The Greatest Ever Dr. Z's picks for the best middle linebackers in NFL history

October 29, 2001

1. Dick Butkus (BEARS, 1965-73) Never had the luxury of two big
tackles to keep offensive linemen off him. He was the best at
shedding blockers and gathering himself quickly to deliver a
thundering hit on the ballcarrier. He was oversized for his era
(6'3", 245 pounds), and his pass coverage skills, based on
intelligence and a feel for angles, have always been underrated.

2. Ray Lewis (RAVENS, 1996-present) No other middle linebacker
has been as valuable in controlling the short passing game in
shallow zones. He closes with remarkable speed and accuracy
against the pass or the run, covering a sizable area.

3. Joe Schmidt (LIONS, 1953-65) Never a punishing tackler, he
brought ballcarriers down with technical precision. He possessed
the most highly developed instincts of any middle linebacker.

4. Willie Lanier (CHIEFS, 1967-77) A roly-poly look disguised his
speed, coverage ability and tremendous power. One of the game's
feared hitters.

5. Ray Nitschke (PACKERS, 1958-72) He would work himself into
rages, roaming from sideline to sideline like some ancient god of
vengeance. His emotion would inspire the entire defense.

6. Jack Lambert (STEELERS, 1974-84) The first to patrol the deep
downfield zones, where his speed and instincts made him a
valuable part of the coverage scheme.

7. Mike Singletary (BEARS, 1981-92) You never knew what he was
going to do in Buddy Ryan's defense--drop into deep coverage or
fire through on a blitz, on which he was always a disruptive
force.

8. Lee Roy Jordan (COWBOYS, 1963-76) For years the leader of Tom
Landry's cerebral unit. He had not only intelligence but also
finely developed instincts.

9. Sam Mills (SAINTS, 1986-94; Panthers, 1995-97) A genius on
the field, a precise and jolting tackler, undersized (5'9", 225
pounds) and underrated.

10. Bill Bergey (BENGALS, 1969-73; Eagles, 1974-80) His
trademarks were emotion, tremendous hitting power and the
ability to shed blockers quickly.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)