Updated: Apr 20, 2021
Welcome back to the NFL PRR! In this series, leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, I will be ranking the top 12 players at each position for the previous season. This is not where I believe they will rank at the end of 2021, just where they stand now. Because of this, incoming rookies will be exempt from the "Following the 2020 Season" blogs. After the draft, leading up to the 2021 NFL season, I will be ranking where I believe each player will rank after the 2021 season, including incoming rookies.
These lists will be controversial, they will raise some eyebrows, but, most importantly, they will open some eyes towards who is actually dominating in the NFL today. Without further ado, here are my top 12 linebackers for the 2020 season:
12. KJ Wright
I'll give him the credit that not a lot of other football fans would: KJ would be a superstar linebacker on any other team in the NFL. Because he plays along with Bobby Wagner, who has consistently been in the top 5 since entering the league, no one else has really considered this to be a possibility. Just to prove how great he is, KJ tallied 86 tackles, 11 TFLs, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 7 pass deflections, 1 FF, and 2 FRs in 2020. KJ also had 75.7 overall and 79.2 coverage PFF grades, both ranking 7th in the league. The one downside to his play is how often he gets targeted; he saw 66 passes, resulting in 51 catches for 416 yards against him and 4 TDs, as well as a 106.6 passer rating allowed. This also attributes to the Seahawks playing against some of the best passing offenses in the NFL in 2020. KJ did a great job with these factors and shined in key moments.
11. Josey Jewell
Josey is another linebacker that doesn't get the credit he deserves. Josey made 113 tackles, 5 TFLs, 2 sacks, and 4 pass deflections. He also allowed a 93.4 passer rating when targeted, and allowed only 1 TD on 66 targets. Although these numbers won't jump off a stat sheet, he only missed 4 tackles on the season, giving him a missed tackle percentage of 3.4%, ranking 1st among players with more than 100 tackles. He also has an overall PFF grade of 68.1, 13th among linebackers for 2020.
10. Deion Jones
One of the fastest LBs in the league makes his way into the top 10. Jones posted 106 tackles, 9 TFLs, a career-high 4.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 6 pass deflections, 1 FF, and 1 FR. One of his interceptions went for 67 yards and a TD, giving him his fifth pick-six in just 69 games (nice). Combine that with a 70.6 PFF coverage grade, 12th among linebackers, it's easy to see why Deion is well-deserving to have his name amongst the best LBs in the game.
9. Myles Jack
After an up and down start to his career, Myles Jack has solidified himself as one of the best in the game. In 14 games, Jack tallied 118 tackles, 6 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 INT, 5 pass deflections, 1 FF, and 2 FRs. He also allowed a 95.6 passer rating against him, while only missing 8 tackles on the season. Myles also recorded a 75.7 PFF run-defense grade, 6th among linebackers. Being productive against both the pass and the run is not something many linebackers can do, and Myles Jack can do it at a high level.
Photo: USA Today
8. Roquan Smith
Roquan has gotten better every single year he's been in the league. In his best season yet, Roquan got 139 tackles, 18 TFLs, 4 sacks, 2 INTs, 7 pass deflections, 1 FF and 1 FR. He allowed an incredibly low passer rating of 59.6, and he posted an 84 PFF coverage grade, ranking 4th amongst linebackers. Roquan looks to put his name in the All-Pro conversation in 2021.
7. Blake Martinez
A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one. Blake is the definition of consistency when it comes to playing linebacker in the NFL. Blake brought down opposing players 151 times, his 4th straight year with over 140 tackles, 9 TFLs, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 5 pass deflections, 2 FFs, and 1 FR. He allowed a passer rating of 89 and ranked 6th among linebackers with a 75.9 overall PFF grade. He may not be the flashiest player around, but he plays a high level each game.
6. Darius Leonard
A draft gem from 2018 has another great year in 2020. In 14 games, Darius recorded 132 tackles, 7 TFLs, 3 sacks, 7 pass deflections, 3 FFs, and 2 FRs. Although his passer rating and PFF grades aren't the best, 109.2 and 70.4 respectively, he is a menace on the field when you turn on the tape. He seems to always be around the ball and is the best playmaker on the Colts defense. In his first 3 years, he has been named 1st Team All-Pro twice, and he has made his name known across the NFL.
5. Eric Kendricks
One of the best coverage linebackers in the league makes the top 5 cuts. Through 11 games, Kendricks tallied 107 tackles, 4 TFLs, 3 INTs, and 6 pass deflections. Although he recorded no sacks and no fumbles, he allowed a low 58.8 passer rating against him. He also posted the 3rd highest overall PFF grade, and the 2nd highest PFF coverage grade with 82.6 and 90.7 respectively. During a down year for Vikings defenders, Kendricks played better and shut down opposing pass attacks.
4. Demario Davis
The savvy veteran is still one of the best in the league. The 31-year-old had a strong 2020, posting 119 tackles, 10 TFLs, 4 sacks, and 5 pass deflections. He ranked very well in most PFF grades, with a 77.8 overall (5th), 80.5 run defense (3rd), 82.1 pass rush (4th), and 65.9 coverage (18th). He passes rushed on 153 snaps, ranking 3rd in the league for LBs, which justifies a high overall pass-rush grade. He can do it all, and that led him to crack the top 5 on this year's list.
Photo: The Athletic
3. Lavonte David
Another veteran had another stellar year. The Super Bowl champ tallied 117 tackles, 12 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 6 pass deflections, 3 FFs, and 2 FRs. He allowed a 93.4 passer rating and graded very well overall with a 78.8 overall grade (4th), a 73.6 run defense grade (9th), and an 83.1 coverage grade (6th). His athleticism and ferocity have been major pieces to the Bucs defense, and it finally came through in 2020.
2. Bobby Wagner
Arguably the best linebacker of the 2010s, Bobby Wagner continued his dominance into 2020. Bobby racked up 138 tackles, 7 TFLs, 3 sacks, 8 pass deflections, and 1 FR. He allowed a passer rating of 88.9 and made First-Team All-Pro for the 5th straight year. He ranked near the top in almost every category, achieving a PFF overall grade of 85.1 (2nd), run defense grade of 90.3 (1st), pass-rush grade of 86.8 (1st), and coverage grade of 69.9 (14th). Although he's had a great career, another linebacker may have dethroned him as the best LB in the league.
Photo: Associated Press
1. Fred Warner
The best linebacker in the league is now Fred Warner. With half of the defense around him hurt, he stepped up to the plate and outperformed his 2019 season. Warner posted a career-high 125 tackles, 5 TFLs, 1 sack, 2 INTs, 6 pass deflections, 1 FF, and 2 FRs. He allowed a passer rating of 69.7 and was named to the First All-Pro Team for the first time. He boasted the highest overall PFF grade for linebackers with an 88.6, as well as the highest coverage grade with a 91.1, as well as 68.7 and 75.9 run defense and pass rush grades, ranking 11th and 12th respectively. He has fast instincts and a nose for the football, making him one of the hardest linebackers to game plan against.
Photo: Associated Press
You're probably wondering: where the hell is Devin White? Besides his incredible playoff performances, Devin White was very underwhelming in 2020. He allowed the most pass yards by a linebacker with 626, a 109.6 passer rating, and 3 TDs. He also missed 15 tackles, the 12th highest in the league; but he did rack up 140 tackles along with 9 sacks and 1 FF. The difference in these stats is polarizing to the point where I couldn't put him in my top 12. I think he has a promising future, but 2020 was not a great year for White.
Some other linebackers that missed the cut were Alexander Johnson, Zach Cunningham, Jaylon Smith, and Foyesade Oluokun. These 4 all played at a high level but didn't perform consistently throughout the season. Zach Cunningham could always be in the conversation just based on the ridiculous amount of tackles he produces per snap, but his coverage is what usually keeps outside the top 12.
Join me next time as I cover the top 12 special teamers for 2020!