We all love best-of lists, but what if people around the NFL created their own? To preview the 2022 NFL season, we surveyed more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help us stack the top 10 players at 11 different positions, from edge rusher to interior offensive lineman. This is the third edition of these rankings, and there are several players who moved up or dropped from last year’s lists. Thursday, we focus on the linebackers.
Here’s how our process worked: Voters gave us their best 10 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, hundreds of interviews, research and film-study help from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. In total, more than 50 voters submitted a ballot on at least one position, and in many cases all positions. We had several ties, so we broke them with the help of additional voting and follow-up calls with our rankers. Each section is packed with quotes and nuggets from the voters on every guy — even the honorable mentions.
The objective is to identify the best players right now for 2022. This is not a five-year projection or an achievement award. Who are the best players today? Pretty simple.
We’ll roll out a position per day over 11 days. Here’s the schedule: edge rushers (July 5), defensive tackles (July 6), off-ball linebackers (July 7), cornerbacks (July 8), safeties (July 9), interior offensive linemen (July 10), quarterbacks (July) 11), running backs (July 12), wide receivers (July 13), tight ends (July 14) and offensive tackles (July 15).
Racking up tackles doesn’t get a linebacker high on this list. What matters most to league execs, coaches, scouts and players when evaluating the NFL’s top linebackers is how they affect game plans — and how often they create turnovers.
Splash plays are paramount at the “stack” or off-ball linebacker position. That helps explain the top two in the voting: One is imperfect but elite at getting the ball back to his offense, the other is so good at sacking quarterbacks he might not even be an off-the-ball linebacker a year from now.
The position is lacking in undeniable stars. The depth of playmaking is strong, however, with more than 20 players garnering at least one vote. Plus, several 30-year-olds are still playing at a high level. Let’s look at some of the game’s top linebackers as ranked by execs, coaches, scouts and players around the NFL.