Youth and experience key Chargers' LBs

From quarterbacks to special teams to coaching, Scouts Inc. ranks the playoff teams 1-12.

Originally Published: January 5, 2007
Scouts Inc.

From quarterbacks to special teams to coaching (always a huge factor in the postseason), Scouts Inc. ranks the playoff teams 1-12. After ranking the teams, we assigned a value (one point for first, two for second, etc.) and added the categories together. The Chargers, the team with the lowest total, top our power rankings.

Unit rankings: Overall | QB | RB | Rec. | OL | DL | LB | DB | ST | Coaching

LINEBACKERS

1. San Diego: The Chargers run a 3-4 scheme and have four excellent linebackers, with two 11-year veterans inside in leading tackler Donnie Edwards and Randall Godfrey. On the outside, they have two young, athletic players: OLB Shawne Merriman (17 sacks), who is relentless as a pass rusher, and Shaun Phillips, who stepped up his game this season (11.5 sacks).

Linebacker
Baltimore Ravens

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
Tot Ast Solo FF Sack Int
83 64 19 0 11 1
2. Baltimore: The Ravens are a close second to San Diego and some could argue that they should be No. 1. This unit is led by one of the most intense players in the NFL in MLB Ray Lewis. Lewis would have led the team in tackles if he did not miss time because of injury. Adalius Thomas is probably the best of the group as he is solid against the run and pass.

3. Chicago: You cannot talk about the Bears' defense without starting with MLB Brian Urlacher, who makes plays all over the field. Urlacher has excellent speed and range. You also have to like a linebacker named Hunter Hillenmeyer, who anchors the strong side.

4. New England: Head coach Bill Belichick likes his linebackers to be versatile enough to play more than one position. That allows him to put his best players in a position to make plays. Junior Seau played well before getting hurt, forcing Mike Vrabel back inside from his more natural outside linebacker position. Vrabel's upside is his versatility. He can cover, is solid against the run, can rush the passer and can even play tight end in goal-line situations.

5. Dallas: The Cowboys have a solid group of athletic linebackers that could have been ranked higher if OLB Greg Ellis wasn't lost for the season due to injury. OLB DeMarcus Ware has stepped up his game and led the team in sacks with 11½. Ware has had his share of problems adjusting to the passing game as teams have tried to get him out of pass rush mode.

6. Seattle:The defense as a whole has struggled. Free-agent linebacker Julian Peterson has had a solid year. MLB Lofa Tatupu is the leader of this defense and for the second year in a row has put up more than 100 tackles. Strongside linebacker LeRoy Hill has struggled in the passing game and is limited as a pass rusher.

Linebacker
Philadelphia Eagles

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
Tot Ast Solo FF Sack Int
113 88 25 1 0 1
7. Philadelphia: The linebackers struggled early in the season against the run. Jeremiah Trotter anchors the middle with his solid play against the run, but he is not known for his coverage ability. Dhani Jones is third on the team in tackles but has had his share of problems against the run and pass.

8. New York Jets: Head coach Eric Mangini wants to run a 3-4 scheme, but his personnel is not suited for it yet up front. He gets around that problem by playing a 4-3 front and dropping DE Bryan Thomas into coverage to get his 3-4 look. The Jets' linebacking corps of MLB Jonathan Vilma, SLB Victor Hobson and WLB Eric Barton has been productive.

9. New Orleans: This is a group that had to come together quickly as Mark Simoneau and Scott Shanle were added during training camp. This is a very smart, instinctive group that plays faster than you think. Scott Fujita has the size and bulk to be effective on the strong side. Simoneau is a little short for a MLB but makes up for it by getting everyone lined up on defense. Shanle has played well on the weak side.

10. New York Giants: The Giants have been plagued by injuries at linebacker, including losing LaVar Arrington for the season. MLB Antonio Pierce is an instinctive, smart linebacker who plays with great passion and gets other players around him lined up. This unit had trouble defending the pass.

11. Kansas City: When a team has all four of its DBs listed in the top seven in tackles, you know there is a problem at linebacker. The linebackers have not done a good job getting off blocks and have missed too many tackles. MLB Kawika Mitchell has been the most consistent of the bunch. OLB Derrick Johnson is their most explosive playmaker, but he has not been the same since injuring his ankle. The team needs Kendrell Bell to step up his play.

12. Indianapolis: The Colts have an undersized linebacking corps that relies on its speed, quickness and athleticism to get around blocks in the run game. This unit is led by converted safety Cato June. Each player has had trouble getting off blocks at the point of attack, leading to the Colts having the worst run defense in the league.