The middle linebacker is responsible for being the quarterback of the defense. This article will rank the top 10 middle linebackers of all time with detailed explanations as to why they rank in their respective spots.
5. Joe Schmidt
Joe Schmidt was an eight time first team all pro, and was selected as one for six consecutive years from 1954-1959. Schmidt also finished top five in the MVP twice during his career.
Schmidt was an all around force at the position having elite speed and scary power when he was shedding blocks or tackling the ball carrier. Schmidt was also great in pass coverage where he totaled 24 interceptions in his career.
Schmidt helped revolutionize the middle linebacker position because of his agility and awareness at the position. He would also help the Detroit Lions win two NFL Championships in 1953 and 1957.
4. Willie Lanier
Willie Lanier was the leader of the great Kansas City Chiefs defenses of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was selected as a first team all pro three times during his career and helped the Chiefs win Super Bowl IV.
Lanier was the first African-American middle linebacker, and paved the way for the next generation of middle linebackers. He was an absolute heat seeking missile when he arrived at the ball and would punish the ball carrier.
Lanier also was exceptional in pass coverage as he had great awareness and agility to drop in pass coverage over the middle as he totaled 27 career interceptions.
3. Jack Lambert
Jack Lambert might have the best look that fits his position with he front teeth knocked out and cowboy collar. Lambert was an absolutely devastating tackler when he met the ball carrier. Lambert also was great in pass coverage and fast enough to stop the outside run.
Lambert was a six time first team all pro, and was selected for one five consecutive seasons from 1979-1983. Lambert also won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1974 and won Defensive Player of the Year in 1976 and finished second in MVP voting.
Lambert totaled 28 career interceptions, recovered 17 fumbles in his career, and totaled 23.5 unofficial sacks, which prove his ability to affect every aspect of the game. He also led the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl wins in six seasons.
2. Dick Butkus
Dick Butkus was the standard of the position for almost half a decade. The first, and maybe still be the best ever, middle linebacker that could cover like a safety. He was also the hardest hitting linebacker of his era and teams feared him.
Butkus was selected as first team all pro five times during his career. Butkus also had elite speed and agility which was proven by the fact he was always at the ball. He recovered 27 fumbles in his career, and had 22 career interceptions.
Butkus was number one for a long time before the new number one dethroned him, and it is mostly due to Butkus’ shorter career.
1. Ray Lewis
The absolute prototype of the middle linebacker position. Lewis had elite speed and agility, hard hitting, great in pass coverage and against the run, and had the heart to lead a defense to two Super Bowls.
He would win Defensive Player of the Year twice during his career and a Super Bowl MVP. Lewis was selected as a first team all pro seven times during his career. Lewis also led the league in tackling three times during his career and is the NFL all time leading tackler.
Lewis totalled 31 career interceptions, 41.5 sacks, forced 19 fumbles, and recovered 20. The total package at the position and his stats back it up. His longevity is also unmatched at the position.