While NFL games are often won and lost in the trenches, it’s the linebackers who are typically the biggest stars of the defense. They are usually the ones racking up tackles and sacks and putting up eye-popping numbers. Of course, with teams focusing on the linebacker position more than ever, it’s getting harder and harder to pick out the best linebackers in the NFL in 2021.
Best Linebackers in 2021
While pass rushers still get most of the credit on top-tier defenses, the best linebackers this season will play in the middle of the field and be effective against both the run and the pass. With that in mind, let’s take a look at our ranking of the best linebackers in 2021.
10. Myles Jack, Jaguars
Myles Jack has fallen off the radar a little since he was a huge part of the Jacksonville defense that took the Jags to the AFC Championship Game in 2017.
Remember when Myles Jack played both defense AND OFFENSE at UCLA?
This is "THE BEST"! pic.twitter.com/JBXWywr0Sq
— SB Nation (@SBNation) August 9, 2018
However, he’s still one of the most athletic linebackers in the league. Jack is one of the few true sideline-to-sideline linebackers in the NFL, so he beats out a slew of other worthy contenders for the final spot on our top-10 list.
9. Demario Davis, Saints
Heading into his 10th season in the league, Demario Davis has somehow never been selected to the Pro Bowl.
Of course, he’s been an All-Pro selection in back-to-back seasons, so he’s starting to get the credit he deserves. Since he plays inside, Davis doesn’t get more than a few sacks per season. But he covers plenty of ground in the middle of the field, forcing fumbles, getting pass deflections, and averaging more than 100 tackles per season for his career.
8. Devin White, Buccaneers
After just two seasons we’re convinced that Devin White is one of the premier linebackers in the league.
From his inside linebacker position, he was able to amass nine sacks last season. That’s a lot of sacks from a player who isn’t a bonafide pass rusher while also racking up 97 solo tackles. The scary part is that he has a chance to get even better.
7. Deion Jones, Falcons
Few linebackers can cover ground the way Deion Jones does. He missed most of 2018 with an injury but has come back strong in each of the past two years.
Highest single-season coverage grade by a LB since 2017:
🔒 Fred Warner (2020) – 91.1
🔒 Lavonte David (2019) – 91.1
🔒 Deion Jones ((2017) – 91.1 pic.twitter.com/ENkwH3DwLX
— PFF (@PFF) February 4, 2021
The overall struggles of the Atlanta defense cost him a lot of the recognition deserves. But there’s no doubt that this guy can play, even racking up 4.5 sacks last season to add to his skillset.
6. Lavonte David, Buccaneers
Lavonte David is another great linebacker who’s been overlooked for most of his career. With the Bucs winning the Super Bowl last year, he finally started to get the attention he deserves. He’s played nine seasons in Tampa Bay and barely missed a game while also setting multiple franchise records. When you consider the lineage of great defensive players the Bucs have had over the past 20 years, that’s impressive.
5. Roquan Smith, Bears
Few linebackers can step onto the field as a rookie and make the difference that Roquan Smith made for the Bears in 2018.
He’s since become the definition of consistency in the middle of the Chicago defense. The numbers aren’t always eye-catching, but just watch him and you’ll see the profound difference he makes for the Bears.
4. Eric Kendricks, Vikings
It’s almost impossible to find a more consistent linebacker than Eric Kendricks. He’s spent six seasons in the league, started almost every game he’s played, and just keeps producing.
#Vikings Eric Kendricks lands at 70.
— VikingNations (@VikingNations) August 15, 2021
He doesn’t get after the quarterback much, but he’ll patrol the middle of the field with reckless abandon and drop into covered when needed. He’s another player that you have to watch to appreciate what he does and how hard he hits.
3. Darius Leonard, Colts
There are players who are described as a “tackle machine” and then there’s Darius Leonard.
Calling him such doesn’t do justice to what he brings to the field.
The guy goes all over the field and does everything. Obviously, he racks up tackles like few others can do, but he also has seven interceptions and 15 sacks over his first three seasons in the league. Leonard makes a difference in every aspect of the game, which is why he’s been an All-Pro in all three of his years in the NFL.
2. Fred Warner, 49ers
It’s hard to envision the San Francisco defense being as good as it’s been these past few years without Fred Warner in the middle of everything.
He got a massive extension this past offseason because the 49ers recognize that he’s the engine that makes the rest of the defense operate so efficiently. Warner helps to get everyone in the right spot while also making plays all over the field.
1. Bobby Wagner, Seahawks
For linebackers of this generation, Bobby Wagner is essentially the Godfather of the position.
Russell Wilson says every morning on the field at #Seahawks HQ, 5:45-6am, he and rookie WR D’Wayne Eskridge go over plays. Bobby Wagner is usually the other player on the field then, jumping rope or working out.
“There’s still dew on the ground,” Wilson says. pic.twitter.com/gdvkFD7jlQ
— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) August 18, 2021
He’s played nine seasons and is still at the top of his game. Wagner has gone to the last seven Pro Bowls and was named to the 2010s All-Decade Team. He still hits as hard as he ever has and covers enough ground to lead the NFL in tackles in both 2016 and 2019. Even at age 31, Wagner is still the best linebacker in the NFL in 2021.