Continuing this series. This part is the intro.
Here are links to the previous ones:
This is the rest of the intro. Below this is the headers for Linebackers in the NFC West:
MLB – Bobby Wagner
NFC West Rank: 1st
There’s really no middle linebacker in the division even close to Wagner (there’s maybe only one other guy in the entire NFL).
The 49ers thought they might have had something with Reuben Foster last year, but he got into trouble with the law and is facing a likely suspension. He may not be playing for the Niners any time soon, if ever again. They instead could be starting one of three former Seahawks in that position: Korey Toomer, Brock Coyle, and Malcolm Smith.
The Rams have the second-best middle linebacker in the division with Mark Barron. He’s a solid player but he’s not changing nearly as much of the game on a play-to-play basis as Wagner is. LA runs a 3-4 and also has Cory Littleton in the middle in their base defense, for now.
The Cardinals also have two middle linebackers: Deone Bucannon and Josh Bynes. Bucannon, like Barron, got a lot of good press a couple of years ago, then got paid and sort of faded away. I don’t think inside linebacker is a weakness for either Arizona or LA, but it’s not one of their points of strength either.
The order then is: Seahawks, Rams, Cardinals, 49ers
OLB – K.J. Wright
NFC West Rank: 2nd
Taking the best outside linebacker on each team, either side, Wright ranks second behind only Chandler Jones. Of course, Jones and Wright have different assignments and responsibilities, in ways that will reward Jones (sacks) and not Wright. But Chandler Jones could legitimately be the second-best defensive player in the NFL. He deserves that much credit and it’s no disrespect to Wright for him to rank second.
There honestly isn’t much competition after that.
Arizona’s Markus Golden basically missed last season. Haason Reddick was not a very good rookie. LA is running Carlos Thompson and Samsom Ebukam right now. The 49ers are starting with Smith and Eli Harold. Seattle’s other outside linebacker right now is Barkevious Mingo.
OLB – Barkevious Mingo
NFC West Rank: 4th-6th?
Golden is probably the first person I think to rank ahead of Mingo. Then Ebukam and Harold could be ahead of him. Mingo is a disappointment as a former sixth overall pick, but with the Colts last season he played like an adequate linebacker in limited snaps. He finished with three forced fumbles and two sacks. Still only 27, I remain intrigued.
Full Linebacking Units:
Seattle – Wagner, Wright, Mingo
Arizona – Jones, Golden, Buccannon, Bynes
Los Angeles – Barron, Littleton, Ebukam, Thompson
San Francisco – Harold, Smith, Toomer (?)
And that’s the order I’d put them in. Wagner’s consistently been a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, while Wright’s perhaps the best 4-3 OLB in the NFL and likely much lower on Pro Bowl nods than he should be. The Cards have a great linebacker, an above-average one, and a good one who is coming off of a torn ACL. That doesn’t quite measure. The Rams and 49ers were not quite close.