The Greatest Linebackers In NFL History

Football | 8/10/22

Imagine being chased by a man weighing 300lbs who runs like a wide receiver. NFL linebackers have taken a healthy pleasure at blitzing and sacking quarterbacks, and the NFL has seen many elite linebackers over the years– these are the players who are considered the best of all time. See who made the list!

Mike Singletary

For over a decade, Mike Singletary terrorized opposing quarterbacks. The 10-time Pro Bowler, won a Super Bowl with the 1985 Chicago Bears, one of the greatest defensive teams ever.

Mike Singletary
David Madison/Getty Images
David Madison/Getty Images

Look into his eyes, even today, and you can see fire as if he is ready to play.

Brian Urlacher

In 12 NFL seasons, all with the Chicago Bears, Brian Urlacher has 41.5 QB sacks. The 2000 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, has 8 Pro Bowl selections.

Brian Urlacher
Leon Halip/Getty Images
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Urlacher was the 2005 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and was inducted into the Pro Hall of Fame 2018 class.

Ray Nitschke

When discussing linebackers who impacted the game, not many did it as well as Ray Nitschke. Nitschke won 7 championships, 5 NFL championships, and 2 Super Bowls.

Ray Nitschke
Getty Images/Archive
Getty Images/Archive

Nitschke’s 12 year career was entirely with the Green Bay Packers and is a 1978 Pro Ball Hall of Fame inductee.

Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith, a 2008 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, was a part of a Buffalo Bills team that went to 4 straight Super Bowls.

Bruce Smith
Richard Schultz/NFLPhotoLibrary
Richard Schultz/NFLPhotoLibrary

Smith holds the NFL record for career quarterback sacks, most seasons with 1+ sacks per game, and most seasons with 10 sacks or more.

Dick Butkus

Injuries shortened the brilliant career of Dick Butkus. Butkus only played nine seasons, all with the Bears, and went to the Pro Bowl eight times.

GettyImages-78197580
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Butkus was also selected for the 1979 Pro Football Hall of Fame and made the Chicago Bears’ top 100 players of all-time list. Chicago retired Butkus’ #51 jersey.

Deacon Jones

Only Bruce Smith and the late Reggie White have more sacks than Deacon Jones in NFL history.

Deacon Jones
Getty Images/Archive
Getty Images/Archive

Jones holds NFL records for most fifteen sack seasons (six), and 20 sack seasons (three). Jones is the NFL record-holder of having more than two sack titles (league leader), with five.

Zach Thomas

Zach Thomas was not built like a linebacker but was one of the NFL’s greatest ever at that position.

Zach Thomas
Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images
Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

Twelve of Thomas’ thirteen seasons were played for the Miami Dolphins, and he was selected during that time to the Pro Bowl seven times. Thomas had over 1,700 tackles.

Ray Lewis

Ray Lewis was the first, and only, NFL player to ever register a career 40 sacks and 30 interceptions. Lewis’ 2000 Baltimore Ravens are one of the best defensive teams in NFL history.

Ray Lewis
Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images
Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images

Baltimore allowed the fewest yards, recorded the most shutouts, and allowed the fewest points.

Lawrence Taylor

Hearing the name “LT” should immediately bring to mind one of the all-time most elite players, Lawrence Taylor.

Lawrence Taylor
Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images
Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images

Taylor is the last defensive player to win the league’s MVP Award. Taylor finished his career ninth all-time in sacks. LT’s New York Giants won two Super Bowl championships.

Reggie White

Only one player was nicknamed the “Minister of Defense”, and that was Reggie White. White recorded the second most sacks in NFL history.

Reggie White
George Gojkovich/Getty Images
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

White defensively guided his 1996 Green Bay Packers to win Super Bowl XXI. White has an NFL record nine straight seasons with 10+ sacks.

Aaron Donald

Aaron Donald is still playing and won Super Bowl LVI in 2021. Donald has also only played eight NFL seasons, yet rightfully is on the list as one of the greatest NFL linebackers in history.

Aaron Donald
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Donald has made the NFL Pro Bowl all eight seasons of his career.

JJ Watt

J.J. Watt registered the most 20+ sacks seasons, with two, an NFL record currently. Watt is still an active NFL player, but his career has been riddled with serious injuries.

JJ Watt
Steven Ryan/Getty Images
Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Watt and Reggie White are the only players to ever have four seasons with at least fifteen sacks.

Chuck Bednarik

Chuck Bednarik is a member of the 1967 Pro Football Hall of Fame class. Bednarik was the last two-way player, center on offense, and linebacker on defense.

GettyImages-110334435
Sporting News via Getty Images/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images
Sporting News via Getty Images/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

Bednarik has two NFL championships, both with the Philadelphia Eagles. The bruising lineman retired with eight NFL Pro Bowl selections.

Junior Seau

Junior Seau played a remarkable 20 seasons in the NFL and made the Pro Bowl twelve times.

Junior Seau
Matt A. Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Matt A. Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Seau was the 1992 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and won the 1994 NFL Man of the Year Award. Seau was elected to the Pro Bowl Hall of Fame in 2015.

Derrick Thomas

Derrick Thomas anchored the Kansas City Chiefs defense in all eleven seasons of his career. Thomas is still the current NFL record-holder for sacks in one game, with his seven sacks.

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Earl Richardson/Allsport/Getty Images
Earl Richardson/Allsport/Getty Images

Thomas retired as the Chiefs’ all-time leader in sacks, safeties, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, and defensive touchdowns.

Ted Hendricks

Ted Hendricks entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990 as one of the greatest linebackers ever but was originally drafted as a Tight End on offense.

Ted Hendricks
Ross Lewis/Getty Images
Ross Lewis/Getty Images

Hendricks made the NFL Pro Bowl team eight times and won four Super Bowl titles. Hendricks was NFL’s first-ever Guatemalan player.

Jack Lambert

Jack Lambert played a major role on one of the NFL’s greatest and most intimidating defensive teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers, better known as the “Steel Curtain”.

Jack Lambert
George Gojkovich/Getty Images
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Lambert was inducted in 1990 to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Lambert’s Steelers dominated the NFL winning four Super Bowl championships.

Kevin Greene

Kevin Greene was a problem for offensive coaches to plan against. Greene was the league’s sack leader twice in his career, and is third all-time among NFL career sack leaders.

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Harry Scull Jr /Allsport/Getty Images
Harry Scull Jr /Allsport/Getty Images

Greene won the 1996 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award, and was a five-time NFL Pro Bowl selection.

Demarcus Ware

Demarcus Ware retired as the Dallas Cowboys all-time leader in sacks with 117. Ware won Super Bowl 50 as a member of the Denver Broncos and made two of nine NFL Pro Bowl selections, playing for Denver.

Demarcus Ware
John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images
John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Ware’s tied for most NFL sack leader seasons with two.

James Harrison

James Harrison was a mean, intimidating, volatile defensive player. Harrison’s nastiness on defense and toughness were the driving force behind the Pittsburgh Steelers winning Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII.

James Harrison
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Harrison is the Steelers’ all-time sacks leader with 80.5. Harrison was a five-time Pro Bowl selection.

Rickey Jackson

Rickey Jackson helped revolutionize the linebacker position. Jackson defended by focusing less on the traditional sacks and led the NFL four times in forced fumbles.

Rickey Johnson
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints placed Jackson in their Hall of Fame, but he won his only Super Bowl (XXIX) playing for the Dallas Cowboys.

Terrell Suggs

The NFL career of Terrell Suggs spanned sixteen seasons, fifteen of which playing for the Baltimore Ravens. Suggs ignited the Ravens defensively to two Super Bowls (XLVII, LIV).

Terrell Suggs
R. Diamond/WireImage/Getty Images/Archive
R. Diamond/WireImage/Getty Images/Archive

Suggs won the 2003 NFL Rookie of the Year Award and the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year with Baltimore.

Cornelius Bennett

Despite losing four-straight Super Bowls, Cornelius Bennett and the Buffalo Bills had one of the greatest teams in NFL history.

Cornelius Bennett
Rick Stewart /Allsport/Getty Images/Archive
Rick Stewart /Allsport/Getty Images/Archive

Bennett dominated defensively for the Bills and was selected 5-times to the NFL Pro-Bowl during his thirteen-year career. Bennett played eight seasons for Buffalo, alongside Bills legend Bruce Smith.

Robert Brazile

Named the 1975 NFL Rookie of the Year, Robert Brazile’s career only got better with time. Brazile was selected to the NFL Pro Bowl 7-times in nine career seasons, all with the Houston Oilers.

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Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Brazile, affectionately nicknamed “Dr. Doom”, entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.

London Fletcher

Though he was not made of iron, London Fletcher’s “Ironman” streak, made him one of the NFL’s only five players to ever play in over 250 consecutive games.

San Diego Chargers v Washington
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Fletcher won in Super Bowl XXIV with the St. Louis Rams. Fletcher was selected 4-times to the NFL Pro Bowl.

Jack Ham

Born two days before Christmas, Jack Ham was quite the gift on defense in his NFL career. Widely considered one of the greatest outside linebackers in NFL history, Ham has four Super Bowl championships and eight NFL Pro Bowl selections.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Ham’s eleven seasons all were with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Willie Lanier

The 1972 NFL Man of the Year, Willie Lanier, played his whole 10-year career for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Kansas City Chiefs
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Lanier’s defense assisted the Chiefs to a Super Bowl IV victory in 1970. Lanier is a member of the College, Pro Football, and Kansas City Chiefs’ Hall of Fame.

Sam Huff

The Super Bowl became the prize for winning an NFL championship in 1966, linebacker Sam Huff won in 1956. Huff is on the New York Giants’, and Washington Commanders’ rings of honor.

New York Giants v Washington Redskins
Nate Fine/Getty Images
Nate Fine/Getty Images

Four of Huff’s five Pro Bowl selections were earned while he was playing for the New York Giants.

Bobby Bell

Bobby Bell did most of the heavy-lifting defensively playing for Kansas City Chiefs. Bell’s entire eleven-year career was played in Kansas City, and he helped deliver a Super Bowl to the city in 1970.

Portrait Of Bobby Bell
Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images
Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

Bell was named to the College, Chiefs, and Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Andre Tippett

Before Belichick and Brady won titles for the New England Patriots, Andre Tippett defensively anchored some bad Patriots teams over his career.

England Patriots
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Tippett had five NFL Pro Bowl selections during his eleven-year career; all played for New England. Tippett is a 2008 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee.