Who Are the Greatest Cardinals Linebackers of All Time?
Though the Cardinals are one of just two franchises still in operation since the league's foundation in 1920, they have yet to produce a Hall of Famer at linebacker. Still, the position has seen its fair share of stars over the years.
- Legacy Honors (Hall of Fame, Ring of Honor, retired number, etc.)
- Single-Season Honors (MVP, All-Pro, Pro Bowl, league leader, etc.)
- On-Field Success (winning percentage, winning seasons, playoff appearances, etc.)
- Longevity (years with the Cardinals, percentage of career with the Cardinals, etc.)
Only games played with the Cardinals are factored into this list, so while Terrell Suggs is a prime candidate for a list about the Ravens, his 13 games in Arizona won't make the cut here. Following the top 10, you’ll also find a handful of honorable mentions as well as some Cardinals linebacker trivia.
10. Ronald McKinnon
- Years With the Cardinals: 1996–2004
- Playoff Appearance: 1998
When the Cardinals signed Ronald McKinnon as an undrafted free agent in 1996, they probably didn’t expect to get someone who would regularly contribute for most of the next decade. Though he went undrafted, McKinnon was the Harlon Hill Trophy winner and picked up three championships at North Alabama. He then proved his worth as a rookie over 16 games, and he earned a starting role one season later. He missed just three games before leaving the Cardinals after the 2004 season. With Arizona, McKinnon racked up 933 tackles, 12 sacks and 10 interceptions.
9. Bill Koman
- Years With the Cardinals: 1959–67
- Pro Bowls: 1962, ‘64
If an opponent lost a fumble in Bill Koman’s vicinity, Koman was likely to scoop it up. Second all-time in Cardinals history with 16 fumble recoveries, Koman had at least one in every season of his nine-year tenure with the franchise. He missed just one game for the team and added six interceptions.
8. Mark Arneson
- Years With the Cardinals: 1972–80
- Playoff Appearances: 1974–75
After an illustrious career at the University of Arizona, Mark Arneson joined the Cardinals as a second-round draft pick in 1972 and spent the next nine seasons as a key member of their defensive unit. He helped the franchise make a pair of playoff appearances in the mid-1970s, and he intercepted a pass during the 1974 postseason. He missed just five games with St. Louis and closed his career with 18 fumble recoveries and five interceptions.
7. E.J. Junior
- Years With the Cardinals: 1981–88
- Playoff Appearance: 1982
- All-Pro: 1984
- Pro Bowls: 1984–85
The Cardinals used their first-round draft pick on E.J. Junior in 1981 and then reaped the benefits over the next eight seasons. Junior started 13 games as a rookie and remained in the starting lineup for the majority of his tenure with the Cardinals. His best seasons came between 1983 and '85 when he earned two Pro Bowl selections, picked up his only All-Pro honor and had 19 sacks and nine interceptions in 44 games. In 111 total games with the Cardinals, he had 24.5 sacks and all 12 of his career interceptions.
6. Chandler Jones
- Years With the Cardinals: 2016–Present
- All-Pro: 2017, ‘19
- Pro Bowls: 2017, ‘19
- Legacy Honors: NFL 2010s All-Decade Team
Chandler Jones built a solid foundation during his first four seasons with the Patriots, but he blossomed once he came to the Cardinals in 2016. In three of his four seasons in Arizona he played at linebacker, and his 47 sacks in those seasons were second in franchise history at the position (Ken Harvey has 47.5), and Jones broke the record with his 48th sack in 2020. With a career-high 19 sacks in 2019, he became the first Cardinals player ever to record four seasons with at least 10 sacks, and in the 2021 season-opener, his five sacks tied the franchise record for a single game. Going into 2021, in 69 games with Arizona, Jones had 61 sacks and 17 forced fumbles.
5. Eric Hill
- Years With the Cardinals: 1989–97
- Awards: NFL All-Rookie (1989)
The Cardinals selected Eric Hill in the first round of the 1989 NFL Draft, and in return, the team received a long-term starter at linebacker. Hill started 128 games over nine seasons with the team and only missed 11 total games during that period. He averaged 103.5 tackles per season, and his only career touchdown came when he returned a fumble for 85 yards in 1991—which is the fifth-longest fumble return in franchise history. Hill was never named a first-team All-Pro or selected for the Pro Bowl, but his reliability made him a memorable player in Arizona.
4. Ken Harvey
- Years With the Cardinals: 1988–93
Ken Harvey is known more for his time with the Washington Football Team, but he built the foundation of his success there with six seasons as a high-powered pass rusher for the Cardinals. Harvey became the first draft pick taken by the Cardinals after they relocated to Phoenix, and there he developed into a star on defense. He closed his Cardinals career with 47.5 sacks, which was a team record for the position until Chandler Jones (48) broke the mark in 2020 (Jones has 61 total sacks but played as a defensive end in 2018). Harvey made four straight Pro Bowls after leaving the franchise and added another 41.5 sacks to his ledger in five seasons.
3. Dale Meinert
- Years With the Cardinals: 1958–67
- Pro Bowls: 1963, ‘65, ‘67
Dale Meinert didn’t take the conventional route to the NFL, but once he got there he settled in to become a steady contributor for the Cardinals. Meinert was selected by the Baltimore Colts in the 1955 NFL Draft, but he opted to spend the next three seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL. In Canada, he won championships in 1955 and ‘56, and he brought that experience to the Cardinals in 1958. From there, he became a three-time Pro Bowler and was the regular middle linebacker from 1960 to '67. In his career, he recovered 13 fumbles and had nine interceptions, including one in 1964 that he returned for a touchdown.
2. Larry Stallings
- Years With the Cardinals: 1963–76
- Playoff Appearances: 1974–75
- Pro Bowl: 1970
Larry Stallings spent 14 seasons with the Cardinals, leaving him tied with Hall of Fame cornerback Roger Wehrli for the most service time by a defensive player in franchise history. Stallings did not produce Hall of Fame statistics, but he was still one of the most dependable linebackers ever to play for the Cardinals. In the final 11 seasons of his career, he missed just two games, and he helped St. Louis to three straight seasons with at least 10 wins from 1974 to '76. In 181 total games, he recovered 13 fumbles and intercepted nine passes—which is far more production than the Cardinals likely imagined they would get after selecting him with the 241st pick in the 1963 NFL Draft.
1. Karlos Dansby
- Years With the Cardinals: 2004–09, ‘13, ‘17
- Playoff Appearances: 2008–09
- Awards: NFL All-Rookie (2004)
Karlos Dansby played for Arizona three different times, and his success with the franchise places him at the top of my list of the greatest linebackers in Cardinals history. Between his three stints, he missed only six games, and he also anchored the defense when the franchise made their only Super Bowl appearance.
Dansby was selected in the second round of the 2004 NFL Draft, and he showcased his talents as both a pass rusher and a defender in coverage during the years that followed. Over the first six seasons of his career, he had 25.5 sacks and 10 interceptions—leaving him as one of four defenders in team history to record double-digit sacks and interceptions (sacks weren’t an official statistic prior to 1982).
Despite his star status, Dansby never played in a Pro Bowl. He did however earn a second-team All-Pro selection in 2013—the second season in which he returned two interceptions for touchdowns. During the 2008 season, he recorded more than 100 tackles for the first time in his career, and he played well throughout the postseason, posting 23 tackles in three playoff games to help the Cardinals reach the Super Bowl. He then snared an interception and added another eight tackles in the Super Bowl, but the Steelers came away with a 27–23 win. A year later, Dansby recovered a fumble for the game-winning touchdown in a first-round playoff game against the Packers, a 51–45 victory that is the highest-scoring postseason game in history.
While the above players comprise the best of the best in Cardinals history, there are several other players who have made significant contributions to the franchise but fell just outside of the top 10.
Freddie Joe Nunn
Nunn did not exclusively play as a linebacker for the Cardinals, but when he did, he was feared by opposing players. Nunn suited up at linebacker during four seasons, spending the rest of his time as a defensive end. As a linebacker, he amassed 21 sacks and recovered six fumbles.
Miller spent the first five seasons of his career with the Cardinals, and during the final three of those five seasons he didn’t miss a single game. He excelled in 1998, reaching 100 tackles for the first time and recording a pair of sacks in a playoff victory over the Cowboys. He was a first-round draft choice of the Cardinals in 1994, and he closed his tenure in Arizona with 13.5 sacks and five fumble recoveries.
Washington was drafted in the second round in 2010, and by 2012 he was a second-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler with 134 tackles and nine sacks. He was seemingly on his way to becoming one of the NFL’s top linebackers before his career abruptly ended due to a suspension for repeated violations of the league’s substance-abuse policy. In each of his four seasons in Arizona he intercepted at least one pass, and he closed his career with 18 sacks.
One linebacker never got a chance to showcase all of his skills with the Cardinals.
Mauldin’s career was cut short after he died of a heart attack following a 1948 game against the Eagles. In three seasons, Mauldin started 17 of 19 games for the Cardinals, intercepted a pass and recovered two fumbles. He also played on the offensive line, helping the Cardinals win the 1947 NFL championship. His jersey number (77) was retired by the franchise.
Cardinals Linebacker FAQs and Trivia
How many linebackers have the Cardinals drafted in the first round?
The franchise has picked up nine linebackers with first-round draft selections.
- 2021: Zaven Collins (No. 16)
- 2020: Isaiah Simmons (No. 8)
- 2017: Harrison Reddick (No. 13)
- 1994: Jamir Miller (No. 10)
- 1989: Eric Hill (No. 10)
- 1988: Ken Harvey (No. 12)
- 1986: Anthony Bell (No. 5)
- 1981: E.J. Junior (No. 5)
- 1957: Jerry Tubbs (No. 10)
How many Cardinals linebackers have appeared in the Pro Bowl?
The team has been represented by eight different linebackers in the Pro Bowl, combining for 13 total appearances.
- 2019: Chandler Jones
- 2017: Chandler Jones
- 2013: John Abraham
- 2012: Daryl Washington
- 1994: Seth Joyner
- 1985: E.J. Junior
- 1984: E.J. Junior
- 1970: Larry Stallings
- 1967: Dale Meinert
- 1965: Dale Meinert
- 1963: Dale Meinert
- 1957: Leo Sanford
- 1956: Leo Sanford