The Best Players in the NFL – Top 5 MLBs

27 Apr


This is the 4th part of my top 5 rankings for every position in the NFL.
It will culminate in an overall top 10 players in the NFL list.

Previous: Top 5 OLBs –

The Middle Linebacker (MLB) or Inside Linebacker (ILB) is one of the most storied positions in the history of the NFL. Not only was it the main run stopping defensive position in a sport which primarily relied on the run, but it was also the position of the defensive leader on the team. Therefore, some of the most iconic defensive players in NFL history are MLBs such as Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Ray Nitschke. The position has evolved now. The 3-4 defensive means that the position is not as unique as it once was. In today’s game, athletic ability is starting to replace toughness as the defining feature of the position. You will now only be on the field all 3 downs if the MLB can cover proficiently.

On my list, I still primarily looked for players who go downhill and consistently stop the run. After that, leadership, sideline-to-sideline ability and coverage skills were used filter out the next set of players. Even with the evolution of the position, any good MLB must still be a tackling machine. For the last 10 or more years, my no. 2 has dominated any MLB list. He is arguably not far from overtaking (or maybe he already has) Dick Butkus as the greatest MLB of all time. But, last season I saw the first signs of him slowing down a little. He wasn’t the pure machine that he once was. No.1 in this list will dominate this list for at least the next 5-7 years. He is a phenom at the position. The rest of the top 5 is filled with a mixture of defensive leaders, an impact player and an undersized but hugely aggressive and athletic tackling machine.

5. Jonathan Vilma – New Orleans Saints

One of the members of arguably the greatest college team of all-time, Jonathan Vilma is the heart of the Saints defense. He doesn’t blow you away on the field and is undersized at only 230lbs when entering the NFL, however, his impact is greater than any stats can show. He is a very smart player and a good leader. On an otherwise poor Saints defense, his organisation and leadership makes sure that the defense at least plays a successful complementary role to their explosive offense. If you watch the Saints’ 2009/2010 America’s game, it gives you a glimpse into the on-field impact that Vilma makes on the team.


4. Brian Urlacher – Chicago Bears

A highly athletic monster of the midway, Brian Urlacher has continued the Bears’ famous legacy at the position. Along with fellow linebacker Lance Briggs, he has been the core to that consistently stout defense ever since he entered the league in 2000. Before his injury, there were certain people saying that he was overrated. However, his absence showed everyone how much of an impact player he is to the Bears. He led the Bears defense back to 4th overall in terms of points allowed this season. He can play downhill, sideline-to-sideline and he was once arguably the best MLB in coverage in the NFL and he can still cover proficiently. I wish he was used more in the blitz game. Although he is now leaving his prime, he still is a fantastic player on a team that is finally building an offense to match the defense’s long term production.


3. Jon Beason – Carolina Panthers

‘The Beast’ is the centrepiece to the Carolina defense. He is the only true elite player on Carolina’s defense now that Julius Peppers has left town. Like Vilma, he is undersized but he is highly athletic and very aggressive. He is one of the surest tacklers in the league. He was temporarily moved to OLB due to injuries, showing is versatility, but his best position is in the middle. He is superb in coverage. He deserves better players around him especially better DTs up front because he is at his best when he has a free path to the RB because he is one of the few MLBs who can keep up athletically with most running backs in the league. Although, he doesn’t make as many game changing impact plays as I would like to see, it may be due to the lack of talent around him. Although, Carolina will probably pick a QB if they do draft Marcell Dareus, it will give Jon Beason a chance to maximise his considerable abilities.


2. Ray Lewis – Baltimore Ravens

Arguably the best MLB of all time, he is everything you want in a middle linebacker. Athletic ability, intensity, sure tackling, hard-hitting, game-changing plays and one of the best leaders the NFL has ever seen. You cannot just measure his game in stats although they are pretty impressive. He is a 12-time pro-bowl, 7 time first team all-pro selection and this season became only the 2nd player to collect 30 sacks and 30 interceptions in his career. He led possible the greatest defense of all time in the 2000 Ravens and his Ravens did not allow a 100 yard rusher in 51 consecutive games from 1998 through 2001 with Lewis at the helm. Although he is clearly slowing down, his greatness is undisputed and nobody doubts he will be a first ballot hall of famer.

1. Patrick Willis – San Francisco 49ers

Patrick Willis is the heir apparent to Ray Lewis with just as much talent as Ray had. He is a 245lb machine with 4.4 speed and unbelievable all-round athleticism. He is the best open field tackler in the NFL and has no real weaknesses to his game. But to get to Ray Lewis’ level there are a few things he needs to improve on. He needs to make more impact plays. Ray consistently made plays that not only changed the course of a game but changed the course of the Ravens’ season. Patrick Willis is not there yet. He also needs to become a better leader and makes his whole defense better. The 49ers have an average defense but with Ray at the helm, the Ravens were consistently a top 3 defense largely due to Ray’s ability to make everyone around him better. Patrick must use his on-field reputation to influence the players around him positively. If he does improve on these things, he will go from being a great linebacker to one of the best of all time.

Overrated: Bart Scott –  A loudmouth who is lucky to have been around a fantastic defensive coordinator like Rex Ryan, he doesn’t justify his talk.

Underrated: Paul Posluszny/London Fletcher – An instinctive tackling machine on a team void of much talent. He has thrived in both the 4-3 and the 3-4 when others crumbled. He cannot truly maximise his talents if the talent around him is not upgraded. London Fletcher is the most underrated player of the last decade. He is a fantastic near HOF-worthy MLB with only two pro-bowls in two of his declining years.

One for the Future: Lawrence Timmons – This guy is the whole package. Fast, tough, instinctive and learning from some of the best. He has all the skills to be better than his mentor, James Farrior

GOAT: Dick Butkus/Ray Lewis – Could not choose between the two. Dick Butkus was everything you wanted from an old-school MLB. Ray Lewis is everything you want from a modern MLB.

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Posted by on April 27, 2011 in NFL, Sports


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