Top 10 Linebackers Of All Time – Who Is The Greatest Linebacker in NFL History?
Due to its many demands, the linebacker is one of the most complex positions in the NFL. This is also one of the positions that went through quite a few changes since the early days.
Because of this, creating a list of the best linebackers of all time has become quite challenging.
If you ask people around the NFL who is the best linebacker of all time, you will get the answer, Lawrence Taylor. However, if you ask them to name the top 10 linebackers of all time, their answers will not be so unanimous.
So, we have decided to create our own list of the greatest linebackers of all time.
10. Jack Ham
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- NFL teams: Pittsburgh Steelers (1971–1982)
- Accolades: 6x First-team All-Pro, 2x Second-team All-Pro, 8x Pro Bowl, 4x Super Bowl champion
- Career statistics: 32 interceptions, 2 touchdowns
Jack Ham was the leader of the famous “Steel Curtain” defense that allowed the Pittsburgh Steelers to win four Super Bowls.
Ham was one of the most versatile linebackers in the history of the league and has the most forced turnovers (53) by a linebacker in history.
Furthermore, his 32 interceptions are third-most by linebackers in history. As you might assume by these numbers, “Dobra Shunka” had one of the best game instincts in the history of the game. His pass defense was as good as some of the top safeties in the NFL.
He was not only a ferocious hitter, but he also knew how to read opponents’ plays and play out or in position.
9. Ray Nitschke
- NFL teams: Green Bay Packers (1958–1972)
- Accolades: 2x First-team All-Pro, 5x Second-team All-Pro, 1x Pro Bowl, 5x NFL champion, 2x Super Bowl champion,
- Career statistics: 25 interceptions, 385 interception yards, 2 touchdowns
Ray Nitschke is considered one of the toughest linebackers to ever play in the NFL, and thanks to this, he is a legendary persona amongst NFL fans.
But Nitschke did not base his playstyle only on violent hits; he was also excellent in pass coverage.
These two traits allowed him to play for 15 years and be a crucial part of the Packers dynasty led by Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi.
Furthermore, although Nitschke played in a rushing era, he managed to retire with 25 interceptions, which only solidifies his place as one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history.
8. Junior Seau
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- NFL teams: San Diego Chargers (1990–2002), Miami Dolphins (2003–2005), New England Patriots (2006–2009)
- Accolades: 6x First-team All-Pro, 3x Second-team All-Pro, 12x Pro Bowl, 1x NFL Man of the Year
- Career statistics: 1,847 tackles, 56.5 sacks, 18 interceptions. 11 forced fumbles, 1 touchdown
With 20 NFL seasons under his belt, Junior Seau had one of the longest linebacker careers in NFL history.
His best years came with the San Diego Chargers, during this 12-year period, he amassed 1,478 tackles with 47 sacks and 31 takeaways.
Seau is one of the few linebackers in NFL history that relied on their in-game instincts to guide their decision making and most of the time his instincts were right which allowed him to be in the right place in the right time.
Unfortunately, after retiring from the NFL, Seau committed suicide, he was only 43 years old. In 2015 he was elected posthumously to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
7. Chuck Bednarik
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- NFL teams: Philadelphia Eagles (1949–1962)
- Accolades: 2x NFL champion, 10x First-team All-Pro, 8x Pro Bowl
- Career statistics: 169 games played, 20 interceptions
Chuck Bednarik is one of the best players in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Iron Man spent 13 years in the NFL, during which he built a reputation as one of the best linebackers and centers in the league.
A veteran of World War II, Bednarik was instrumental in both the Eagles’ 1949 and 1960 championship runs.
The Eagles star is also the author of The Hit, one of the most famous tackles in NFL history and a tackle that prevented New York Giants running back Frank Gifford from playing football for 18 months.
6. Derrick Thomas
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- NFL teams: Kansas City Chiefs (1989–1999)
- Accolades: 1x NFL Man of the Year, 1x NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, 2x First-team All-Pro, 3x Second-team All-Pro, 9x Pro Bowl, 2x NFL forced fumbles leader, 1x NFL sacks leader
- Career statistics: 642 tackles, 126.5 sacks, 42 forced fumbles, 1 interception, 19 fumble recoveries, 4 defensive touchdowns
Derrick Thomas was one of the greatest pass rushers in NFL history. He not only managed to collect 126.5 sacks in 157 games he started, but he also holds the NFL record for most sacks in a game with 7.
The Kansas City’s all-time sack leader achieved this during the 1990 season when he got to Dave Krieg 7 times during the game against Seattle.
With 20 sacks during the season, 1990 was also a record year for Thomas.
Unfortunately for the league and NFL fans, Thomas died at the age of 33 from a blood clot that appeared after a car accident.
We can only wonder what more he would achieve if not for his untimely death that robbed the NFL of one of the greatest linebackers in league history.
5. Jack Lambert
- NFL teams: Pittsburgh Steelers (1974–1984)
- Accolades: 1x NFL Defensive Player of the Year, NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, 6x First-team All-Pro, 2x Second-team All-Pro, 9x Pro Bowl, 1x Super Bowl champion
- Career statistics: 1,479 tackles, 28 interceptions, 17 fumble recoveries, 23.5 sacks
Jack Lambert is another key piece from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ famous “Steel Curtain” that helped the team become the NFL’s first dynasty.
Lambert is one of those linebackers that made an immediate impact after coming to the league.
For this, he won the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1974.
His versatility played an important role in the Steelers’ streak that went on to win them four Super Bowls in a span of six years during the 1970s.
During his time in the league, Lambert gained a reputation as the toughest player in the league and one of the toughest linebackers of all-time.
In addition to his many accolades, Lambert is also the linebacker with the most recoveries ever, he set the record in 1976 when he recovered the ball 8 times.
4. Mike Singletary
- NFL teams: Chicago Bears (1981–1992)
- Accolades: 2x NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 1x NFL Man of the Year, 7x First-team All-Pr, 1x Second-team All-Pro, 10x Pro Bowl, 1x Super Bowl champion
- Career statistics: 1,488 tackles, 19 sacks, 7 interceptions
Mike Singletary was one of the leaders of the famous Chicago Bears ‘85 defense, one of the greatest defenses in the history of the NFL.
His intense focus and sideline-to-sideling capabilities helped the Bears’ defense become a staple for all future NFL defenses.
Samurai Mike also played a key role in playing a big role in what is considered one of the greatest defensive performances in the Super Bowl ever.
During his career, he collected 1,488 tackles along with 12 fumble recoveries and seven interceptions.
3. Dick Butkus
- NFL teams: Chicago Bears (1965–1973)
- Accolades: 2x NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 5x First-team All-Pro, 3x Second-team All-Pro, 8x Pro Bowl
- Career statistics: 22 interceptions, 27 fumble recoveries
Another top prospect, Dick Butkus did everything that was expected from him and more. He will be remembered as one of the hardest hitters as well as one of the toughest players in league history.
It was exactly this intensity and his style of play that would eventually end his NFL career due to knee problems.
However, leaving everything on the field is one of the traits that allowed him to have a Hall of Fame career and be one of the best linebackers in the NFL.
One of the biggest testaments of his greatest is The Butkus Award, a trophy given to the top linebackers at high school, college, and professional levels of football.
2. Ray Lewis
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- NFL teams: Baltimore Ravens (1996–2012)
- Accolades: 1x Super Bowl MVP, 2x NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 7x First-team All-Pro, 3x Second-team All-Pro, 13x Pro Bowl, 3x NFL tackles leader, 2x Super Bowl champion
- Career statistics: 2,059 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 67 pass deflections, 31 interceptions, 17 forced fumbles, 20 fumble recoveries, 3 defensive touchdowns
Ray Lewis is probably one of the most polarizing players in the history of the NFL. The Ravens’ enforcer was a true legend of the game which led some of the best defensive teams in the league’s history.
He was voted to 13 Pro Bowls, most by a middle linebacker, and he is also the only linebacker ever to be named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and the Super Bowl MVP in the same season.
1. Lawrence Taylor
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- NFL teams: New York Giants (1981–1993)
- Accolades: 1x NFL Most Valuable Player, 3x NFL Defensive Player of the Year, NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, 8x First-team All-Pro, 2x Second-team All-Pro, 10x Pro Bowl, 2x Super Bowl champion
- Career statistics: 1,089 tackles, 142 sacks, 54 forced fumbles, 9 interceptions
Lawrence Taylor is not only the greatest linebacker in NFL history, but he is also one of the greatest football players of all time.
L.T. could hit as strong as any player on this list, but the thing that made him the greatest is his high football IQ and finesse.
Thanks to these two traits, he revolutionized the linebacker position forever and helped the New York Giants win two Super Bowls.
Taylor is the only linebacker in history to win the NFL Most Valuable Player award.
Along with J.J. Watt and Aaron McDonald, he is the only player ever to win the Defensive Player of the Year award three times.