Every good defense in the NFL has to have solid linebackers in place to be effective. Not only are they the ones usually making the bulk of the tackles, the really good linebackers also find ways to contribute both in pass coverage and as a pass rusher.
Similar to defensive linemen, the worth of a linebacker can be somewhat measured by the role they play on their team's defense. That's why you will see a little bit of everything in terms of skill sets among the guys making up Athlon Sports' list of the top 30 at the position entering the 2022 season. You also will see plenty of young studs, starting with the guy at the top.
Athlon's player rankings are just one of the features that appear in the 2022 Pro Football magazine.
2022 NFL Linebacker Rankings
1. Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys
The first-ever unanimous Defensive Rookie of the Year has quickly become the standard for linebacker play in the NFL. The 12th pick overall in the 2021 NFL Draft primarily was used as an off-the-ball linebacker. But when asked to rush the passer off the edge, Parsons was ultra-effective, accounting for 13 sacks. His ability to flow laterally to the line of scrimmage, then instantly pull the trigger and fill the hole to make a forceful tackle makes him a rare breed in today’s game.
2. Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers
In terms of a read/diagnose/react/tackle linebacker, Warner is still “that” dude. He never seems to line up wrong; if anything, he cheats his alignment to the play side to give him the extra-step advantage he needs to make the play. A healthy Warner makes plays from sideline to sideline and is always around the football. The heart of the 49ers’ defense, the former BYU player makes the calls, gets his unit set and leads by example.
3. De’Vondre Campbell, Green Bay Packers
In a “what have you done for me lately” league, Campbell simply put together an epic season for the Packers in 2021. Playing in a defense that highlights his run-and-hit skill set, Campbell made tackles all over the field. One of his strong suits is his ability to tackle in space. Campbell finished the year with 146 total tackles, which was a career high and garnered the eight-year veteran a hefty pay raise (five years, $50 million) from the Packers.
4. Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts
Leonard, known as “Maniac,” has been in the NFL for four seasons and already has 11 interceptions, with four of those coming last year. He accounted for eight passes defended in 2021. His eight forced fumbles paced the league. He plays every snap going full speed and is always looking to make a game-defining play. For the team to get back to the playoffs in 2022, Leonard needs to be the catalyst.
5. Foye Oluokun, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars made multiple free-agent splashes this offseason, but the one that will pay the biggest dividends is the signing of Oluokun to a three-year, $45 million deal. The Yale grad led the NFL with 192 tackles in 2021 for the Atlanta Falcons. The five-year veteran is also productive away from the line of scrimmage, with three interceptions to go with six passes defensed in 2021. Still early in his NFL development, Oluokun is in position to lead an up-and-coming defense.
6. Bobby Wagner, Los Angeles Rams
The 10-year thumper has never had fewer than 100 total tackles or 60 solo tackles in a season. Wagner plays under his pads, is violent with his hands on contact and sheds with force to escape and replace the blocker. Wagner, playing with a chip on his shoulder after his release, may have a career year.
7. Roquan Smith, Chicago Bears
Smith has produced over 100 tackles in each of his four NFL seasons. While he can roam sideline to sideline, Smith is also an underappreciated blitzer who times up his rushes well. He’s also durable, playing more than 1,000 snaps each of the past two seasons. Heading into 2022 under another defensive coaching regime, Smith should be the focal point of a rebuilt Bears defense.
8. Nick Bolton, Kansas City Chiefs
Not only did Bolton start 16 games, but he also led the team in tackles with 112. More of a tackle-to-tackle smash-and-grab linebacker, Bolton uses his compact build to get under the pads of the blocker, roll his hips on contact and stick and shed to the ball carrier. With a year under his belt and another offseason to learn the complex Chiefs defense, Bolton will be in the running for a Pro Bowl nod in 2022.
9. Demario Davis, New Orleans Saints
Davis gets better as he gains experience, and his play sets the tone for the entire organization. His 105 total tackles last season may seem a little low, but the things Davis did away from the football allowed his teammates to make plays. Davis had seven passes defensed, and as one of the better blitzing off-ball linebackers, he also had three sacks.
10. Logan Wilson, Cincinnati Bengals
Wilson is extremely intelligent, understands and diagnoses run versus pass concepts quickly and is smooth in space. His four interceptions last season prove his ability to steal routes from receivers. With a full offseason as the “guy” heading into 2022, Wilson’s arrow is pointing directly skyward.
11. C.J. Mosley, New York Jets
12. Ja’Whaun Bentley, New England Patriots
13. Tremaine Edmunds, Buffalo Bills
14. Devin White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
15. Bobby Okereke, Indianapolis Colts
16. Jordyn Brooks, Seattle Seahawks
17. Eric Kendricks, Minnesota Vikings
18. Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
19. Ernest Jones, Los Angeles Rams
20. Alex Singleton, Denver Broncos
21. Denzel Perryman, Las Vegas Raiders
22. Kyzir White, Philadelphia Eagles
23. Cole Holcomb, Washington Commanders
24. Deion Jones, Atlanta Falcons
25. Anthony Walker Jr., Cleveland Browns
26. Devin Bush, Pittsburgh Steelers
27. Tae Crowder, New York Giants
28. Patrick Queen, Baltimore Ravens
29. Anthony Barr, Free Agent
30. Azeez Ojulari, New York Giants