The 2020 NFL season is approaching…hopefully. Joey The Tooth gives us his top linebackers going into the season.
As of now, we are assuming that the 2020 NFL season is going to happen, and boy do we hope it does. After last season we saw some players make a leap, while others regressed. My rankings changed weekly last year as they should. After the draft and free agency here are my top 10 linebacker rankings going into 2020.
1) Darius Leonard – Indianapolis Colts
2019 Stats: 121 tackles (71 solo), 7 tackles for a loss, 5 sacks, 7 passes defended, 5 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and a touchdown (13 games)
I am sure I was not the only person that was surprised by the Colts selecting Darius Leonard 36th overall in the 2018 draft. I considered it a big time reach, and I know I am not alone in that boat. Boy have I put my foot in my mouth, I absolutely love this stud. If you read my article on value picks (read here) then you know I wait on IDP selections in drafts. Leonard is the one guy I jump for. He has 284 tackles in 28 games to go with 12 sacks, 15 passes defended, 7 interceptions and 6 forced fumbles in his two seasons. The guy is a play making machine and is locked in at #1 in my linebacker rankings.
2) Deion Jones – Atlanta Falcons
2019 Stats: 110 tackles (68 solo), 8 tackles for a loss, 5 passes defended, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery and a touchdown
There are two types of opinions on Deion Jones. Those who look at his 2019 season as a failure and regression and are out on him. The other is Deion Jones truthers, guys who think he is elite and will get back to form. I am a truther and believe that the emergence of De’Vondre Campbell was a big reason Jones’ production suffered (read my article here) as well as coming back from his leg injury. In 2018, Jones was a beast with Campbell playing pedestrian, putting up 138 tackles, 10 for a loss, 10 passes defended and 3 interceptions. With Campbell gone and Jones another year removed from his leg injury, I expect a nice bounce-back year.
3) Bobby Wagner – Seattle Seahawks
2019 Stats: 159 tackles (86 solo), 7 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, 6 passes defended, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery
Bobby Wagner is the most consistent linebacker in the NFL. He has been an All-Pro in 5 of his 8 NFL seasons. Over his 8 year career he has averaged about 135 tackles per season including 140 or more in 3 seasons. He has been an All-Pro for four straight seasons now and has not shown any signs of slowing down. Of all the linebackers in the league, Bobby Wagner played the fifth most snaps with 1,080. He is aging but you would not be able to tell by his play.
4) Joe Schobert – Jacksonville Jaguars
2019 Stats: 133 tackles (89 solo), 7 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 9 passes defended, 4 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery (13 games)
If you asked me my thoughts on Joe Schobert before 2017, my answer would have been, who? After 2017 I still said who the hell is this guy. Schobert followed that All-Pro season up with another strong performance picking up over 100 tackles and 3 sacks in 13 games. In 2019 Schobert was an absolute baller, showing out in every aspect of the game. He joins the Jaguars who have been desperate for linebacker production and should thrive in the Telvin Smith role.
5) Roquan Smith – Chicago Bears
2019 Stats: 101 tackles (66 solo), 5 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 2 passes defended and 1 interception (12 games)
Roquan Smith is on a powerhouse defense on a team with an inefficient offense. This means that he will see the field often. In his first 28 games he has 222 tackles and 7 sacks. Smith also plays well in coverage and he and Danny Trevathan form a strong duo in the middle of the field. Smith is a young up and coming linebacker stud and should continue to produce at a high level.
6) Tremaine Edmunds – Buffalo Bills
2019 Stats: 115 tackles (66 solo), 10 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, 9 passes defended and 1 interception
Tremaine Edmunds is one of the other young up and coming linebackers with Leonard and Smith. They all came from the same draft class and are all elite linebackers. He is another linebacker that can play in all facets of the game. He drops a little from the top due to the amount his team’s offense runs the ball, limiting snaps on the field for all teams involved. Not to mention he has a solid running mate in Matt Milano who has been eating into his production. Still Edumnds has elite talent and is a top 10 linebacker.
7) Cory Littleton – Las Vegas Raiders
2019 Stats: 134 tackles (78 solo), 6 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, 9 passes defended, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and 4 fumble recoveries
Cory Littleton has been a top 5 linebacker for the past two seasons having racked up 259 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, 22 passes defended, 5 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries and a touchdown. Then why is he dropping out of the top 5? During Littleton’s two breakout seasons he has had little competition for tackles. In 2018 he played alongside a declining Mark Barron and in 2019 he did not have a running mate, it was a mixture of undrafted rookie Troy Reeder and a combination of safeties.
In 2020 he will team up in Las Vegas with Nick Kwiatkoski who enjoyed a mini breakout of his own in 2019. Kwiatkoski is a tackle hog and is the best linebacker Littleton will have played next to. I expect Littleton to continue to be elite in coverage but Kwiatkoski may soak up a chunk of Littleton’s tackles causing him to slide in my top 10 linebacker rankings.
8) Jaylon Smith – Dallas Cowboys
2019 Stats: 142 tackles (83 solo), 6 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, 9 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery
Jaylon Smith would be a lot higher on this list if he was on almost any other team, even so he should probably be higher. I love the guy but with a teammate the caliber of Leighton Vander Esch, I cannot put Smith higher than the guys ahead of him on this list. Smith is a great story coming back from a brutal collegiate injury. He keeps getting better as well, every season, and he could easily finish higher on this list next year. The problem is if Vander Esch can play all 16 games. In his rookie season he accumulated 140 tackles which limits the upside of Smith.
9) Blake Martinez – New York Giants
.2019 Stats: 155 tackles (97 solo), 5 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, 2 passes defended, 1 interception and a forced fumble
Blake Martinez is a tackle machine to say the least. Over the past three seasons he has averaged almost 148 tackles per season, almost 10 tackles per game. He was on a team with one of the weakest linebacker corps in the league and his situation did not change much. The Giants do not sport the most polarizing group themselves and Martinez will likely have another high volume role.
10) Devin Bush – Pittsburgh Steelers
2019 Stats: 109 tackles (72 solo), 9 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 4 passes defended, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 4 fumble recoveries and a touchdown
Devin Bush’s career started off on fire in 2019. He was one of the highest producing linebackers through the first few weeks of the season, plus he finished the season strong as well. Mid season he fell off of the map a little bit as the Steelers chose to give more snaps to veteran Mark Barron but by the end of the season it was Bush who was on the field more. Bush is a sideline to sideline linebacker that has big play potential. With Barron now gone there is no true threat to Bush being super productive.
Players who just missed the top 10 linebacker rankings: T.J. Watt, Jordan Hicks, Leighton Vander Esch, Zach Cunningham, Fred Warner and Devin White.
These are my top 10 linebacker rankings to start 2020. They are sure to change throughout the season as some of the guys left off of the list could easily stake their claim. Be sure to keep an eye out as I will also be doing my top 10 rankings for the defensive line as well as defensive backs.
Follow me on Twitter @JoeyTheToothIDP and check out all of my written content at idpguys.org and dynastyfootballdigest.com. Be sure to also order our rookie draft guides from each website. For the IDP rookie guide click here. For the Dynasty rookie draft guide click here.