Ranking linebackers, team-by-team
Mike Tanier / FootballOutsiders.com
2 Aug. 2006
Brian Urlacher has exceptional range, uncanny instincts, and great timing when he blitzes. He's not the best linebacker in the league at stacking inside running plays, but he's solid in pass coverage and a sure tackler. Lance Briggs led the league in Pass Stops last year (42) and had more total Stops (86) than Urlacher (80). Briggs is currently in Lovie Smith's doghouse for skipping a voluntary minicamp in a contract dispute, but he'll be back in the lineup when the games matter.
The rest of the Bears linebackers are nothing special, but there is depth here. Hunter Hillenmeyer is a good run defender who doesn't make many mistakes. Rookie Jamar Williams may be the top backup this season.
In two or three years, A.J. Hawk and Abdul Hodge will be enforcers in the mold of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. In 2006, however, they'll take their rookie lumps. Both youngsters are quick studies who will improve as the season goes on. Nick Barnett looked like a top prospect in 2003 but hasn't developed. Free-agent Ben Taylor is a top run defender who may start over Hodge at the start of the year. Backup Bobby Poppinga is a special teams ace.
E.J. Henderson is an adequate run defender who must leave the field on passing downs. Ben Leber, a free agent who played in San Diego's 3-4 scheme, is a stack-and-fill defender coming off a foot injury. Dontarrious Thomas is currently listed as the starter in the middle, but Thomas is a nickel backer at best; his average tackle in 2005 came a league-high 8.6 yards downfield. Napoleon Harris, a free agent bust last season, will get a chance to unseat Thomas. If rookie Chad Greenway develops quickly, he'll play the Will position and Henderson will move inside.
Bad teams are bad because they don't develop the talent they acquire. Take the Lions (please). Boss Bailey and Teddy Lehman were collegiate superstars who flashed big-play potential in their rookie seasons, but neither player had progressed beyond the "prospect" stage, and both are coming off injuries. New coordinator Donnie Henderson will try to get more from them than the past coaching staff did. Rookie Ernie Sims, the likely starter on the weak side, has outstanding speed but suffered at least six concussions in college. He's athletic, undisciplined, and always hurt Ã¢â‚¬â€ sounds like a Lions linebacker.