In an era where offenses are spreading out defenses to throw the ball and break records, no defense has a chance without quality guys in the middle of the field. The difference between good defenses and outstanding defenses are those men in the middle. It’s truly considered a plus when outside linebackers are to be able to rush the passer, drop in coverage, and defend the run. What is a plus for them is merely a requirement for inside backers, they are asked to excel in all three of those areas. Instead of telling you who is the best of the bunch, the candidates will be presented so that you can make the distinction as to who’s the best inside backer in the NFL? (There is no specific order)
Karlos Dansby – He’s made 117 tackles this season with only eight of them being assists. Along with the 109 solo tackles, Dansby has also been a force against the pass. He’s amassed 6.5 sacks and hauled in four interceptions, while getting his hands on 18 passes this season. Dansby has also forced a fumble and scored two Touchdowns this season, he plays an integral role in one of the leagues best defenses. He often flies under the radar, but he is truly one of the best at his position this season.
Daryl Smith – The man responsible for filling in for the great Ray Lewis, no matter who it was there was a notion that they wouldn’t be able to fill his shoes. That beings said, credit must be given where it is due. The veteran has stepped in and contributed for the Ravens in an up-and-down year. Smith has done nothing but make plays consistently through the year, compiling 118 tackles. He’s gotten after the passer as well with 5 sacks, while forcing two fumbles. He’s no Ray Lewis, but he’s been one of the few consistent players for Baltimore.
Kiko Alonso – The Rookie from Oregon has certainly made an impact for the Bills this season. Alonso has a combined 145 tackles this season, but he’s also excelled in the passing game. Out of the five passes defended, he’s picked four of them off. Alonso also has two sacks this season, he’s certainly made a mark in year one.
Luke Kuechly – Following a stellar rookie campaign, Kuechly has matched his play from last season if not more. The Carolina defense has been stout from the beginning of the year, Kuechly has played a huge role in that. Tallying 146 tackles this season along with two sacks, he’s also picked off four passes. He does a great job of diagnosing plays and striking the ball carrier, not to mention his ability to read the eyes of opposing Quarterbacks. Simply put, the kid is a star. He’s coming off a game in which he tallied 24 tackles, let that sink in and keep a watch on #59 in Carolina. Kuechly’s play has certainly put him in conversation for the Defensive Player of the Year.
D’Qwell Jackson – This Cleveland Brown backer has been flying under the radar for a few years, Jackson has 132 tackles this season. If there is a play made by the Brown’s defense, it’s a safe bet that he has something to do with it. Jackson has 1.5 sacks this season, while he doesn’t rush the passer as often as some of his peers, he does make plays in the passing game. He’s only pulled down one interception, but he’s gotten his hands on six other passes. Throw in a forced fumble and it’s obvious that D’Qwell is a pivotal part of the Cleveland defense.
Sean Lee – It’s no secret that the Cowboys have struggled mightily on the defensive end this season. Outside of not having a reliable player at the safety position, they’ve been missing their man in the middle often this year. Lee has been fighting through an injury prone season, when he’s been able to play, he’s made plays. Lee has 99 tackles this season, more importantly he is their best backer versus the pass. In limited time, he’s been able to haul in four interceptions. His playmaking ability has been thoroughly missed by the Cowboys, who have been gashed routinely from week to week.
Jerrell Freeman – Who? Freeman plays inside backer for the Colts, he plays on the wrong side of the ball when it comes to being recognized. Everyone is familiar with the players on the offensive side of the ball, they need to become familiar with Freeman. He’s been a force this season versus the run and the pass, racking up 4.5 sacks and two interceptions. Even more impressive, Freeman has forced five fumbles this season. Impact player? A resounding yes.
Derrick Johnson – The Kansas City Chiefs have made a lot of noise this season, they have one of the better defenses in the league and one of the best pass rushing teams. Their edge rushers and down lineman get tons of love in their front seven, Johnson is often overlooked. After a couple of subpar seasons, Johnson’s resurgence has played a role in their defensive dominance. Playing along side Hali & Houston makes it tough to get sacks, Derrick has managed to get 4.5 sacks this season. He’s done a good job in the middle of the Chiefs defense, pulling down two interceptions and amassing 107 tackles. Johnson is just one more reason the Kansas City defense is as productive as it’s been this season.
Bobby Wagner – Yet another player contributing on a top defense, Wagner has improved in his second season. Known as a “freak” athletically, Wagner has the ability to make plays anywhere on the field. The Seattle defensive line and secondary are great, their linebackers don’t get nearly enough credit. Wagner has contributed as a pass rusher with five sacks and as a pass defender by picking off two passes this season. He’ll only improve as time goes on.
Navorro Bowman – One half of arguably the best inside linebacker duo in the league, Bowman hasn’t always gotten the attention deserved in past years. It’s hard to separate yourself when you play with arguably the best inside backer in football, in Patrick Willis. That hasn’t been the case this year, Navorro has racked up 135 tackles with only 24 of them being assists. He’s shown an ability to cover in man to man situations, this year he’s made an impact as a pass rusher with four sacks. Throw in his three forced fumbles, one interception (for a TD) and like Kuechly he’s made a case to be in that DPOY conversation.
Patrick Willis – The other half of the talented duo in San Francisco, the veteran linebacker is still in his prime. Willis and Bowman are interchangeable, they are the reason that the 49ers are often able to defend the run with just six in the box. Playmakers make plays and that hasn’t changed, Patrick has 98 tackles this season. Like Bowman, he’s flashed his talent as a pass rusher this season as well. Tallying three sacks while forcing two fumbles, Willis is far from his supposed demise.
Who’s the best Inside Linebacker in the NFL, we’d love to know what you think! Leave your thoughts in the comments below!