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 for why they rank in their respective spots.
10. Sam Huff
Sam Huff was the first famous defensive star due to playing with the New York Giants. He once appeared on the cover of Time Magazine, but don’t let the celebrity image fool you into thinking he couldn’t play.
Huff was a two-time first-team all-pro and twice finished top five in the MVP twice as well. Huff was one of the first, middle linebackers as we know them today. The size and power to stop the inside run and meet fullbacks in the hole and the speed and agility to get to sweeps and outside runs.
Huff was also one of the best coverage linebackers of all time, totaling 30 career interceptions. Huff would also lead the New York Giants to a world championship in 1956.
9. Patrick Willis
As a rookie, Patrick Willis established himself as one of the best middle linebackers in the league. He won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007 and was named as a first-team all-pro. Willis would also be named a first-team all-pro in four of the next five years.
An absolutely devastating hitter with the speed of a safety, Willis wreaked havoc when he arrived at the ball. Willis was also a great coverage linebacker using his agility and awareness. Willis was one of the most secure tacklers in the open field due to his strength and athleticism.
Willis would lead the league in tackles in two of his first three years in the league. The only thing keeping Willis from ranking higher on this list is that he retired early after only eight seasons.
8. Ray Nitschke
Ray Nitschke was one of the toughest and hardest-hitting players ever to play. Leading the Green Bay Packers defensive for 15 seasons, twice being named first team all pro, and also won five NFL Championships in 1961, 1962, and 1965-1967)
Nitschke was known as the leader of one of the best defenses of all time. He also had the strength to stop the inside running game and was an excellent pass-coverage linebacker shown by his 25 career interceptions.
Nitschke could also rush the passer when asked to do so, totaling 16.0 unofficial career sacks. Overall, Nitschke defined his era of football and how to play the middle linebacker position.
7. Mike Singletary
Mike Singletary was selected as a first-team all-pro seven times in eight years from 1984-1991. During the same stretch, he won Defensive Player of the Year twice in 1985 and 1988.
Singletary was one of the greatest linebackers ever at stopping the run and led the greatest defensive team in NFL history in the 85’ Chicago Bears to a victory in Super Bowl XX. Singletary could also be a great pass rusher when asked.
He totaled 19.0 career sacks, and when he did arrive at the quarterback, it was not a pretty sight. The only thing keeping Singletary from being higher on this list is that his pass coverage was average and definitely worse than the players above him.
6. Bill George
Another Chicago Bears middle linebacker comes in at number 6 on this list, and he won’t be the last Chicago Bear, either. Bill George was selected as a first-team all-pro seven times in a row from 1955-1961 and added another in 1963.
George played a total of 15 seasons in the NFL and never missed a start for the first 10. George was one of the complete middle linebackers of all time. He had excellent speed and power, being able to stop both inside runs and sweeps to the outside.
George was also great in pass coverage totaling 18 career interceptions. He could also rush the passer better than any middle linebacker to play, totaling 28.5 unofficial sacks. Sam Huff was one of the first, but Bill George was the inventor of the 4-3 defense and the position of a middle linebacker, so it’s only right that he ranks on this list.