Pro Football Reference Blog
Top 10 Linebackers in the NFL
Posted by Darin Hayes on March 9, 2023
The 2022 National Football League season has recently come to a close, allowing us to reflect on the season that passed. Who was the best? The NFL’s top linebackers this past year will be looked at in this post using their 2022 statistics. We will look at four segments of the game that an LB can be measured with and the top performers in each using the vast resources of Stathead and Pro-Football-Reference. Our pool of players will be all backers; inside, outside, strong, weak, Edges, the Mikes, and the Wills. Only the regular season stats will be used in this study to keep things on a level playing field.
Top Tackling Linebackers of 2022
6-2, 215lb (188cm, 97kg)
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
August 2, 1995
in St. Louis, MO
Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 26 (4383rd overall since 1960)
High School: John Burroughs (MO)
Draft: Atlanta Falcons in the 6th round (200th overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft.
This Jacksonville Jaguars inside backer had a breakout year in his first season with the Jags after four solid seasons in Atlanta. 2022 was the second year in a row that Oluokun led the League in total combined tackles. His eye-popping 182 this past year, including a dozen that created a loss of yardage for his opponents, is a testament to Foyesade’s nose for the ball carrier.
6-0, 237lb (183cm, 107kg)
Team: Kansas City Chiefs
March 10, 2000
in Frisco, TX
College: Missouri (College Stats)
Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 13 (7238th overall since 1960)
Draft: Kansas City Chiefs in the 2nd round (58th overall) of the 2021 NFL Draft.
This second-year player was a solid piece for the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs defense. Bolton took part in 180 tackles and dumped 9 of his victims behind the line of scrimmage. He also had a highlight reel moment on an 86-yard scoop and score fumble recovery during the season.
The Tackle for Loss Linebacker Leaders in 2022
Another way to gauge a linebacker’s effectiveness is how well they are penetrating into the offensive backfilled and taking down quarterbacks and runners for loss of yardage. A great stat to look at for this is the tackle-for-loss numbers. In 2022 here are the leaders at linebacker in the NFL:
6-3, 235lb (190cm, 106kg)
Team: Carolina Panthers
September 19, 1996
in Tafuna, American Samoa
College: Washington St. (College Stats)
Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 14 (6931st overall since 1960)
High School: Tafuna (American Samoa)
This Carolina Panther defender wreaked havoc on opponents with 19 tackles for loss in 2022, including seven sacks. Luvu, in just his fifth year, had more takedowns behind the line this past season than his first four years in the NFL combined. Talk about a breakout performance! With numbers like these and consistent work, one becomes one of the top linebackers in the NFL.
6-4, 272lb (193cm, 123kg)
Team: Minnesota Vikings
September 8, 1992
in Montgomery, AL
College: East Mississippi CC, Kentucky (College Stats)
Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 45 (2096th overall since 1960)
High School: Greenville (AL)
Draft: Baltimore Ravens in the 4th round (122nd overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Twitter: @TheRealZSmith · Instagram: zadariussmith
In his first season with the Minnesota Vikings, after stops in Green Bay and Baltimore, Za’Darius spent a lot of time in the backfield of his opponents. He went back to his more natural position of Outside Linebacker from the Defensive End position that Green Bay had used in 2021 and it paid dividends for the player. 10.0 sacks and 15 Tackles for Loss make a strong case for Mr. Smith.
The Sack-Master Backers in ‘22
The statistic that may get the most attention for those in the linebacker position may be the number of times they get to the QB. These feats stand out and make us take notice of their rise as a top 10 linebacker in the NFL. Here were the leading LBs in the 2022 NFL season in sacks.
6-4, 242lb (193cm, 109kg)
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
August 7, 1997
in Wilmington, NC
College: Charlotte (College Stats)
Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 18 (5929th overall since 1960)
High School: Eugene Ashley (NC)
Draft: Pittsburgh Steelers in the 3rd round (102nd overall) of the 2020 NFL Draft.
This third-year Pittsburgh Steeler defender registered 14-½ sacks and 12 tackles-for-loss, hitting the QB 20 times. The significant part of this is that his bookend on the other side of the Steelers D-line, T.J. Watt, was hampered via injury for half the season, so in those games, the protection was shifted Highsmith’s way, and he still got home!
Haason Samir Reddick
6-1, 235lb (185cm, 106kg)
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
September 22, 1994
in Camden, NJ
College: Temple (College Stats)
Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 37 (2874th overall since 1960)
High School: Haddon Heights (NJ)
Draft: Arizona Cardinals in the 1st round (13th overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Haason appeared to be shot out of a cannon on occasion when the ball was snapped with how well he moved through offensive tackles and Tight Ends to get to the passer. The Eagles had a great season, and their upfront pressure, which included Reddick, was a major factor in their defensive success. His 16.0 sacks led all linebackers for the season.
6-3, 275lb (190cm, 124kg)
Team: New England Patriots
August 15, 1992
in Pontiac, MI
College: Grand Valley St.
Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 55 (1330th overall since 1960)
High School: West Bloomfield (MI)
Draft: Baltimore Ravens in the 5th round (146th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft.
The New England Patriot Outside Linebacker fits Coach Bill Belichick’s scheme well. 15-½ sacks and 60 combined tackles made opposing Offensive Coordinators and Quarterbacks lose some sleep. If Matt Judon can continue double-digit sack years in New England, he may be heading to becoming one of the top NFL linebackers of all time.
Pass Defense LB Leaders
It is of great value to Defensive Coordinators to have linebackers that can stay on the field in passing sub-packages. It is hugely advantageous if you have a backer with the footwork and skillset to cover Tight Ends and Running Backs. Let’s look at some LBs that could get out in space to cover.
Matthew Vincent Milano
6-0, 223lb (183cm, 101kg)
Team: Buffalo Bills
July 28, 1994
in Orlando, FL
College: Boston Col. (College Stats)
Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 50 (1672nd overall since 1960)
High School: Dr. Phillips (FL)
Draft: Buffalo Bills in the 5th round (163rd overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft.
The Buffalo Bills man in the middle was exceptional near the line and could cover a potential receiver too. In 2022 Milano recorded 11 passes defended, including three interceptions—tremendous metrics for a guy in the front 7. His production speaks for itself.
Devin Eric Lloyd
6-3, 235lb (190cm, 106kg)
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
September 30, 1998
in Kansas City, MO
College: Utah (College Stats)
Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 8 (9014th overall since 1960)
High School: Otay Ranch (CA)
Draft: Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1st round (27th overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Twitter: @DevinLloyd_ · Instagram: devinlloyd_
Another Jacksonville linebacker is making the grade in 2022. Lloyd had three picked-off passes himself, with eight total passes defended. And guess what he was in his first year of playing NFL football, and the Jag’s defense was in its first season under a new defensive scheme and coaching. This is one young man to keep an eye on.
Roquan Daevon Smith
6-1, 232lb (185cm, 105kg)
Team: Baltimore Ravens
April 8, 1997
in Montezuma, GA
College: Georgia (College Stats)
Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 53 (1454th overall since 1960)
Draft: Chicago Bears in the 1st round (8th overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Roquan was a beast in 2022 on two teams in two different systems and still showed enough athleticism to have three interceptions on the season. Mr. Smith always seems to be where the ball is, which his recorded stats show. He also tallied 103 solo tackles and six passes defended. He plays like a guy with hair on fire, and his metric numbers pop.
There you have it, ten talented linebackers in the NFL from 2022. As we mentioned earlier, some of the superstars in the position, like Watt and Von Miller, had the injury bug during the season, restricting their overall performance numbers. It will be interesting to see what happens next season as these guys get healthy, the names on the list get better with experience, and a whole new flood of talented linebackers enter the NFL fray through the Draft. We could see some more record-shattering seasons for linebackers on the horizon.
It is a loaded question depending on what criteria you set for the metric of determining the list. You could take any number of these players mentioned, like Milano, Judon, Oluokun, or Smith, and be right on the money. You can also pick men who were not at the top of the statistics this past year and have a valid case for the best in the business. Such is the NFL talent pool; these fellas on the 53-man rosters are exceptional athletes with great NFL smarts.
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