The Detroit Lions have had terrible linebackers for what feels like forever. Ever since DeAndre Levy’s career has been derailed by injuries, it feels like the team just has not been able to find adequate talent at the position. Jarrad Davis was supposed to be the answer when he was selected in the first round of the 2017 draft, but he has disappointed thus far through the first three years of his career.
The rest of the NFC North has done just fine at the position, though. The Green Bay Packers had a great duo for a while (before they were plundered by the Giants this offseason), and the other two teams in the North each have two names on this list.
5. Christian Kirksey (Green Bay Packers)
Christian Kirksey is a newcomer to the NFC North, and he will have a tall task ahead of him this year. The linebacker will have to step into to replace the production of Blake Martinez, the former Packers linebacker that made the move over to the New York Giants this year.
Kirksey has dealt with injuries in recent seasons, only featuring in nine games over the past two seasons, but he was a fine player before then. The linebacker was selected in the third round of the 2014 draft. While it took him a few years to really find his calling, the linebacker took off in 2016 and notched up 286 combined tackles over the next few seasons.
The Packers will be hoping that Kirksey can return to his former self in 2020 and also that he can stay healthy. Kirksey has been fine when he has played, the problem is that he just needs to be on the field.
4. Anthony Barr (Minnesota Vikings)
Anthony Barr is one of the weirder players in the league. The linebacker was a star for the Vikings through the first few years of his career. He slowly fell off a bit, and even moved from a role where he primarily played as an edge rusher to a role where he serves as an off-ball linebacker. Barr nearly left the Vikings last offseason—reports had him agreeing to a deal with the New York Jets—but at the last minute, he chose to return to Minneapolis and re-signed with his former team.
Barr’s sack numbers took a small drop last season, he only notched 1.5, but he has improved as a run defender over the years. The linebacker set a career high with 79 tackles last season, and that number may only increase over time as he gains more experience in his new position.
His actual level of play may not live up to the reputation he has around the league, but Barr is a great player and a huge boon to any defense.
3. Roquan Smith (Chicago Bears)
Roquan Smith is one of the most hyped up linebacker prospects that has entered the league in recent years. The eighth overall pick in the 2018 draft was highly praised coming out of Georgia for his great athleticism and play instincts.
It seemed to translate to the NFL well in his rookie year as well. The rookie was a standout with 121 combined tackles and five sacks. He was seemingly everywhere on the field on instantly made his presence known in his first NFL year.
He took a step back in 2019, though. The young linebacker struggled when fellow off-ball linebacker Danny Trevathan was not alongside him in the lineup, and he was clearly uncomfortable. The young linebacker should be able to get back to form though, as an injury also hindered his 2019 season.
Smith could certainly be one of the league’s best linebackers over the next few years and could even find himself on All-Pro lists if things go right.
2. Danny Trevathan (Chicago Bears)
Danny Trevathan is a name that does not get much attention around the league, but there is a reason top-tier defenses seem to spring up where ever he plays.
The linebacker spent the first four years of his career with the Denver Broncos and was a part of the legendary defense that led the team to a Super Bowl title in 2015. While Von Miller received most of the attention, Trevathan’s work as a middle linebacker was crucial to their run defense.
Trevathan then went over to Chicago to play for the Bears, and an incredible 2018 campaign from him helped the team skyrocket into a division title. For both teams, he has been an elite run defender that can drop back into coverage as well.
Even now at age 30, the linebacker can still play with the best of them, and do not be surprised if the veteran is great once again in 2020.
1. Eric Kendricks (Minnesota Vikings)
Eric Kendricks is one of the best off-ball linebacker in the NFL. He is the smartest defender in the league, he is an elite run stuffer, a great tackler, and he can even drop into coverage when need be. There really is nothing else you could want from him.
The linebackers has consistently been somewhere around the 110 tackle mark for the past four years, and even in his rookie year in 2015 he topped 90 combined tackles.
Kendricks is a star, and the fact that it took him all the way until 2019 to make his first Pro Bowl and first All-Pro list is a shame. Now that he has broken that barrier and put himself in the national spotlight, though, expect him to garner only more attention going forward.