Blog Entry

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

Posted on: July 2, 2010 12:00 pm
Edited on: July 2, 2010 12:53 pm
Josh Katzowitz and Andy Benoit resume their debate, this time taking a look at the top five outside linebackers (who play in a 3-4 scheme) in the NFL.

Andy Benoit's top five

  J. Harrison (92) and L. Woodley (56) celebrate (Getty) 5. Elvis Dumervil, Broncos

4. LaMarr Woodley, Steelers

3. Terrell Suggs, Ravens

2. James Harrison, Steelers

1. DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys

Sacks have put a bright spotlight on the 3-4 outside linebacker position. Everyone on this list can rush the passer. What differentiates stars and superstars is versatility.

Dumervil, the NFL sack leader in ’09, is too small to be a force against the run, but his frenetic energy often makes up the difference. By the end of this season, Woodley might claim the No. 1 ranking. The fourth-year pro is beastly in traffic – he has some of the thickest thighs and biceps you’ll EVER see – and fluid enough to defend the flats in coverage.

Suggs is on the list not because he’s a handful as a pass-rusher, but because he’s the best playside run-defender in the NFL. James Harrison scares people – even those who are watching at home. He’s very smart, too. Ware had a somewhat quiet season in ’09, but that was due to a fluky slow start as much as anything. He’s still the best all-around 3-4 front seven playmaker in the game.

Josh Katzowitz's top five

5. Manny Lawson, 49ers

4. Elvis Dumervil, Broncos

3. DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys

2. LaMarr Woodley, Steelers

1. James Harrison, Steelers

  Oh, to be a quarterback facing the Steelers when James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are healthy and gunning for your throat. Oh, to be a running back who must rush into the teeth of the Steelers defense. Oh, to have to fear for your career. Consider the two have combined 51 sacks during the past two seasons, and it’s easy to see why Pittsburgh was ranked No. 1 in the AFC vs. the run last year while finishing with an AFC-high 47 sacks. How do you rank them? I say Harrison is No. 1 because he’s been doing it longer, and because so much of an opponent’s attention is focused on stopping him, Woodley can get away with blitzing. But I agree – Woodley might eventually be the best of the entire bunch.

Ware had an amazing 2008, recording 20 sacks, 84 tackles and six forced fumbles. Fighting through an injury, he wasn’t nearly as good last season, but he rebounded a bit in the second half. Although he had a huge year last season, you wonder if Dumervil can replicate his success. Lawson doesn’t record many sacks, but he’s good in coverage and he tackles consistently.

The one issue I have with Andy’s list is Terrell Suggs. I wonder if he lives off his reputation more than anything else. He came into last season nearly 20 pounds overweight, and it blunted his explosiveness. He lost playing time, and he completed his worst season since his 2003 rookie season. Not good since he signed a contract before the beginning of the season that made him the highest-paid linebacker in history. Unfortunately for Baltimore, he didn’t play like it.

Andy’s Rebuttal

A lot of Suggs’ brilliance doesn’t show up in the stat book. I have some reservations about Dumervil, but not enough to overshadow all the memories I have of him attacking offensive tackles with perfect leverage last season.

But whatever, let’s get to the shocking part of your list: MANNY LAWSON?! If this were Bottom 5, maybe. Lawson is very fluid in coverage. I’ll give you that. But he’s not physical in traffic, and he’s a modest pass-rushing threat at best. If Ahmad Brooks had even a slightly-below-average football IQ, he’d be starting ahead of Lawson in San Francisco.

Josh’s final word

Ha, I thought you might like my addition of Lawson. But bottom five? Man, that’s harsh. That’s like me sarcastically writing about how Suggs is so brilliant. Oh wait, you were serious about that? Fact is, Lawson’s the best OLB at dropping into coverage of anybody on our list, he plays the run very well, and he does, in fact, get to the opposing quarterback. Even without great technique, he was credited with hitting the quarterback 11 times last year; he just doesn’t record many sacks. And considering last year was his first season in the 3-4, he’s only going to get better (it should be noted he had four sacks in the final seven games of the year). Yeah, Lawson isn’t the sexiest OLB out there, but he’s more than solid.

Andy, not knowing when to quit

Josh, Lawson is indeed fantastic at dropping into coverage. I’m surprised he didn’t make your top five cornerbacks list.

Josh’s final, final word

In lieu of making any more arguments about this position, let me point you in the direction of what a wise man said last March. "I wasn't happy about the way I played last season, it was a disappointing year. My focus in the offseason is to make sure that never happens again. … No one was more disappointed about my season than me.” Who said that? Oh right, those were the brilliant words of Suggs. In effect, Suggs thinks your list is pretty weak.

(Other positions: Safety | Cornerback )

--Josh Katzowitz and Andy Benoit

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Since: Jan 6, 2007
Posted on: July 3, 2010 10:04 pm

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

no he wont.... the Defense is gonna be totired for being on the field on the time!  The reason being is cause you have NO O-Line and McScabb can not scramble like he uded to.  That is why Big-Red wasnt afraid to send him to an inter confrence team.  Yes the Eagles may be any where from 7-9 to 9-7, but the Skins will win tops 5 games. Look at the bright side. at least you'll have antother hight 1st rd pick next year

Since: Dec 25, 2009
Posted on: July 3, 2010 7:22 pm

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

I personally think Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will both be top 5 OLBers in 2010.

Since: Jun 2, 2008
Posted on: July 3, 2010 1:52 pm

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

You beat me to the punch.  I was going to Homer up and mention Clay as well. I believe, or maybe my heart believes, he will be even better this year.  I also beleive that Brad, his counterpart, is going to muscle up during this offseason and come out for a great sophomore season.  That will help The Motor even more.  I predict 14+ sacks for Mathews this year.

Since: May 12, 2010
Posted on: July 3, 2010 1:13 pm

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

27 years old is not "getting up there in age"

Since: May 12, 2010
Posted on: July 3, 2010 1:10 pm

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

27 years old is not "getting up there in age"

Since: Jul 2, 2010
Posted on: July 3, 2010 12:31 pm

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley ahead of DeMarcus Ware?
I would put Ware above both because he's a great rusher, great in run defense and good in pass defense. I wouldn't even put Woodley in the top 5. If you are going to give Woodley this much credit then Anthony Spencer, Clay Matthews and Brian Orakpo should definitely be somewhere on this list.

Since: Mar 22, 2007
Posted on: July 3, 2010 12:28 pm

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

   Hahaha...Rothlisburger. Sorry had to get that out of the way. But seriously one guy that a lot of people are not mentioning on here is Anthony Spencer. He came into his own in the second half of last year and was downright nasty. Not only is he a beast against the run he started finally getting to the QB towards the end of last year. I think with his maturing and this being his second full year as starter and Ware being fully healthy this year(knock on wood) They are going to give Woodly and Harrison a run for their money as the best 3-4 OLB 1-2 punch. Can anyone say Cowboys playing at home for the SB?

Since: Dec 4, 2007
Posted on: July 3, 2010 10:17 am

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

Hmm, would you look at that? Another moron that has to bring up Big Ben even though we're talking about LBs. Get over it jackass.

Since: Sep 14, 2006
Posted on: July 3, 2010 7:46 am

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

""I would rather have Harrison and Woodley than any of the other LBs on this list. Seeing how the Steelers are my team I do have them, Thank God.""

maybe you and Big Ben can go find some women voters to beat up and intimidate.  Then Harrison can top the list every year?!?!

Since: Apr 26, 2007
Posted on: July 3, 2010 2:45 am

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

49erfan, Isn't that what I said? He hasn't done much to warrant a top 5? Ya, I know he'll be good, just not yet. Trust me, I've watched Niners games. I also watched the Eagles humiliate them last season, I watched Celek gain over 70 yards on your boy Lawson. He couldn't contain the TE's. So ya, I've obviously watched niner games. 

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