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2015 NFL Player Rankings: Linebackers

Justin Houston

Justin Houston

Just like last year, Athlon Sports' 2015 NFL Preview magazine includes NFL player rankings at every position. The rankings in the magazine are provided by Dan Shonka of Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services, a company that's been in the football talent evaluation business for more than three decades.

Related: 2015 NFL Player Rankings - Quarterbacks

Not surprisingly, when it comes to the NFL's top linebackers, the list starts with the likes of Luke Kuechly, Justin Houston and Lavonte David. The first two were All-Pros last season, not to mention the fact that Kuechly already has a Defensive Player of the Year award on his resume and Houston came just a half-sack shy of Michael Strahan's single-season record in 2014. And while David may not have the same accolades as his peers, all he's done is average 143 tackles through his first three seasons. But there's also plenty of depth at this position too, whether it come in the form of veterans like Von Miller, Terrell Suggs and DeAndre Levy or younger players like Jaime Collins, Bobby Wagner, Khalil Mack and C.J. Mosley.

Rankings courtesy of Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services

Positional Rankings: QB | RB | WR | TE |OL | DL | LB

2015 NFL Player Rankings: Inside Linebackers

(Editor's note: San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman, who missed all of 2014, does not appear in this year's rankings because of lingering concerns over the health of his surgically repaired knee.)

1. Luke Kuechly, Carolina

Kuechly is the poster guy for competitive, instinctive and intense linebacker play. Last season, he was selected to his second career Pro Bowl and led the NFL in tackles. He’s started all 48 games in his career.

2. Dont’a Hightower, New England

Hightower is a physical run stuffer with the strength and ability to shed quickly at the point of attack. Most important, he made the key tackle on Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line in the Super Bowl.

3. Jamie Collins, New England

An ascending player who is getting more efficient every year, Collins has long arms and big hands, which help him shed blocks with his combination of power and speed.

4. Bobby Wagner, Seattle

A Pro Bowl performer, Wagner has top-level instincts and good overall technique. He is quick to read and react, has good range and takes productive angles in pursuit.

5. Sean Lee, Dallas

Lee is a competitor who doesn’t get fooled. He’s versatile enough to play inside or outside in the 4-3, but the Cowboys will start him on the outside in hopes of keeping him healthy and on the field.

6. Kiko Alonso, Philadelphia

Like Lee, Alonso missed last season due to a torn ACL. That didn’t stop Philadelphia from acquiring the former Oregon Duck for LeSean McCoy. In 2013, Alonso was second in the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.

7. Brian Cushing, Houston

When healthy, Cushing is an All-Pro-caliber player, gaining such honors in 2009 and 2011. In 2014 — his first season in the last three in which he played more than seven games — Cushing started 14 games and totaled 72 tackles.

8. Mychal Kendricks, Philadelphia

Despite missing four games with a calf injury last season, Kendricks is averaging 88 tackles per season. The instinctive playmaker was in on 75 tackles, one sack and three forced fumbles last season.

9. Daryl Smith, Baltimore

A free-agent steal for the Ravens in 2013, Smith is known for consistent, instinctive and intense play. For the past two years the sideline-to-sideline performer has averaged more than 125 tackles per season.

10. Karlos Dansby, Cleveland

The 11-year veteran is recognized league-wide as an instinctive and productive defensive leader. He is one of only two players heading into the 2015 season with at least 30 career sacks and 10 career interceptions.

11. Brandon Marshall, Denver

12. Preston Brown, Buffalo

13. Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh

14. Demario Davis, N.Y. Jets

15. C.J. Mosley, Baltimore

16. Koa Misi, Miami

17. Avery Williamson, Tennessee

18. Craig Robertson, Cleveland

19. DeMeco Ryans, Philadelphia

20. David Harris, N.Y. Jets

2015 NFL Player Rankings: 3-4 Outside Linebackers

1. Justin Houston, Kansas City

A first-team All-Pro in 2014, Houston has 48.5 sacks in his four-year career. Only J.J. Watt has disrupted more dropbacks since 2011.

2. Von Miller, Denver

A nightmare for edge-blocking tackles, tight ends and backs, Miller has a knack and desire to excel working to the quarterback. In his four-year career he has 49 sacks, including 14 last season.

3. Terrell Suggs, Baltimore

The Ravens’ all-time leader in sacks added 12 more in 2014. He’s an explosive athlete who has had a pattern of yearly production from college through pro football.

4. Elvis Dumervil, Baltimore

A fast-twitch athlete who works through blocks, Dumervil had 17 sacks in his 2014 All-Pro season. The prolific edge rusher has 90 sacks between his Denver stint and two years with the Ravens.

5. Clay Matthews, Green Bay

After a temporary move to inside linebacker, Matthews arguably had his best season with the variety of assignments. A five-time Pro Bowl selection.

6. Paul Kruger, Cleveland

A relentless high-motor defender who recorded 11 sacks in 2014, Kruger has been a productive asset since signing as an unrestricted free agent in 2013. He displays a sudden punch and spin move with an upfield burst.

7. Connor Barwin, Philadelphia

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The versatile and athletic edge rusher was in on 64 tackles including 14.5 sacks, tied with Buffalo’s Mario Williams for fourth in the league.

8. Pernell McPhee, Chicago

McPhee had a combined 38 quarterback knockdowns and hurries in 2014.

9. Brandon Graham, Philadelphia

Last season, Graham recorded 13.5 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and 18 QB hurries.

10. Ryan Kerrigan, Washington

Kerrigan racked up 13.5 sacks in 2014 and has never missed a start in his four-year pro career. He is consistent and nonstop in his play.

11. Julius Peppers, Green Bay

12. Derrick Morgan, Tennessee

13. Jason Babin, N.Y. Jets

14. James Harrison, Pittsburgh

15. Chandler Jones, New England

16. Tamba Hali, Kansas City

17. Trent Cole, Indianapolis

18. Rob Ninkovich, New England

19. Brooks Reed, Atlanta

20. Whitney Mercilus, Houston

2015 NFL Player Rankings: 4-3 Outside Linebackers

1. Lavonte David, Tampa Bay

A tackling machine with natural and instinctive ability to recognize and react to run or pass, David was third in the league with 146 tackles.

2. Khalil Mack, Oakland

An athletic linebacker who can dip his shoulder, penetrate into the backfield and pressure the quarterback, Mack started all 16 games as a rookie and had 76 total tackles.

3. DeAndre Levy, Detroit

Levy is an athletic linebacker who can play square, work through traffic and run in space. Only Luke Kuechly had more tackles than Levy’s 151 last season.

4. Thomas Davis, Carolina

An aggressive and explosive hitter, Davis has worked through three ACL surgeries during his career to become one of the league’s best linebackers. He’s totaled over 100 tackles for the third year in a row.

5. K.J. Wright, Seattle

A productive tackler who is instinctive and physical, Wright is better in a confined area. He’s a multi-scheme athlete who totaled 107 tackles in 2014.

6. Anthony Barr, Minnesota

Barr has a good combination of length and take-off edge speed. He can beat an offensive tackle with athletic ability and double moves. In 12 games as a rookie, Barr registered 70 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

7. Jelani Jenkins, Miami

Jenkins is instinctive with a nose for the ball and has all the tools for a coverage linebacker. He made 110 tackles and forced two fumbles in 14 starts last fall.

8. Bruce Carter, Tampa Bay

Carter is a fluid athlete who can cover a lot of ground. Agile through traffic and with no hold up in pursuit, Carter has the speed to run with backs and tight ends in coverage.

9. Nigel Bradham, Buffalo

Versatile enough to play any of the positions in any scheme, Bradham is an athletic linebacker who can cover a tight end. He has good closing speed in pursuit. He was in on 104 tackles and defended six passes.

10. Danny Lansanah, Tampa Bay

An overnight success after being in the league off and on since 2008, Lansanah started 11 games in 2014 and recorded 82 tackles and three interceptions, two returned for TDs.

11. Justin Durant, Atlanta

12. Philip Wheeler, San Francisco

13. Vincent Rey, Cincinnati

14. Alec Ogletree, St. Louis

15. Sio Moore, Oakland

16. Anthony Hitchens, Dallas

17. Chad Greenway, Minnesota

18. Emmanuel Lamur, Cincinnati

19. Bruce Irvin, Seattle

20. Telvin Smith, Jacksonville