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: Dec 2, 2011
Posted on: January 8, 2012 10:27 pm

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

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Since: Dec 2, 2011
Posted on: January 3, 2012 10:16 am
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Since: Dec 2, 2011
Posted on: December 6, 2011 11:48 pm
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Since: Dec 2, 2011
Posted on: December 5, 2011 12:07 am

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

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Since: Jun 15, 2010
Posted on: July 21, 2010 7:46 pm

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

true very true indeed.

Since: Mar 11, 2007
Posted on: July 9, 2010 11:50 pm

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

So can Silverback (James Harrison) and LaMarr Woodley. They can both bull rush and cover. Plus they have great speed around the outside. Harrison gets held half the time he comes off the outside and it rarely gets called. Doesn't really matter who the best player is though, what matters is who gets rings. So I say the Steelers as #1 overall defense.

Since: Jun 10, 2009
Posted on: July 8, 2010 8:55 am

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

I couldn't agree more. Once this man saw more time on the field the Redskins D actually looked alive. Being a Giants man, I am scared for Eli's life this season with all the good edge rushers in the division. Especially this man. He is a hybrid type of player with the skill set of a DE and an OLB. He reminds me of Peter Boulware.

Since: Jul 2, 2010
Posted on: July 7, 2010 11:43 am

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

DeMarcus Ware is the best OLB in football. He excels against the the run and the pass and he is always a force rushing the passer. He is the most well rounded OLB in football.

Since: May 23, 2007
Posted on: July 7, 2010 10:10 am

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

I'm rather amazed that there is no mention of Brian Orakpo on either OLB list. He'll be in a 3-4 this year and will dominate every team they play.

Since: Mar 10, 2010
Posted on: July 7, 2010 3:09 am

Positional rankings: 3-4 outside linebackers

First of all, the Steelers schedule is far from easy.

Second of all, "handed to them?"  The league doesn't hand pick schedules, dipsh!t.

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