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Mike Backer: Ranking the NFC West Linebackers

Football has arrived, but we continue our offseason countdown.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

If you want to keep up with the series, here is last weeks list.

Last week was the closest poll in the last three weeks. Rams fans came out in full force, edging out Seattle 104 (42%) to 103 (41%). The Cardinals finished third with 23 votes (9%), with the 49ers rounding it out with 20 votes (8%). There were 250 total voters.

Two more lists to go. That’s it. Our NFC West brethren cannot wait to get rid of me. I’m sorry ROTB, you’re still stuck with me. Following the conclusion of this linebackers list, I cannot wait to begin my work with the secondaries. I think that certainly has the talent to be a three race horse for the top spot on here.

The Cardinals make their way to camp this weekend, while the rest of the NFC West reports next week. Football is finally in the air!

San Francisco 49ers: Fourth

Yes, Reuben Foster has the potential to be something special. That’s undeniable. But everyone else on this sheet is a question mark.

For starters, Navorro Bowman is returning from his second major injury in three years. During the 49ers week four game against the Dallas Cowboys, Bowman tore his Achilles late in the third quarter. Bowman suffered an ACL and MCL tear in the 2013/2014 Championship game, forcing him to miss the entirety of the 2014 season. Then you have all the speculation surrounding Bowman this offseason. Initially, there were the trade rumors, which the 49ers shot down. Then came the report from The Santa Rosa Press Democrat believed he would be cut. David Fucillo at Niners Nation disputed their belief.

Ray-Ray Armstrong will also be returning from the IR. Armstrong tore his pectoral muscle in the teams second game. He had racked up 69 snaps prior to the injury, serving as a backup linebacker and special teamer in 2016. He re-signed with the 49ers to a two-year deal this past offseason.

Ahmad Brooks will transition into a 4-3 defense at age 33. He’s the projected starter as we head into camp, but should be pushed by 2015 third-round selection Eli Harold. Harold making the same transition. Both will line up off the ball in base defense but move to defensive end in nickel .packages

Elvis Dumervil is on the wrong side of 30. The 33-year-old only managed three sacks in 2016 for the Ravens and will be looking to rebound this year. He’s the projected “Leo” in the new 49ers defense. The 49ers signed him for two years, with the hope that he has something left in the tank.

The former Alabama star, Reuben Foster, was the second addition to the teams very strong first round. Foster suffered a set back in offseason work with his shoulder but should be a full participant in training camp. If Foster does go full speed, he will be a threat to Malcolm Smith and the WLB starting role.

Aaron Lynch reported to offseason workouts 20 pounds overweight. When workouts came to a close, Shanahan was happy with the progress Lynch showed. Lynch is still listed as an LB on the 49ers official roster, but 49ers DC Robert Saleh has said he wants Lynch’s hand in the dirt at all times.

The 49ers finish last due to age, inexperience, and injury concerns. If Bowman comes back healthy and ready, Foster starts day one, and Dumervil still has something in the tank, the 49ers have a dangerous linebacking corps in 2017.

Los Angeles Rams: Third

Another third place finish for the Rams. I know there are some that will call me out for putting them third or fourth on a weekly basis. But do the Rams deserve to be higher?

Mark Barron, the safety turned linebacker earned a five-year, 45 million dollar deal back in 2016. Barron was productive in 2016, racking up 117 tackles, a sack, and two interceptions. Barrons speed and athleticism partners nicely with fellow inside backer Alec Ogletree.

Ogletree enters a contract year, which tends to draw out the best in players. Ogletree bounced back from a leg injury he suffered against the Cardinals in 2015, racking up 137 tackles, and two picks. He will play too aggressive at times, but with Wade Philips running the defense, he could find a way to calm down the talented linebacker.

Robert Quinn will be counted on this season as well. Quinn has not played a full season since 2014, a year after his 19 sack performance. Quinn will make the transition from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker under Phillips. Opposite him should be 30-year-old Connor Barwin.

Barwin gets to play with Wade Phillips once again, whom he played under in Houston. Barwin played as a defensive end under Jim Schwartz defense in Philadelphia, a position he thought did not fit him. If Barwin can perform at an average level, it could help a young Rams team out of the NFC West cellar.

Josh Forrest returns from the IR, with an opportunity to be the teams third or fourth backer.

While the Rams don’t have a potential elite linebacker on their roster, they do have guys who have produced in the NFL. Barwin has had double digit sack seasons, Quinn has too. Both Barron and Ogletree are talented. They are both athletic weapons that Phillips has at his full disposal. The addition of one of the best coordinators in the NFL should bring the talent all together, and could very well catapult the Rams to the top of this list.

Arizona Cardinals: Second

Cardinals LB's

Name Overall Grade Run Grade Coverage Grade Pass Grade Snaps
Name Overall Grade Run Grade Coverage Grade Pass Grade Snaps
Tre'Von Johnson - - - - -
Haason Reddick - - - - -
Alex Bazzie - - - - -
Cap Capi - - - - -
Chandler Jones 87.1 73.4 74.2 86.8 939
Markus Golden 80 83.1 64.1 76 762
Jarvis Jones 74.6 74.6 76.3 65.3 500
Karlos Dansby 70.3 72.2 64.1 54.2 782
Deone Bucannon 61.8 34.3 84.6 49.7 819
Alani Fua 60 60 60 60 1
Gabe Martin 57.8 50.9 67 55.2 19
Kareem Martin 51.5 56.6 53 60.3 33
Zavier Gooden 48.3 42.7 71 58.3 27

One thing separates the Cardinals from second and third. The Cardinals linebackers produced in 2016. While the team might have the best duo of outside linebackers, they have some questions in the interior.

Chandler Jones and Markus Golden had double digit sacks in 2016. Easily one of the teams lone bright spots in a disappointing season. Both players complement each other very well. With another offseason to work together and a revived focus from the whole team, both players could be in line for another good season.

The concerns start inside. Yes, the team has Karlos Dansby. Yes, they have Deone Bucannon. And yes, they have Haason Reddick. All three players come with questions.

Karlos Dansby is a 35-year-old veteran who is likely on his last team. He managed to play 782 snaps in 2016. Dansby will likely start for the Cardinals, at least for the first few games.

Deone Bucannon will open camp on the PUP list most likely, and may not be ready to start the season. Bucannon had an up and down season in 2016, as did the entire team. The Cardinals did pick up his 2018 option, so even if he cannot crack the starting lineup for some odd reason, the team will have another opportunity come 2018.

Haason Reddick was the Cardinals first round pick. Reddick was a huge winner of the draft process, who quickly rose from a relative unknown to a “Who is this guy and where did he come from?”. Time will tell if Reddick can live up to the draft process hype, but he will be given every opportunity with Bucannon mending his ankle.

Jarvis Jones comes in to fill the role that Alex Okafor left open. Jones will not post gaudy sack numbers, but he can set the edge and force a runner back inside, allowing the Cardinals line to take care of him.

Scooby Wright will fill as a special teamer but could find his way onto the field as a fourth inside linebacker.

The Cardinals have a talented unit, but because of the concerns at inside linebacker, they fall just shy of the number one spot.

Seattle Seahawks: First

Seahawks LB's

Name Overall Grade Run Grade Coverage Grade Pass Grade Snaps
Name Overall Grade Run Grade Coverage Grade Pass Grade Snaps
Kache Palacio - - - - -
Otha Peters - - - - -
Ronald Powell - - - - -
Nick Usher - - - - -
Bobby Wagner 90.8 91.8 78.3 75.8 1195
KJ Wright 86 86.3 79.4 67.8 1174
Dewey McDonald 74.4 77.2 60 57.1 7
Arthur Brown 64.3 60.2 64.6 60 6
Terence Garvin 49.8 47.8 58.5 60.6 68
Kevin Pierre-Lewis 49 59.6 49 52.2 72
Mchael Wilhoite 35.3 27.4 73.6 65.1 570

If the Cardinals have two of the better outside duos, the Seahawks field one of the best inside duos.

Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright finished in the top 10 of PFF’s linebackers. Both are excellent in coverage and can stop the run. Wright posted 126 tackles, and four sacks in 2016, career highs in both categories. Wagner played only his second full 16 game slate. But that just meant he had more time to destroy everyone. He posted a whopping 167 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Both players complement each other very well on the field.

The Seahawks added Michael Wilhoite from the 49ers. Wilhoite graded with a 65.1 pass defense grade, one of the worst in the league. Wilhoite has an opportunity to start in Seattle but offers little in terms of longevity.

Terence Garvin was added through free agency as well and offers little more than a standout special teams weapon. He played 68 snaps in 2016.

Dewey McDonald the safety turned linebacker played only seven snaps but produced on special teams.

The Seahawks run a 4-3 scheme, so having both Wright and Wagner on the field already makes them a threat. While Wilhoite could be a liability, the Seahawks have guys who could be capable fill ins if that arises.

And then there were two. I sit down and look at the secondaries next week, and follow that up with the special team's units. We are mere days away from football now, and I cannot begin to describe just how excited I am.

What say you? Was I wrong this week? Does your team deserve to sit higher? Let me know in the comments and vote in the poll!


Who has the best linebackers in the NFC West?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Arizona Cardinals
    (99 votes)
  • 7%
    Los Angeles Rams
    (25 votes)
  • 8%
    San Francisco 49ers
    (28 votes)
  • 54%
    Seattle Seahawks
    (179 votes)
331 votes total Vote Now