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2019 NFL preview: Ranking the NFC North linebackers

Where do Jarrad Davis and the Detroit Lions’ linebacking crew rank in the division?

New York Giants v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

After finding out that NFC North is stacked with defensive line talent, let’s meet some of the players that will benefit from that.

Good defensive line play and gap integrity should allow linebackers to rack up the tackles and even open up opportunities for sacks and interceptions. That talent in the Black and Blue division isn’t quite as impressive in the second level of the defense, but there are still some solid players.

Here is our ranking of the NFC North linebackers.


Note: This is mostly interior linebackers, as many of the outside linebackers were considered edge rushers and were part of our defensive line rankings.

Minnesota Vikings (Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon)

It seemed as though the rest of the division was about to benefit from Anthony Barr signing elsewhere this free agency, but the Vikings’ got their best capologists on the case and managed to somehow afford to bring him back.

That leaves Minnesota with a trio of proven, talented players at linebacker. Barr is a ferocious tackler and solid pass rusher. Kendricks is pretty much solid—but unspectacular— at everything he does. Ben Gedeon is a fine rotational player who is doing a great job holding up the Michigan tradition of goofy mustaches.

Chicago Bears (Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski)

Danny Trevathan is arguably the best all-around linebacker in the division and a great fit in that Chicago defense. 2018 first-round pick Roquan Smith had a promising rookie season that saw him finish the season 13th in total tackles, with a respectable 5.0 sacks.

This is a solid duo that could give the division fits for years to come. Even Nick Kwiatkoski has enough experience for the Bears to be confident in case of injury.

Detroit Lions (Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones, Jahlani Tavai)

The jury is still very much out on Jarrad Davis. At times, he flashed that brilliant combination of strength, speed and instincts. At other times, you’ll see him run straight past the ball-carrier, or running in the opposite direction. He has all the physical tools, though, and his work ethic is unmatched. The hope is that another season under Matt Patricia’s tutelage will lead to a breakout year in 2019.

Elsewhere, Christian Jones was probably an underappreciated part of Detroit’s strong run defense last year, and second-round pick Jahlani Tavai has a lot to prove after being taken several rounds higher than many expected.

This could be a very good squad of linebackers, but there’s a lot of “ifs” involved right now.

Green Bay Packers (Blake Martinez, Oren Burks, Ty Summers)

Blake Martinez could very well be the best linebacker in the division in a few years, if he isn’t already. No NFL linebacker has had more tackles in the past two years than Blake Martinez, and only 14 have had more tackles for loss. He’s also very impressive as a coverage linebacker, earning the ninth-highest coverage grade from PFF last year.

The problem is there is just no depth here. Oren Burks is a 2018 third-round pick who had a pretty quiet rookie season. Ty Summers is a 2019 seventh-round pick who may not even make the team. There’s also Reggie Gilbert—a formerly undrafted prospect out of Arizona who played a bit role in Green Bay’s defense last year—racking up 38 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

The strength in Green Bay’s linebackers lies on the outside, but we covered that in our defensive line rankings.

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