NFL News & Analysis

PFF Linebacker Rankings: Top 32 ahead of the 2023 NFL season

2AM9KFT Santa Clara, California, USA. 11th Jan, 2020. 54 Fred Warner showing some excitement during the NFC Divisional Game, Minnesota Vikings vs. San Francisco 49ers game on January 11, 2020. Credit: Dalton Hamm/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News

• Veterans Lavonte David, Demario Davis displaying no signs of decline: Both rank in Tier 1 after once again showing out in 2022 for the Buccaneers and Saints, respectively.

• 49ers' duo ranks as the NFL's best: Fred Warner takes the top spot in Tier 1, while Dre Greenlaw lands at No. 8 in Tier 2.

• A promising rookie campaign: Detroit's Malcolm Rodriguez, at one of football's toughest positions, cracks the top 32 following a promising first year in the NFL.

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With linebacker traits and responsibilities being so varied from team to team, we decided to not only rank these players but also tier them to give them the appropriate recognition.

Here are the top 32 off-ball linebackers in the NFL heading into the 2023 season.

Other positional rankings:

QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | OG | DI | CB

Tier 1

1. Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers

2. Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

3. Demario Davis, New Orleans Saints

These three off-ball linebackers represent the best of the best. First and foremost, they bring great awareness and playmaking ability in coverage. They are what teams seek out of the modern-day linebacker at the second level for how they can anticipate and react to plays against the run and pass. These three also have longevity on their side with multiple years of high-end play.

The 2022 campaign marked the third season in which Warner recorded an 80.0-plus overall grade, solidifying his case as the top player at his position.

For David, it was his sixth straight season with overall grades and coverage grades above 70.0. His 88.0 coverage grade in 2022 was the second-highest mark of his long career.

Davis, like David, has graded out above 70.0 in every season since 2017, with his 2022 mark of 82.7 being the second highest of his career as well.

Tier 2

4. Matt Milano, Buffalo Bills

5. Roquan Smith, Baltimore Ravens

6. Shaquille Leonard, Indianapolis Colts

7. Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

8. Dre Greenlaw, San Francisco 49ers

9. Tremaine Edmunds, Chicago Bears

The next tier of off-ball linebackers are difference makers as well; they just come in different shapes and sizes.

Milano got the recognition he deserves as one of the most reliable linebackers in the league with grades in the 80s in both pass rush and coverage.

Smith and Leonard have the two biggest contracts in the NFL for the off-ball position. Smith elevated the entire Ravens' defense once he arrived in Baltimore this past season via trade, and though Leonard missed a lot of 2022 due to injury, he remains a playmaker.

Wagner was PFF’s highest-graded linebacker in 2022, posting a 90.7 overall grade. Though he isn’t as athletic as he used to be, his anticipation and football IQ continue to put him in the right spots to make an impact.

Greenlaw and Edmunds are two of the more athletically gifted linebackers in the league. They could always get sideline to sideline, but their athletic ability didn’t translate to good coverage play before 2022, a season in which both took massive leaps in that category. Greenlaw went from a 62.9 coverage grade in 2021 to an 82.7 coverage grade in 2022. Edmunds went from a 34.6 coverage grade in 2021 to a 90.7 coverage grade in 2022 with just 7.8 yards per reception allowed and 10 passes defended.

Tier 3

10. T.J. Edwards, Chicago Bears

11. Nick Bolton, Kansas City Chiefs

12. Eric Kendricks, Los Angeles Chargers

13. Frankie Luvu, Carolina Panthers

14. David Long Jr., Miami Dolphins

This tier consists of really solid players. Edwards has some athletic limitations that have hampered his productivity in the past. But in 2022, his anticipation and recognition allowed him to be a reliable playmaker in all facets. His pass-rush, run-defense and coverage grades were all above 78.0.

Bolton improved on a solid rookie season to a 77.3 overall grade in 2022, thanks to a big jump in coverage. His passer rating allowed when targeted was down, as was his yards per coverage snap allowed.

Kendricks, while he isn’t the elite linebacker he used to be, is a smart second-level player.

Luvu looked like he was about to put himself in the conversation as one of the best linebackers of 2022 with how he was playing early on. He was a top-tier run defender, earning an 89.5 run-defense grade.

Long took a big leap forward. He finished the 2022 season with a career-high 76.1 overall grade to go with an 89.0 run-defense grade. His numbers were up across the board in almost every category.

Tier 4

15. De’Vondre Campbell, Green Bay Packers

16. Ja’Whaun Bentley, New England Patriots

17. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Cleveland Browns

18. Foyesade Oluokun, Jacksonville Jaguars

19. C.J. Mosley, New York Jets

Campbell had a career year in almost every category in 2021 and followed it up with a solid year in 2022. His run-defense grade dipped to 53.2, but his pass-rush and coverage marks were both above 70.0 once again.

Bentley had another strong season as a run defender, though his jump in coverage grade to a 72.2 mark is what really rounded out his game.

Owusu-Koramoah has shown flashes of really good second-level play. In 2021, he was a solid run defender. This past season, he was even better in coverage. 2023 could be the year he really puts it all together.

Oluokun improved in coverage in 2022, his Achilles' heel in 2021, with more solo stops and a lower average depth of target. But his completion percentage allowed (81.7%) and open-target percentage (70.7%) were still high.

Mosley’s time in New York has been up and down. It started off great, but a groin injury forced him to miss most of 2019. He then opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. He looked rusty in 2021, essentially his first time playing in two years, but was better in 2022.

Tier 5

20. Germaine Pratt, Cincinnati Bengals

21. Shaq Thompson, Carolina Panthers

22. Azeez Al-Shaair, Tennessee Titans

23. Bobby Okereke, New York Giants

24. Logan Wilson, Cincinnati Bengals

This tier highlights talented players, though ones who can be inconsistent.

Pratt graded out well on the surface level but actually finished the season with more negatively graded plays than positive ones. Still, it was a step in the right direction for him, going from a 46.1 coverage grade in 2021 to an 89.5 grade this past season.

Thompson shined as a run defender in 2022, earning a 90.2 run-defense grade, but his coverage grade dipped from a 72.6 last season to a 57.4 mark in 2022. His 74.3% completion percentage allowed and 64.9% open-target percentage were high.

Al-Shaair was strong at the line of scrimmage this past season en route to 80.0-plus grades as a run defender and a pass rusher.

Okereke also took a leap in run defense with a career-high 78.5 grade.

As for Wilson, he improved on his coverage impact this past season, just not quite as much as his teammate Pratt.

Tier 6

25. Devin White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

26. Patrick Queen, Baltimore Ravens

27. Willie Gay Jr., Kansas City Chiefs

This is the all-athlete tier. White, Queen and Gay are all speed players you want attacking the line of scrimmage, pursuing ball carriers to the sideline through space. When they play that kind of downhill style, their skill sets shine. But when it comes to their coverage ability, they could all stand to be more consistent.

White’s 44.9 coverage grade in 2022 was one of the lower marks of any off-ball linebacker in that category. He does have a cumulative 76.7 pass-rush grade over the past three seasons, signaling that his best work is done when focusing on the line of scrimmage and backfield.

Queen finished the 2022 campaign with a 71.9 coverage grade, but a lot of those good coverage games were the result of Roquan Smith's arrival.

Gay doesn’t have as much coverage responsibility as his teammate Bolton, but when he was asked to cover, he yielded high completion and open-target rates.

Tier 7

28. Jerome Baker, Miami Dolphins

29. Alex Singleton, Denver Broncos

30. Malcolm Rodriguez, Detroit Lions

31. Cole Holcomb, Pittsburgh Steelers

32. Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas Cowboys

These final five, and plenty of other linebackers who just missed this list, represent the players who might not be major difference-makers but still raise the floor of their defenses with solid play at the second level.

Both Baker (74.9) and Singleton (79.1) are coming off the highest-graded seasons of their careers. For Baker, that came from a near-elite 87.9 pass-rush grade. And for Singleton, that came from elevating his coverage grade from 40.1 in 2021 to 73.0 in 2022.

Rodriguez played well enough to earn starting reps as the season progressed, an impressive feat for a sixth-round rookie.

Meanwhile, Holcomb and Vander Esch were steady presences for their defenses.

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