In order to be a successful linebacker in this league you need a high level of intelligence and physicality. This division has more than it’s fair share of linebackers with these traits. These guys are widely regarded to being the quarterbacks of the defense. This week we’ll be looking to see how the center of the defense of each team stacks up against each other.
Scoring system will continue as the previous articles. Let’s dive in and go through each linebacker core from best to worst.
Washington Redskins – 10 Points
Zach Brown was a great addition by the Redskins this past season. In only 13 games, Brown, racked up 127 tackles finishing top 10 in the league. Now entering year 2 with the Redskins, Brown will look to have an even bigger impact as he locks down the middle of the field. Mason Foster will be right along side Brown after having surgery on his shoulder last year. He only played 5 games, but still grabbed an interception to go along 31 tackles. On the weak side will be the team’s star LB Ryan Kerrigan. 3 of the last 4 season have ended with double digit sacks for Kerrigan. Kerrigan has proven to be a force in this league with no signs of letting up. His athleticism and strength make him a dangerous player to opposing lineman. Opposite of Kerrigan will be Preston Smith who is entering his 4th year in the league. Smith has totaled up 20 sacks in 3 seasons and his tackles have grown each year. This group has the potential to be top 3 in the league which will give the rest of the division problems for days.
Dallas Cowboys – 8 Points
For the Cowboys there isn’t a more important player to the defense than “The General” Sean Lee. His ability to seek out the ball is second to none. Lee has had 3 consecutive seasons of 100+ tackles. Lee’s biggest issue has been staying healthy, but even on the sidelines there isn’t a better person to help coach up the younger guys. Jaylon Smith is coming off an injury that many believed would’ve prevented him from ever playing football. However, he’s not only overcome that obstacle but managed to rack up over 80 tackles last year. Smith played with a brace on his knee in 2017, but he’s been in training camp without it while looking to be faster than before. Slowly but surely Smith is on the rise and could take the mantle from Lee sooner rather than later. With the 19th pick the Cowboys addressed their linebacker core by picking up Leighton Vander Esch (LVE) from Boise State. LVE has next level coverage skills that will come in handy with the amount of talent this division has at tight end. He’ll also benefit from having a film addict in Sean Lee. This group has tremendous ability and they’ll showcase it in this upcoming season.
New York Giants – 6 Points
Now that the Giants will be transforming to a 3-4 defense, this puts Olivier Vernon as the outside linebacker. Vernon has been terrorising quarterbacks for many years now. This season he’ll look to get his first double digit sack performance since joining the Giants. The Giants are also bringing in a new face to the game in Lorenzo Carter. Carter’s versatility is a great benefit to the Giants. He’s able to play in coverage but also bring the heat as a pass rusher. BJ Goodson and Alec Ogletree will be in charge of keeping the defense aligned. Ogletree is coming from the Rams as well as 4 seasons with 95+ tackles. Goodson is entering his 3rd year and looks to rebound from a year filled with injuries. After starting the year with 18 tackles in 1 game last season, Goodson suffered a shin injury that sent his year on a downward spiral. The new scheme looks to be a better fit for this group, so let’s see if they can become the backbone of their defense.
Philadelphia Eagles – 4 Points
The linebacker core is easily the weakest position on this Eagles’ defense. Jordan Hicks has looked phenomenal at camp after tearing his achillies last year. Nigel Bradham has also been impressive but he’ll be suspended for the season opener. With both Hicks and Bradham this team has a shot to be truly elite on all cylinders. However, after them there isn’t too much to go off of. Joe Walker and Nathan Gerry have been getting reps with the first team. Walker and Gerry are both young guys with the potential to become solid role players. Losing Mychal Kendricks has been tough, and will be tougher to replace. Both the free agent signings, Corey Nelson and LaRoy Reynolds, have been mainly on special teams. The preseason will be crucial to helping this team find a diamond in the rough. Jim Schwartz will have his hands full as defensive coordinator with this group.
Next week will be the final piece to the puzzle. There is All-pro talent across each team’s secondary that will make it difficult to evaluate. Below you can see how each team has stacked up to each other thus far.
1. Philadelphia Eagles – 58 Points
2. Dallas Cowboys – 50 Points
3. New York Giants – 46 Points
4. Washington Redskins – 42 Points
Sean Lee picture by: RJ Ochoa on insidethestar.com
Olivier Vernon picture: (Aug. 11, 2016 – Source: Rich Schultz/Getty Images North America)
Ryan Kerrigan picture: Twitter.com/armsofkerrigan
Jordan Hicks picture: Michell Leff/Getty Images