.

In evening their record at 4-4-1, the Packers collected a season-high 195 yards on the ground. Jones was responsible for eight of the team’s 10 rushing first downs.

Jones also authored six runs of 10 or more yards. That helped him generate an impressive average of 9.67 yards per rushing attempt.

Perhaps you’ve heard that Jones leads the league in this category. His showing against the Dolphins only solidified his position at the top.

This season, Jones has rushed 73 times for 494 yards. He’s averaging 6.77 yards every time he’s handed the ball.

How many other players in team history have approached this type of production? Not surprisingly, the field is quite limited.

Only Tobin Rote – a quarterback – had a higher average (6.99) after his first 73 rushing attempts in a season. Rote stretched the field as he led the team in rushing in 1951.

The best start by a running back had belonged to Billy Grimes (6.45) in 1950.

In assembling his plush average, Jones has taken off on more than a few long journeys. He is the man behind 18 of the team’s 34 runs of 10 or more yards.

Jones has also limited his backward motion. He has six of the team’s 18 runs for loss (kneel-downs excluded).

And those six runs of 10 or more yards that he racked up against the Dolphins? Six packs like that don’t come around often.

Prior to Jones, only eight players in team history had that many or more in a game. Ahman Green (with six) was the last on Nov. 2, 2003.
For as remarkable as his season has been, not all has clicked for Jones. No back can carry as often as he has and not experience some setbacks.

In Los Angeles, Jones was tackled for a safety, an event that touched off the Rams’ scoring. In New England, Jones fumbled on the first play of the fourth quarter to end a promising drive in Patriots’ territory.

In his defense, the fumble was the first of his professional career. The safety occurred on a play that had run written all over it.

So what’s next for Jones? In addition to a near-certain increase in his workload, he can set his sights on two other accomplishments that would further differentiate him from the field.

Only two Packers have led the NFL in average gain per rushing attempt. Cecil Isbell (5.24) was the first in 1938; Rote (6.88) in 1951 was the last.

It will take some work – he’s on everyone’s radar now – but Jones could join those two. He leads Nick Chubb of Cleveland (6.16) by more than half a yard.

Jones could also reach 1,000 career rushing yards with the fewest attempts of any Packer. He has 942 yards on 154 trips and could achieve that milestone in Seattle Thursday night.

Rote, the team’s leading rusher in the 1950s, got to 1,000 yards on just 163 tries. If Jones were to gain 58 or more on his next eight runs, he’d glide past Rote as if he were just another defender, adding this little-known record to a resume that will likely continue to grow.

Inflated Averages
The 12 Packers who rushed for more than 400 yards on their first 73 carries of a season.


Cowboys Wore Usual Pants Sunday Night.

UNIFORMS
By John Turney
When we saw the Cowboys play Sunday night it looked to me like their pants were silver, not the seafoam green they usually look like.

Some screen captures from the game give an idea of what we saw:





Here is what the pants usually look like, in a night game on the road:

And as can be seen, the more sweat that soaks in the green really comes out.


We think there is a difference in color in the screencaps from Sunday and these from other games, but it's all lighting. The pants are the same. The Cowboys equipment manager confirmed to us that Dallas wore "we wore our standard “Cowboys Star Blue” pants that we wear with our regular white jerseys in Sunday’s game."

Lighting. Plays tricks on eyes. We wish Jerry Jones would install that brand of lights.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Aaron Donald Moves Up the Charts

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
Credit: CBS Sports
Today, November 11, 2018, Aaron Donald recorded 2.5 sacks of Russell Wilson moved up on several lists. As most football fans know sacks were kept prior to 1982 but they are not considered official, but the source for them is the same as now, the Gamebooks or play-by-plays—a record of the games played.

Donald's season total stands at 12.5 and they set the official record for sacks by a defensive tackle, previously held by D'Marco Farr. The record, though, including unofficial sacks, was set by Larry Brooks in 1976 with 14½. Donald has six games to 2.5 more sacks to best that record. It seems likely he will get it.
Here is a page from the 2018 Los Angeles Rams Media Guide with Larry Brooks' 1976 total of 14½ sacks.
Donald is on pace to challenge the unofficial record for sacks (18) for defensive tackles with is 1.25 sack per game average. We will monitor that as the season progresses.
Donald now has 51.5 career sacks, and that is the most ever, in our view, by a defensive tackle in his first five seasons. It is very impressive given the names on this list.
 Again, we will see how the final seven weeks unfold but Donald could easily win his second consecutive AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award if he keeps this pace up. One thing that the Rams need to correct, and Donald is part of this, is the run defense which is giving up 5.1 yards a carry to opposing runners, the worst in Rams history.

Stopping the run is not as important as it once was and so far the Rams have not paid much for that stat in terms of wins, but as the playoff run approaches that may not stay the case. Their offense has covered a multitude of defensive sins as of late.

Update: It appears Donald put on his helmet after removing his shoulder pads and then sought out Justin Britt the Seahawks center than this led to a post-game altercation. Interesting. Donald may be moving up the fine charts this week as well.

Click here to the link to Tweet:

Here are some stills:

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Top Outside Linebackers of All-Time

OPINION
By John Turney
In this installation of ranking the great players, we tackle the outside linebackers who we don't consider to be rushbackers or 'edge rushers' though plenty of these did rush the edge and were good at it, but they also did plenty of coverage as well. There are some who are right there in the middle but we made a judgment call and here they are. If you want to see the All-time rushbacker list click HERE.

We like to see the best backers have a balance between sacks and interceptions, as it reflects skills in both dogging and coverage. In the era of the 4-3 getting 5 sacks for an outside linebacker was considered excellent, but in the era of the 3-4 rushbacker, 5 sacks is a poor season. But what impresses us most is when a player can get 5 sacks and maybe 4-5 interceptions, be credited with 10 or so passes defensed and so on. Registering in all defensive statistical categories. Not that it proves anything but when you see the great players play, they stand out on film, they 'flash' and then, when you review their stats, you can see patterns and see those 'flash' plays are the stuffs, sacks, picks, forced fumbles, etc.

Also note that there is not much difference between #21 and #31. Or from #32 and 45. We do think there is a difference between say, #9 and #29, though. That is just something to keep in mind when reading this list, or any list for that matter.

Also note that "All-Time" begins, for our intents and purposes, in the early 1950s. The 5-2 defense was in vogue and the NFL was beginning to transition to the 4-3 by the mid-50s.

1. Bobby Bell
Hank Stram used to say Bobby Bell could play any position on a football field except quarterback. Well, then, yes, now? Maybe not. But he could fill most of them. He began as a defensive end and was All-AFL at that spot, but moved to left linebacker. And if you watch a lot of film, as we do, Bell is one of those guys who jump off. You just cannot miss him.

As a strongside linebacker, he could do it all. He blitzed well and he covered well. He was 6-4, 228 pounds and ran a legit 4.5 forty-yard dash. He ended with 40 sacks and 26 interceptions and scored eight defensive touchdowns.

He had an amazing quick twitch build and to this day, seriously, he can snatch a quarter out of your hand before you can close it, a trick he does to impress friends.

If he played today he'd likely be an edge rusher, like a Von Miller or Khalil Mack and he'd get double digits in sacks every year. But he was very key in pass coverage as well as evidenced by his pick total, which is among the highest you will see on this list.

2.  Jack Ham
Ham was a left linebacker for perhaps the greatest sustained (eight years or more) defense ever. He was not a great physical specimen like most of the others on this list, he was a smaller over-achiever-type at 6-1, 225 pounds. He ran a 4.6-4.7 or so forty which is good, but plenty could run better.

He excelled at coverage but could blitz as well. He had 32 picks and 25½ sacks in his career. He was also credited with 91 passes defensed, among the highest you will find on this list and you can throw in 21 fumbles recovered.

He was a six-time All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler and was among the leading vote-getters on the 1970s All-Decade team and was on the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

He was part of the cover 2 defense that Bud Carson perfected and brought to the NFL. Ar first, it was Cover-2 "Latch" where Ham would cover the tight end man to man and that was backed up by four short and 2 deep defenders. Later, when the Steelers got Jack Lambert it was more like what is now called "Tampa-2", Carson called it Cover-22, where Lambert would take the tight end in the hole, or actually any receiver in that 'short zone".

3. Junior Seau
Wait, you say, wasn't Seau a middle linebacker? No. He was a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 defense that was usually in an undershift, which positioned him in a stacked position. The Chargers defense, in Seau's heyday, looked a little like a 5-2 defense because the SAM backer was always over the tight end on the line of scrimmage. The Chargers PR department listed him as an ILBer, for some reason, and that is where he got most of his All-Pro selections. Bill Arnsparger, in 1994 or so, explained this to us and we've always noted that.

Speaking of All-Pro selections, Seau was First-team All-Pro eight times and Second-team twice and was voted to a dozen Pro Bowls. He was the NEA NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1992 and was All-Decade for the 1990s.

Seau, like no other player, had a knack for making tackles in the backfield recording 168.0 in his career, not counting his 56.5 sacks. Running plays, passing plays, he'd slice through the blocking and stuff the runner or receiver. He intercepted 18 passes and defensed 98 and recovered fumbles. The only oddity is he scored just one defensive touchdown and forced just 12 fumbles. But, that's nitpicking.

4. Derrick Brooks
Brooks was a seven-time First-team All-Pro, twice a Second-team All-Pro and 11-time Pro Bowler and was the AP Defensive Player of the Year (2002). He also has a Super Bowl ring (also 2002) and was on the 2000s All-Decade Team.

He was a cover linebacker in the Tampa-2 scheme which didn't ask linebackers to blitz, they expected the front four to rush the passer. Brooks averaged 122 tackles a year, picked off 25 passes and scored seven defensive touchdowns. He recovered (oddly) just four fumbles but took one of them to the house. He did force 24 fumbles, though, and defensed 84 passes. He was a machine for 14 seasons for the Bucs.

5. Ted Hendricks
Hendricks, with the Colts, began as a defensive end in 1969, but moved to outside linebacker and was part of a couple of great defenses in 1970 and 1971. He was traded to the Packers in 1974 where he was the best defensive player in the NFC that seasons.

He went to the Raiders in 1975 and they were still playing a 4-3 defense and Hendricks played in passing situations but was not a starter because they had two starters and they needed to find a role for Hendricks. Due to injuries, the Raiders moved to a 3-4 defense and it was there that Hendricks played the rest of his career.

Hendricks was an eight-time Pro Bowler and a four-time First-team All-Pro and a four-time Second-team All-Pro. He finished his career with 64 sacks (most coming in the 3-4 schemes from 1976 through the end of his career) and 27 interceptions and 97 passes defended. He was also All-Decade in the 1970s and 1980s  (though the 1980s selection is a bit dubious) and a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. He was also one of the top handful of kick blockers in NFL history.

6. Robert Brazile
This past year Brazile got his just due by being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Brazile was a five-time First-team All-Pro and in two other seasons he was a Second-team pick and went to seven Pro Bowls.

Brazile was a fine rusher, he had 48 sacks and had 13 picks and 76 passes defended. He was more than a rushbacker, he had lots of coverage responsibilities. The Oilers scheme had both the outside linebackers blitz, so neither had sole responsibilities to rush in passing situations.

Dr. Doom, as he was called, was a fierce hitter and had fine (4.6 speed) and size (6-4, 245 pounds) and like Bobby Bell would likely be a star in today's NFL.

7. Chuck Bednarik
Concrete Charlie is tough to classify position-wise. In addition to playing center, he played all three linebacker positions in his career, but mostly he was outside. In the early 1960s he played in the middle and in the 1950s he was usually, but not always, outside. He also played in a pre-4-3 era and was one of the two linebackers in the famed "Eagle" defense that was the forerunner of the 46 defense. In that he lined up over a tackle, rather than a center or guard, making him less than a middle linebacker in that scheme as well.

After the 4-3 took over, Bednarik played both weak side and string side. Regardless, he was effective at all three, according to TJ Troup author of The Birth of Football's Modern 4-3 Defense, "He is the ONLY linebacker that played that long and played all three positions well. He was at his best though on the weak side in the early to mid-1950's".

8. Dave Wilcox
Wilcox played 11 seasons for the 49ers and some of his best football was played from 1970-73, even though he was excellent before that. As a pure strong side linebacker, he may be the best ever in terms of skill sets to play the position. He was a big man for his era, 6-3, 242 pounds and Gil Brandt reported that Wilcox ran a 4.62 forty coming out of Oregon.

But the main thing was his natural strength that stemmed from a huge upper body and massive triceps that long him to extend his long arms and neutralize any tight end's attempts to block him. And a back trying to block him? Forget it.

Big Dave was a First-team All-Pro four times and was also a four-time Second-team All-Pro and played in nine Pro Bowls. He registered 38½ sacks and 14 picks and returned one interception and one fumble for a touchdown on his way to the Hall of Fame.

At his induction 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo was sitting next to Wilcox's position coach and during the highlights saw that when Wilcox hit a man, he didn't go forward and mentioned that to the coach. The coach replied "That's Dave. We he hit you, you went down".

9. Dave Robinson
Robinson is a 1960s All-Decade pick and a Hall of Famer and was part of the last three Lombari championships. He was, like Wilcox, a big linebacker for his era measuring 6-3, 245 and ran very well, a 4.6-4.7 forty guy.

Robinson picked off 27 passes and had 22 sacks in his career and was excellent at strong out runs to his side. He spent his last two seasons with the Redskins and in 1973 had what was, in reality, an All-Pro season though he didn't get the honor.

10. Chuck Howley
How does a five-time First-team All-Pro  (and one Second-team pick) not make the Hall of Fame? Throw in a Super Bowl ring and a Super Bowl MVP. Add to that being called by Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman one of the two best cover linebackers he ever saw. Throw in 25 picks, a goodly number for an outside 'backer. He also had 26½ sacks and recovered 18 fumbles.

Began with the Bears and after a car accident, sat out a year, then moved on to the Cowboys. He began as a strongside linebacker (Sara in Dallas terminology) but in 1969 Tom Landry moved him to Wanda (weakside or 'Will' as it is now called) and he played even better. He reported to camp in 1971, the year after his Super Bowl MVP and at age 35 and ran a 4.9 forty. Good speed for that age, imagine what he ran at 23?

11. Chris Hanburger
It was always cool to read about linebackers in the 1970s and read the names Ham and Hanburger. Made a good lunch but it was Hanburger who ate a lot of quarterback sandwiches. He had 46 sacks in his career, reflecting his skill as a blindside dogger. He also picked off 19 passes and recovered 17 fumbles. He was the 1972 NFC Defensive Player of the Year and scored five defensive touchdowns in his career.

Hanburger played in nine Pro Bowls and was a First-team All-Pro five times and a Second-team All-Pro one additional year. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.

12. George Connor
Conner played several positions for the Bears, offensive line, a bit of offensive end, defensive line and linebacker. He was a four-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler and twice was a Second-team All-Pro. He made the 1940s All-Decade team which we think is dubious, playing only two seasons in that decade. A 1945-55 All-Decade team would make sense or even the 1950s team would make sense.

But he was a Hall of Famer and even splitting positions in his eight seasons he picked off 7 passes and recovered 10 fumbles.

13. Maxie Baughan
Baughan was a nine-time Pro Bowler and a Four-time First-team All-Pro and a three-time Second-team All-Pro and has been considered for the Hall of Fame. He was part of the 1960 Eagles championship and part of the Redskins 'Over-the-Hill Gang' in the early 1970s, as a coach, but in 1974, three years after he last suited up, due to injuries donned a uniform and was a backup linebacker for the Redskins playoff run.

In between he played backer behind the Fearsome Foursome and was the signal caller for that defense, not something a lot of outside linebackers did in that era, usually, the MLB did that.

Baughan picked off 18 passes and had 24.5 sacks in his career. His career is roughly similar to many of the others ahead of him on this list like Wilcox, Howley, Robinson, and Hanburger. A player who was counted on to make stops in the run game, cover backs and/or tight ends and also to be an effective dogger.

14.  Cornelius Bennett
Like Ted Hendricks, Biscuit Bennett is a hybrid, part outside linebacker and all that entails and part rushbacker, though Hendricks went from outside backer to more of a rushbacker and Bennett began as more of a rushbacker and ended as an outside backer, with some inside linebacker in the middle.

Bennett was a two-time AFC Defensive Player of the Year, a five-time Pro Bowler and a three-time First-team All-Pro and was a Second-team All-1990s selection.

Bennett could rush with his hand down, could cover backs and run sideline to sideline (legit 4.5 speed) and stuff the run. He ended with 71.5 sacks, and twice approached double digits (similar to Hendricks) and picked off seven passes and forced 33 fumbles and average about 87 tackles per season in his career. He could do it all.

15. Wilber Marshall
After being a backup as a rookie in 1984, Marshall stepped into holdout Al Harris's outside linebacker spot and never gave it up. He went to just three Pro Bowls and was a First-team All-Pro twice (Second-team one more time) but if it had not been a "rushbacker era" where those players took the All-Pro slots, Marshall would have garnered more honors.

Marshall was the complete 4-3 linebacker. In 1985, as part of the Bears championship season, he had 78 tackles, 6 sacks and 4 picks. In 1986 he had 5.5 sacks and 5 picks and in 1991 he had 5.5 sacks and 5 interceptions.

Those numbers are not eye-popping but in doing research over the years we can say that having 5 or more sacks and 4 or more picks in the same season by a linebacker is rare. So rare, in fact, that since 1982, this feat has been accomplished 9  times by outside linebackers and three of those were the three seasons we just outlined by Marshall.

Now there were years like that prior to 1982 (Ted Hendricks did it in 1971 for example) but again, it was rare.

Marshall signed with the Redskins and the Bears received two #1 picks as compensation and Marshall helped the skins to a title in 1991 and was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1992. He then signed with the Oilers where Buddy Ryan was the defensive coordinator and was part of a great defense there in 1993 and again followed Ryan to help him install the 46 defense in Arizona in 1994. He tried one more go with the Jets in 1995, but the knees just couldn't do it. And he hung them up after that season.

Marshall ended his career with 45 sacks, 23 picks, 24 forced fumbles, 16 fumbles recovered and 3 defensive touchdowns. had he played in the 1970s or from 1995 to now, he'd already be in the Hall of Fame, he'd be a Derrick Brooks or Junior Seau type of player.

16. Greg Lloyd
Lloyd is a borderline rusherbacker, we can still see, in our mind's eye, Bill Cowher exhorting Lloyd (with his hands on Lloyd's shoulders) "rush the quarterback". And he did that, but he did more.

Often in dime defenses he was the only linebacker, with coverage responsibilities while Kevin Greene or others were essentially the defensive ends.

Lloyd was a three-time All-Pro and a five-time Pro Bowler. He ended his career with 54.5 sacks (from 1989 through 1995 he averaged 7 per season), 35 forced fumbles and 11 picks and 16 fumbles recovered. 

Like Wilbur Marshall, the knees gave out and his last few seasons were not very productive.

A Dr. Z favorite, Joyner was an excellent all-around backer. In some ways he was like Wilbur Marshall, ending his career with 52 sacks and 24 picks and 26 forced fumbles. He was also a three-time Pro Bowlers and was a First-team All-Pro twice (Second-team one more time)—the same as Marshall.

Joyner could dog, cover, and was often in the backfield stuffing a running back for a loss. In addition to his 24 interceptions he had 88 passes defensed and due to injuries, he filled in at safety while an Arizona Cardinal.

Briggs played the same spot as Derrick Brooks in the Chicago version of the Tampa-2 defense. While not at the level of Brooks, Briggs, in his own right, was excellent. He was a two-time All-Pro and went to seven Pro Bowls.

He averaged 109 tackles a season and had 15 sacks, 16 interceptions, and 7 fumbles recovered and he forced 16 fumbles. he was Brian Urlacher's running mate in the Bears nickel defense as the two would stand side by side looking like the two of them cover the short zones all by themselves.


Probably underrated, he was a prototype 1970s linebacker with height and athleticism. Like Ted Hendricks, he's one of the top handful of kick blockers in the history of the game but was also a dynamite linebacker. 

Blair had 24 sack, 16 picks, 19 fumbles recovered and 20 forced fumbles and over 20 blocked kicks. he went to six Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro once but was clearly worthy several other seasons. He was highly rated by Pro Scout, Inc. and by their charts they would agree that he was better than his All-Pro seasons would reflect.

Clay Matthews, like Hendricks and Bennett, was a hybrid-type backer. Later in his career, he moved to more of a rushbacker, nickel rusher role. Prior to that, he was a really good all-around linebacker.

He played 19 seasons, played 278 games with 248 starts. He was an All-Pro in 1984 and went to four Pro Bowls. His sack total was 69.5 and he swiped 16 passes, forced 28 fumbles and recovered 14 and defended 78 passes. 

Butch Robertson was a player who had highs and lows. He'd play the wrong coverage and end up picking off Sonny Jurgenson and taking it to the house—stuff like that.

He was a six-time First- or Second-team All-Pro (three First-team) and a six-time Pro Bowler. he could dog, cover, and also lay a hit on a runner. He had 25½ sacks, 25 picks, 24 forced fumbles, and 15 recovered fumbles as well as 79 passes defensed while averaging 84 tackles a season and scoring four defensive touchdowns.

He felt he was underpaid in Los Angeles and the Rams management grew tired of his antics and traded him to Buffalo and he had a few very good seasons there as the Bills grew to a very good playoff team.

22. Rod Martin
Another near-rushbacker, but anyone who picks off three passes in a Super Bowl (should have been the MVP in our view) belongs with the complete linebackers group.

He did have 56 sacks, and 14 regular season picks and was a three-time All-Pro (plus one Second-team selection) and two Pro Bowls and was the 1983 UPI AFC Defensive Player of the Year. He was a big part of two Super Bowl wins by the Raiders.

He also scored six defensive touchdowns and one safety.

23. (tie) Joe Fortunato
Fortunato and Forester are too hard to separate, so we tied them at 23. They played in the same era and accomplished similar things and left similar statistical records.

Fortunato was a left linebacker but was a smaller one at 6-1, 225 pounds. He was one of the first 'corner linebackers' as they were called then to break through to make All-Pro teams. Back then, it was not uncommon for middle linebackers to take all three All-Pro slots. So for Fortunato and Forester and others, it took a great season to break that 'leather ceiling'.

The Bears brought a title to the Windy City in 1963 and Fortunato was part of that, he ended his career with three First-team All-Pro selections, three Second-team picks and five Pro Bowl selections. He totaled 27 sacks, 16 picks, and 22 recovered fumbles.

23. (tie)  Bill Forester
Forester was a right linebacker for the Lombardi Packers and was a large player for his era at 6-3, 237 pounds. He was a four-time First-team All-Pro and a one-time Second-teamer and four-time Pro Bowler.

He was part of two world titles, picked off 21 passes, had 24 sacks, and fell on 15 free balls. 

25. Lavonte David
One of the more overlooked stars in the NFL in recent memory, all David does is played good coverage and stuff running backs. In fact, since he entered the NFL no one, not even J.J. Watt has made more run or pass stops behind the line of scrimmage. David has 85.0 and Watt has 81.0. To be fair, Watt has missed a lot of time and when you add in sacks, Watt is far ahead. But run/pass stuffs are an important stat. A tackle for loss of one yard on a running back on first down puts the opponent at 2nd and 11 and they are "behind the down and distance schedule" as Jon Gruden might say.

David had only garnered post-season honors in 2013, 2015-16 despite being one of the top 3-5 linebackers in the game (our view, anyway). In 2013, when asked to rush, David was effective with 7.0 sacks and he picked off five passes and in six and a half seasons David has 18.5 sacks, 18 forced fumbles and 12 fumbles recovered and 10 picks. He's kind of a throwback to the Jack Hams, Derrick Brookses and Chuck Howleys of the world.

26. Carl Banks
Banks, like David, was underrated, though well known. It is hard to believe that Banks went to one Pro Bowl and was All-Pro just once. He was part of two championships and was an amazing run stuffer for 12 seasons. He could blitz effectively, too, with 39.5 career sacks.

His 'All-Pro' year was 1987, but 1986 and 1989 he was just as good, if not better.

27. George Webster

Webster came into pro football like a meteor and then a knee injury in his fourth season hampered him the rest of his career. He was All-AFL three times in his first three seasons and gutted it out in his last six seasons when he left the Oilers to go to the Steelers and then the Patriots.

He was known for his athleticism and hitting ability. He was tall (6-4) and lean (220) and could really cover ground. With the Patriots he helped them covert to the 3-4 making them the first fulltime 3-4 defense in modern history.

When Peter King organized an All-time draft with some former players and GMs last year, Ernie Accorsi picked Webster early, showing his respect to Webter's talent.

28. Darryl Talley
Talley was the bookend to Cornelius Bennett, playing opposite him and in the hip pocket of Bruce Smith. He was a cover backer who could get to the quarterback when asked (38.5 sacks) and he has 12 picks.

He didn't get a lot of post-season honors because he was not a big sack guy and also there were so many excellent Bills that someone had to not make the Pro Bowl or All-Pro. Still, he was a two-time First-team All-Pro and a two-time Pro Bowler but like other complete 'backers of the era, he had other seasons that were Pro Bowl-worthy.

29. Larry Grantham
Like the Howleys, Robinsons, and Hanburgers, Grantham was solid in all areas. He amassed 33 sacks and picked off 24 passes. He was a five-time All-AFL pick and was a five-time AFL-All-star (AFL's version of the Pro Bowl). And he was a leader of fine Jets defense from 1968-70 and that shut down the Colts in Super Bowl III.

30. Mike Stratton
Another player in the Grantham-Howley-Robinson category. He had similar 'big play' numbers to Grantham and those others with 31½ sacks and 21 picks. He was part of two AFL Championships and was known for the "Hit Heard 'Round the World" in the 1964 AFL Championship game on Keith Lincoln.

31. Phil Villapiano
Mostly a SAM 'backer, but he did play some on the weak side, he was a fine player in the 1970s but with Ham, Hendricks, Robertson, and Brazile it was hard to get post-season honors. He did go to four Pro Bowls and was a First-team All-Pro once and a Second-team All-Pro once. And he was First- or Second-team All-AFC five times.

He had 15 sacks, 11 picks, and 18 fumbles recovered, all fine for his position, but not as high as some of the others in the 4-3 era. But he could bust a tight end or cover him and was stout versus strong side runs.

32. Andy Russell
Russell is often mentioned by Steeler partisans as Hall of Fame worthy. While he was excellent, we don't see Hall of Fame in his "resume". He was an All-Pro once and a Second-team All-Pro three times and was a seven-time Pro Bowler.

He was a cog in the Steel Curtain defense that won two Super Bowls while he was the starting right linebacker. He picked off 18 passes, recovered 10 fumbles and recorded 30½ sacks.

33. Julian Peterson
Peterson was excellent in his career and would be a star today, we think. He had 51.5 sacks and 8 picks, forced 21 fumbles and recovered 11 and averaged 81 tackles per full season.  He was a First-team All-Pro once, a Second-team All-Pro once and was voted to five Pro Bowls.

34. Chad Brown
Another near-rushbacker. He started his career as an inside linebacker in base defense and a right defensive end in nickel with the Blitzburgh defense. He signed as a free agent with the Seahawks and he was a player there who was similar to Julian Peterson. In fact, after Brown left Seattle they signed Peterson a year later to fill his role. Brown was a two-time All-Pro and a three-time Pro Bowler.

He totaled 79.5 sacks (the most of any 'backer on our list) 6 picks, 17 forced fumbles and 15 recovered fumbles and averaged 93 tackles per season.

35. Brad Van Pelt
A five-time Pro Bowler and a Second-team All-Pro once, Van Pelt also lost some All-Pro years due to stiff competition for the slots with Ham, Brazile and others in the league at the same time.

He was a strongside linebacker who could blitz and cover with 24 sacks and 20 interceptions.

36.  Ken Norton
Like Junior Seau, Norton got some All-Pro honors as a middle linebacker, though he was usually (he did play MIKE one season) a stacked outside linebacker. Extremely stout versus the run (91.0 career stuffs). He was All-pro once, second-team All-Pro once and went to three Pro Bowls.

Norton was part of three Super Bowl wins (two with Dallas and once with the 49ers) and had 12.5 sacks, five picks and 12 forced fumbles. But really, he should be judged on his stuffs, which is an extremely high number and his 95-tackle average in tackles.

37. Thomas Davis
A fine current player who gets kudos for playing injured in a Super Bowl and coming back from back-to-back knee injuries. He was All-Pro once and went to two Pro Bowls and has played at that level since 2005.

38. Tom Jackson
Another of Dr. Z's personal favorites, Tom Jackson was a very active linebacker and one of the first 3-4 outside linebackers, with Denver adopting a 3-4 full-time in 1976, but they mixed in 3-4 looks prior to that.

Jackson was a strong side linebacker when the Broncos were a 4-3 team and moved to the weak side when they went to the 3-4 (He also played inside linebacker when the Broncos used the 3-4 in 1974-75). Excellent in coverage, and an effective blitzer but he was limited in height (5-11).

Jackson was All-Pro in 1977 and a Second-team All-Pro in 1978-79 and went to the Pro Bowl all three years. He averaged 87 tackles a season, finished his career with 40 sacks and 20 interceptions, 55.5 stuffs and defensed 94 passes.

39. Jack Pardee

Pardee played for the Rams from 1957 to 1970 but missed the 1965 season to treat a malignant melanoma. He was talked out of retirement by George Allen and spent 1966-70 backing up the Fearsome Foursome. In 1971, Pardee joined the "Ramskins" with Allen and helped them to the Super Bowl after the 1972 season, which was his final year.

Pardee ended his career with 24½ sacks, 22 interceptions, 17 fumble recoveries and scored six defensive touchdowns. He was All-NFL in 1963 and All-NFC in 1971 but had several other seasons that could have easily been All-Pro, namely 1967 and 1968.

40. Stan White

Stan White was nearly shut out of post-season honors, only making the 1977 Second-team All-AFC team but he was a skilled linebacker who, like so many others on this list, was asked to do a lot of things. He ended his career with 34 picks, 15 fumbles recovered and 28½ sacks.

In 1977 White had 8 sacks and 7 INTs, a very rare feat to have so many of both on one season by an OLBer. In 1975 he had 6½ sacks and 8 picks giving him two seasons that meet the 4 picks, 5 sack threshold, which we think is a key stat reflecting all-around ability.

White was a smaller (6-1, 225) player, who got by on smarts and savvy. He ended his career with the USFL.

41. Mo Lewis
Lewis was a larger (6-3, 258) 'backer who likely could have been an excellent rushbacker in a 3-4 defense though he only played in it a couple of seasons. As it was he was a very good 4-3 linebacker. He was All-Pro once, Second-team All-Pro once and went to three Pro Bowls.

Lewis scored five defensive touchdowns in his career and had 52.5 sacks, picked off 14 passes, recovered 13 fumbles and forced 26 fumbles.

42. Adalius Thomas
A truly unique athlete who, once in a while, lined up as a cornerback (not often of course). He began as a defensive end but played a quasi-rushbacker, linebacker in the Ravens multiple-front schemes, and then was signed by the Patriots where he did similar things.

Probably the only knock on his career is it didn't last a long time. He as an All-Pro in 2006, scored 6 defensive touchdowns and a safety had 53 sacks, 7 picks, 15 forced fumbles, and 6 recoveries.

43. Takeo Spikes
Spikes began and ended his career as an inside linebacker but he played his best football in between that as an outside linebacker, that was stacked a lot, not unlike Seau or Norton.

He was All-Pro once and went to two Pro Bowls. He averaged 104 tackles, pick off 19 passes, 16 forced fumbles, 18 recovered and 29 sacks and defensed 70 passes, a stat line similar to the great linebackers of the 1960s and 1970s. He also scored four defensive touchdowns

44. Bill Romanowski
Romanowski was a two-time Pro Bowler and had a reputation for crossing the line in terms of late-hits and being nasty. But he also was a fine strongside linebacker who played 16 seasons and played in 243 games and collected four Super Bowl rings.

His career stat line is 39.5 sacks, 18 picks, 16 forced fumbles, 18 recoveries, and defensed 76 passes. Per full season he averaged 73 tackles and 78.5 of those were stuffs (tackles for loss).

45. Wayne Walker

Walker was one of the fine weakside blitzers in the 1960s, recording 39.5 sacks in his career and he was recognized as All-Pro three times and Second-team All-Pro twice and wasa three-time Pro Bowler. The Lions defense in the 1960s was tops in stopping the run and among the top at getting to the quarterback and Walker was a big part of that.

46. Larry Morris
Larry Morris was a second-team All-Pro in 1963 and was a big part of the good Bears defenses of the early 1960s. He began as a fullback for the Rams and quickly moved to left linebacker where he played well. He injured a knee and missed the 1958 season and was traded to the Bears in 1959.

He was on the 1960s All-Decade team, though we think that is dubious, there were others who were more qualified. However, that said, Morris was a fine linebacker who, like Wayne Walker was a fine blind side dogger, recording 31 sacks from 1956-65 with a high of 7½.

47. Jessie Armstead
Perhaps underrated, Jesse was a five-time Pro Bowler and a First-team All-Pro once and a Second-teamer twice. He made 962 tackles in his career (75 were for losses), 40 sacks, 12 picks (two for scores), 15 forced fumbles and 54 passes defensed and during his Pro Bowl run from 1997 through 2001 he averaged 109 tackles a year and average 11 stuffs (tackles for loss) which was among the league's best during that span.

48. William Thomas
Another underrated all-around 'backer. He was a Pro Bowler just twice but put up All-Pro numbers. He picked off 27 passes (very high for a LBer in his era) and had 37 sacks and scored four defensive touchdowns. His forte was coverage but could get to the passer as well.

49. John Anderson
Anderson was voted Second-team All-Decade for the 1980s, he got one vote and we think we know who gave it to him (Green Bay's voter, perhaps?). Needless to say, we think that honor is dubious, however, that does not mean he wasn't an excellent player. Mostly a SAM backer all of his career except his rookie season, he was solid in all phases.

He picked off 25 passes has 22.5 sacks and recovered 15 fumbles. He did it in an era when having over 20 sacks and over 20 picks was not recognized as great, yet it's similar, stat-wise to the Howleys, Robinsons, etc that populate the top of this list.

50. Roman Phifer
Yet one more underrated, long-serving linebacker. He never got any honors (though he was a Pro Bowl alternate a few times) he was a fine player. He likely should have been All-Pro in 1995 but with the state of the Ram then and in the 1990s, post-season honors were not in the Cards.

A three-down backer, and even when Rams went to the dime defense to face all the run and shoot teams of the 1990s, Phifer was the lone linebacker on the field. In the early-to-mid 1990s when the Rams used the 46-style scheme, which they did fairly often, he would play Mike Singletary's spot. In the late-1990s, in that same scheme, he'd play essentially Richard Dent's spot, from a two-point stance due to the gain in size and strength from his workout programs.

He played for the Jets and then was picked up by the Patriots where his versatility and smarts made him a starter on two championship teams and a key role player on a third. He averaged 84 tackles per full season, recorded 29 sacks and 11 picks had 62.5 stuffs and defensed 66 passes.
______________________________

We have a long, long list of honorable mentions, and they could be looked at in groups. The names at the top of the honorables could very well be in the top 50 somewhere. And the names near the bottom could be in the 70s or so. All we can really say is the top 15 to maybe 20 are Hall of Famer level players and they are better than the players in the 30s and 40s on the list.

We will just give a couple of data points on each of the names, rather than a paragraph.

Matt Hazeltine—38 sacks, 2 Pro Bowls.
Reggie Williams—63½ sacks, 16 INTs, 23 FR, 16 FF, 2 Def TDs, 14-year starter.
Ed McDaniel—Big-time run stuffer, played some MLB. Had 18.5 run stuffs one season.
Chad Greenway—Quality all around, a throwback to the 1960s-70s style of OLBer
Mike Merriweather—1 All-Pro, 3 Pro Bowls, 41 sacks, 18 INTs, 5 Def. TDs
Sean Lee—Cannot stay healthy if he would leap on this list.
E.J. Holub—Tough guy, moved from LB to center, 2-time All-AFL
Telvin Smith—In the mold of Lavonte David and Derrick Brooks, lots of run stuffs—48.5 so far.
Bob Swenson—Terrific SAM 'backer in 3-4. Also health issues. Could pound the good TEs
Otis Wilson—Again, injury issues. 1 All-Pro/Pro Bowl, 36.0 sacks
Anthony Barr—Slumping in 2018, but a fine SAM and can play in space.
Kevin Hardy—Similar to Barr, 36 sacks, 1 All-Pro
Mike Douglass—A Dr. Z favorite, had him as an All-Pro thrice. 38.5 sacks, 17 FR.
Jim Houston—A poor man's Wayne Walker or Matt Hazeltine. 18.5 sacks, 18 picks, 1 ring
Billy Ray Smith—Super 1986 season with 15 stuffs and 11 sacks. Played some inside LBer, top
Mike Vrabel—Almost a rush backer, but played in coverage too much and even some inside.
Hugh Green—Injuries left career wanting, was super rusher in NCAA, too small in NFL to sustain
Keith Bulluck—A classic three-down LBer like the ones near the top of list, 5 def TDs.
Thomas Henderson—A SAM (Sara in Dallas verbiage) could run and hit and take on TEs
Lee Woodall—Two Pro Bowls, part of very good 49er defenses in the mid-1990s.
Lee Roy Caffey—1 All-Pro/Pro Bowl, part of the Lombardi dynasty
Dan Currie—see Caffey (above)
Fred Carr—Great kick blocker, great athlete, a poor man's Matt Blair
K.J. Wright—Very solid and unsung SAM in the great Seahawk defenses im the 2010s.
Doug Buffone—Longstanding tough guy. Never made a ton of big plays, though. 
Ahmad Brooks—Another near-rushbacker, 1 Pro Bowl, 55 sacks.
Michael Brooks—Pretty good sideline to sideline backer, played some inside.
Dexter Coakley—Good coverage, 3 Pro Bowls, 
Hardy Brown—Not a great athlete, huge hitter, got enough honors to merit mention here.
Jamie Collins—Plays some inside, some outside, got notice in NE, no so much in CLE
Jamir Miller—Injury ended his career just as he was peaking, was becoming a rushbacker
Jim Youngblood—Could run well, hard hitter, 4 defensive touchdowns, All-NFC/Pro Bowl twice
Jim Lynch—Played opposite Bobby Bell, solid, not spectacular
Paul Naumoff—Like Jim Lynch, but on the strong side.
Larry Stallings—Classic SAM backer for his era, 1 Pro Bowl.
Bob Brudzinski—Superb versus the run, and could blitz. 
Kim Bokamper—A Sam, would play LDE on pass downs, the moved to DE full time.
Greg Brezina—The leading Gritz Blitzer.
Duane Bickett—Played DE in nickel, but was a very good LBer as well.
Dave Washington—Tall, rangy, played well for Bills, Broncos and 49ers.
Walt Michaels—A stalwart for the 1950s Browns. 5 Pro Bowls.
LaVern Torgeson—1 All-Pro, 3 Pro Bowls in the 1950s
Tom Addison—1 All-AFL, 4 AFL All-Star selections.
Mark Fields—2 Pro Bowls, 34.5 sacks.
Mike Wilcher—38.5 sacks, played as line LBer in dime, highly rated by PSI in 1988-90.
Wayne Robinson—Fine player on the 1950s Eagles "Suicide Squad".
Roger Zatkoff—a All-Pro, 3 Pro Bowls for Lions and Packers in the 1950s.
Tony Adamle—Played running back, too. Was a right and left linebacker for the great Browns teams
Deion Jones—Moving up, only in his third year, but we like his game.
Dave Lewis—Was a star for the Bucs, but career tailed off. Should have been All-Pro in 1979.
Gus Otto—Had 8½ sacks in 1967 and played in one AFL All-Star game.
Keena Turner—Three down linebacker for the 1980s 49ers, 1 Pro Bowl, 4 rings.
Kiko Alonso—Better at coverage than anything, but in today's game, that means a lot.
Pete Barnes—22.5 sacks, 15 picks, Second-team All-AFL in 1969.
DeAndre Levy—Short career, very effective for Lions especially in 2013-14.
Woodrow Lowe—11 years, 21 picks, 25½ sacks.
Tom MacLeod—A good SAM backer, played opposite Stan White, 1975 All-AFC.
Don Shinnick—37 career interceptions, most-ever by an outside linebacker.
Mel Owens—solid, not spectacular.
Skip Vanderbundt—Same as Owens.
Al Beauchamp—Same as Vanderbundt.
Charlie Hall—Same as Beauchamp.
Rich Milot—Same as Hall.
Larry Gordon—Same as Milot.
Andre Collins—Same as Gordon.
D.D. Lewis—Same as Collins.
Willie Harper—Same as Lewis.
Lance Mehl—Same as Harper. Played some inside linebacker as well.
John Bramlett—Same as Mehl. Was a good blitzer.
Frank Buncom—Same as Bramlett.
Greg Buttle—Same as Buncom.
Galen Fiss—Same as Buttle.
John Reger—Same as Fiss.
Bill Koman—Same as Reger.
Emil Karas—Same as Koman.
Marv Matuszak—Same as Karas.
Brad Dusek—Same as Matuszak.
Keith Mitchell—Same as Dusek.
John Tracey—Same as Mitchell.
Bill Svoboda—Same as Tracey, played defensive back early in his career.
Rod Breedlove—Same as Svoboda.

Okay, there are even a handful of more names, but we're done.

Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments section below.